2021 Chicago Cubs Midseason Top 30 Prospects Update
After five playoff appearances in the last six seasons and their first World Series championship in 108 years, the Cubs have steered into a rebuild.
The Cubs entered the year as the defending National League Central champions with 1B Anthony Rizzo, 3B/OF Kris Bryant and SS Javier Baez all in the final year of their contracts. Rather than try to make one final run with the all-star trio still intact, the Cubs telegraphed their intentions when they traded RHP Yu Darvish to the Padres for RHP Zach Davies and four teenaged prospects before the season.
The signs of a rebuild had been mounting. Owner Tom Ricketts’ claim of “biblical losses” due to the coronavirus pandemic made clear the Cubs would cut payroll. Theo Epstein resigned as president of baseball operations with a year remaining on his contract, saying in a statement “the organization faces a number of decisions … that carry long-term consequences; those types of decisions are best made by someone who will be here for a long period rather than just one more year.” In spring training, the Cubs instructed their scouts to mostly cover major league spring training remotely and pour more time and resources into minor league spring training—in essence, focus on prospects rather than big leaguers.
The Cubs briefly flirted with contention anyway, but after a 2-13 skid going into the all-star break, they sold off en masse. The Cubs traded Rizzo, Bryant, Baez, RHP Craig Kimbrel, OF Joc Pederson, LHP Andrew Chafin, RHP Ryan Tepera, OF Jake Marisnick and RHP Trevor Williams in a span of 15 days leading up to the trade deadline, bringing back a total of 10 prospects plus young big leaguers Nick Madrigal and Codi Heuer.
How quickly the Cubs return to contention will depend heavily on how those trades pan out. The Cubs’ farm system ranked in the bottom third of MLB entering the season and, even after the deadline, sorely lacks upper-level starting pitching. That shortage wasn’t helped by a string of injuries to their top starting pitching prospects this season, with LHP Brailyn Marquez and RHPs Kohl Franklin, Riley Thompson and Michael McAvene all yet to pitch this year due to injuries.
The Cubs’ greatest run of success in more than a century has come to a close. Now, the focus turns to trying to build another perennial contender.
1. Brennen Davis, OF
Age: 21. Team: Double-A Tennessee.
Davis suffered a broken nose and a concussion when he was hit by a pitch in the face near the end of spring training. He returned in late May and progressively heated up as the season has gone on, highlighted by hitting two home runs in the Futures Game to win the MVP award. He has consistently put together high-quality at-bats, is making hard contact and has flashed above-average defense in both center and right field. He remains the best athlete in the Cubs system, and his successful jump to Double-A has only heightened expectations for his future.
2. Brailyn Marquez, LHP
Age: 22. Team: None.
Marquez had Covid-19 at the beginning of the year and got a delayed start to the season as he went through protocols. He was in the process of ramping up when he felt shoulder tightness that forced the Cubs to shut him down. He unsuccessfully tried ramping up a second time and has no set timetable to return. The Cubs hope he'll be ready to pitch by the Arizona Fall League.
3. Pete Crow-Armstrong, OF
Age: 19. Team: None.
NEW The 19th overall pick in the 2020 draft, Crow-Armstrong was acquired from the Mets in the deal that sent Javier Baez to New York. He brings a special blend of speed, instincts and grace on defense that makes him a potential Gold Glove winner in center field. He needs to add strength as a hitter, but he doesn’t have many holes in his swing and takes controlled, mature at-bats. He is out for the rest of the season as he recovers from a torn labrum in his right, non-throwing, shoulder.
4. Cristian Hernandez, SS
Age: 17. Team: DSL Cubs.
Hernandez signed with the Cubs for $3 million as arguably the top player in the 2020-21 international class. He immediately impressed Cubs officials with his athleticism, explosiveness and high baseball IQ upon reporting to the team and has a chance to move stateside quickly if he performs well. He is off to an 11-for-48 (.229) start in the DSL but has a .367 on-base percentage with nearly as many walks as strikeouts.
5. Miguel Amaya, C
Age: 22 Team: Double-A Tennessee.
Amaya has been out since June 3 with a forearm strain but drew positive reviews for both his catching and throwing behind the plate before getting injured. He was pitched around a lot early in the season and rarely got pitches to drive, but the hope is that will change once he returns and is joined by Brennen Davis and Chase Strumpf in Tennessee’s lineup.
6. Jordan Wicks, LHP
Age: 21. Team: None.
NEW Wicks became the first Kansas State player to be drafted in the first round when the Cubs selected him 21st overall. He signed for $3.13 million but has yet to be assigned to an affiliate. Wicks’ 92-95 mph fastball plays up with movement and deception and his changeup is a devastating, plus-plus weapon that was the best in the draft class. With an improving slider and curveball and an advanced feel to pitch, he has a chance to be a middle or back-of-the-rotation lefthander.
7. Reggie Preciado, SS
Age: 18. Team: Rookie-level Arizona Complex League
The Cubs debated sending Preciado to the DSL to start the season, but he played so well during extended spring training they elected to keep him in Arizona to start his pro career. The switch-hitter’s righthanded swing is ahead of his lefthanded swing, but he’s getting to velocity and showing the ability to impact the ball from both sides of the plate. Preciado’s athleticism and arm strength have impressed defensively at shortstop, although he’s been error-prone like many young infielders.
8. Yohendrick Pinango, OF
Age: 19. Team: Low-A Myrtle Beach.
Pinango has quickly established himself as one of the best pure hitters in the Cubs system and is batting .275/.326/.394 away from the offense-stifling environment of Myrtle Beach. He has started making more contact out front and pulling the ball to make him a true all-fields hitter. He has ably played both corner outfield positions and shown an impressive ability to slow the game down on both sides of the ball.
9. Ed Howard IV, SS
Age: 19. Team: Low-A Myrtle Beach.
Howard missed more than a month with a pulled hamstring before returning in mid June. He has impressed with plus-plus defense at shortstop when he’s been on the field, but he has a long way to go as a hitter. He has struggled to recognize and adjust to breaking pitches and opposing evaluators have raised concerns about the lack of strength and leverage in his swing. The Cubs internally are more bullish, highlighting his strong hand-eye coordination and flashes of hard contact.
10. D.J. Herz, LHP
Age: 20. Team: Low-A Myrtle Beach
NEW Herz has struck out 14.3 batters per nine innings at Myrtle Beach and solidified himself as the best active, healthy pitching prospect in the Cubs’ system. His 92-95 mph fastball plays up with deception from his crossfire delivery, his curveball is steadily improving and his changeup has been a dominant pitch that earns plus-plus grades at its best. Herz’s primary goal is to improve his below-average control and be more efficient so he can last deeper into his starts.
11. Greg Deichmann, OF
NEW One of two prospects acquired for Andrew Chafin, Deichmann has struggled with injuries throughout his career but flashed plus raw power from the left side when healthy. He’s an older prospect at 26 and his best offensive season has come this year in extremely hitter-friendly conditions at Triple-A Las Vegas, but he’s made real improvements by shortening his swing and tightening his approach to cut his previously untenable strikeout rate.
12. Keegan Thompson, RHP
13. Kevin Made, SS
14. Alexander Canario, OF
NEW Canario boasts huge power and showed the ability to get to it playing at a cavernous home park at Low-A San Jose in the Giants’ system, but he still has mechanical issues he needs to clean up in order to make more consistent contact. He is a good athlete with the plus arm strength to fit in right field. He was acquired as one of two players the Giants sent in exchange for Kris Bryant.
15. Kohl Franklin, RHP
16. Chase Strumpf, 2B
17. Ryan Jensen, RHP
18. Alexander Vizcaino, RHP
NEW Vizcaino came to the Cubs from the Yankees in the Anthony Rizzo deal. He has plenty of stuff with a fastball that’s touched 99 mph and a changeup that has earned plus-plus grades at its best, but he’s had trouble with the consistency of his slider and his performance has generally been more fair than excellent. He missed the first two months of the season with a shoulder impingement but returned July 8.
19. Kevin Alcantara, OF
NEW Alcantara is physically huge at 6-foot-6 and has flashed huge power when he connects. He has well above-average speed and long strides that give him a chance to stay in center field. Alcantara is an aggressive hitter whose pitch recognition is exceedingly poor, however, and he’ll have to improve that significantly to get the most from his tantalizing potential. He was one of two players acquired from the Yankees for Anthony Rizzo.
20. Justin Steele, LHP
21. Christopher Morel, SS/OF
22. Riley Thompson, RHP
23. Owen Caissie, OF
24. Nelson Velazquez, OF
NEW Velazquez made a swing adjustment to flatten his bat path and stay in the zone longer. The changes have helped him stay on fastballs better and use the whole field more. His strikeout rate remains too high, but he is making improvements and was recently promoted to Double-A Tennessee.
25. Cory Abbott, RHP
26. James Triantos, 3B
NEW Triantos re-classified for this year’s draft and was picked in the second round, No. 56 overall, by the Cubs. He is a bat-first infielder with the bat speed, strength and intent to be an above-average hitter with average power, although he’s physically filled out and doesn’t have much projection remaining. A shortstop in high school, he was drafted as a third baseman and has the tools to be an average defender with a solid glove and plus arm strength.
27. Caleb Kilian, RHP
NEW Kilian was one of the breakout performers in the Giants' system this year and was acquired in the trade for Kris Bryant. He works with a lively 91-94 mph fastball and flashes a plus breaking ball, but he mostly pitches with average stuff and gets hitters out by spotting everything with above-average command. Rival evaluators aren’t sure his mix will work as a starter in the major leagues, but he’s slowly gaining believers.
28. Max Bain, RHP
NEW Bain went undrafted out of NCAA Division II Northwood (Mich.) and played a year in the independent United Shore Baseball League before being signed by the Cubs in January 2020. He has increased his velocity and now sits at 95 mph on his fastball to go with a high-spin downer curveball and a slider that’s been successful against righties. Bain is still learning to trust his stuff and attack the strike zone more, but he is moving in the right direction.
29. Ben Leeper, RHP
NEW Leeper signed as a nondrafted free agent out of Oklahoma State last year and is already in Triple-A as one of the Cubs’ most promising relief prospects. His fastball has been sitting at 95 mph and touching 98 while his upper-80s slider has been a “sick” pitch in the words of one observer. He pounds the zone with his power stuff and has a chance to make his major league debut this season.
30. Manuel Rodriguez, RHP
RHP Keegan Thompson moved to the bullpen and saw his fastball tick up from the low 90s as a starter to 94-97 mph in relief. His cutter and changeup have also been dominant pitches, giving him the arsenal to project as a setup man or potential closer. His control has regressed as he’s started throwing harder, but he’s still been highly effective in the Cubs bullpen.
C Pablo Aliendo has hit impressively well for Low-A Myrtle Beach while showing excellent athleticism behind the plate. His instincts, reflexes, receiving and arm strength give him a chance to be an above-average defensive catcher and his natural bat-to-ball skills allow him to spray the ball around the field.
OF Darius Hill has demonstrated unique bat-to-ball skills and a knack for consistently finding the barrel. He’s hitting the ball from line to line and has shown himself capable of playing all three outfield positions, helping him profile as a possible fourth outfielder.
SS Delvin Zinn has drawn excellent reviews for his defense at shortstop and is 42-for-49 on stolen bases with his nearly plus-plus speed. Zinn remains a light hitter, but he has competitive at-bats and knows the best approach for him to let his speed work.
RHP Cayne Ueckert has been sitting 96 mph with a power slider in the upper 80s and has struck out more than one-third of the batters he’s faced this season. His slider is a swing-and-miss weapon and his competitive, attacking mindset has him primed for a future in the Cubs bullpen.
RHP Ryan Jensen continues to show explosive stuff but has struggled to land his secondary pitches for strikes, allowing batters to sit on his fastball. He’s had trouble falling behind hitters and avoiding big innings, although he began to turn things around in July.
RHP Cory Abbott regressed at instructional league last fall and has continued to struggle this season. He got hit hard at Triple-A Iowa and allowed a hit per inning, with nearly as many walks as strikeouts, in his brief major league debut.
LHP Burl Carraway has walked 32 batters in 21 inning at High-A South Bend. He has been difficult to hit when he’s in the strike zone, but most of the time he’s nowhere near it.
RHP Adbert Alzolay has settled into the Cubs rotation and posted a 4.85 ERA in 19 starts this season.
3B Patrick Wisdom signed as a minor league free agent before the season and has been a boon to the Cubs lineup with 16 home runs in 60 games.
OF Pete Crow-Armstrong had shoulder surgery in late May to repair a torn labrum and cartilage damage. He may recover in time for offseason activity.
LHP Brailyn Marquez has no timetable to return from his shoulder tightness. He still needs to be built up and stretched out without any setbacks before he’s ready to pitch in live games.
RHP Kohl Franklin has missed the entire season with an oblique strain and is healing slowly. He is tentatively set to return in mid August.
SS Kevin Made missed most of June with a forearm strain but returned at the start of July.
RHP Riley Thompson has missed the entire season with recurring shoulder tightness and has been shut down twice in his rehab. He is tentatively set to return in August barring further setbacks.
OF Cole Roederer suffered a forearm strain in late May. He has no firm timetable to return.
RHP Chris Clarke missed the first 10 weeks of the season with a hip strain but returned July 20.
RHP Michael McAvene had Tommy John surgery and will be out until the middle of the 2022 season.
LHP Jack Patterson had Tommy John surgery during spring training and will be out until the 2022 season.
C P.J. Higgins suffered a torn UCL shortly after his major league debut and had Tommy John surgery. He will be out until at least the middle of next season.