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Ademan, who played for the Dominican Republic's 15U national team in 2013, trained with Amaurys Nina, and the Cubs have had success with Nina's players before, most notably Eloy Jimenez. The Cubs traded Jimenez to the White Sox in 2017 in the Jose Quintana deal, one of many trades that thinned the farm system considerably and made room at the top for Ademan, who signed in August 2015 for $2 million. He was considered a light-hitting yet smooth infielder when he signed, but he started to change perceptions in 2017, his first year in the U.S., by skipping Rookie ball and jumping straight to short-season Eugene. The Cubs kept pushing him with a promotion to low Class A South Bend for the final 29 games of the season, where he replaced Isaac Paredes after he was traded to the Tigers. Ademan has a high-waisted, projectable frame with solid athleticism, good body control and natural feel for the game. He plays under control and has savvy for his age, which is most evident offensively. He has surprising strength in his wiry frame and can drive balls to the gaps consistently and even over the fence. He has a feel for barreling the baseball, repeats his smooth swing and has shown some selectivity as well, allowing his average power to play. He should be a steady above-average hitter. Ademan is steady at shortstop with quick feet, excellent hands and a solid-average arm. He's still a teenager who makes some mistakes on routine plays, though scouts project him as an above-average defender, if not better, with time and experience. In 2017 he made 17 errors in 67 games at shortstop, 10 of them on throws. Ademan is an average runner with times in the range of 4.2 to 4.3 seconds to first base, though he will need to be a more selective basestealer at higher levels. Ademan has a high floor as a middle infielder who can hit, and he already has hopped on the fast track by reaching full-season ball. He'll have to gain strength and improve his ability to learn which plays he can make and which he cannot to be a future regular at shortstop. He likely will continue to move quickly because the Cubs need trade chips more than they need another middle infielder. Ademan should return to South Bend to start 2018, but if he heats up before July, his name will be involved in trade talks for pitchers.
Alzolay signed as a 17-year-old, and he's never been a priority prospect. He had his best year by far in 2017, finishing the year at Double-A Tennessee to emerge as the Cubs' most advanced pitcher with upside. A better fastball--up to a consistent 93-95 mph and touching 96, up from 91-92 last year--made Alzolay a better pitcher and better prospect. It started with a greater commitment to the club's throwing program, then continued with an improved delivery, drawing more power from his lower half. Alzolay always had shown the athleticism to repeat his delivery and pound the strike zone, but now he was beating hitters with his plus heater thanks to both its velocity and his in-charge, up-tempo pitching style. He locates his average low-80s curveball well enough to throw it for strikes when behind in the count, keeping hitters off his fastball. The Cubs are focused on helping his below-average changeup make progress. The lack of a second plus pitch to go with his fastball profiles Alzolay as a future No. 4 starter. A strong start would make him an early candidate for a 2018 callup if Chicago needs help either in the rotation or in the bullpen.
Albertos had pitched just four innings as a pro thanks to forearm tightness in 2016, but the Cubs awaited his 2017 season as much as any of their minor leaguers. Signed for $1.5 million out of Mexico in the Cubs' loaded international class of 2015, Albertos made 12 starts overall, including in the short-season Northwest League playoffs, after one start in 2016. A clean arm action, smooth delivery and athleticism helps produce the premium fastball velocity that Albertos has shown. He dialed back a bit to 93-94 mph for most of 2017, showing the ability to hit 97 when needed, and he's hit 99 in extended spring training. His fastball has solid life as well, and he has harnessed it more, improving his control and hinting at future command. His changeup earns some plus-plus grades from scouts thanks to its action and the arm speed he uses to sell the pitch. He pitches backward at times and locates his changeup; it's his best pitch, and he trusts his fastball-changeup combination. That has inhibited the progress of his slider. He can spin a breaking ball but doesn't throw it enough for it to play to its above-average potential. Throwing his slider enough to improve his feel and consistency will be one key for Albertos in 2018. The other will be staying healthy again as he makes the jump to low Class A South Bend. He has a higher ceiling than any Cubs pitching prospect.
A Puerto Rico native who attended Southern and then Miami Dade JC, Caratini progressed from converted catcher to big leaguer by 2017, replacing Miguel Montero in late June when the Cubs designated the veteran for assignment. Caratini got sporadic playing time after Chicago traded for veteran Alex Avila in July. A bat-first catcher, Caratini was hitting .343, ranking fourth in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, when promoted. He repeats his short, strong swing from both sides of the plate and gained the confidence to hunt his pitch and get out front a bit more to produce improved power. He has modest bat speed but average raw power and a feel for hitting that allows the power to play. Caratini's arm plays average at third base but fringe-average behind the plate, where he has solid footwork to go with his soft hands. He's worked at refining his average receiving and blocking skills and at calling games, but the Cubs didn't think he was ready to carry the load when Willson Contreras was hurt. Caratini's overall profile resembles that of Avila, an impending free agent whom Caratini could replace as the backup in Chicago in 2018.
A first-team All-American as a freshman in 2015, Lange went 30-9, 2.91 in three seasons at Louisiana State and helped the Tigers reach the 2017 College World Series finals. His heavy reliance on his curveball, one of the best in the 2017 draft class, dropped his stock a bit as a junior, and the Cubs got him with their second pick (30th overall). An undisclosed issue with his physical prompted him to sign a below-slot deal, at $1.925 million, the only first-round bonus below $2 million. Lange earns plus-plus grades for his curveball from his admirers, and even skeptics grade his curve as plus. He spins it with mid-80s power at his best. When he locates his curveball and can throw it for strikes whenever he wants, it opens up his whole arsenal and increases his confidence in his fastball. Lange has sat 92-96 mph at his best, but he rarely if ever did that in 2017, instead pitching at 90-93 with some 94s mixed in. The Cubs will force Lange to throw his changeup as a pro more than he ever did in college and try to get him to pitch inside and up in the zone with his fastball to make him less predictable. With his current two-pitch mix, Lange could move quickly as a closer, with one club official likening him to a more physical, better version of Justin Grimm. The Cubs will push the 22-year-old to high Class A Myrtle Beach to see if his competitiveness can help him learn a changeup quickly.
An infielder before signing as a 17-year-old, de la Cruz shifted to the mound after signing with the Cubs for $85,000. He seemed poised to bust out after his 2015 U.S. debut with short-season Eugene, but he has pitched less than 100 innings the last two seasons with a variety of ailments, from forearm soreness to muscle pulls to oblique strains. In 2017 he missed nearly three months before returning to pitch in August, then was pulled from the Cubs' Arizona Fall League contingent. At his best, de la Cruz features an athletic delivery with excellent extension that helps his 92-94 mph fastball pop, and he has touched 97 in the past. He can show above-average fastball life and downhill angle as well, eliciting weak contact. His curveball and changeup both have had their moments, with the curveball earning above-average grades. Its consistency is about as good as his health track record, and he hasn't had the reps to gain proper feel for his changeup. It's all about staying healthy for de la Cruz, who rivals Albertos for ceiling in the system as a potential No. 2 or No. 3 starter. The Cubs won't waste his bullets in the minors; if he stays healthy, he'll zoom to Wrigley Field.
A top 200 prospect out of a Pennsylvania high school, Little attended North Carolina as a freshman but decided to transfer after getting just four innings. He pitched very well in the Cape Cod League in 2016 and then pitched his way into the first round at State JC of Florida in the spring of 2017. He was the Cubs' first pick and struggled a bit after signing for $2.2 million. A lefthander with two plus pitches, Little lacks precise command but can be effectively wild in the mold of Gio Gonzalez or Francisco Liriano. His fastball has above-average life even at high velocity, and he touched 96 mph in the spring. He pitches more at 90-94 mph, though he sat at the lower end of that register in his pro debut. His tight 12-6 curveball has firm upper-70s power and has flashed plus as a pro. His average changeup gives him a true third pitch and grants him some pitchability. His inconsistent delivery costs him command and can get choppy and robotic. When Little's delivery stays athletic, he's a three-pitch lefty with plus stuff who projects as a mid-rotation starter. He's younger than fellow first-rounder Alex Lange but also less polished and should earn a spot at low Class A South Bend in 2018.
Hatch had tremendous success as an amateur, first at Jenks (Okla.) High, then at Oklahoma State, where he missed a year with a strained ulnar collateral ligament. A platelet-rich injection helped him recover without surgery to lead Oklahoma State to the 2016 College World Series, and he made every start in 2017, his first as a pro, while ranking fifth in the high Class A Carolina League with 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings. Hatch has diversified his sinker-slider repertoire as a pro by adding a four-seam fastball and throwing his average changeup much more often than he did in college. He can reach 95 mph with his four-seamer and is learning to work up in the zone, particularly against lefthanded hitters, to change their eye level. Improved pitch sequencing would help his whole arsenal play up. His low-90s sinker with plus life remains his bread and butter, and his above-average slider pairs with it to allow him to pitch to both sides of the plate. His pitch mix and late life in the zone helped him give up just two homers Command was Hatch's bugaboo in 2017. The Cubs believe he's a good enough athlete, one who fields his position well and holds runners, to make the leap. He'll be tested at Double-A Tennessee in 2018 and profiles as a No. 3 or No. 4 starter.
Signed for $1.625 million out of Taiwan, Tseng received the third-largest bonus in the Cubs' 2013 international class, behind Eloy Jimenez and Gleyber Torres. Tseng had made slow, steady progress since then, taking it one level at a time before repeating Double-A Tennessee in 2017. He earned organization pitcher of the year honors and made his first big league start against the Mets in September. Tseng has the same stuff he has had, for the most part, since signing. His above-average changeup remains his best pitch. He locates his 90-93 mph fastball consistently to both sides of the plate. He's confident enough to throw his average curveball and cutter-type slider, a fringe-average pitch, in any count. Tseng trusted his catchers more and sequenced his pitches better in 2017, staying out of pitch patterns and using his offspeed stuff to different locations than he had in the past. Tseng's offseason preparation also was better, and he stayed strong throughout the season. Tseng profiles as a back-of-the-rotation starter with durability a key attribute. After throwing more than 150 innings in 2017, he's the upper-level Cubs arm most likely to earn a big league rotation spot in 2018.
The Cubs invested in Puerto Rico by hiring former big leaguer Edwards Guzman as a scout focused on the island's prep talent. He gave the Cubs the information to crosscheck Velazquez early, so when he popped at May's Excellence Games event--Puerto Rico's top predraft showcase--the Cubs were ready and made him the first position player they drafted in 2017. Velazquez showed some rust in his pro debut because he sat out about six weeks after the draft before playing in the Rookie-level Arizona League, but he showed electric tools once he played. His eight homers tied for third in the league, and he produces power with bat speed, present strength and more feel to hit than was expected. His plus-plus raw power grades above his hitting ability, but he has some natural feel for the barrel. His approach is raw, as are some aspects of his defense, but he's a plus runner if not better underway and has a solid-average arm. With his power and athleticism, Velazquez likely will fit the right-field profile, though any outfield spot is possible. His aptitude will determine how quickly he moves, but he likely will be in extended spring training to start 2018.
A $1.3 million bonus swayed Wilson, a Vanderbilt commit, to sign in 2015; he remains the highest-drafted high school position player for the Cubs since 2012 first-rounder Albert Almora. He missed six weeks with low Class A South Bend due to a fractured fibula and performed better after returning. Wilson has an explosive, athletic but smallish body and has earned comparisons to players from Adam Eaton (a fellow Ohio product) to 2017 first-rounder Jeren Kendall out of Vanderbilt. Wilson is a 70 runner, the fastest prospect in the system, with the potential to be a consistent plus defender in center field if not better. He's a playmaking defender and improving basestealer with power to the gaps. His above-average raw power plays in games more frequently when he slows the game down and stays with an all-fields approach. Wilson needs development time but is all over the Cubs' Best Tools chart. He has the upside to be a big league regular at a premium position. Wilson likely is headed to high Class A Myrtle Beach thanks to his strong finish but will move slower than most Cubs hitting prospects.
Bote jumped into the Top 30 for the first time after the 2016 season, capitalizing on his first extended playing time, and earned a bigger challenge in 2017. He was an everyday player for the first time as a pro, hitting third for Double-A Tennessee most of the year and ranking fifth in the Southern League in total bases (206). Bote has the makeup and baseball savvy--his dad and older brother both worked as amateur coaches--to get the most out of his tools, which grade out as average or fringe-average across the board. He has a simple swing with solid strength and average power that produces plenty of doubles and enough home runs even for this era. While some evaluators see some stiffness in his actions, he's worked hard to improve and earned Best Defensive Second Baseman honors from SL managers. He lacks the dynamism of Chicago's current batch of infielders and profiles better as an extra player or second-division regular in the Yangervis Solarte mold. Bote has shown defensive versatility throughout his career, playing the outfield and infield corners, and earned a 40-man roster spot in November.
Hudson was raw when the Cubs signed him for $1.1 million in 2015 as the 82nd overall pick, but he made significant strides in 2017 and has evolved considerably as a pro. Hudson flashed one of the better breaking balls in the 2015 draft class, a low-80s power curveball that, along with his projectable 6-foot-8 frame, prompted the Cubs to buy him out of his Missouri commitment. Hudson's gains as a pro started with stepping back to focus on fundamentals--fitness, a functional delivery and his fastball. His work ethic has improved as he's adapted to the rigors of pro ball, giving him the strength to stay tall in his delivery and drive the ball downhill. He used his angle to pitch off his 89-90 mph fastball in 2017, producing an extreme groundball rate, with more than three ground outs for every air out, and finished well, going 8-1, 3.69 in his last 13 starts. Hudson's curveball and changeup lack consistency at this point because he's focused so much on commanding his fastball. He's spun the curveball and has flashed 94-95 mph velocity in the past. If Hudson can recapture his curve and improve the consistency of his velocity, he'll have two plus weapons to attack hitters, profiling as a mid-rotation starter. He's headed to high Class A in 2018.
A decorated amateur, Thompson has the pitchability to move through the Cubs system quickly. He teamed with fellow Cubs farmhand Trevor Clifton to help USA Baseball's 16U national team win a world championship in 2011 and won gold again in 2012 with the 18U club. He wasn't drafted out of high school and spent four seasons at Auburn, missing a year due to Tommy John surgery but logging 252.2 innings and retaining excellent control after surgery (1.6 walks per nine innings in 2017). Thompson could start or relieve with his aggressiveness and four-pitch mix. He had a plus curve before surgery, but some scouts like his slider better now. He's got two average or better, distinct breaking balls with a feel for locating his spin, and he pounds the zone and an out with an average 89-92 mph fastball that touched 94-95 in shorter bursts after signing. His changeup also earns average grades. Moreover, Thompson is advanced at setting hitters up, making the right pitch at the right time and never giving in. Scouts laud his competitiveness, and he has a professional routine. Thompson will be 23 in 2018 and should be pushed, likely to high Class A Myrtle Beach.
The 2011 draft was the last before the capped-draft era began, and Maples got $2.5 million, the 17th-highest in that entire draft even though he was the 429th pick. The only high school righthanders to get more were Archie Bradley, Dylan Bundy and Joe Ross, all of whom had broken through to the major leagues by 2017. Maples entered the 2017 season ranked outside the Top 30, seemingly out of the Cubs' plans and with just 182.1 innings as a pro. However, he stayed free of the injuries that had interrupted past seasons--such as a UCL injury in his elbow, or the rib and oblique injuries of previous years--and added a cutter in offseason workouts. The cutter, a low-90s pitch that has enough break to pass for a slider, gave him a pitch he could throw for strikes consistently; an adjustment to make his delivery more compact improved his control. Suddenly, Maples had confidence to go with his power curveball, thrown in the mid-80s, and hitters couldn't sit on his mid-90s fastball. It's touching 100 mph now, and while he wasn't fine with it in the big leagues, Maples made it there, finally, in 2017. Maples has below-average control; he walked 5.3 per nine innings even in his breakout season. But he also struck out more than 14 per nine and has the stuff to be a factor in the Cubs' bullpen in 2018.
Abbott was a key recruit for Loyola Marymount and pitched regularly for the Lions for his first two seasons before having a first-team All-America season as a junior. In late March, he threw the first perfect game in school history en route to an 11-2, 1.74 season. He ranked 10th in the country in ERA and strikeouts (130 in 98.1 innings), and he was the 67th overall pick in the draft. Abbott hadn't pitched for three weeks before signing and was slowly built up before his five short starts as a pro. He threw quality strikes with short-season Eugene, though he didn't have his sharp predraft stuff after his time off. Abbott took off this year after studying video of Noah Syndergaard, adopting his slider grip and suddenly throwing 85-88 mph sliders that earn average grades. He hides the ball in his delivery with a hip turn, and his slider and 89-93 mph fastball both play above-average with his deception and command. Abbott will have to throw his changeup more as a pro to gain conviction in it. Old for his draft class, Abbott has the command to potentially earn a spot at high Class A Myrtle Beach.
Clifton had his best season in 2016 and his worst in 2017, but it didn't start off that way. Coming off a strong offseason in which he got into good physical shape, Clifton had seemed to grow into his now 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame. Clifton--who attended high school roughly 50 minutes from Tennessee Smokies Stadium--handled the jump to Double-A well, going 5-3, 2.84 in the first half, with 3.8 walks and 7.6 strikeouts per nine innings. But Clifton lost all five decisions after the break while posting a 9.89 ERA and .376 opponent average. His breaking balls went backward in 2017; his slider morphed into a cutter, which helped him at times, but he lost the feel for his curveball, and neither pitch was working. Clifton also fell into pitch patterns with his changeup, so soon he trusted none of his secondary pitches, relying on his above-average 90-94 mph fastball that touches 95. His response was to work harder, and he hit a physical wall, exacerbating the problem. The Cubs shut Clifton down in late August 2017, hoping he can hit the reset button in the offseason.
Steele was having a breakthrough season, his best since signing for $1 million in 2014. Always highly regarded for his athleticism, Steele combined some twitchiness with improved aptitude to earn a midseason all-star nod in the high Class A Carolina League, but he didn't make it all the way through the season. He left an Aug. 1 start in the third inning due to an elbow injury and wound up requiring Tommy John surgery. Steele, when healthy, was pitching at 92 mph and hit 95 in short stints, harnessing his fastball more and throwing hard enough with ease to believe more was in the tank. He'd started learning to use the top and bottom of the zone in 2017, leading to fewer walks. His secondary pitches, a curveball with slurvy shape, earned above-average to plus grades, with a solid-average changeup that he was learning to trust more. Steele likely won't return until instructional league or perhaps the Arizona Fall League in 2018.
Underwood set several career highs in 2017, which was especially encouraging following two injury-interrupted seasons preceding it. Elbow soreness, forearm tightness and inflammation had plagued him previously, but he stayed healthy in 2017 and set career highs with 138 innings, 98 strikeouts, 13 victories and 24 starts, and did it all at Double-A Tennessee. Underwood's fastball was better at full health; he showed some 97 mph readings and held his typical 92-95 velocity a bit better than before. He still lacks consistency with his fastball command, and the pitch has modest life, so it's not a big swing-and-miss fastball. His curveball and changeup have above-average moments; he still lacks the feel of how and when to use them to dominate minor league hitters. He made progress, though, and still has the three-pitch mix to start, if not the true pitchability. Underwood's stuff likely would play up in relief, whether in short bursts such as Carl Edwards or one time through an order in a swing role. He's headed for Triple-A in 2018.
The Cubs had four hitters at higher levels who looked ready for the major leagues entering 2017. Ian Happ and since-traded Jeimer Candelario graduated to the majors, while Victor Caratini got his first callup and moved into the Top 10. Zagunis also earned his first callup as well, but it went poorly, with an 0-for-14 stretch in June that resulted in a return trip to Triple-A Iowa. Zagunis' season ended early for the second straight year; in 2016 it was a broken big toe, while in 2017 he broke the hamate bone in his left hand. He has the best plate discipline in the system, with a .402 career on-base percentage in the minor leagues, to go with average power. He's still a solid athlete, an average runner who can steal a base. As he's slowed down, the former catcher has become a corner outfielder only, with average ability in either corner to go with an above-average arm. Zagunis lacks a plus tool or the defensive versatility to be a true fourth outfielder, limiting his options for the Cubs. A perfect second-division regular profile, Zagunis is ticketed for a return to Iowa and will have to heat up fast if he gets another shot in the big leagues.
The massive Mekkes took a while to thrive, redshirting as a freshman at Michigan State and throwing just 12 innings the next spring. That summer, he starred in the Texas Collegiate League with 33 strikeouts in 26 innings. He had one of the best seasons of any college pitcher in 2016, leading the nation in most strikeouts (15.2) and fewest hits allowed (4.1) per nine innings. Signed for $275,000, Mekkes hasn't quite maintained that strikeout ratio, but he had a tremendous first full season in 2017, again proving hard to square up. Opponents hit just .155 against him in two Class A stops. Mekkes has deception in his long-limbed delivery, and hitters just don't pick up his 90-92 mph fastball, which can touch 94, with any consistency. Cubs officials say Mekkes' ball moves late and jumps even when you're just playing catch with him, though the pitch lacks extraordinary spin rate. His average slider and changeup aren't extraordinary, but they come out of the same low three-quarters slot as his fastball and play off the pitch. Mekkes' control actually has been better as a pro than it was in college, but Double-A will test if he can keep fooling hitters with his heater and pitch around the walks he does issue.
Amaya had a strong amateur track record, representing his native Panama in 15U tournaments in 2013-14. That helped convince the Cubs to sign him for $1 million in the 2015 class, and the club pushed him in 2017, promoting him to short-season Eugene for his U.S. debut. Amaya's defense ranks ahead of his offense at this point, which helped him make such a jump as a teen catcher. His intangibles fit the position; he has leadership skills, plays with energy and has the desire to catch. He also has catch-and-throw skills, with soft hands and the agility to block balls in the dirt. His arm strength was just fringy when he signed but has improved to average with 2.0-second pop times, and he threw out 41 percent of basestealers. Amaya is more raw on the offensive side of the ball, but he's shown more raw power than expected, as his 14 doubles led Eugene. He's a bit of a free swinger at this point, but he has offensive upside. A potential two-way catcher, Amaya is the best catching prospect in the system's lower levels and should advance to low Class A South Bend.
The Cubs' 2015 international class provides several key pieces of this year's Top 30, many of whom played together in the Dominican Summer League in 2016 and at short-season Eugene last summer. Assad, a $150,000 signee in July 2015, is in that group and made a big step forward with the Emeralds. A bit older than other members of the class at 20, Assad isn't a power pitcher, projecting more as a back-of-the-rotation innings eater. Assad has a big frame and will have to maintain his conditioning to maintain his stuff. The more he worked, the better he pitched, capped by a strong six-inning outing in the Northwest League playoffs. Assad's fastball sits at 92-93 mph and can reach as high as 96, and he throws plenty of strikes with it to both sides of the plate. None of his secondary pitches grades as above-average; however, he's shown he can keep his slider and curveball separate, as well as some feel for his solid-average changeup. One club official compared him to fellow farmhand Jen-Ho Tseng. Assad figures to join fellow Mexican signee Jose Albertos again in 2018 in the low Class A South Bend rotation.
Not all players develop at the same speed, and Burks has needed time to come around. But come around he did in 2017, when he turned 22 and reached Double-A for the first time. He has been a regular for three straight seasons in the minors but profiles as a fourth outfielder in the big leagues. A plus-plus runner when he signed, Burks has matured physically and slowed down as a pro, with above-average speed still being his best tool. He's fast enough to play center field and a better fit on the outfield corners, with a fringe-average arm. Burks' offensive approach has evolved; he works counts and grinds through at-bats well, making himself a tougher out, and he set the table well as a leadoff hitter for Double-A Tennessee. His natural power stroke is often to right-center field and he's shown fringy power to this point, playing more to the gaps. To be a regular, Burks will have to hit for more power, keep hitting and keep drawing walks.
A three-year starter at shortstop for Northeastern, Vosler hit only one home run as a junior, dropping his draft stock. The Cubs picked him up in the 16th round and moved him quickly to third base. Vosler finally came into the power for his new position in 2017, tying for second in the Double-A Southern League with 21 homers for Tennessee. He set career highs for on-base percentage (.343) and slugging (.429), aided by some adjustments to his offensive approach. He's closer to the plate, changed his swing path to add more loft and traded some strikeouts for power. Vosler's swing remains somewhat rotational, but his path to the ball is shorter, and he's athletic enough to repeat his swing. Power is Vosler's best tool; he's average or fringy as a runner and defender, with an average arm. He doesn't have the bat speed or barrel feel to be an above-average hitter, and he struggles with big velocity. Vosler profiles as a second-division regular and should move up to Triple-A in 2018.
Like many pitchers who go to Brigham Young, Rucker was old for his draft class. However, it's not because he went on his Mormon mission trip. His career began at Gonzaga, but he transferred to BYU and converted from Catholicism to being Mormon after meeting his now-wife Sydney. Rucker sat out a year as a transfer, then thrived (11-1, 2.73) in 2016 in the West Coast Conference, which featured second-round picks A.J. Puckett and Mitch White and fourth-rounder Corbin Burnes as opposing Friday night starters. Rucker fell to the 11th round but got an above-slot $180,000 bonus. The lower levels of the Cubs' system are crowded with pitchers, but in 2017 Rucker pitched his way from the low Class A South Bend bullpen to Myrtle Beach's rotation and was the Pelicans' first playoff starter. His fastball hits 96 mph when he relieves, sitting more in the 89-93 range as a starter. He can pitch to both sides of the plate with it and has excellent control, pounding the bottom of the strike zone. His ability to locate his slider and changeup helps them play up; both bump average, and he'll flip in a curveball as well. Rucker may wind up in the bullpen but will get time to develop as a starter, heading to Double-A Tennessee to open 2018.
While Las Vegas is known as a baseball hotbed today, it's mostly for its hitters such as Kris Bryant, Joey Gallo and Bryce Harper. Uelmen has a chance to follow in the footsteps of Vegas big league pitchers such as Erick Fedde, Aaron Blair and Amir Garrett. He attended Cal Poly, teaming in the rotation in 2017 with second-rounder Spencer Howard (Phillies). Uelmen surprised the Cubs with improved velocity after signing. He's more of a sinker/slider pitcher with a fast arm. His fastball was most notable before the draft for its heavy, plus life, with one club official giving it a 70 grade on the 20-80 scale, and he touched 95 mph in relief after signing, though the extra kick cost him some command. Uelmen's fastball is his lone plus pitch; his slider has some slurvy shape to it and earns average grades, while his changeup is in its nascent stages. Uelmen, like Michael Rucker entering 2017, has a chance to earn his way into a 2018 rotation but may have to pitch in relief due to the crowded nature of the Cubs' lower minors staffs.
Mills walked on at Tennessee-Martin, a program that hasn't had a winning record since 1992, and became its first big league alumnus with a 2016 callup to the Royals. In February 2017, Kansas City traded him to the Cubs for outfielder Donnie Dewees. Mills opened 2017 at Triple-A Iowa but missed most of the season with a left ankle injury, reported as a bruise, though there also were reports the Tommy John surgery alumnus had elbow issues. He didn't get back on the mound until late August and wound up with high Class A Myrtle Beach for its playoff run before reporting to the Arizona Fall League to get needed innings. Mills has made it this far based on command of a 90-93 mph sinker that can reach 95 when he's right, and his above-average changeup has similar sink. He throws both a curveball and a slider, though neither has elicited empty swings on a consistent basis, earning fringe-average grades at best. Control (1.9 walks per nine innings in the minors) stands out as his best attribute. Mills is a depth arm for the 2018 Cubs, but only if he stays healthy.
Sierra did not rank among the top 30 prospects in the 2015 international signing class. However, the Cubs coveted the lean, athletic outfielder. Sierra signed for $2.5 million, the largest bonus the club handed out that year, $500,000 more than top prospect Aramis Ademan received. Sierra has a body and raw tools for scouts to dream on, with hitting ability that is much more raw than other recent high-dollar Cubs signees. He may already be taller than his listed 6-foot-3 and has the above-average speed and plus arm to fit the right-field profile defensively, and his glove is ahead of his bat at this point. He has shown above-average raw power and hasn't been able to tap into it yet as a pro, even though the Cubs installed him as the No. 3 hitter in the Rookie-level Arizona League team in his 2017 U.S. debut. Sierra has some buggy-whip to his swing, and Cubs officials believe in his pitch recognition skills. Sierra's learning curve to date has been slow, but he has athletic ability that stands out in the system. He likely will return to extended spring training to start 2018.
A converted third baseman who became Maryland's ace in 2014, Stinnett was the Cubs' second pick in 2014. He and top pick Kyle Schwarber signed below-slot deals that helped the club sign prep pitchers Justin Steele, Carson Sands and Dylan Cease to above-slot deals in what the club hoped would be a breakthrough pitcher class. Stinnett's stuff in his first two full pro seasons never lived up to what he'd shown as an amateur, particularly his slider. A double-plus pitch at times at Maryland, it flattened out as a pro, and shoulder inflammation sidelined him for the first half of 2017. (He has a pin in his elbow from an injury in his youth.) When he returned with a rehabilitation stint in the Rookie-level Arizona League, it was as a reliever, not as a starter, and Stinnett finally started getting some of the swings and misses he did as an amateur. While his 83-84 mph slider isn't consistent yet, at times it has the power and depth of a plus pitch, and his fastball velocity kept climbing, as he sat 92-94 mph and hit 96 regularly in the Arizona Fall League. Stinnett still throws a decent changeup, even in a relief role, and the Cubs hope his stuff continues to tick up in shorter relief stints.