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The 2015 Chicago Cubs Top 10 Prospects

Announcement: For my analysis – including Ranking the Top 250 Prospects, Ranking the Farm systems, and in-depth commentary for over 900 minor leaguers – check out my book, The 2015 Prospect Digest Handbook, now available on Amazon!

 

For an explanation on the CAL, the Comparison And Likeness prospect classification system I derived, click here.

 

 

1. Kris Bryant, 3B

Born: 01/04/92 Age: 23 Height: 6-5   Weight: 215   B/T: R/R                                                          
Top CALs: George Springer, Pedro Alvarez, Mark Reynolds, Mike Olt, Miguel Sano
YEAR Age LVL PA AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO BB% K% wRC+
2013 21 A- 77 .354 .416 .692 1.108 .338 10.4% 22.1% 209
2013 21 A+ 62 .333 .387 .719 1.106 .386 4.8% 27.4% 212
2014 22 AA 297 .355 .458 .702 1.160 .347 14.5% 25.9% 220
2014 22 AAA 297 .295 .418 .619 1.036 .324 14.5% 28.6% 164

Background: Sitting with the number #2 pick in the 2013 draft, Bryant, the best amateur player in the country, landed squarely in the laps of the Cubs, who were already loading up on power bats in the minor leagues. And since then, the former University of San Diego star – and son of a minor league flameout who also happens to be his personal batting coach – has done nothing but hit. And hit for power. In 174 games (740 PA) across five levels, Bryant owns a whopping .327/.428/.666 triple-slash line with 48 doubles, three triples, and 52 homeruns. The 2014 season, his first full campaign in pro ball, also marked the first – and definitely not the last – time that Bryant led the league(s) in homeruns with 43; barely beating friend Joey Gallo, who also happens to be a pupil of Bryant’s dad.

Projection: Prior to the 2013 draft I wrote,

“After hitting .365/.482/.599 and .366/.483/.671 during his first two seasons, Bryant is no one year wonder. And his plate discipline has increasingly gotten better during his three-year career as well. His bat, obviously, plays far better at third and he profiles as a middle of the order hitter, capable of slugging .290/.360/.540 with 30+ dingers.”

Question: if I have a son can Bryant’s dad, Mike, a former ninth round pick by the Red Sox, teach him the nuances of hitting? Please?

Plus-plus power and elite patience at the plate, Bryant, however, isn’t without a flaw or two. He’s going to swing-and-miss… a lot. He’s fanned in 197 of his 740 career plate appearances (26.6%) and it progressively worsened at each stop last season. The second, and less damning, is his defense at third; it’s passable now, but it could eventually force a move away from the hot corner to either first base or a corner outfield spot. CAL’s linked him to three swing-and-miss power bats in Alvarez, Reynolds, and Olt, but Bryant’s hit tool is the best of the bunch and he doesn’t show the massive platoon splits that plagued the Pirates’ third baseman either. Bryant’s an annual MVP candidate and should develop into a .280/.370/.650-type hitter capable of mashing 45+ homeruns – a noticeable uptick from his pre-draft evaluation.

Ceiling:  6.0-win player

Risk:  Low to Moderate

MLB ETA:  Mid-2015

 

 

2. Jorge Soler, RF

Born: 02/25/92 Age: 23 Height: 6-4   Weight: 215   B/T: R/R                                                          
Top CALs: Aaron Cunningham, Nick Weglarz, Oswaldo Arcia, Domonic Brown, Aaron Luna
YEAR Age LVL PA AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO BB% K% wRC+
2012 20 A 88 .338 .398 .513 .910 .175 6.8% 6.8% 153
2013 21 A+ 236 .281 .343 .467 .810 .186 8.9% 16.1% 128
2014 22 AA 79 .415 .494 .862 1.355 .446 15.2% 19.0% 265
2014 22 AAA 127 .282 .378 .618 .996 .336 13.4% 20.5% 149

Background: Like Russell, Soler missed most of the two opening months courtesy of some hamstring issues. And like Russell again, the Cuban-born outfielder showed very little rust once he returned, hitting .331/.425/.722 from July 6th through the end of his tenure in the minor leagues. The organization promoted him to the big leagues in late August and, Soler revved the hype machine engine by setting all kinds of records, including: becoming the fourth player to record 10 hits and 10 RBIs in his first seven games, tied a modern record for consecutive games with an extra-base hit to start a career (5), and the fourth player in history to record an RBI in six of his first seven games.

Projection: When he’s healthy – which hasn’t been as often as Chicago would like – Soler is a dynamic five-tool talent, offering above-average offensive tools and a steady presence in right field. He could be a regular .300 hitter with 20- to 25-HR pop.

Ceiling:  4.5- to 5.0-win player

Risk:  Low to Moderate

MLB ETA:  Debuted in 2014

 

 

3. Addison Russell, SS

Born: 01/23/94 Age: 21 Height: 6-0   Weight: 195   B/T: R/R                                                          
Top CALs: Corey Springer, Xander Bogaerts, Javier Baez, Alen Hanson, Nick Franklin
YEAR Age LVL PA AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO BB% K% wRC+
2012 18 R 121 .415 .488 .717 1.205 .302 11.6% 19.0% 206
2013 19 A+ 504 .275 .377 .508 .885 .233 12.1% 23.0% 131
2014 20 AA 204 .295 .333 .539 .872 .244 4.4% 17.2% 143

Background: Billy Beane’s never been afraid to deal prospects for help at the big league level and with Chicago holding one of the better pitchers in baseball who also happened to be under team control through the end of 2015, the trade with Oakland made a lot of sense for both teams. Russell, who became the first high school player selected in the first round by the A’s since 2001, missed a good portion of last season courtesy of a torn hamstring, but showed little rust in his return, hitting .283/.341/.486 with 12 dingers from June 8th through the rest of the season.

Projection: A far better offensive player than his org-mate Javier Baez, Russell flashes 25+ homerun potential with solid walk rates and strong contact skills. He probably won’t run as much as he did in 2013 (21 stolen bases in 24 attempts), but has above-average speed and base running skills. Defensively, he’s solid, steady. Another perennial All-Star who could eke out a couple Top 3 finishes in the MVP voting.

Ceiling:  4.5-win player

Risk:  Low to Moderate

MLB ETA:  Late-2015/Early 2016

 

 

4. Kyle Schwarber, C/LF 

Born: 03/05/93 Age: 22 Height: 6-0   Weight: 235   B/T: L/R                                                          
Top CALs: Brett Jackson, Rainel Rosario, Domonic Brown, Oswaldo Arcia, Tyler Townsend
YEAR Age LVL PA AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO BB% K% wRC+
2014 21 A- 24 0.600 0.625 1.350 1.975 0.750 8.3% 8.3% 397
2014 21 A 96 0.361 0.448 0.602 1.050 0.241 11.5% 17.7% 197
2014 21 A+ 191 0.302 0.393 0.560 0.952 0.258 13.6% 19.9% 166

Background: It was a move that was supposed to place the business side of the draft ahead of the supposed talent. The Cubs, who nabbed Schwarber with the fourth overall pick last June, signed the former Indiana slugger to a below slot deal for just over $3 million, saving the organization nearly $1.5 million for later in the draft. Well, lo and behold, Schwarber pulled off his best Kris Bryant impression, hitting .344/.428/.634 with 18 homeruns in 72 games across three levels. He’s still a man without a defensive home as the front office decides if he can stick behind the plate (he won’t) or move to left field.

Projection: Power is at an all-time premium in big leagues, so it’s really no surprise that the organization that’s been hording it went out and grabbed arguably the best power bat in the draft. Schwarber doesn’t have the collegiate track record – or ceiling – as Bryant, so it’s not completely out of the picture that he winds up back in Daytona for 30 or so games next season. Twenty-five- to 30-homerun potential and above-average OBPs, but defense is likely going to be a killer for the 235-pounder.

Ceiling:  3.5-win player

Risk:  Moderate to High

MLB ETA:  2017

 

 

5. C.J. Edwards, RHP

Born: 09/03/91 Age: 23 Height: 6-2   Weight: 155   B/T: R/R                                                          
Top CALs: Beau Jones, Adrian Rosario, Neftali Feliz, Matthew Daly, David Quinowski
YEAR Age Level IP ERA FIP K/9 K% BB/9 BB% HR/9 LOB%
2012 20 A- 47.0 2.11 2.11 11.5 32.4% 3.6 10.3% 0.00 72.3%
2013 21 A 93.3 1.83 2.06 11.8 32.4% 3.3 9.0% 0.00 71.7%
2013 21 A+ 23.0 1.96 1.85 12.9 36.3% 2.7 7.7% 0.39 81.6%
2014 22 AA 48.0 2.44 2.92 8.6 23.8% 3.9 10.9% 0.19 75.1%

Background: Edwards, the key piece in the Matt Garza deal with Texas two years ago, dealt with some shoulder issues in 2014 that limited him to just 12 starts. An MRI revealed no structural damage and he bounced back to have a decent showing in the Arizona Fall League (15.0 IP, 13 K, 8 BB). Last year marked the first time in his professional career that he failed to average more than a punch out per inning.

Projection: There’s a pretty famous photo of former basketball player Shawn Bradley, the 7-foot-6, 235-pound center, riding an exercise bike while eating a hamburger or two. Edwards is sort of the baseball version of Bradley: tall (at least in terms of baseball) and incredibly lean. Someone give the kid a burger. In three years of pro ball, the 155-pound right-hander has tossed just 237.0 innings. But, man, the results are pretty staggering: 1.86 ERA, 11.2 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9. Not sure if he’ll be able to handle the rigors of grabbing the ball every fifth day – though the same thing was said about Pedro Martinez – but he’s an impact big league arm.

Ceiling:  3.5- to 4.0-win player

Risk:   High

MLB ETA:  2016

 

 

6. Albert Almora, CF

Born: 04/16/94 Age: 21 Height: 6-2   Weight: 180   B/T: R/R                                                          
Top CALs: Jae-Hoon Ha, Teodoro Martinez, Engel Beltre, Yefri Carvajal, Gerardo Parra
YEAR Age LVL PA AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO BB% K% wRC+
2013 19 A 272 .329 .376 .466 .842 .137 6.3% 11.0% 137
2014 20 A+ 385 .283 .306 .406 .712 .123 3.1% 11.9% 100
2014 20 AA 145 .232 .248 .352 .600 .120 1.4% 15.9% 63

Background: Almora, the sixth overall pick in the 2012 draft, had a disappointing year in terms of expected performance from a high draft pick. The young center fielder performed at the league average level with Daytona, hitting .283/.306/.406, and completely flopped in his first stint in the Southern League (.234/.250/.355). For his career, Almora owns a .294/.322/.424 triple-slash line.

Projection: Almora has all the tangible skills to be a successful big league center fielder – a potentially above-average hit tool, some speed, average-ish pop, and he’s handled himself well enough against older competition. But he absolutely abhors the free pass. In 946 career plate appearances he’s walked just 33 times, or 3.5%.

Since 1990, there have been 15 instances in the big leagues where a player topped the league average production by 10% or more with a walk rate below 4.0%. Eight of those times occurred with a player slugging at least 27 homeruns. So unless Almora decides to work the count more often or start hitting a lot more bombs he doesn’t look like a potential star with the bat. In terms of offensive peak at the big league level, think .270/.330/.41.

Ceiling:  2.5- to 3.0-win player

Risk:  Moderate

MLB ETA:  2017

 

 

7. Jake Stinnett, RHP 

Born: 04/25/92 Age: 23 Height: 6-4   Weight: 202   B/T: R/R                                                          
Top CALs: N/A

Background: The rare early round senior, Stinnett, a .181/.272/.319 hitter for the Terps, absolutely blossomed during his final season: 118 IP, 132 punch outs,  the fifth most in Division I baseball, and just 30 free passes. The Cubs grabbed him in the second round, 45th overall, and sent the 6-foot-4 right-hander to the Arizona Summer League for three games before finishing out the year with the Boise Hawks.

Projection:  Prior to the draft last season I wrote,

“Fresh, developing arm with the potential to help fill out the front half of a big league rotation. Above-average ability to miss bats with solid-average or better control. And, again, Stinnett still has room to grow as he continues honing his craft.”

Love, love, love Stinnett – more than any other hitter-turned-pitcher. He was simply overpowering during his final year, and despite entering his age-22 season, he still has plenty of room to grow. If he remains in the rotation, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him vault up to the organization’s top pitching prospect this time next year.

Ceiling:  2.5- to 3.0-win player

Risk:  Moderate

MLB ETA:  2017

 

 

8. Pierce Johnson, RHP

Born: 05/10/91 Age: 24 Height: 6-3   Weight: 170   B/T: R/R                                                          
Top CALs: Tyler Thornburg, Alberto Bastardo, Aaron Blair, Hector Santiago, Dan Merklinger
YEAR Age Level IP ERA FIP K/9 K% BB/9 BB% HR/9 LOB%
2013 22 A 69.7 3.10 3.12 9.6 25.0% 2.8 7.4% 0.52 73.8%
2013 22 A+ 48.7 2.22 2.99 9.3 25.5% 3.9 10.7% 0.18 83.6%
2014 23 AA 91.7 2.55 4.27 8.9 24.4% 5.3 14.5% 0.79 85.3%

Background: The fourth highest player ever selected out of Missouri State University, Johnson missed two months due to some leg issues, which, if you’re a pitcher – or you’re heavily invested in one – is the type of injury you hope for. Johnson still missed a lot of bats for a player in Class AA – 91 in 91.2 innings – but his control all but abandoned him; he averaged five walks every nine innings. And even once he returned from injury in early July his control was nowhere to be found (30 walks in 65 innings).

Projection: Johnson showed far better command of the strike zone two years ago, so there’s hope that last season was just a hiccup. If it does he could develop into a good #4 arm. If not, well, there’s always the backend of the Cubs’ bullpen where his fantastic strikeout ability would spike even higher.

Ceiling:  2.0-win player

Risk:  Low to Moderate

MLB ETA:  Late 2015/Early 2016

 

 

9. Duane Underwood, RHP 

Born: 07/20/94 Age: 19 Height: 6-2   Weight: 205   B/T: R/R                                                          
Top CALs: Roberto Hernandez, Luis Heredia, Fabio Castillo, Josh Stinson, Colton Pitkin
YEAR Age Level IP ERA FIP K/9 K% BB/9 BB% HR/9 LOB%
2012 17 R 8.7 5.19 6.68 7.3 17.1% 6.2 14.6% 1.04 63.5%
2013 18 A- 54.3 4.97 4.77 6.0 13.9% 4.5 10.4% 0.66 57.1%
2014 19 A 100.7 2.50 4.42 7.5 20.3% 3.2 8.7% 0.89 80.0%

Background: Underwood barely missed any bats two years ago in the Northwest League, averaging a shade under six per nine innings and nearly an identical total in free passes. It was a trend that followed him into full season ball in 2014 too: in his first 11 appearances he walked 20 and struck out 29 in 45.2 innings. Then something clicked for the former second rounder and over his last 11 games he fanned 55, walked 16, and posted a tidy 2.13 ERA in 55.0 innings of work.

Projection: Finally the real Underwood showed up. Granted it’s just an 11-game stretch, but the lively armed right-hander was simply too dominant to ignore. Opponents hit .199/.268/.346 off of him. If, and it’s a big if, he can carry that momentum forward – and there’s no reason to believe he can’t – Underwood’s going to start garnering a lot of attention outside of Chicago. At the very least he’s a dominant bullpen arm.

Ceiling:  2.5-win player

Risk:  Moderate to High

MLB ETA:  Late 2017/Early 2018

 

 

10. Billy McKinney, CF

Born: 08/23/94 Age: 20 Height: 6-1   Weight: 195   B/T: L/L                                                          
Top CALs: John Drennen, Matthew Sulentic, Abraham Almonte, Royce Consigli, Jorge Bonifacio
YEAR Age LVL PA AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO BB% K% wRC+
2013 18 R 206 .320 .383 .414 .798 .094 8.3% 14.1% 126
2014 19 A+ 333 .241 .330 .400 .730 .159 10.8% 17.4% 92
2014 19 A+ 210 .301 .390 .432 .822 .131 11.9% 20.0% 136

Background: Despite posting similar-esque Isolated Power totals before and after the trade to Chicago (.159 vs. 131), McKinney slugged 10 homeruns in 75 games in Oakland’s High Class A and just one with the Cubs. The former 24th overall pick hit an aggregate .264/.354/.412 with 41 extra-base hits and six stolen bases. Not bad work for a 19-year-old playing against much older competition.

Projection: CAL’s not entirely convinced of the former first rounder, comparing him with the likes of John Drennen, Matthew Sulentic, Abraham Almonte, Royce Consigli, and Jorge Bonifacio. McKinney offers solid-average power that could develop into 17 or so homeruns at the big league level. Decent plate discipline and a little bit of speed. He looks like a fringy regular with some upside.

 

Ceiling:  1.5- to 2.0-win player

Risk:  Moderate

MLB ETA:  2017

 

 

***All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs***



About

After serving as a video scout/analyst for Baseball Info Solutions, Joe Werner began writing at his original site, ReleasePoints.com. He’s since transitioned into his current niche, prospect analysis, at ProspectDigest.com. He has been fortunate — and incredibly blessed — to have some of his work published and mentioned by several major media outlets, including: ESPN, Cleveland.com and the Baseball Research Journal. He can be reached at: JosephMWerner@yahoo.com.


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