Baseball Prospectus can be a bit bold when ranking Cubs prospects. In 2015, they ranked Addison Russell at number one ahead of Kris Bryant. In 2015, BP placed Gleyber Torres first and followed that up with Eloy Jimenez last year. Heading into this year’s list, I figured that one of three prospects would grace the top of the list: Adbert Alzolay, Aramis Ademan, or Jose Albertos.
On Monday, Baseball Prospectus joined the early prospect list crowd with their list of top 10 Cubs prospects. My initial reaction was to just sigh. Nothing stood out in the top 10, and it did not inspire a lot of hope. In fact, the lack of any sort of power was a bit disheartening.
I don’t know what I was expecting to see. This is, after all, a list of a system that is one of the bottom 10 farm systems in baseball. It is a system devoid of any current elite prospects and there is not one top 100 prospect in the bunch. In fact, there is no consensus in baseball about who the clear-cut number one prospect is in the Cubs system.
BP’s Top Ten
1. Adbert Alzolay, RHP
2. Jose Albertos, RHP
3. Aramis Ademan, SS
4. Brendon Little, LHP
5. Alex Lange, RHP
6. Victor Caratini, C
7. Thomas Hatch, RHP
8. Oscar de la Cruz, RHP
9. Jen-Ho Tseng, RHP
10. Alec Mills, RHP
Right-handed starting pitchers dominate the list, followed by one lefty starter, a switch-hitting catcher and a soon to be 19-year-old shortstop. For many of the players in the top 10, a lot will have to go right for them to get to Chicago. There is not a sure thing among them. Alzolay and Lange might be the closest things the Cubs have that could be defined as MLB-ready talent.
I really like Alzolay’s selection and promise. In watching him the past two years, he has impressed me with his work ethic and transformation. In 2016 at South Bend, he began the year on fire and struggled keeping the ball down when the weather warmed up. At Myrtle Beach under the tutelage of Anderson Tavarez, Alzolay quickened his pace in between pitches and was able to sustain velocity deep into a game.
BP’s John Eshleman singles out Alzolay’s promise well when he states:
“It starts with a future plus fastball at 93-96 (t97) that runs hard to the arm-side with moderate late sink. He pairs it with sharp a 11-5 slider that is a true bat-misser at its best. Although his command of both pitches gets a little spotty with fatigue, Alzolay’s delivery and athleticism bode extremely well for command and changeup—his third pitch—improvement. He has a strong lower half that is the foundation of a stable, balanced, moderate-effort delivery for a hurler of his size, and that effort is less concerning since he repeats his delivery well for long stretches.”
It still could take Alzolay another year to make it Chicago as a starter, but I think he could be there in relief this summer if need be. On the other hand, there is no rush.
Who Else to Watch?
For me, Jose Albertos, who came in at number two, has not come close to his potential, as he has yet to master the curve that complements his nasty fastball-changeup combo. He will be 19 at South Bend in 2018. Craig Goldstein thinks that Albertos should be the Cubs top prospect (as do I). He states:
“[…] he has the arsenal of a starter and the ability to fly up the chain due to the advanced nature of his fastball command and his feel for pitching. His lack of upper-minors experience isn’t the development issue that it can be for some other pitching prospect profiles. Given his present abilities and polish, and the nature of prospect lists in general, I think we’d be well served promoting the upside of Albertos rather than the surety that Alzolay offers.”
Pitchers with Albertos’s advanced feel are rare at his age, and he might be more likely to make the jump to “elite” than Alzolay, who is already solidifying his arsenal at Double-A.
Another top ten arm I really dig is Lange, the Cubs second first-round pick out of LSU in 2017. A righty, Lange easily has the best curve in the system. Add in some uber-competitiveness and you could have the makings of a fast-moving prospect. Before he began play last year at Eugene, the Cubs announced that Lange would not exceed 10 IP after throwing 130+ for LSU. He wound up throwing 9.1 and was shipped to Arizona to recoup the rest of the season. I am excited to find out three things from him this year: where will he begin the year, how soon will he get promoted, and what third or fourth pitch will he be adding to his repertoire. While his curve is amazing, he cannot get by as a starter in Single-A with just two pitches.
Hope Outside the Top Ten
Recent fifth-round pick Nelson Velazquez, is a beast of an outfielder who hit 11 HRs in the Arizona Rookie League in just 6 weeks of the regular season and the playoffs. BP’s Jeffrey Paternostro examined Velazquez’s upside and development track:
“You’re also looking at a long development horizon here as he is quite raw, but oh man that bat speed. This is a swing built for crushing baseballs. Right now Velazquez struggles to figure out which baseballs are suitable for crushing, but you could argue there’s more physical tools here than any other position player in the system.”
Velazquez is the type of player who can shoot up these prospect lists in a year or two, if the loud tools translate to in-game power, but also the type of player who can flame out quickly if he doesn’t develop an approach.
One of my favorite Cubs prospects, third baseman Wladimir Galindo, also got some love from BP. If he could only stay healthy, you could see the full potential of his bat. In four MiLB seasons, he only has a little over 700+ at-bats. Despite the injuries, he has improved at every level when healthy.
In addition, sixth-round pick Jeremiah Estrada also got some love for his changeup and his long-term potential. The fact that the Cubs were able to sway Estrada away from UCLA bodes well for his development. Paternostro had plenty of plaudits for Estrada’s changeup and his potential.
There is hope in this list if you look hard enough. The issue is that the hope is 18-19 years old, will take some time to develop, and won’t impact the major-league roster for several more years. However, if it does, that hope could be well-earned.
Lead photo courtesy Mark J. Rebilas—USA Today Sports