Midseason Prospect Update: Cubs

The Midseason Top 10 Prospect lists are compiled from conversations with front office officials and scouts from all 30 teams. Players who have exhausted prospect eligibility or were in the Major Leagues as of June 22 are not eligible. Draftees from the 2016 draft and July 2, 2016 signees are also not eligible.

SEE ALSO: Midseason Top 100

Don’t size the Cubs for World Series rings just yet.

Oh, the Cubs went into the all-star break at 53-35, with a seven-game lead over the Cardinals in the rugged National League Central. The Cubs had struggled heading into the break, losing eight of their last 10. The Cubs had 17 games left against the Cardinals and Pirates, but also 19 games left against the Brewers and Reds.

C Willson Contreras
1B Anthony Rizzo
2B Javier Baez
3B Kris Bryant
SS Addison Russell
OF Jason Heyward
OF Albert Almora Jr.
OF Kyle Schwarber
SP Jake Arrieta
SP Jon Lester
SP Kyle Hendricks
SP Dylan Cease
SP Oscar de la Cruz
Closer Hector Rondon

If the Cubs play like they did before July, it won’t matter who they play. Chicago was off to the best start in baseball thanks to the game’s best roster in terms of depth and versatility. The Cubs led the majors in starter’s ERA (3.09) and rank second in runs scored only to the Red Sox.

And that’s with some adversity thrown in, such as a bullpen that has fallen off from its 2015 pace, injuries to corner outfielders Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler and a poor offensive season by big-money free-agent signee Jason Heyward.

There’s room for improvement from Heyward and the bullpen, and the Cubs have had a strong year on the farm, with catcher Willson Contreras and outfielder Albert Almora jumping to the majors as part-time contributors. Other prospects such as Eloy Jimenez and Mark Zagunis—a prime trade candidate considering the Cubs’ big league outfield depth—have had strong years, but at the top levels, Chicago doesn’t have much pitching help ready for the majors. The club’s top pitching prospects are either at lower levels, hurt—or both. Thirteen of the first 14 picks the Cubs made in the draft were pitchers, hinting at the organization’s own self-evaluation of its pitching prospects and this years’s draft class.


1. Gleyber Torres, ss

Torres got off to a rough start at high Class A Myrtle Beach, hitting just .179/.289/.308 in April. Cubs officials say the main reason was Torres’ desire to pull the ball more to try to hit for power. Of course Torres didn’t start hitting more home runs until he stopped being so pull-conscious, but he’s tripled last year’s home runs total already and making progress with his plate discipline as well. Still just 19, Torres has made some errors at short (16), and some scouts remain mixed on his ability to stay at short—or to push Addison Russell off the position—long-term. But he’s showing the pop to move to second or third—both positions where power ranks higher on the profile—if needed.

2. Ian Happ, 2b/of

Torres and Happ are prospects 1 and 1A. Happ’s first full pro season has included gap power with over-the-fence potential, speed and basestealing prowess, and plenty of walks. Happ is strikeout-prone but has reached Double-A in his first full season while moving from outfield to second base. He’s still played a bit of left field, but Happ has impressed the Cubs with his work ethic, desire and improved footwork at second. His versatility defensively and offensively as a switch-hitter with speed and power potential makes him a perfect fit for the modern game.

3. Eloy Jimenez, of

One of the stars of the Futures Game, Jimenez has made significant strides in his first shot at full-season ball. The main issue has just been getting at-bats and working every single day at being a professional, because Jimenez’s tools are prodigious. He’s got size, leverage in his swing, plus raw power and enough speed to be an asset on an outfield corner. His throwing mechanics and defense remain raw but his entire game has made strides this season.

4. Mark Zagunis, of

If the Cubs have more outfield injuries, Zagunis could be next in line. His defense on the corners still could use polish but he has the arm strength and speed for right field, as well as left. Offensively, he has continued to control the strike zone and gets Kevin Youkilis comparisons for his strike zone judgment. He’s become more aggressive early in the count at higher levels, where pitchers are around the plate more, with increased power production the result (.496 slugging at Triple-A).

5. Jeimer Candelario, 3b

Candelario’s season got off to a poor start at Double-A, but when he got a promotion to Triple-A Iowa, his season turned around. Candelario was better against Triple-A pitchers who were around the strike zone more; at the same time, he’s matured as a hitter with his pitch selection. He’s improved defensively too, in making the routine play and focusing more from pitch to pitch. Still just 22, he’s close to big league-ready but may be more of a second-division regular than a true star. He’s a trade chip with Kris Bryant manning third in Chicago.

6. Oscar de la Cruz, rhp

The breakout pitching prospect of the Cubs’ 2015 season, de la Cruz has not been able to follow up yet thanks to forearm soreness. The Cubs have been cautious with the physical Dominican righty but he has been throwing bullpens since June, building up for a late-July return to short-season Eugene. He’s hit 96 mph with his fastball there; now he has to stay healthy for the finish. He has more upside than any other Cubs pitching prospect.

7. Dylan Cease, rhp

Cease has the best arm in the organization, with some reports that he’s hit 103 mph with his fastball in Arizona during extended spring training. He’s a Tommy John survivor with athleticism and arm speed in his 6-foot-2, 170-pound package with the ability to spin a breaking ball as well. Cease hasn’t reached full-season ball but he’s one of the most asked-about players in trade talks due to his fastball.

8. Trevor Clifton, rhp

Clifton has to keep learning to pitch with his now 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame (he was 170 when drafted), and as he gains body control he continues to improve. He’s throwing more strikes with his 91-95 mph fastball and has made real progress with his curveball, which now rates better than his slider. With his changeup progressing, he’s also shown significant progress with his changeup, now his best secondary pitch. Clifton slowed down of late, losing some rhythm with a pair of short outings (all-star game, rain delay), so the Cubs want to see him finish strong.

9. Duane Underwood, rhp

Underwood hasn’t had surgery or any soft-tissue tears, but he can’t stay healthy. He’s shut down with forearm soreness at the big league all-star break but it’s been diagnosed as inflammation. When healthy, Underwood still has a plus fastball that reaches 97 mph, though it’s modest life means he has to locate it well. Both his strikeout and walk rates are up this year, so while he’s reached Double-A, he needs much more polish.

10. Eddy Martinez, of

Signed out of Cuba for $3 million, Martinez remains raw but his tools are plainly evident, and he has a chance to be a five-tool player. He doesn’t have any tools that rate 70, but they all rate as 50s or 60s, especially his plus raw power and speed. His power will play more over the fence than to the gaps if he can improve his strike-zone judgement. He’s a bit raw defensively and has played exclusively on the corners at this point. His tools give him a chance to be an impact player.


Lefthander Rob Zastryzny pitched just 65 innings in 2015 but has stayed healthy and pitched with a plus fastball much of the season, leading the organization with 108 innings and 89 strikeouts. He needs to harness his secondary stuff but a lefty pitching at 90-95 mph is once again an asset . . . First baseman Dan Vogelbach has had a strong season offensively at Triple-A and puts in work to get better defensively. He’s a below-average defender and probably fits better as a DH, but his offense fits the profile at those spots. He’s blocked with the Cubs.


Outfielder Billy McKinney has added some bad weight and slowed down, both in terms of his speed (he’s no longer trying to play center field) and his bat speed. He still controls the strike zone but appears to lack impact potential at the plate . . . Righthander Pierce Johnson has injury inertia; pitchers who get injured tend to get injured again, and he has three separate trips this year, with a come backer injuring his pitching arm, a lat strain and a blister all leading to DL trips. When healthy, he hasn’t performed, leaving the Cubs shy of big league-ready pitching help.


Righthander Oscar de la Cruz has missed the first half with forearm tenderness, but he hit 96 mph in a recent Arizona bullpen and was set to report to short-season Eugene soon to start pitching in games, with an assignment to low Class A South Bend on the horizon . . . Righthander Ryan Williams gets tremendous sink when his fastball is in the upper 80s and commands the pitch well. He might be in the big league bullpen by now if he hadn’t been sidelined the last two months by shoulder pain.


Almora and Contreras both stepped in when injuries affected the Cubs’ starter in front of them and have performed. Contreras’ power, defensive versatility and bat make him a potential impact rookie considering Miguel Montero’s overall struggles.

COMING ABOARD (Check Draft Database for all picks)

The Cubs’ first five picks of the 2016 draft. (s-supplemental round)

3. Thomas Hatch, rhp, Oklahoma State. The Cowboys rode their ace all the way to Omaha, but the Cubs will take it easy after he threw 130 innings in college.

4. Tyson Miller, rhp, Cal Baptist. Dominant in Division II, the sinker-slider Miller has a shot to be a back-of-the-rotation starter,

5. Bailey Clark, rhp, Duke. A power arm who started the year well, Clark lost his spot in Duke’s rotation due to a long arm action that leads to erratic control.

6. Chad Hockin, rhp, Cal State Fullerton. The grandson of Harmon Killebrew, Hockin has reached the upper 90s, but his slider is his best pitch, and he’s had some durability issues.

7. Michael Cruz, c, Bethune-Cookman. A Puerto Rico native, Cruz has lefthanded power and has a chance to catch, though his bat is ahead of his glove.

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