by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
Obviously the Cubs’ system isn’t quite what it was a year ago, but that’s what happens when you graduate players like Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell. The system isn’t barren, stocked with a slew of outfielders as well as an under-the-radar catcher who is primed to make a name for himself in ’16. How do they all rank? Let’s take a look:
1) Gleyber Torres – Shortstop
ETA – 2018
Grade – B+
You can argue that Torres has the highest upside of anyone in the system, but there are significant questions on how he will develop:
- Can he stay at shortstop?
- Where will his carrying tool be (3 HR, 22 SB in ’15 at Single-A, though he’s not known for his speed)?
- Will his plate discipline develop (21.0% strikeout rate, 8.4% walk rate)?
He played all of last season as an 18-year old, so we obviously have to give him time to develop and mature. Expectations are that the plate discipline will be there and that there should be a little bit more power, though time will tell.
2) Willson Contreras – Catcher
ETA – 2016
Grade – B+
I may be among the biggest believers in Contreras, though he is quickly gaining steam in other circles. In 521 PA at Double-A in ’15 he hit .333 with 8 HR, showing the skill set to maintain the marks and continue developing:
- 11.9% strikeout rate
- 10.9% walk rate
- 34 doubles & 4 triples
The converted third baseman is still developing his defense, but it’s coming quickly. The potential is there to develop into one of the better offensive catchers in the game and with Kyle Schwarber seeing more and more time in the outfield, there will also be an opportunity.
3) Billy McKinney – Outfielder
ETA – 2016
Grade – B
There is power in his bat, even though it hasn’t fully presented itself quite yet, as he hit 31 doubles, 3 triples and 7 HR over 377 AB between High-A and Double-A last season. He also showed tremendous plate discipline, even as he moved up against more advanced pitching (strikeout rate // walk rate):
- High-A – 10.4% // 13.6%
- Double-A – 15.3% // 8.8%
Those who don’t believe in him will cite his lack of speed and he also missed the end of ’15 with a fractured knee. With the potential to develop into a .280-.290ish type hitter with 20+ HR, there’s plenty to like.
4) Ian Happ – Outfielder
ETA – 2018
Grade – B
A switch hitter, Happ hit .259 with 9 HR and 10 SB over 251 AB last season while splitting time between two levels of Single-A. The strikeouts were a bit of a concern (21.5%/23.6%), though he showed a solid eye (17.7%/10.3% walk rates) and there is the potential for his power to develop (17 doubles, 4 triples). He needs to improve his contact rate, but he clearly has the skillset to be a 20/10 outfielder.
5) Duane Underwood – Right-Handed Pitcher
ETA – 2017
Grade – C+
He has yet to show impressive strikeout stuff (5.89 K/9 over High-A in ’15), but he did display good control (2.95 BB/9) and generated a lot of groundballs (1.46 GO/AO). Already sporting a three pitch mix, the potential is there for the strikeouts to continue to develop as long as he can get past the elbow issues that sidelined him for a portion of ’15. He’s the best arm in the system, at least for now, and is worth watching to see if he can take the necessary steps in his development.
6) Mark Zagunis – Outfielder
7) Donnie Dewess – Outfielder
8) Albert Almora – Outfielder
9) Pierce Johnson – Right-Handed Pitcher
10) Bryan Hudson – Left-Handed Pitcher
(Note – This is an aggressive ranking for the 2015 third round pick, but at 18-years old and standing in at 6’8”, there’s reason to believe in his development. He reportedly already owns a very good secondary offering, his curveball, and could quckly develop into the Cubs’ top pitching prospect. He’s one to watch.)
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Grading System (still in development):
Grade A – Elite Prospects (aka potential future perennial All-Stars)
Grade B – Above Average Prospects (aka above average Major Leaguers, could develop into a potential All-Star)
Grade C – Average Prospects (aka solid, though unspectacular)
Grade D – Nothing More Than Roster Filler
Grade F – Move On
Make sure to check out all of our Top 10 Prospect Lists: