John Manuel: Thanks for coming out everyone. just an FYI, I’ll chat as long as I can today, it may be choppy as my availability may wax & wane this afternoon, but I’ll take questions as long as there are some in the queue. Let’s talk Cubs!
Ryan (Chicago, IL): Is Duane Underwood still considered to be a future SP, or has his outlook changed?
John Manuel: Sorry for the double-post everyone. Ryan, Duane Underwood is one of the more divisive prospects in the system. Some of the folks in the organization still really like him, but to be honest, I’ve never been an Underwood guy. (1) Georgia prep pitcher track record is mixed, and quite poor for Marietta area. Most of those kids are over-worked in HS, they specialize early and pitch too much in travel ball. (2) He’s never had a consistent breaking ball. I like my RHPs to spin a breaking ball; his is good in flashes. (3) Injuries. He’s rarely stayed healthy. He just doesn’t float my boat, and the guys I’ve talked outside the organization usually agree. He’s out of the top 10 after another injury-plagued year where his fastball in the AFL, when he was supposed to be getting healthy, was topping out at 91-92. Big year for him next year to try to regain some momentum. Look for him at Double-A if he can answer the bell. Hope he can.
Frank (Indianapolis IN): How many of these guys are likely to rank on the BA 100?
John Manuel: For me, probably 4. I am confident all 3 hitters at the top will be in the 100, and to me Dylan Cease is a great roll of the dice. I could see a similar case for de la Cruz, who I know some club officials prefer to Cease. But I think it’s a bit much to take pitchers with such significant risk profiles as de la Cruz, Cease & Albertos as Top 100 guys. I like Clifton a lot but think his ceiling is No. 4-ish, which is why he ranks behind Zagunis & Candelario, who are solid prospects but not Top 100 types.
Gary (South Bend, IN): Was Donnie Dewees close to making the top 10? Which OF spot is he best suited for?
John Manuel: Somewhat but I’m not a huge Dewees fan. I like him for what he is but don’t see a first-division regular ceiling unless he develops more power or gets a lot better defensively. He’s already 23, a college draftee and hasn’t reached Double-A yet. He is a better version of JB Shuck, a spray, line-drive hitter who is best suited for left field rather than center. He could still be a solid second-division regular, hit for average and steal some bags, but he has to do those things at a fairly high level, because the rest of his tools are fringe or below, especially the throwing arm.
J.P. (Springfield, IL): Thanks for chatting, John. What was the consensus opinion of Eddy Martinez's year in the MWL? In your opinion is he ready for more advanced competition?
John Manuel: Mixed opinion, he’s ahead of Dewees in the Handbook and I debated strongly between Martinez & Wilson for the No. 9 hole; I was pretty fixated on getting Albertos into the Top 10. Martinez’s body lacks physical projection, but it doesn’t really need it — he’s physical already. Coaching and his own hard work have improved his throwing arm significantly; best in the system, though Almora’s may play better at times because Almora is so good with positioning, accuracy, instincts, etc. Martinez probably fits better on a corner and the approach may prohibit him from ever getting to his power consistently. But there were very encouraging signs; better 2nd half than 1st half, and progress in instructs in terms of the swing shortening up, and just learning how to play the American style of the game. More detail in the prospect handbook to that end.
J.P. (Springfield, IL): Which of the 2016 draft crop was the closest to cracking the top ten, and why?
John Manuel: Thomas Hatch, not even close. Hatch was nearly Top 100 on the BA 500 out of High School at Jenkity Jenks High (old BA inside joke there, can’t resist) … Played with Trey Michalczewski of the White Sox in high school. Hatch was fantastic in college this year and will move quickly after what he showed the Cubs in instructs — advanced FB command and a plus slide piece at its best. Darin Erstad compared his slider to that of Brad Lidge in a story on the BA site earlier this season, and that’s high praise. Hatch also just missed the Top 10. When you don’t have a first- or second-round pick, and you have a productive international program, you don’t usually get a ton of draft picks in the Top 30. ONly other draft pick in the Top 30 is Bailey Clark, who must be good for me to rank a Duke guy.
Grant (NYC): What were evaluators' opinions of Bryan Hudson this year - could he become a frontline starter?
John Manuel: I would say if they evaluated him this year, they’d question if he can be a frontline starter in the Northwest League. He was bad this year, no other way to put it. That happens when you’re 6-8 and a teenager; it’s easy to get a delivery out of synch. I am on the Hudson train, or river, or whatever we want to call it. But he needs better functional strength to keep all his long levers working together. At times he was pitching in the mid-80s with a cement-mixer breaker, and that ain’t what the Cubs signed. He had a good instructional league according to my sources, and was good in extended spring, but not during the season. With all the Cubs’ lower-level arms he’s going to have to come out good in spring training to earn a spot at South Bend. I would be surprised if he got out of extended spring to be honest.
Kelly (St. Cloud MN): Would the Cubs' system rank in the 20's at this point in time? Is this a classic case of the bulk of their talent residing in the lower minors?
John Manuel: We ranked the Cubs there last year, and I was a little light on them. I didn’t give Gleyber Torres enough credit. But the system actually will rank a bit higher this year just because of the strides of guys like Jimenez, Happ, Clifton, and then the dpeth of arms at lower levels. The Cubs international staff has done a really nice job, and development has really brought along some guys. Shout out to Tim Cossins for the improvement of catchers Victor Caratini and especially PJ Higgins; he’s a heck of a catching coach. And pity Jaron Madison, the farm director who has to find innings for all these lower-level pitchers. Good luck with that Jaron!
Jacob (Chicago): Where would Gleyber Torres be on the Cubs prospect list?
John Manuel: No. 1, though there are club officials who still think Eloy will wind up better. I believe our BA Grades in the book for them are 65-High for Eloy and 60-Medium for Torres. We could be a bit light on Torres’ grade still though there are still plenty of scouts who do not think he’s a slam-dunk shortstop, that he could move to 3B or 2B. Eloy’s bat has more potential; he could be a 6-hit, 7-power guy when it’s all said & done. That is a star, whether that’s in LF or RF.
Jacob (Chicago): I heard rumors that the Yankees are talking the Sox about Quintana and Gleyber Torres could be the headliner. Do you think the Cubs would rather have Quintnana or are they happy with the Chapman trade?
John Manuel: I don’t know about the rumors, though I thought the ‘latest’ was that the Yankees were on the outside looking in re: Torres. But getting Gleyber for Chapman was a coup. The Yanks bought very low on Chapman from the Reds and none of the players they gave up rank in the Reds’ Top 30. Meanwhile, they got back Torres, who was in my top 5 on my personal Top 50 that will be in the Handbook. Who cares if Billy McKinney regressed and Adam Warren is just a swing man and Rashad Crawford is an org guy. That was a great trade for the Yankees. And I know Cubs officials who were thinking, when Chapman gave up that home run to Rajai Davis, ‘We better win this thing because we gave up Gleyber Torres for this guy.’ They hold Gleyber in very high esteem, and so do I.
William (Pensacola, FL): What is a realistic expectation for Ian Happ for how good he will be when he's 27?
John Manuel: Good question. I feel like Happ came along 15 years too late. In the mid-90s, we would have jumped all over a second baseman who can hit, has power, runs all right and is a shy defender. He would have played for La Russa, or been Todd Walker. Now, his defensive warts get more attention. I have to say I did not expect that the information age in baseball would focus more attention on defense, because 15 years ago it seemed to do the opposite. Anyway, Happ has to find a defensive home to be a regular. He gets comped to Zobrist a lot, but Zobrist was an asset defensively at virtually every spot and was competent at shortstop. Happ can’t play short and is versatile for 2 reasons — he’s athletic, and he hasn’t mastered a position. He seems like a perfect trade chip because his bat is close to big league ready, and the Cubs have other utility candidates such as Chensy Young, or bats like Candelario and Zagunis ready to help. Happ as a regular should approximate Neil Walker — switch-hitting offensive 2B. Walker has had a nice career.
JD (Charlotte): 3 seems a little high for a guy who stopped hitting in High-A and hasn't turned it around since. Is the system really that weak right now?
John Manuel: You’re light on Albert Almora. He doesn’t walk; otherwise he’s a good offensive player. Hits for average, has average power, elite defensive player in CF. I think he’s a really solid player. My comp for him for 3 years has been Aaron Rowand, maybe fewer HRs and better defense, but capable of being a 6-hole hitter on a championship team. I think he wins the Cubs CF job this year over Jon Jay and wings up hitting 7th or even 8th for that team. He’s a great baserunner, savvy player who doesn’t have to be a star. I think he fits this roster very well. Winning makeup, intangibles, and solid tangible ability. Maybe not what you might expect for a No. 6 overall pick, but he’s going to be a solid everyday big leaguer. I think you are wrong in your assessment of Almora.
Mitchell Baker (Indiana University): Do you see Dylan Cease having the durability to be a #2 in the MLB? Or is there a chance he could be one of those pitchers that is always on the DL?
John Manuel: We just won’t be able to truly know until he gets to full-season ball. But he didn’t even have enough IP to qualify for the league title and still was top 5 in the Northwest League in strikeouts. He’s straight out nasty. Still, I have had more than one scout compare him to Craig Kimbrel, guys who saw both as amateurs, and I can see closer being his future rule as easily as No. 1. I saw him in a high school game at NHSI in 2013 facing Cody Bellinger and I think it’s my favorite high school game I’ve seen outside of the Madison Bumgarner-Patrick Johnson showdown in Hickory back in 2007. Man, my job is so awesome sometimes …
Bob (cleveland): where do you see candelario ending up this season? Part of a trade package? It appears his pathway to the majors is blocked with the cubs.
John Manuel: His pathway is blocked, definitely. He’s injury insurance, though I still think the first move the Cubs would make if Kris Bryant got hurt would be to play Baez at third. His best path to playing time in Chicago is at 1B if Rizzo were to get hurt. He’s a complementary piece in a trade for a starter or maybe could get you a relief arm.
Kyle (Chicago): Who are a good ceiling and floor comp for Eloy Jimenez?
John Manuel: One scout who was lower on Eloy thought he was just going to be a solid-average left fielder, that he wasn’t athletic enough to be a star and thought long levers, inconsistent power. I am loathe to throw out the comps the Cubs folks gave me for fear of putting too much pressure on the player. But there are lofty names thrown out. One of them is Giancarlo Stanton, because physically there are similarities. That comp only works physically though; they are very different plaeyrs. Jimenez is not that level of athlete. He’s also probably a better pure hitter than Stanton with less power and more contact ability. Another player with those similarities is Jorge Soler, who got too stiff, too thick. Again, Soler has more power, less feel to hit. I mean, Eloy could wind up hit over power; how nuts would that be? If I type much more about Eloy I’ll get too excited and throw out the crazy on the down-low comp. I do not want to do that. But I like Eloy and believe in the bat, and the makeup is good. Smart kid, worker, wants to be great, not entitled.
Dan (Augusta, ME): Ian Rice came from out of nowhere and looked interesting last year. Can he stick at C? And will I find him in the awesome BA Prospect Handbook? Thanks.
John Manuel: He is interesting but not a catcher; he’s more of a DH or 1B. he did not make the Top 30, but the Prospect Handbook is still awesome.
Connor (Wallingford, CT): Who are you higher on - Jimenez or Vlad Jr.?
John Manuel: GREAT question. I went back & forth and went Eloy ahead based on the fact that he did it in full-season ball. But holy wow I love Vlad Jr. Those 2 jokers are jacked way the heck up my top 50 in the Handbook. Can you tell I’m a little excited talking Cubs prospects today? I guess a few days off rejuvenated me, I’m almost as loopy today as I was in the Twins podcast the other day.
Jon (Chicago): Will any of the presumed Iowa rotation members (Brooks, Williams, Zastryzny etc) beviable at the MLB level as starters or will we have to wait for the Clifton/Cease/De La Cruz wave?
John Manuel: Rob Z is in the lead there, with Brooks next because they are on the 40-man roster. Ryan Williams would have beaten Rob Z if he’d stayed healthy; he’s got allies in the big league dugout, put it that way. He’s tough to elevate and a good fill-in candidate, maybe back of-the-rotation eventually, but he’s got basically 35 good pro starts. I didn’t rank him this year due to the injury. But the Cubs do like him. The Cubs may get 2 big leaguers out of their 2014 draft class from seniors that they signed for squat: Williams ($1k) and James Farris ($3k), a reliever who almost made the 30 but is on the depth chart. He was really good in the AFL.
Seth Ferguson (Evansville, IN): Out of all of the college pitchers the Cubs drafted this summer, which SP stands out to you the most besides their top pick Hatch?
John Manuel: Bailey Clark has the best arm of the crew, and he looked good and threw strikes in his short pro debut. He went back to Duke in the fall to finish school rather than go to instructional league, and we’ll see how he looks this spring. If he’d gone to instructs, I would have bet he would have jumped to high Class A to debut in 2017 with Hatch. Now, I doubt that, and South Bend’s rotation is going to be really crowded. He had the best pure arm strength of anyone the Cubs drafted in 2016; Hatch has it all over Clark in terms of pitchability, command, etc. But Clark is interesting. I also like Dakota Mekkes but he’s a straight reliever. Funky, led Division I in K per 9 in 2016 by a healthy margin.
Anthony (Chicago): ETA for Oscar de la Cruz being 2019, or can he be a fast riser? Also, how good is the stuff? Mostly just heard about his physicality
John Manuel: Well, the scouting report tells you how good the stuff is. You should subscribe, you’d more than “hear” about stuff. You’d read it! De la Cruz is a fast riser if he stays healthy because he throws strikes with plus stuff. He may have a higher ceiling than Cease, as he is more physical and more likely to remain a starter. But he hasn’t stayed healthy yet and he’s a lot older than Cease, and I believe in Cease’s athletic ability to tame that fast arm and keep him a starter.
itto (PR): Were Zastryzny, Peña and Paulino close to the Top 10?
John Manuel: Rob Z was, and Paulino made the 30. I would up not ranking Felix Pena. I decided the Cubs had enough young guys with upside that I didn’t have to rank every middle reliever on the 40-man roster and left Pena out. I didn’t see him as having anything (plus pitch or premium command) to separate him from the pack.
David (Hudson, OH): General question in regard to kids signing out of Mexico. There are issues prior kids away from Mexican teams, issues with large areas in Mexico where kids don't play, etc. I've also noted that lots of players signed seem to have bodies that are not as projectile as from other parts of the Caribbean? All in all, for a large country Mexico doesn't produce MLB talent. Is there a rend toward that changing that the Cubs have identified? Or are they just beating the bushes harder?
John Manuel: Scouts have made the same generalization that you have re: projections or athleticism with Mexican players but I think that’s unwise. I think the top athletes in Mexico just usually don’t play baseball. I think they play soccer. The Cubs are just beating the bushes harder in Mexico than other teams, in part because the system you described helps stretch their international dollars a bit more. The portion the Mexican League clubs take doesn’t count against their int’l bonus pool, just what the players get. So the Cubs can flex their financial muscle more there than they can elsewhere while they are in the penalty box. So that’s helping them dig up gems like Albertos and Isaac Paredes. And I think Mexico just produced the best pitching prospect in the game in Julio Urias, who looks like the real deal with the Dodgers, so I’m good with Mexican talent.
Schmidty (Glen Ellyn): Does Mark Zagunis project to be better than a 4th outfielder?
John Manuel: Not for the Cubs, I don’t think. With Chicago, I think Zagunis is an extra guy, and you usually want your fourth outfield to be able to play center field. It doesn’t look like Zagunis does that anymore. I do think he’s starting to come into his power and could be a solid regular on a corner, either in LF or RF. But Zagunis needs to work a bit more on being a well-rounded player, to be an asset with his baserunner and defense, not just presentable, to be an everyday regular. Scouts I talk to really like the bat, they just question the power and overall impact there, and if he’s not a 25-HR guy, he’s probably going to have to do the little things better. I think that’s an easier route for Zagunis to take.
Jason (Chicago): Is Chesny Young a legit prospect? He's looked very good as a professional and he's had a really good winter. Future MLB regular ceiling?
John Manuel: Trying to go a little quicker here … future utility ceiling. Chesny can really hit, he has done well in winter ball, even playing good defense at 3B according to a scout I talked to. But he has 40 power if that. He’s a righthanded-hitting Tommy La Stella. I don’t think he’s a first-division regular but like the utility profile, and he snuck in some competent time at SS this year. That can only help.
itto (PR): Did the Cubs made a mistake by choosing Jacon Hannemann instead of Armando Rivero to the 40 men roster?
John Manuel: I would have protected Rivero based on the numbers, and the need. But Hannemann has first-division regular tools. He’s dynamic and was starting to hit when he got hurt. And you can see the Cubs needing a CF if Almora doesn’t pan out. This guy is a better athlete than Almora and may be a late bloomer. Rivero will be better in 2017 for sure and maybe they could have snuck Hannemann through. That said, the Cubs had Rivero at their upper levels for 3 years and let him walk. I will trust them on that.
TJ (Springdale): What are your thoughts on Caratini? Are his defensive skills good enough to be a back up catcher for the Cubs?
John Manuel: He is getting better, but I’m not sure if the glove will be good enough on its own. He has to hit for more power because he’s a fringy or even below-average thrower. He also isn’t a high-energy guy. That may make him a perfect complement for Willson Contreras. I like Victor, maybe more than the Cubs themselves! I think it’s hard to find switch-hitting catchers who can hit, and I think he can come into average power, with the bat getting him to the big leagues as a backup.
Josh (New Jersey): John, whats the deal on Isaac Paredes? Stat-wise, he was super impressive for his age. Go Heels!!!!!!
John Manuel: Thanks … I like Paredes & ranked him in the top 30. The body is not a classic SS body, but he has SS actions & hands. The lower minors are wide open for him to take advantage of the opportunity in this organization and be the South Bend shortstop in 2017. I think he will be tested there defensively, but I bet he hits. Sounds like he and the barrel of the bat get along well.
David (Hudson, OH): What do you make of Zastryzny having far more succcess in the majors than he ever had in the minors? Hitters not seeing enough of him? The Chris Bosio effect? Too small a sample size? Or...
John Manuel: Bosio & the cutter, and a little bit of confidence. I think Rob Z., but do not see him as an impact. Maybe he can be a Travis Wood type swingman, but he’s not that caliber of hitter or left fielder …
Noel (Portland): Is Matt Holliday a good comp for Jimenez?
John Manuel: I wondered about that earlier … not unrealistic and not bad considering that Holliday hit and had power and did it awkwardly. I like it! I’ll have to run that by some scouts.
Todd (Edneyville): What is the consensus on Ryan Kellogg? Will he ever show more velo? His frame allows for it, you'd think.....
John Manuel: He doesn’t have a fast arm or big athleticism. Size doesn’t determine velocity. I am not a big Kellogg guy. Future WBC star for Canada though … I bet he bumps up a bit more with a maple leaf on his hat.
Justin (NY): At one point, Justin Steele and Carson Sands seemed to be the next big pitching duo in Chicago. Where are they at now?
John Manuel: Well, even when drafted, they signed for less than Dylan Cease. If they ranked ahead of Dylan, it was because Dylan was hurt and they are lefthanded. Now Cease is healthy and throwing 100 and they are still somewhat raw. Sands’ body and stuff went backward. Steele is still in the 30 even after an uneven year at South Bend. He is too athletic to give up on, but it would behoove him to focus on fastball command before trying to master 4-5 pitches at once.
Patrick (Fort Wayne, IN): Jose Albertos has been a mystery prospect with supposedly great potential. What can you tell me about his ability and expectations? Elite prospect?
John Manuel: No more mystery–read the report. I de-mythologized him. I’m sure others have reports as well but I want you to read mine. He has the potential to be an elite prospect but let’s see him do it more than in extended spring or instructs or four innings in the Fire League.
Dan (Indy): John, talk to me about Jake Stinnett. I liked him coming out of college, but he seems to be struggling a lot. Is this a guy who can be a 4/5 in the MLB, or is the stuff not good enough to ever make the show? thanks for all your work!
John Manuel: He’s gone backwards … he left his good slider in College Park, sadly. I blame Lefty Driessell because why not?
Joe R (Newport News, VA): I'm intrigued by Preston Morrison, if only because he's different. Does he have a future as a swingman?
John Manuel: Maybe but it’s mid-80s at times. Even Darren O’Day sits 88 … I like Morrison though; he’s a pitch maker. I could see him squeezing out such a career. He’s going to have to handle lefthanded hitters better; they don’t have such great LH hitters in the Big 12 as they do in the upper minors, not to mention the majors. Another NC prep product by the way … Charlotte represent
Chris Williamson (Denver, CO): Can you please give your thoughts on Wladimir Galindo? I've seen some video of him at the plate and he impresses me.
John Manuel: Big raw juice, big arm strength at 3b, needs a lot more polish offensively and at 3b. He’s got a full report in the Handbook. I also am intrigued.
Anthony (Illinois): What are the chances of Pierce Johnson getting back on the fast track to the majors? Has his injuries diminished his stuff?
John Manuel: Fast track? He’s 26. He missed the fast track. His stuff is still there, he just hasn’t ever figured out the secondary stuff or the fastball command. I would not blame injuries for his failure to reach the majors. I would say Pierce just wasn’t good enough. He’s a fungible reliever at this point.
John Manuel: Gotta go guys, hope you enjoyed it. Fun chat and a fun time of year. Enjoy the rest of our Top 10s and order a Prospect Handbook — help make it a NY Times best seller (sports listing) 2 years in a row! Thanks for coming out.