Chicago Cubs Top 30 Prospects

1) Nico Hoerner, 2B

Age: 21.60 (5/13/1997)

.327/.450/.571, 2 HR, 187 wRC+, 15.0 BB%, 6.7% K%, 6 SB

Highest Level: A

Each year AFL rosters are revealed in late August, and prospect hounds repeatedly refresh their browsers like addicts in need of a fix (or is that just me?). When the rosters dropped this year a few names caught my attention. Nico Hoerner was one of them. Rarely does a first round pick for the current season get sent to the AFL. Most aren’t advanced enough for the league. If they are advanced enough, other reasons stand in the way like fear of overwork. Hoerner strained a ligament in his left elbow that cost him time in July and August, which opened the door to his AFL assignment.

Hoerner’s bat speed was electric and on the short list for the best in the league. He was able to pull premium velocity and did most of his damage on fastballs. The overall approach looked polished; Nico has a good eye for spin and did not expand the zone often. Importantly, he showed a propensity for using all fields, doing so depending on what the pitcher gave him. The combination of Nico’s bat speed and shortness to the ball should help limit his swing and miss. Surprisingly, he only hit 2 homers in 229 ABs his senior year at Stanford. My fall looks lead me to believe he is capable of more power than those stats would indicate. He projects to 55 game power, mostly the product of his elite hands and bat speed. One offensive weakness is well-located spin down and away. His fairly upright base stance makes Hoerner susceptible to the lower third of the zone. With the glove, Hoerner played short throughout the AFL, but the arm is light there. My crystal ball shows him manning the keystone long term, where his polished footwork/defensive actions would play easily. Hoerner would be an above average defender there.

This is an advanced college bat that has a chance to move quickly; do not expect him to linger in the lower minors for long. The most likely outcome for Hoerner is a bat-first above average regular, but I could also see him producing at a role 60 level.

2) Miguel Amaya, C

Age: 19.78 (3/9/1999)

.256/.349/.403, 12 HR, .147 ISO, 114 wRC+, 10.4% BB%, 19.0% K%, 1 SB

Highest Level: A

Amaya is a well-rounded catcher who does a bit of everything. He has a chance to put up 50s across the board in the bigs and that would be an above average every day catcher. His swing mechanics are quiet and efficient. He has a good mindset at the plate both in terms of his plate discipline and adaptive situational approach. Amaya has a moderate leg kick early in counts, which incorporates his lower half for power. With two strikes he leans back slightly and uses a shorter load and approach, relying on his hands and raw strength to take over. As his frame fills out more strength should translate to more homers. Defensively Amaya has been lauded for his polish and advanced chops. Some reports have his arm strength at around average while others say it is improving. Its accuracy and his quickness from the crouch show up in his CS% of 34% last year, a perfectly cromulent number. There is not much defensive projection due to his polish, but he may already be an above average defensive catcher. Overall, he has a great chance to be an average regular with a shot at something more if the bat exceeds expectations.

3) Aramis Ademan, SS

Age: 20.27 (9/13/1998)

.207/.291/.273, 3 HR, .066 ISO, 64 wRC+, 8.4% BB%, 21.0% K%, 9 SB

Highest Level: Hi-A

Ademan is a glove-first shortstop who displays tools to dream on offensively. Sleek is the perfect adjective for his infield actions that will include things like back-handed glove flips. He is very agile, very twitchy, and very athletic patrolling the middle of the diamond. The first step is excellent. In the words of Cake, “At the very last second, he can change direction, turn completely around if he feels so inclined.” The hands are great, and he makes quick transfers. Can you tell I am enthused about his defense? The bat on the other hand disappointed in a big way in 2018. The industry seems split on whether it is a concern moving forward. Some feel this is a blip on the developmental curve for a young player at an advanced level for his age, and others think it is a sign of future offensive woes. Something like a 40-45 hit feels like an appropriate hedge. Even if we are talking Alcides Escobar-esque offensive production, a plus defender at short has value. One of my beliefs is we tend to overestimate what we think we know. It is hard to move Ademan lower than three because if we are wrong on the bat, he suddenly becomes the best player in the system.

4) Adbert Alzolay, RHP

Age: 23.81 (3/1/1995)

39.2 IP, 4.76 ERA, 4.68 FIP, 15.8 % K%, 7.6% BB%, .272 BAA

Highest Level: AAA

What he lacks in height he makes up for with plus athleticism. Alzolay is a great athlete with plus arm speed. This athleticism allows him to repeat his delivery well. It is a delivery with surprising balance and posture given its explosiveness, and I love Alzolay’s bulldog-like approach to pitching. He works quickly and attacks hitters. The fastball generally sits mid 90s, touching high 90s on occasion. The shortness of his arm action counteracts below average extension allowing it to jump on hitters. The pitch is fairly straight but Alzolay has solid command of it within the zone, spotting it up/down, left/right at will. The low 80s curve is comfortably plus and generates swing and miss in or out of the zone in my looks. As is often the case, the change is behind his other pitches. Fade on the pitch is inconsistent but Alzolay has decent command of it. For me it is a 40 offering with little projection. Alzolay profiles as a back end starter or very good reliever, who would be capable of logging multiple innings if necessary.

5) Justin Steele, LHP

Age: 23.44 (7/11/1995)

46.2 IP, 2.31 ERA, 3.08 FIP, 28.7% K, 7.0% BB%, .174 BAA

Highest Level: AA

Like many of the SP prospects in the AFL, Steele missed time during the 2018 season. He went down with TJ in August of 2017 and the recovery limited his 2018 innings. The AFL was a good way to make up reps. Mechanically, the delivery is fairly low-maintenance and simple, working direct to home with below average effort. I do look at his lower half, however, and wonder if it could be better utilized. The use of it or lack thereof puts a disproportionate burden on his upper body and arm. My Steele looks were a mixed bag. On good days he flashed ability that makes you think mid-rotation starter. The fastball ranged from 90-95 with above average sink. The curve is solidly plus with tight 1 to 7 shape and sharp break. It was located more consistently and more effectively to his glove side. Steele has also been toying with a knuckle change, a pitch I mistakenly thought was a slider. This pitch was in the 85-88 range and moved gloveside. His more standard high 80s change looked below average. Bad Justin Steele looked like a AAAA SP, with more control over command and a tendency to leave fat ones over the plate. Overall, I see a guy with a wide range of realistic outcomes. The stuff is good enough to start, but he needs to locate within the zone more consistently for that to come to fruition.

6) Brailyn Marquez, LHP

Age: 19.89 (1/30/1999)

54.2 IP, 3.13 ERA, 3.67 FIP, 25.9% K%, 7.0% BB%, .255 BAA

Highest Level: A

Listed at 6’5” 225 lbs, Marquez is a strong, physical kid with FB that sits mid 90s and touches as high as 98. He generates this impressive velocity with a reasonably little effort. It is worth noting Marquez made some mechanical adjustments over the course of the season. Through extended spring training his arm action was fairly long, and he utilized a standard three quarters slot. At some point he adopted a lower slot coupled with a shorter arm action. The fastball was hit hard at times because hitters had no fear of Marquez’s secondary offerings. His changeup and curve were inconsistent, grading to below average at present. Both reportedly flashed better than average. His body slows somewhat for curveballs, a tell for advanced hitters. Marquez is far from a finished product, but he has some of the higher upside in the system and should be ranked accordingly. The body, flashes of stuff and his ability to make adjustments inspire hope he will be a back end starter.

7) Brennen Davis, OF

Age: 19.13 (11/2/1999)

.298/.431/.333, 0 HR, .035 ISO, 132 wRC+, 13.9% BB%, 16.7% K%, 6 SB

Highest Level: Rk-AZL

The Cubs took Davis in the 2018 draft with their 2nd round pick at 64 overall. There is extreme projection in his frame. He is listed at 6’4” 175 lbs. Words like thin, lanky, and wiry should all come to mind. Man muscles are on their way and plus raw power along with them. Scouts anticipate easy plus raw power as his frame fills out. He split time between CF and RF in his pro debut, but when double-plus speed grades have been evoked, one would think he will play in center. The swing mechanics are a bit wonkey. His hands draw back as his front leg moves forward. It looks a bit disjointed, but his hands and bat speed are impressive and make me want to overlook the mechanics. It is a high floor, high ceiling profile, a seeming hallmark of the Cubs system.

8) Cole Roederer, OF

Age: 19.24 (9/24/1999)

.275/.354/.465, 5 HR, .190 ISO, 129 wRC+, 11.2% BB%, 23% K%, 13 SB

Highest Level: Rk-AZL

Another 2018 draftee, the Cubs took Cole Roederer 77th overall in last year’s draft. Roederer performed well in his time in rookie ball, showing signs of a possible power-speed combo. His swing is short and direct to the ball, which should bode well for limiting swing and miss. Defensively, his range and instincts would play in center. The frame is starting to fill out and still looks primed for significant weight gain, which could translate to more power but also less range. Some expect additional weight to move him to a corner and right field is not an option because his arm is below average. There is a chance for an above average regular but Roederer is far away and needs some things to break his way for that to happen. He would either need to hit enough for the bat to play in left or maintain enough speed to stay in center despite a seemingly-inevitable weight gain. That is not to say these things are impossible; but it is wise to consider the path a player must take or hurdles they must clear in order to reach their projection.

9) Richard Gallardo, RHP

Age: 17.29 (9/6/2001)

Highest Level: Yet to play stateside.

Projecting 15-year-olds is an exercise fraught with disagreement. It is one of the tougher jobs in baseball. There is so much development to occur that opinions can vary drastically. In spite of this, Gallardo was broadly viewed to be a top pitching prospect in the 2018 J2 class. Jesse Sanchez (@JesseSanchezMLB) of MLB.com ranked him 5th on his list. Ben Badler (@BenBadler) of Baseball America ranked him 6th on his list. The reports, glowing, are littered with phrases like “frontline starter upside” and “advanced pitchability”. His fastball presently sits low 90s with quality sink/life, and Gallardo has good command of the pitch. Reports say the curve and change also project to above average or better. There are a very wide range of possible outcomes here: he could be a #2 starter or he could never make AA.

10) Jose Albertos, RHP

Age: 20.12 (11/7/1998)

30.1 IP, 14.84 ERA, 8.27 FIP, 20.0% K%, 34.2% BB%, .298 BAA

Highest Level: A

One can make a case Albertos is the highest upside pitcher in the system. When right he has three pitches that flash above average or better. It is a very low effort “playing catch” delivery. Physically, Albertos looks larger than the listed 6’1” 185; he has a big chest, but the body looks a bit soft. The frame itself looks capable of supporting a SP workload. Last year was a lost season for Albertos. He struggled mightily with control to the tune of a 34.2% walk rate over 30.1 innings. The numbers encapsulated what scouts saw in his underlying attributes: they regressed heavily across the board. His stuff, body and the consistency of his arm action all took a step back. Despite his season I find it hard to not dream on him. The fastball can touch 96, 97 with minimal effort. The change and curve are capable of generating swing and miss. Unfortunately, he has not been able control anything including the fastball. He is a very frustrating prospect.

11) Keegan Thompson, RHP

Age: 23.77 (3/13/1995)

129.2 IP, 3.61 ERA, 3.39 FIP, 21.6% K%, 6.4% BB%, .233 BAA

Highest Level: AA

Thompson is a polished college arm taken in the 3rd round in 2017. He has four playable pitches and knows he to employ them effectively. The fastball sits low 90s and is not overpowering, but Thompson locates and sequences well. He will elevate the FB with two strikes, and he throws his slider with supreme confidence. The pitch flashes two-plane tilt and generates swing-and-miss. Thompson’s CB/CH are both above-average, with his CB flashing plus. Thompson has a short and fast arm action that can add some deception. For me, his floor is high, and he should become a reliable SP4 that flashes SP2/3 production. - Jason Woodell

12) Alex Lange, RHP

Age: 23.22 (10/2/1995)

120.1 IP, 3.74 ERA, 3.47 FIP, 20.4% K%, 7.7% BB%, .232 BAA

Highest Level: Hi-A

Lange was drafted 30th overall in 2017 from LSU. His power curve is widely considered to be a plus pitch. It registers in the low to mid 80s and has late break. Command for the pitch is advanced, and Lange spots it in and out of the zone at will. His fastball is below average in terms of velocity, but there is some deception in his delivery which aides its effectiveness. The changeup is around average. Lange’s feel to pitch is advanced, and he can pitch backwards or otherwise keep hitters off balanced with his sequencing. He did not put up dominant strikeout numbers in 2018, but Lange did show an ability to induce weak contact. His IFFB% and GB%, ranked fourth and fifth respectively in the Carolina League among qualified pitchers. There is effort in Lange’s delivery with significant head movement at front foot strike. While this has not been an impediment to his command, it could mean a move to the pen would result in little velocity gain. In other words, it may mean back end rotation or bust for Lange, making him somewhat of a risky proposition.

13) Brendon Little, LHP

Age: 22.36 (8/11/1996)

101.1 IP, 5.15 ERA, 4.12 FIP, 19.8% K%, 9.5% BB%, .260 BAA

Highest Level: A

Considered one of the best JUCO players of 2017, Little played for the State College of Florida. He dominated there, striking out 133 in 89 innings! The Cubs then selected him 27th overall in the 2017 draft. Mechanically, there is little effort in his delivery. His center of mass sways toward home with a pronounced leg lick that draws his front knee back, then propels him forward. The leg kick creates torque through hip to shoulder separation as Little shifts his weight forward. It reduces the effort in his delivery and stress on his arm but also makes him slow to home. His stuff is headlined by a plus CB with tight shape; he will work it to both sides of the plate, including back door to right-handed hitters. Little’s feel for the pitch is advanced. His fastball can reach mid 90s but does not stay there consistently; some nights it will not crack 92-93. His change is reportedly 40 grade, but he did not use it as an amateur so a full grade improvement with reps seems possible. Other than his curve, his stuff has not been good enough to keep pro hitters honest. A move to the pen looks increasingly likely; he needs to generate more consistent fastball velocity and improve the changeup to stick as a starter.

14) Dakota Mekkes, RHP

Age: 24.12 (11/6/1994)

53.2 IP, 1.17 ERA, 3.16 FIP, 31.4% K%, 12.8% BB%, .185 BAA

Highest Level: AAA

A 6’7” 240 righty, Mekkes uses his XXL frame to his advantage. Extension is the name of his game. The fastball has been reportedly low 90s, but it sometimes creeps up into the 93-95 range. A long stride and his release point provide substantial perceived velocity boost; this is a guy you are going to want to look up on Baseball Savant when he gets called up. We may be talking Glasnow-level extension. Even when the FB sat low 90s, it still jumped on hitters. Mekkes’ changeup took a step forward in 2018. And the slider, while fringey, showed flashes. Long levers can inhibit Mekke’s command at times, but his misses were down where they don’t hurt him. The stat line reflects this too: 4.9 BB/9 and 6.0 H/9. As a relief-only prospect Mekkes does not have a huge ceiling, but he has performed very well in the high minors. He should be viewed as a high-probability major league reliever with a chance for a back end high-leverage role.

Mike Ernst (@mj_ernst) wrote in-depth about Mekke’s season on Cubs Den.

15) Oscar De La Cruz, RHP

Age: 23.80 (3/4/1995)

77.1 IP, 5.24 ERA, 4.57 FIP, 21.3% K%, 9.0% BB%, .255 BAA

Highest Level: AA

In 2018 De La Cruz was suspended 80 games for testing positive to a banned substance and masking agent. In 2017 he missed time to injury. Over the course of his career he has flashed very good stuff, but he has never put together a season of more than 77.1 innings. For that reason many view him as a candidate to be fast-tracked in a pen role. Listed at 6’4” 200, De La Cruz has smooth, effortless delivery with plus balance and decent momentum. Stuff-wise the FB has ranged from low 90s all the way up to 97. His sweeping curve grades to plus. The changeup has a chance to be average at maturity. The frame and ease of his delivery point in the direction of a SP. Unfortunately, there does not appear to be enough sand left in the hourglass.

16) Luis Verdugo, SS

Age: 18.19 (10/12/2000)

.193/.264/.295, 4 HR, .102 ISO, 63 wRC+, 8.5% BB%, 22.6% K%, 5 SB

Highest Level: Rk-AZL

Verdugo is another example of #numberslie. This is why you should not exclusively scout the stat line; it is a woefully inadequate representation of Verdugo’s upside. While he is very raw offensively, which bears out in the numbers, there are also reasons for optimism. Verdugo’s body is extremely projectable and some scouts see prolific power projection in his bat. Makeup reports are also excellent, and if you are taking a lottery ticket flyer in a dynasty league, this is someone you want to hitch your wagon to. Defensively, Verdugo has excellent hands and footwork, but perhaps equally important shows great instincts. While unproven, he has one of the higher upsides in the system. 

17) Yovanny Cruz, RHP

Age: 19.32 (8/23/1999)

49 IP, 2.57 ERA, 3.08 FIP, 27.1 K%, 6.4% BB%, .215 BAA

Highest Level: SS-A

Cruz has a great pitcher frame, slender but strong. He looks to be around 6’2” 210. There is not much effort in the delivery, and it would not be hard to see him logging 200 innings a year annually. Cruz looks fairly polished for a rookie ball pitcher, prompting me use a phrase likely to draw some ire: he pitches with purpose. Cruz is adept at working both sides of the plate with his sinker/slider combo. The two pitches play well off one another. The fastball sinks and also has natural arm side run. The slider has a quality two-plane break to the glove side. If your eyes glazed over the stats, let’s refocus them: Cruz had a 20.1% K%-BB%. Pair that with a GB% of 53.5%. Something is brewing here. Some evaluators think Cruz can be a back end starter. He is on my short list of guys to see this spring, circled in red pilot-g2 ink.

18) Jeremiah Estrada, RHP

Age: 20.14 (11/1/1998)

6.1 IP, 1.42 ERA, 5.15 FIP, 20.7% K%, 20.7% BB%, .217 BAA

Highest Level: Rk-AZL

The Cubs drafted Estrada in the 2017 6th round and signed him to an over-slot bonus of $1 million, which was comparable to 2nd round money. Estrada only pitched 6 innings in 2018 after going down with an elbow injury. His fastball has ranged from 92-96, and the pitch is fairly straight but benefits from above average extension, which may help it play up. Looking back at his video from 2015, Estrada’s delivery was very quick to home with fluid, athletic movement. Over time he has embraced a slower delivery, and it seems to have untapped more consistent mid-90s velocity. The present delivery is very low effort, and his arm is loose. Stuff wise, we are talking plus changeup with big depth and fade. He has long had good feel for this pitch, even going back to his amateur days. CB command and shape flashes, but the pitch backs up at times. The FB/CHG combo will not be enough to turn over an MLB lineup multiple times so some believe he is destined to be a reliever, but it too early to give up on him starting. 

19) Zack Short, SS

Age: 23.56 (5/29/1995)

.227/.356/.417, 17 HR, .190 ISO, 123 wRC+, 15.6% BB%, 26.0% K%, 8 SB

Highest Level: AA

The Cubs system has a few guys who project to be super utility types and Zack Short is probably the best of the bunch. He can hold it down at…..short……and was voted best defensive…..short……stop in the Southern League according to a Baseball America industry survey last August. Offensively, he has a very disciplined, patient approach and walks at a high rate. In fact, he walked more than he struck out in his first two pro seasons. In 2018 his strikeout rate spiked to 26%, a full 8% higher than 2017. Also noteworthy, he lead qualified AA hitters with a 54.9% FB rate. He is trending in the direction of a three true outcome type guy, but the power/hit tools will likely not be good enough to play every day. Think super utility guy who fills in three our four times a week at different positions.

20) Cory Abbott, RHP

Age: 23.25 (9/20/1995)

67.2 IP, 2.53 ERA, 2.99 FIP, 26.2% K%, 9.2% BB%, .232 BAA

Highest Level: Hi-A

Abbot is a potential 5th starter who does not overpower and relies on sequencing and command to get the job done. The fastball rests low 90s, and Abbott works the full plate. He also has a curve, slider, and change. None are elite but the mix keeps both-sided hitters off balance. There is below average effort in the delivery, stemming from good use of lower half and torque from hip to shoulder separation. He will need to live on the corners to survive. It is a 5th starter or bust profile because his stuff would play down in pen role.

21) Alec Mills, RHP

Age: 27.05 (11/30/1991)

124.2 IP, 4.84 ERA, 4.19 FIP, 20.3% K%, 7.7% BB%, .250 BAA (MiLB Only)

Highest Level: MLB

His stuff sinks. Like Abbot, Mills must live on the edges to survive. He keeps hitters off balance by peppering the lower third of the zone and changing speeds. Mills has a slew of offerings but none are overpowering. He is a pitch to contact guy, relying more on weak contact than strikeouts. The fastball is low 90s with sink. He also has a CB, SL, CHG that all sink/dart in different directions at different speeds. Mills gets hit hard if his stuff is poorly-located moreso than most pitchers. He is a finished product with 5th SP ceiling and no projection.

22) Trent Giambrone, 2B

Age: 25.00 (12/20/1993)

.251/.333/.440, 17 HR, .188 ISO, 118 wRC+, 10.1% BB%, 19.5% K%, 26 SB

Highest Level: AA

Some have dubbed Trent Giambrone David Bote 2.0. While I hate player comps I can understand this one in the sense that Giambrone profiles to have a similar role in the majors. In 2018 Giambrone played SS, 2B, 3B, RF, and LF (descending order). My impression from the AFL was solid, yet unspectacular defense. He is not a guy you really want at short day to day, but spelling your starter? Sure why not. Offensively, Giambrone has some pop; it was 50 game power in my looks. His offensive approach is geared for hard contact. Giambrone understands how to keep his weight back and dip his back shoulder, achieving loft through his swing plane; he would let fastballs travel deep and pull most of them down the line. There were some struggles vs breaking stuff when he was often out on his front foot early. Overall, he looked willing to exchange the swing and miss for loft. Think super utility guy, a useful player who probably will not play every day.

23) Erich Uelmen, RHP

Age: 22.59 (5/19/1996)

89.1 IP, 3.83 ERA, 3.11 FIP, 21.6% K%, 7.9% BB%, .265 BAA

Highest Level: Hi-A

A 4th round pick out of Cal Poly in 2017, Uelmen is a sinker baller who lives around the bottom of the zone. He uses a low three quarters slot and has a short arm action. The shortness of his arm action creates some deception, making it harder to pick up the ball out of his hand. There is also effort in his delivery that instantly makes me think pen. He works from a low vertical release point with little plane. The arm slot results in some run on his fastball to the arm side, which plays well off his slider. It is not a big swing and miss pitch, but the sinking action helps produce a lot of ground balls; Uelmen has a career GB% in the minors of 56.82%. The FB has touched mid 90s on occasion, which makes me believe he could work out of a pen with that type of velocity. It is too soon to give up on him as a starter, but it is nice knowing the pen fallback provides a reasonable floor.

24) Reivaj Garcia, 2B

Age: 17.36 (8/12/2001)

.302/.362/.355, 0 HR, .052 ISO, 110 wRC+, 7.9% BB%, 18.8% K%, 7 SB

Highest Level: Rk-AZL

Age for the level is an important consideration when valuing prospects, but age is not always directly correlated with upside. Some prospects will put up good stats at advanced levels for their age, doing so with polish over projection. Could this be the case for Reivaj Garcia? Maybe. Some evaluators view him as a bat control guy with excellent bat to ball skills who offers little in the way of defensive value or projection. Let’s say for the sake of argument he has a second-division regular ceiling as a 2B only. That is a scary profile, especially if there is little power projection. It means immense pressure on the bat to perform and no room to move down the defensive spectrum. If this sort of guy does not play every day, he could lose all value and easily be relegated to AAA. Looking at Garcia’s swing, there is little lower half use, and he relies heavily on his hands. The contact skills are excellent, but the batted ball data shows a very high ground ball rate (61.1%) and a very high opposite field rate (48.2%). There are enough red flags here that I am dubious of the profile and want to see him prove it at a higher level before buying in.

25) Tyson Miller, RHP

Age: 23.39 (7/29/1995)

127.0 IP, 3.54 ERA, 3.59 FIP, 24.4% K%, 6.8% BB%, .219 BAA

Highest Level: Hi-A

There was a car commercial in the early 2010s that declared, “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.” Tyson Miller lives by that credo. While not overpowering, his stuff is well-located and moves all over the place. It is a three-pitch mix with a FB/SL/CHG. It is quite possible we look back in two years and view this ranking as a mistake. Should we expect the smoke and mirrors act to play at higher levels? It is hard to say, but it is working now. Alternatively, he may be a plus command guy who transcends what is believed to be the the needed MLB caliber stuff threshold, much like Kyle Hendricks. The underlying statistics were good in 2018. Among qualified Hi-A pitchers he had the fifth best SwStr% at 12.7% and the third best IFFB% (infield fly ball%) at 26.3%. He was a fly ball pitcher, allowing 47.8% in the air but much seemed to be weak contact. He has a puncher’s chance to be a back end starter.

26) Dillon Maples, RHP

Age: 26.61 (5/9/1992)

38.2 IP, 2.79 ERA, 3.38 FIP, 42.4% K%, 22% BB%, .162 BAA (MiLB Only)

Highest Level: MLB

On August the 31st of the year 2017, the Cubs of Chicago added Dillon Sean Maples to their 40-man roster. The first of his name, Maples reportedly almost quit baseball but changed his mind after a phone call with his father. Maples is a relief-only grip-n-rip type pitcher that touches 100. In a 2018 five inning MLB sample he averaged 97.45 mph on said fastball. Interestingly, his heater takes a back seat to his high 80s SL/CUT, which is his primary offering. It is more control over command, and the pitch is left over the heart of the plate too often. Maples has a career MiLB walk rate of 14.7% and a 1.52 WHIP. When his stuff is well-located, it is untouchable, but that is more the exception than the norm. Maples turns 27 in May. To a large degree, it is time to accept that this is who he is, which is a serviceable but not special pen arm.

27) Danis Correa, RHP

Age: 19.32 (8/26/1999)

2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 2.57 FIP, 42.9% K%, 14.3% BB%, .000 BAA

Highest Level: Rk-AZL

Having thrown so few innings stateside, little is known publicly about Correa at this point. In the recent Fangraphs Cubs List, Eric Longenhagen wrote Correa had wild fluctuations in his velocity, ranging anywhere between 93-100. That was enough to pique my interest. Correa is small, listed at 5’11” 155. There is some effort to his delivery which points to the pen, but he seems like a high-upside kid. That is enough for me at this point in the list.

28) Nelson Velazquez, OF

Age: 19.96 (12/26/1998)

.231/.299/.380, 11 HR, .149 ISO, 90 wRC+, 7.3% BB%, 30% K%, 15 SB

Highest Level: A

The Cubs signed Velazquez for $400,000 as an over-slot 5th round pick in 2017. Power headlines his profile. His approach was very pull-heavy in 2018 with a 47% pull percentage over two levels, seemingly selling out for power. He also struck out 30% of the time, a problem that needs correcting.  The Cubs started Velazquez with a fairly aggressive assignment to South Bend (A). He struggled there with a .196 SLG over 120 PAs and was subsequently demoted to Eugene (SS-A). Upon demotion, Velazquez seemed to make an improvement, slugging .458 the rest of the way and lowering his strikeout rate from 35.8% to 27.6%. It is unclear to me whether this is the result of an actual change or simply the result of facing lesser competition. Another try at full season ball should provide some answers in 2018.

29) Christopher Morel, 3B

Age: 19.49 (6/24/1999)

.216/.264/.299, 3 HR, .083 ISO, 60 wRC+, 5% BB%, 25.8% K%, 1 SB

Highest Level: SS-A

Can we start with the frame? Morel is listed at 6’0” 140. He is a great athlete with a ton of physical projection. His baseball skills, instincts, and overall feel for the game lag behind at present and will take some time to develop. Morel’s bat speed and raw power projection give him a chance to take a big step forward in 2019. Scouts see something in this kid, and I am inclined to put my faith in them, even if the numbers have yet to yield positive returns.

30) Jose Lopez, OF

Age: ≈17

Highest Level: Yet to play stateside.

Interestingly, Richard Gallardo was the highest ranked player in Chicago’s 2018 J2 class, but Jose Lopez was signed for a larger bonus. They signed for $1 million and $1.5 million, respectively. Information on Lopez was sparse. What we do know is he has a long swing with the largest hitch you will ever see, raising his hands to head level before bringing them back down and through the zone. The bat speed, however, is pretty impressive. His 6.61 60 time is around 65 speed. Without seeing more it is hard to say what he will become, but as you can probably tell from this list, I am a sucker for upside.

Jason Pennini (@jasonpennini)


Big thanks to the fine people over at Cubs Den who I inundated with questions on this list. Michael Ernst (@mj_ernst), Stephanie Lynn (@SRL590), and Tom U (@the_tom__u). Also big thanks to Bryan (@cubsprospects). Also also, thank you to Michael Ernst and Bobby DeMuro (@BobbyDeMuro) for the use of their video.