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As an amateur, Torres trained in Venezuela with Ciro Barrios, who in 2012 had Franklin Barreto sign with the Blue Jays for $1.45 million. Torres wasn't thought to be as advanced, but he got a $1.7 million bonus as the Cubs blew past MLB's international bonus slots in 2013. The Cubs also signed Eloy Jimenez that year for $2.8 million, but Torres now out-ranks him as a prospect and is much closer to the big leagues. He's shown tremendous maturity since signing and has endeared himself to club officials. He's particularly become attached to minor league infield coordinator Jose Flores, a Puerto Rico native who was a minor league shortstop in his own playing days in the early 1990s. He's put many Cubs infielders, Torres included, through hundreds of hours of fundamental defensive drills and created a bond with many of the organization's Latin American prospects from all over the region. Torres has learned quickly and thrived, finishing 2015 playing shortstop in the high Class A Carolina League playoffs as Myrtle Beach won the Mills Cup championship. He started the year as one of the youngest players in the low Class A Midwest League and earned the No. 1 prospect spot in the MWL. Torres has four above-average to plus tools, with only power lagging behind--but give him time. Torres had good strength when he signed and has improved his body significantly working with the Cubs' strength and conditioning crew, with a trimmer shape. He combines those tools with a gamer's mentality and a feel for the game on both sides of the ball. Torres' bat-to-ball skills are only mitigated by youthful aggressiveness, and as he gains experience, he should learn which pitches to selectively zone in on and drive more consistently, giving him at least average future power potential. Some club officials give Torres plus future power, particularly to his pull side. He has a knack for the barrel, uses the entire field and has a solid approach, showing a good two-strike approach for his age. That helped him rank ninth in the MWL in batting. He's become a much better baserunner who at times is too aggressive trying to steal but usually maximizes his above-average speed. Defensively, Torres shines with excellent instincts and footwork, giving him average range for shortstop that he pairs with a true plus arm that produces plenty of true throws with carry. Working with Flores, Torres has become efficient, consistent and a reliable defender also capable of the highlightreel play. He continues to pay more attention to pre-pitch positioning and reading hitters to aid his anticipation, to maximize his range. He can be cleaner with his footwork. Torres carries himself with confidence and has natural leadership skills. He showed his age with a 29-for-139 (.209) finish as he wore down at the end of his first full season. Cubs officials say Torres has an "it" factor that belies his age. He doesn't have the loud tools of big league Chicago rookies such as Kris Bryant or Addison Russell, but he's already exceeded the Cubs' expectations. The only problem is where he eventually would fit in Chicago, as the Cubs have an infield glut already. That could make Torres trade bait, particularly if he starts 2016 with a strong first half back at Myrtle Beach. As a shortstop with offensive potential, he could prove to be the Cubs' best trade chip.
Contreras' original 2009 contract was voided; as a result, he has been eligible for the Rule 5 draft every year since 2010, but the Cubs never lost him despite his athleticism and loud tools. Introduced to catching in 2012, he broke through at Double-A Tennessee in 2015, leading the Southern League in batting (.333) and ranking second in on-base percentage (.413). Significantly improved focus and sticking to an offensive approach helped Contreras translate his plus tools into performance in 2015, for the first time. He stopped giving away at-bats by chasing pitchers' pitches and gained confidence. He always has had natural hand-eye coordination and has grown into more strength, giving him gap power and above-average hitting ability. Formerly a plus runner, he has lost a step catching but still runs well enough to move to the outfield. Contreras toned down a hyper approach defensively, where his above-average arm used to get him in trouble, but he can still be mistakeprone, with inconsistent receiving and blocking skills that need more development. His English-language skills have improved significantly the last two years. Because catcher Miguel Montero is signed through 2017, Contreras has a chance to add polish to his defense at Triple-A Iowa in 2016. He's athletic enough to crack Chicago's big league roster as a multi-positional reserve, perhaps as soon as 2016.
Happ wasn't highly recruited to Cincinnati but dominated college from Day One, earning first-team All-Freshman honors and raking for two summers in the Cape Cod League. He ranked inside the top 10 in NCAA Division I in on-base (.492) and slugging (.672) percentage in 2015, when the Cubs popped him ninth overall and signed him for $3 million on the recommendation of area scout Daniel Carte, who dug deep in researching Happ's makeup. Happ has strength, bat speed and a sound swing from both sides of the plate, to go with selectivity and controlled aggressiveness. His ferocious swing leads to some swing-and-miss, but he drives balls all over the field and has the above-average speed to leg out hits and challenge outfielders. Happ moved all over the field in college defensively, and the Cubs left him in the outfield in his debut. He focused solely on playing second base in instructional league and impressed club officials with his athleticism, making throws from all angles and improving his footwork. He has the arm strength to be an asset defensively there. The Cubs say they will give Happ a long look at second base, but his bat may push him to the majors before his glove catches up. He may wind up a multi-positional utility player in the Ben Zobrist mold.
Signed for $1.05 million, Underwood had a slow start to his pro career before gaining steam in 2014. He was off to an even stronger start in 2015 before missing a turn and then getting lit up in a June 26 start. His elbow soreness prompted a flight to Chicago to an MRI that came up clean, and Underwood rehabbed his way back from the inflammation into the high Class A Myrtle Beach rotation, making two playoff starts and showing his customary velocity. Among the Cubs' full-season starters, Underwood has the firmest fastball, sitting in the 93-96 mph range, particularly early in games, before settling into the low 90s later. Its late life induces more early-count weak contact than empty cuts. Underwood still is learning to harness his ability to cut and sink the ball, and to set up hitters to better use his curveball and changeup. His curve has more swing-and-miss potential than his changeup for some scouts, but most agree his changeup is more consistent and ahead of his breaking ball currently. Both have flashed plus but grade no better than average consistently, leading to a modest strikeout rate. He's spent time on the disabled list in each of his full seasons. Consistency is the key to Underwood, who has improved his fitness and pro routine and now needs to bring it all together. A full, healthy season at Double-A Tennessee would put him on the cusp of Chicago as a potential No. 3 starter.
Georgia's track record for prep pitchers becoming big leaguers is fairly poor over the last 25 years, but the Cubs' top two pitching prospects are both Georgia preps. Cease starred at Milton High and was committed to Vanderbilt before injuring his elbow while throwing in the upper 90s in the cold March start of his senior-season schedule. He had Tommy John surgery after the Cubs drafted him and signed him for $1.5 million. Cease fired upper-90s heat in his pro debut. He's the prototype little guy with a quick arm that produces electric stuff. For now, he mostly is a twopitch pitcher, both of them plus. His fastball has life even when it sits in the 96-97 mph range and earns double-plus grades, coming out easy with some deception. His low-80s curveball has the power, shape and tilt to be a plus pitch with experience as he learns to command it. Cease's mechanics and arm action are both cleaner than they were in his amateur days, though he's still learning to repeat them. His changeup is in its early stages but has shown average potential. Cease has tremendous upside but has yet to throw more than three innings in a professional game, and his command of the strike zone is below-average. If he can spend most or all of 2016 at low Class A South Bend, then the Cubs will have a better read on his front-of-the-rotation potential.
Almora played for six USA Baseball amateur teams from 2007-11 before the Cubs drafted him sixth overall in 2012, passing on the likes of Michael Wacha and Marcus Stroman while signing Almora for $3.9 million. He interrupted his season at Double-A Tennessee with another stint for Team USA, this time in the Pan American Games in Toronto, where he helped the Americans win a silver medal. In terms of tools, Almora is who he is--a contact-oriented hitter with strong forearms and wrists who has a knack for making contact and avoiding strikeouts. He has improved his selectivity but still doesn't get to his raw power as consistently as scouts would like, and he's an average runner who doesn't walk or steal enough bases to be a leadoff hitter. His bat control and bat speed help him catch up to good velocity. He remains a special defender in center fielder with premium anticipation, instincts and ball-hawking ability, as well as a strong, accurate arm. A grinder with great makeup who is regarded as an excellent teammate, Almora came on strong after his Team USA stint, hitting .302 after his return. He profiles as an everyday center fielder in the Aaron Rowand mold, and with Dexter Fowler a free agent, center field is actually a lineup spot that may be available in Chicago in the short-term.
It only seems like the Cubs traded Jeff Samardzija to the Athletics for Addison Russell. They also acquired McKinney, Oakland's first-rounder in 2013, barely a year after he was drafted. He failed to finish either of his two full seasons healthy, with a sore shoulder limiting him to DH duty in 2014 and a broken right knee cap, the result of his own foul ball, sidelining him in August 2015. While it's not the smoothest swing, thanks to a bit of an arm bar, McKinney has excellent hand-eye coordination and strike-zone judgment, giving him plus hitting ability. He has fringy power, likely not enough to be an impact bat, and he struggled against lefthanders at Double-A Tennessee in 2015, hitting .212 with two extra-base hits in 85 at-bats. He's an average athlete and runner who can play all three outfield positions adequately, with a fringe-average arm that fits best in left field. McKinney excels at the game's most important skill--hitting. He'll either have to revert to his past success against same-side pitchers or improve his defense in center field to fit a first-division profile for the Cubs, who look set on the corners with Jorge Soler and Kyle Schwarber. A return to Tennessee seems likely.
Before he signed, de la Cruz was working out for teams as a 6-foot-4, 200-pound shortstop. When that didn't work out, he shifted to the mound and signed with the Cubs for $85,000 as a 17-year-old in October 2012, but he was so raw he spent two years in the Dominican Summer League. He took a leap forward in 2015 by harnessing his delivery and emerging as the best prospect on a talented short-season Eugene staff. Physicality is de la Cruz's calling card. Some club officials project he could be as tall as 6-foot-6 and could push 250 pounds when he finishes growing, and he has a fast arm His fastball sits in the 92-93 mph range but bumps 97 regularly when his delivery is in sync and he's getting extension out front. At his best, his fastball features above-average life, movement and angle to go with its velocity, making it a potential double-plus pitch. His curveball flashes plus and pushes 80-81 mph. He's still learning to throw his changeup with proper arm speed. Competitiveness is an asset for de la Cruz, who has shown a mean streak on the mound. Club officials try to rein in their enthusiasm with regard to de la Cruz, but they clearly have high hopes for him. He projects to start 2016 at low Class A South Bend, a level he could dominate with his strike-throwing ability and premium heater.
The No. 1 international prospect on the 2013 board, Jimenez signed for $2.8 million, the largest bonus of any Latin American amateur that year. He made significant strides in the short-season Northwest League in 2015, playing every day, earning midseason all-star honors, ranking ninth in the league in batting (.284) and leading Eugene in home runs (seven) and RBIs (33). Jimenez has the most raw power of any Cubs minor leaguer, with long levers that help him produce light-tower power. He'll always have some holes in his swing, but when he fully grows into his body and learns to fully incorporate his lower half, he could be a physical monster of the Jorge Soler model. He has the tools to fit the right-field profile, with average speed that allowed him to play center field in instructional league. But he has played more left field to this point. His defensive skills continue to evolve, though his throwing mechanics are inconsistent. Intelligent and mature, Jimenez has started to add more toughness. The classic high-risk, high-reward teen, Jimenez will make his full-season debut as a 19-year-old at low Class A South Bend in 2016. He may need 2,000 at-bats in the minors to iron out his pitch recognition and plate discipline, but the Cubs have time to wait, and his bat could be special.
Born in the U.S., Candelario grew up in San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic, and signed as a 16-year-old. He ranked in the organization's Top 10 Prospects twice before reaching high Class A in 2014, where he experienced his first roadblock as a pro and didn't handle failure well. He bounced back in 2015, reaching Double-A Tennessee and leading the organization with 35 doubles. Candelario is the Cubs' best defensive infielder thanks to a plus arm, soft hands and smooth actions. His instincts and internal clock maximize his average range at third base, and he has the agility to handle slow rollers. He's a switch-hitter whose swing and approach remain consistent from both sides of the plate, with the ability to use the whole field and hit for solid-average power. He covers the plate enough to make consistent contact and successfully became more aggressive this year, which paid off against advanced pitchers who are around the strike zone more often. Blocked by Kris Bryant at third base, Candelario could still be an internal option if Bryant winds up moving to the outfield. A likely candidate to be added to the 40-man roster this winter, Candelario should return to Tennessee to start 2016 and profiles as a solid regular at third, if not a star.
A catcher and outfielder during his Virginia Tech career, Zagunis split time between catcher and the outfield after signing for $615,000 as a third-round pick in 2014. His athleticism and solid-average speed made the outfield an option, and Zagunis never warmed to the grind of being an everyday catcher. So he spent all of 2015 as an outfielder at high Class A Myrtle Beach, predominantly in right field but mixing in starts at all three spots. He ranked second in the Carolina League in both walks (80) and on-base percentage (.406) while leading the league with 16 hit by pitches. One of those pitches in August went off Zagunis' head, prompting him to miss two weeks, but he returned to play the last two weeks of the season and help Myrtle Beach win the league title. He has solid bat speed and strength to go with an advanced approach and line-drive swing, giving him a chance to be an above-average hitter. His home-run power doesn't profile for a corner spot, but his on-base skills could make Zagunis a leadoff man. He led the Arizona Fall League in walks (19) and ranked second with a .455 OBP despite hitting just .234. He plays with some effort and plenty of energy, putting his catcher experience to use by occasionally warming up pitchers between innings, but he's an outfielder all the way now with average defensive ability and arm strength. He heads to Double-A Tennessee for 2016.
The Cubs hoped Johnson would have been ready to help in the big leagues by now, but he wasn't even ready for the start of the 2015 season. He threw four innings in big league camp and was one of the first players sent to the minor league side, then he strained a lat muscle in his back, adding to hamstring and calf strains that limited him in 2014. Johnson didn't pitch in a game that mattered until June at Double-A Tennessee but threw well when he was healthy, with a fastball that still remains a plus pitch at its best. At times he sits 92-93 mph and can reach 96 with his fastball, getting swings and misses with it and his much-improved changeup, which he has enough confidence in to double-up with it. He handled lefthanded batters better than ever, limiting them to a .473 OPS in 127 at-bats. However, at times his fastball dipped into the 89-90 mph range, and Johnson lacks a consistent feel for his curveball, which at times remains sharp and above-average but not often enough. He'll mix in a cutter, though less frequently when his curve is on. Johnson has a realistic No. 4 starter ceiling but lacks durability, throwing progressively fewer innings in each of his three full pro seasons. A healthy Johnson could push his way into Chicago's rotation in 2016, but the Cubs would settle for a healthy start at Triple-A Iowa.
Acquired from the Rangers in the Matt Garza deal, Edwards tore through Class A in 2013 with 155 strikeouts and one home run allowed in 116 innings. The biggest question about him was whether he could remain durable and maintain a starter's workload with his slight frame, and the answer has been no. The Cubs shifted Edwards the bullpen at Double-A Tennessee in 2015, which sped his path to the major leagues, and he made his debut in September against the Cardinals. Edwards' fastball picked up a tick or two of velocity in a relief role, regularly sitting at 94-95 mph for up to two innings, and the pitch retains its late movement that keeps it tough to square up and elevate. Edwards' command has backed up at upper levels, and he lacks true fastball command. Compounding the problem, he hasn't been able to locate his secondary stuff consistently. His changeup and curveball both flash above-average, but it won't matter if he can't throw consistent fastball strikes. As a reliever, Edwards has the stuff to still make an impact, perhaps even closing games down the line. He looks like part of a deep relief corps the Cubs have assembled in the upper levels of the minors and should see more time in Chicago in 2016--as long as he stays healthy.
Steele signed for $1 million as a fifth-rounder in 2014 after a strong high school career in Mississippi. He stands out for his athleticism and pitching savvy. All his stuff is inconsistent, but his competitiveness and pitch-making ability is not. Steele pitches at times with a plus fastball, hitting 95 mph, sitting in the lower 90s and featuring sneaky life with late explosion in the strike zone at its best. He has two curveballs, one that he throws for strikes and another as a chase pitch, but the shape and power on the former are actually better than his supposed strikeout pitch. His changeup gives him an equalizer, a pitch he trusts to throw in any situation and that is his most consistent above-average pitch. Steele doesn't always repeat his mechanics or release point, which can lead to bouts of wildness, so he has plenty of polish to add. However, he's one of the Cubs' more exciting young starters. He could join an exciting low Class A South Bend rotation that also could include lefty Carson Sands and righties Dylan Cease and Oscar de la Cruz in 2016.
Hudson hails from Alton, Ill., which was the home of the world's tallest man, 8-foot-11 Robert Wadlow (who died in 1940). Hudson checks in at a healthy 6-foot-8, and the Cubs hope he won't get much bigger. He's athletic enough to have played center for his high school basketball team, though he's no fast-twitch athlete, and came to pro ball after signing for $1.1 million as a 2015 third-rounder, keeping him away from a Missouri commitment. Hudson has solid body control and arm strength, having touched 93 mph with his fastball and sitting in the upper 80s. His calling card is a hard curveball that could be a doubleplus pitch eventually. It's a 60-grade pitch already, tight with good spin and thrown with power in the 80-82 mph range consistently. Moreover, he commands it well for any age, not to mention a tall teenager. Hudson's changeup is far behind his other two pitches and he has polish to add in terms of refining his delivery and locating his fastball. Dylan Cease ($1.5 million) is the only pitcher the current Cubs administration has given more money in the draft. The Cubs probably will be cautious with Hudson's innings in 2016, his first full pro season, but he should pitch his way to low Class A South Bend at some point. He has front-of-the-rotation potential with a future plus fastball and double-plus curve.
The Cubs liked Wilson before they worked him out before the 2015 draft. After all, the Vanderbilt recruit had most teams interested after using wood bats all spring but still performing well enough at Canton (Ohio) South High to earn second-team All-America honors. Then he dominated their smallgroup, pre-draft workout at Wrigley Field, which included three players the Cubs picked--first-rounder Ian Happ, second-rounder Donnie Dewees and Wilson. Though he's small-bodied and built like a football slot receiver, Wilson has tremendous bat speed, strong wrists and forearms and explosive first-step quickness. His power likely will play out more to the gaps than over the fence, though he dropped several long bombs during his pre-draft workout, showing above-average raw pop. He's a plus runner who gets to top speed quickly and should be an impact basestealer with experience. His defensive instincts in center field stunned club officials who expected him to be less advanced. He has ballhawking ability to go with above-average arm strength as well. Pro pitching took a bit of time for Wilson to adjust to, but he could take off in full-season ball. He'll have to earn a spot on the low Class A South Bend roster, and only his size tempers enthusiasm from scouts.
North Florida's ballpark plays as an offensive haven, and Dewees was the latest to take advantage, leading to a monster 2015 spring. He led all of NCAA Division I in hits (106), total bases (188), slugging (.749) and runs (88) while ranking second in batting (.422) and 18th in on-base percentage (.483). The Cubs also liked his all-star turn in the Cape Cod League the previous summer, when he was coming off a wrist injury that caused him to take a medical redshirt in 2014. Dewees couldn't keep up his torrid pace at short-season Eugene and may have to make some adjustments to his approach, but he has the natural hand-eye coordination and at least plus speed--including some 4.0-second times to first base--to give him a chance to be an above-average hitter. Dewees has a rhythmic lefthanded swing with a lot of pre-swing movement and aggressive stride, which he may need to tone down against better pro pitchers. He has line-drive power for now and a compact frame that should add some strength, and he projects to fringe-average power eventually thanks to his feel for hitting. Defensively, he runs well enough for center field but lacks the instincts or route-running efficiency to play there long term, so left field is a better fit with his below-average arm. Dewees will have to hit a lot to be a regular, but his track record suggests that it's possible. He should jump to low Class A in 2016.
Clifton was one of just two prep draftees from Tennessee to sign a pro deal in 2013, signing for a $375,000 bonus, and he opened 2015 in full-season ball as a 19-year-old. He's not as raw as he sounds. He's athletic and long-limbed but filling out physically. Closer to 215 pounds than his listed weight, Clifton added strength and definition to his now well-toned frame. He got better as the 2015 season progressed, improving the efficiency of his delivery, his direction to the plate and strike-throwing ability. He won five of his last six decisions at low Class A South Bend and can pitch with a plus fastball at his best. He sits at 91-95 mph range, and he flashes above-average promise with both of his secondary pitches. He doesn't repeat his release point on his curveball, which has tight spin and downer movement when right, and he's shown the ability to manipulate the shape and velocity on the pitch. It's ahead of his changeup, which has its moments as well, but he doesn't command it or his fastball well enough yet to make lefthanded batters consistently uncomfortable. Clifton is ready for takeoff now that his strength and coordination have caught up to his raw stuff. He will head to high Class A Myrtle Beach in 2016 and has as much upside as any Cubs minor league righthander outside of the Top 10.
The Cubs' front office has yet to develop a homegrown starter in its four seasons in Chicago. Sincetraded righthander Zack Godley is the lone pitcher from four drafts to reach the majors so far, and he did so with the Diamondbacks in 2015. Of course, a number of products from the 2012 draft--the first under assistant general manager Jason McLeod--still have time on their side, such as Blackburn and fellow righties Pierce Johnson and Duane Underwood. Blackburn signed for $911,700 and has moved slowly, compounded in 2015 by two disabled list stints--one for a fluke right foot injury, then for forearm soreness that kept him out of the Carolina League playoffs. His profile hasn't changed much over the years when he's healthy and at his best. He has a good feel for using three average-or-better offerings--a fastball that can sit at 93-94 mph, an above-average curveball he throws with good shape, spin and power at up to 79 mph and a solid-average changeup. Blackburn fills up the bottom of the strike zone, ranking among the system's best control artists. He also gets groundball outs and keeps the ball in the ballpark, required for him because he lacks a true putaway, swing-and-miss pitch. Blackburn has to prove he can stay durable to fill his back-of-the-rotation profile and to earn a spot in the Double-A Tennessee rotation in 2016.
Tseng signed out of Taiwan for $1.625 million in July 2013 and has jumped straight into full-season ball since coming to the U.S. He also has vaulted toward the front of the Cubs' pitching-prospect depth chart. He's done so more through command than sheer stuff, however, and he hit some speed bumps in 2015, particularly in the first half of the season at high Class A Myrtle Beach. Tseng improved as the year went along and made a strong six-inning start to start the Carolina League finals, a game the Pelicans won in extra innings. He threw harder as the year went along and sits in the 89-93 mph range, regularly touching 94 late in the season. His fastball lacks life, so he has to locate it to pitch off it and set up his offspeed stuff. He retains a strong feel for using his curveball, which he likes to locate as a backdoor pitch, as well as his above-average changeup. Tseng's walk and strikeout rates backed up a bit at a higher level, slowing what was thought to be a potential fast-track trip through the system. He moves up to Double-A in 2016.
The Cubs still have high hopes for Stinnett, whom they signed for $1 million in 2014, but the former Maryland ace had a tough year in terms of development. He didn't become a full-time pitcher until 2013 and learned the hard way in 2015 that throwing harder isn't always the way out of a jam. A fine athlete with an excellent body that evokes former Cubs ace Jeff Samardzija, Stinnett worked hard in the offseason to add more consistent fastball velocity, but he wasn't able to locate his heater this season nearly as well as he had as an amateur. He tied for the low Class A Midwest League lead with 16 hit batsmen and wound up backing off his velocity (which can reach 97 mph but generally sat 90-93) trying to throw more strikes. As one club official put it, "His plus Maryland slider never made it to South Bend," and Stinnett wasn't ahead of hitters enough to get to it anyway. He survived by using his fringy changeup and diminished heater to coax groundball outs, and he did compete. Stinnett still has the tools and gained valuable experience. He'll climb to high Class A in 2016, and the Cubs will see what lessons he learned from his struggles.
Sands pitched in high school with his younger brother Cole, a 22nd-round pick in 2015 of the Astros who didn't sign and is attending Florida State. The elder Sands signed for $1.1 million and has shown durability as well as excellent work ethic between starts, taking to the rigors of pro ball well. At present, Sands lacks a putaway pitch and profiles more as a workhorse back-of-the-rotation southpaw, though with his size he has earned comparisons to pitchers ranging from David Wells to Jeremy Affeldt. His numbers at short-season Eugene suffered because of one nine-run, one-out outing, but in general he threw consistent strikes with three average pitches: a fastball that sits in the 88-92 mph range, a solid-average curveball and an above-average changeup. Sands has just scratched the surface with his fastball, according to Cubs coaches, who want him to get more power from his big frame with adjustments in his delivery. He has a feel for using his secondary stuff and drives the ball downhill, having yet to allow a pro home run through 76 innings. Sands should move up to the low Class A South Bend rotation in 2016.
A Baltimore prep product, Markey attended Georgia Tech as a freshman but made just six appearances and transferred to Santa Fe (Fla.) CC, where he was a teammate of Braves outfield prospect Mallex Smith. Drafted in the 35th round in 2012, he didn't sign with the Mets and transferred instead to Virginia Tech, where he often formed a battery for two seasons with fellow Cubs farmhand Mark Zagunis. The Cubs saw Markey while bearing down on Zagunis and signed him as a low-cost senior in 2014. They have seen him dominate as a pro when healthy, first as a reliever, then starting at high Class A Myrtle Beach in 2015. He capped his season with eight one-hit innings in a playoff victory and surprised Cubs officials by maintaining the quality on two above-average pitches all season. He locates a 90-94 mph fastball and has strength in his short frame, helping him maintain his delivery, which has some effort. He also throws a sharp-breaking curveball with power, as high as 84 mph and generally sitting in the 78-82 range. Markey's changeup is fringy, but he knows how to use his fastball well to both sides of the plate and has handled lefthanded batters thus far as a pro. Realistically, his frame and two-pitch repertoire profile Markey best as a middle reliever in the Jason Frasor mold, but he'll open 2016 as a starter at Double-A Tennessee.
Caratini, like Dodgers prospect Jose De Leon, is a Puerto Rican native who attended Southern. However, Caratini could not get eligible and left the Baton Rouge campus to go to Miami-Dade JC, where he emerged as a prospect. The Cubs acquired him from the Braves in a July 2014 trade that sent big leaguers Emilio Bonifacio and James Russell to Atlanta. While Caratini was a second-round pick, his tools don't stand out as much as his profile. A switch-hitting catcher with average athleticism and a feel for the barrel could have tremendous value, and that's Caratini's promise. He makes consistent contact with low-maintenance swings from both sides of the plate. He has power but a flat swing path that limits his pop to the gaps, and he ranked fifth in the Carolina League by hitting 31 doubles at high Class A Myrtle Beach. He continues to improve his receiving and blocking, with just two passed balls in 2015, and he's an average thrower, nailing 27 percent of basestealers. His worst tool is his speed, as he's headed toward baseclogger status. Caratini heads to Double-A Tennessee in 2016 and could become a potential starter if he can learn to turn some of those doubles into home runs.
Vogelbach and fellow 250-pounder Hudson Boyd were teammates at Bishop Verot High in Fort Myers, Fla., in 2011, both going in the first 68 draft picks. The Twins already have released Boyd, but the Cubs showed more faith in Vogelbach despite his 2015 injury troubles, which included a hamstring injury in the first half that interrupted a very strong start at Double-A Tennessee. A pulled oblique muscle in the second half shelved him for another month, but Vogelbach showed enough for the Cubs to protect him on the 40-man roster in November, even though he's blocked in the majors by Anthony Rizzo. Vogelbach controls the strike zone and has plenty of strength in his compact, thick body, which he's worked hard to maintain but which has limited athleticism. A below-average defender and runner, Vogelbach isn't a strong candidate to move to the outfield and struggles with lefthanders as well. He's a good teammate who gives the Cubs an asset as a potential trade piece (particularly with an American League club) and as a solid piece of a Triple-A Iowa lineup in 2016.
Time was never on Hannemann's side. He ranked ahead of most of his college peers in terms of explosiveness, owing to his football background at Brigham Young. He's strong, explosive and quick-twitch. But he missed two years away from baseball on his Mormon mission and by splitting his time with football, and he has struggled to bring his skills up to the same level of his tools. Already 24, Hannemann got off to a hot start at high Class A Myrtle Beach in 2015, but owing to his age, he got pushed to Double-A Tennessee and struggled. His inexperience shows up the most in his strike-zone judgment, for he lacks a pure feel for hitting and for the strike zone. He has a slashing swing at the plate, so his strength doesn't translate to home-run power. Defensively, Hannemann remains a potentially elite defender in center field who closes on balls with plus speed (which plays on the bases as well) and a solid arm. He is trending toward a similar career track as Matt Szczur, another Cubs football/baseball pick, but Hannemann still has a chance to hit enough to be a solid fourth outfielder. He'll return to Double-A to start 2016.
While scouting righthander Jeff Hoffman, whom the Blue Jays drafted ninth overall in 2014, the Cubs saw Williams, a Californian who had a successful two-year run with East Carolina. Williams started for one year and was a bullpen workhorse as a senior, working 100 innings as a reliever, before signing with the Cubs for $1,000. He already has provided tremendous value after a boffo first full season in 2015, in which he climbed to Double-A Tennessee and earned the organization's minor league pitcher of the year award. A physical sinkerballer with a slinging arm action and three-quarters release point, Williams pounds the zone with his fastball, which touches 90-91 mph but often sits at 86-87. Late life has made the pitch difficult for pro hitters to square up, and he gave up just two home runs in 142 innings in 2015 and led the minors with a 0.90 WHIP. He has excellent control, ranking among minor league qualifying starters with 1.14 walks per nine innings, and also above-average command, thanks to present strength that helps him repeat his delivery. He mixes in a curveball, slider and changeup, and he adds a split-finger pitch. Williams will have to keep serving up worm-burners to stick in the rotation long-term but could develop into a durable middle reliever. He should earn a Triple-A Iowa rotation spot to open the season.
Martinez is a $3 million lottery ticket for the Cubs, who also may have invested in future Cuban free agents by signing him. Martinez was reported to have signed with the Giants for $2.5 million before the deal went south, perhaps because of the Cubs' late, larger offer. Chicago was already over its 2015- 16 international bonus pool when it signed Martinez in October, so it had to pay 100 percent tax on Martinez. He played in Cuba's Serie Nacional as a teen and also played on Cuban national teams at the 16U level. His Cuban track record shows little home-run power, but he's young enough to add strength to his athletic frame. Martinez's best tool, according to Cubs officials, is his plus speed, and they envision him playing center field. He has above-average arm strength. Martinez signed after instructional league, so the Cubs have to project on his bat, which has shown line-drive pop and contact ability in workouts. He probably will stay behind in extended spring training in 2016 while getting acclimated to the U.S., but should see time in low Class A South Bend before the season is out.
Acevedo took an unusual route to his first 40-man roster spot, which came from the Cubs when they signed him to a major league contract as a minor league free agent on Nov. 18. Acevedo signed with the Pirates in 2007 as an infielder, never made it to full-season ball with them and was released after the 2010 season. He earned a minor league contract as a pitcher from the Yankees and took off in 2015, starting the year at high Class A Tampa and finishing at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Acevedo has physically matured and has premium arm strength, having touched 98 mph with his fastball and usually sitting in the 95-97 range. He pitches aggressively off his fastball from a low slot and gets swings and misses with it thanks to its sinking life. Acevedo's best secondary pitch is a hard cutter that reaches 92 mph, but at lower velocities, it has a bit more slider shape to it. He rarely throws a changeup. Acevedo's power arm gives the Cubs more bullpen inventory for 2016.
Berg set the Division I single-season saves record (24) while leading UCLA to the 2013 national championship and went 22-6, 1.11 with 49 saves, walking just 44 in 267 career innings. His low arm slot puts him in the Darren O'Day/Pat Neshek family of relievers, and his makeup helps set him apart. He's a tremendous teammate and competitor who pitches without fear, as he showed by picking up two saves and two wins in the Carolina League playoffs to help high Class A Myrtle Beach win the championship. Berg pitches to both sides of the plate with his sinking, running 83-86 mph fastball. In the postseason he record 15 outs, 11 via groundball, three via strikeout and one on a popup. He flummoxes righthanded hitters with a Frisbee slider that he locates with precision, showing the ability to backdoor the pitch to lefthanded hitters. He pitches in effectively to lefties and locates a fringy changeup, which he'll need to improve to keep them honest at upper levels. Even UCLA thought Berg fit better as a setup man until he proved otherwise, and the Cubs see a similar future for the former recruited walk-on. He likely will start 2016 at Double-A Tennessee and could move quickly to Chicago.