Feature Photo: Ian Happ, 2B/OF, Cubs
(Photo by Kevin Caceres)
By Dave DeFreitas and John Arguello
After reaching the promised land in 2016, the Cubs are not going anywhere, and with one of the seemingly more sustainable player development mechanisms in the game today, they will look to graduate their next wave of impact prospects, while simultaneously feeding the pipeline with young talent.
CREAM OF THE CROP
Eloy Jimenez, OF, High A Myrtle Beach | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 65/60
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/205 lbs B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st, 2016): 20y, 11m
Player Stats | 2080 Report (2016) | 2080 Video (2016) | 2080 Spotlight (2016)
The Tools: 60 hit; 60 power; 55 glove; 50 arm – With only the run tool being below average, Jimenez stands to not only be a force at the plate, but his supreme athleticism will make him a significant asset at a corner-outfield spot as well. Jimenez is very efficient with his actions and has a smooth stroke that works to keep the barrel in the zone for an extended period. He has an advanced approach, especially for his age, and has the present power to drive the ball to all fields. The majority of his over-the-fence power is to the pull field right now, but the doubles he hits to right-center field will soon begin to sail over the wall as his body matures. He has a feel for the strike zone and should also add value in the on-base department. The below-average run plays up slightly due to his good first step and efficient routes. He won’t be a factor in center field, but should be above average on a corner spot.
The Profile: The plus hit and power tools will obviously be the main attraction for Jimenez going forward. The advanced approach, coupled with his easy actions, bode well for Jimenez adjusting as he climbs the system and begins to face pitching with more refined command and secondary stuff. He has excellent feel for the barrel, but he will need to learn to be more selective in the zone and work deeper into counts. He is a known quantity already so he’s already carefully pitched to, and that results in him seeing far fewer pitches to do damage on. He generates very good carry to the middle of the field and while he is capable of majestic, towering home runs, he is much more of a line-drive hitter with excellent exit velocity. He is a 40-grade runner down the line, but probably ticks up to fringe average overall due to his athleticism playing well in the outfield and his ability to get going underway. Once he’s fully recovered from his shoulder bruise suffered in March, expect Jimenez to get some time at High A before moving to Double-A. The Cubs have plenty of outfield help at the current time, so even while they are in ‘win-now’ mode it makes little sense for them to rush their top prospect. Should Jimenez play out the year in full health and grow in line with current projections, he could make a real push for a roster spot next spring. Eloy compares well to former right fielder, Jermaine Dye (MLB 1996-2009, multiple teams).
Ian Happ, 2B/OF, Triple-A Iowa | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/55
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/205 lbs B/T: S/R Age (as of December 1st, 2016): 22y, 4m
Player Stats | 2080 Report (2016) | 2080 Video (2016) | 2080 Spotlight (2016)
The Tools: 60 hit; 55 power; 50 glove; 50 arm – A smooth, easy stroke from both sides, Happ generates above-average bat speed and does well to keep the barrel in the zone and gets very good barrel exit. He keeps the barrel in the zone a little bit longer and gets better leverage from the left side, resulting in more loft and over-the-fence-type pop as a lefty. However, the bat speed from the right side is still significant and produces carry on his line drives and more than enough juice to drive it into both gaps. Overall, the power will play more as doubles, but he will hit his share of home runs. Defensively, he has the hands and athleticism to be average at second base. He is a better athlete than his thick build may first suggest, and he moves well to his right. He tends to be slightly less comfortable going glove side. He will see some time in the outfield as well and while he won’t be an impact defender there, he’ll make the routine plays and should be average out there.
The Profile: Once given the opportunity, the Cubs’ 2015 first-rounder out of the University of Cincinnati should settle in as an above-average overall everyday contributor for the big league club. Given the Cubs’ affinity for defensive versatility, to call Happ only a second baseman would be limiting the value of the switch-hitter. Happ has already spent 40 innings in center field, a testament to his athleticism and his ability to adjust to the situation. He likely profiles best at a corner-outfield position when he is not manning the keystone position, but he has very smooth and efficient actions (much like the Cubs’ own Ben Zobrist) that allow him to get the most out of his mobility and will make him at least an average defender at multiple spots. That said, the bat still holds the majority of the value, as Happ looks to be an extra-base machine with significant pop to both gaps. He will have some over-the-fence juice, but his consistent hard contact will result in run production either way. He has a quiet approach and will take his walks as well, making Happ a legitimate top- to middle-of-the-order asset at maturity. Neil Walker (2B, Mets), Daniel Murphy (2B, Nationals), and Ben Zobrist (2B, Cubs) all have profiles similar to what Happ can potentially bring to the table.
Dylan Cease, RHP, Class A South Bend | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 60/55
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/205 lbs B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st, 2016): 20y, 11m
Player Stats | 2080 Profile (2016)
The Tools: 70 fastball; 65 curveball; 50 changeup; 45 command; 50 control – Cease’s fastball will sit 94-to-97 mph on most nights but he has hit as high as 100 mph on multiple occasions over the past 2 1/2 seasons. The fastball has more life in that 94-to-97 mph range where it shows good run as well as some sink. Cease stands 6-foot-2, but his high-3/4’s arm slot allows him to pitch downhill. The arm slot is also conducive to throwing a curveball and when he gets on top of it, the pitch gives him a second plus to double-plus offering, with some thinking it can be fully double-plus if he gains consistency with it, Cease’s third pitch is his changeup and it is by far the least advanced of the three. The pitch doesn’t offer a lot of movement right now but occasionally shows some sink. He’s improved his arm speed on the pitch since I saw him first start tinkering with it last spring. Right now it’s a below-average pitch but the hope is that it becomes an average pitch in time. Considering that he may have two double-plus offerings, an average changeup should be enough for a change of place as well as a weapon to keep lefty hitters honest. Cease’s control is below average presently, though he doesn’t miss by a lot and there’s a good chance he develops average control over time. His command is much more elusive right now.
The Profile: Cease misses a lot of bats with his two plus to double-plus pitches but the likelihood of an average changeup and the average control/command may limit him to a number-three-starter ceiling. However, Cease is a very good athlete with a tremendous work ethic, so he’s a candidate to surpass those expectations. He has mitigated some of the concerns about his size, putting on 15-to-20 pounds of lean muscle over this past offseason. His strength, balance, and athleticism give him great body control, as Cease is able to generate his mid- to high-90s velocity with a lot less effort than you might think for a player of his modest measurables. The hand strength gives him the ability to spin the ball exceptionally well. What Cease has lacked perhaps more than anything else is experience and innings. Cubs’ officials have said they are going to let Cease loose this year and see what he can do. If he starts to make progress with his command and his changeup, then it’s possible he can be perhaps even more than a number three guy. If that doesn’t happen, then Cease’s devastating two-pitch combo could make him an excellent closer down the road.
Oscar De La Cruz, RHP, High A Myrtle Beach | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 60/55
Ht/Wt: 6’6”/240 lbs B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st, 2016): 22y, 1m
The Tools: 65 fastball; 60 curveball; 55 changeup; 55 command; 60 control – The fastball has very good velocity as De La Cruz sits 92-to-95 mph and tops out at 97 mph, He pitches with a 3/4’s arm slot, but his height allows him to throw the ball downhill, and the natural spin he creates gives the fastball good movement. It has some run to it as well as late life, accentuating the already good velocity. The 76-to-78 mph curveball has tight rotation, giving it good depth and a sharp 11-to-6 break, though he can slightly alter the angle at times to give the hitters different looks. He can bury the pitch down in the zone, run it away from right-handed hitters, or use it to back-door lefties Where De La Cruz has shown the most improvement has been with his changeup, which was a well-below-average pitch when I saw it last spring but he has done a much better job of maintaining arm speed and keeping it down in the zone so far this year. It now has a chance to be an above-average pitch. What makes De La Cruz even more interesting is his advanced control for someone so inexperienced as he is, as his excellent athleticism allows him to repeat his delivery well. He has a chance to develop plus control and above-average command – or better – as he gains experience.
The Profile: De La Cruz is perhaps the best Cubs’ pitching prospect in terms of having a complete set of tools to go with tremendous size and well-above-average athleticism. He profiles as a power pitcher in every sense of the word, from his presence, to his stuff, to his approach on the mound. Mild-mannered and friendly off the mound, De La Cruz’s physicality, aggressive approach, and competitive streak helps give him an intimidating presence on the mound. The intimidation factor is further amplified because he is not afraid to pitch inside to set up his good curveball and rapidly improving changeup. A shortstop as an amateur, De La Cruz has excellent athleticism, especially for his size, and it helps him repeat his easy, fluid delivery. The athleticism has already led to good control despite his relative lack of experience on the mound. He’s only been pitching for four years and that makes many scouts some confidence that there is still a lot of projection and upside left. There are times where he can lose his arm slot, causing his pitches to flatten out and sometimes leave the ball up and out over the plate. All the ingredients are there, De La Cruz just needs experience to become more consistent, especially with his changeup and command. His top two pitches are a tick below Dylan Cease’s offerings, but he has a chance to have a wider range of above-average to plus tools. Right now he projects as a number three starter.
ON THE HORIZON
Jeimer Candelario, 3B-1B, Triple-A Iowa | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/50
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/210 lbs B/T: S/R Age (as of December 1st, 2016): 22y, 11m
Player Stats | 2080 Spotlight
Quick Hit: Candelario is the best pure hitter in the Cubs’ farm system, especially from the left side. From both sides of the plate, he possesses the complete toolbox, though. He has quick, strong hands combined with exceptional hand-eye coordination and excellent plate discipline. Candelario recognizes pitches quickly but also has the ability to adjust mid-swing if necessary. As a left-handed hitter he is easily plus though he does show slightly more home run power from the right side. He’s a 60 grade hitter with a chance to have at least average power overall. If Candelario had an issue as a hitter, it was earlier in his career where he became too passive at the plate. He has since transformed himself to a more selectively aggressive hitter who can draw walks but will punish pitchers for trying to get ahead early with strikes out and over the plate. The change in his approach has coincided with his rise through the Cubs’ prospect ranks.
In the field, Candelario lacks quickness but has soft hands and a strong arm. He has worked hard to improve his footwork and agility in the field, to the point where now many feel he can be an average third baseman. He has a rather thick natural build and he’ll have to work hard to maintain his current weight. Even still, he may have to switch to first base later in his career. If the does have to move to first base, he should have the bat to carry that position as well, though obviously his greatest value to a team is if he can stick at third base for as long as possible. Candelario is ready to play in the majors now but is currently blocked by the Cubs star corner infielders in Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo.
Mark Zagunis, OF, Triple-A Iowa | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/45
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/205 lbs B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 23y, 10m
Quick Hit: A corner outfielder with some raw power, Zagunis has a very easy right-handed stroke that produces excellent carry to the middle of the field. He has a little bit of pre-pitch action with his hands, but the load is compact and his athleticism shows in the balance he is able to maintain throughout the swing. He is more of a doubles producer right now, but even at 24 years old, he has some room to get stronger and could see the home run numbers climb. The swing and miss he has isn’t significant, checking in at below 20% in each of his first two pro seasons, and he has an advanced command of the strike zone that helps position him to consistently see balls that he can square up. The tools, overall, are not going to blow anyone away, but Zagunis is sneaky-good in how consistent he has been with his hard contact. He moves well in the outfield and brings average glove work on the corner, but the fringe-average run tool will keep him from being any kind of a factor in center field, and the lack of arm strength may even limit him in right. That said, his actions are low maintenance and if his approach stays consistent, he could be a nice fit in that Role 45 spot as a productive extra outfield bat.
Trevor Clifton, RHP, Double-A Tennessee | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/45
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/170 lbs B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st, 2016): 21y, 7m
Player Stats | 2080 Video (2016)
Quick Hit: While Clifton has seen his pure stuff tic up over the past 12-to-18 months, he will still have to see his command in the zone get to average in order for him to make meaningful contributions to the back-end of a big league rotation. Clifton sits in the low 90s with his heater and gets above-average life in the zone, however that life tends to be more tail and flat run than any kind of heavy sink – and aspect of his profile that makes him on the easier side to get into the air. He has two average secondary offerings in his curveball and changeup, and his feel with both give him a legitimate three-pitch mix that he uses to keep hitters off balance. He has shown the ability to take hitter out of the zone when he is working ahead in the count (9.75 SO/9 in 2016 at High A Myrtle Beach), but the tendency to lose the plate at times and his lack of a true challenge offering have resulted in below-average control numbers (3.81 BB/9 career). That kind of extra traffic on the bases can be damning to a fly ball pitcher who isn’t averaging 10-plus SO/9 at the big league level.
That all said, Clifton has made strides each of the last two season in the walk department – if he can continue that trend at the upper levels (he’s currently averaging 3.5 BB/9 over his first 26 innings in his first season at Double-A), then he could start to put himself into better counts more consistently and lean on the feel he has with his secondary. Roll in his potential to get to a plus fastball and Clifton has the ingredients to be low- to mid-4.00 ERA guy who gives solid innings at the back-end of a rotation.
Victor Caratini, C/1B, Triple-A Iowa | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/ 215 lbs B/T: S/R Age (as of December 1st, 2016): 23y, 3m
Player Stats | 2080 Video (2016)
Quick Hit: Caratini is a converted third baseman who has worked hard to become an adequate defender behind the plate. He has done that but may not go much beyond that point. While he understands how to call and manage a game, Caratini isn’t very mobile behind the plate and his above-average arm strength is compromised by fringy footwork. In short, Caratini can fill in at catcher but his defensive flaws may be exposed as an everyday player at that position.
Caratini’s best tool is his bat. Caratini can drive the ball to all fields from both sides of the plate. He is strong but the swing plane is geared more toward contact and line drives than it is for home run power. He worked on that a bit this spring, often turning on pitches to drive it out of the park, but doing that in batting practice is one thing. Caratini has yet to master that skill against live pitching. He has improved this throws this spring and if he can become an average defensive catcher, then Caratini may have a shot to start in the right situation. Realistically, he fits best on a team with a good defensive catcher where he can be the offensive-minded backup to match-up against both lefties and righties. He began switching from catcher to first base in the Arizona Fall League, and that seems likely to be his role in the big leagues.
Jose Albertos, RHP, Rookie AZL Cubs| Ceiling/Realistic Role: 65/50
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/185 lbs B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st, 2016): 17y, 11m
Quick Hit: Albertos has yet to pitch this year after the Cubs shut him down after one start in the Rookie Arizona League last year. He only pitched four innings but attracted some attention because of a fastball that sat 94-to-97 mph and topped out at 98 mph. But Albertos is more than just a fastball-chucking 18-year-old. In fact, that’s not even his best pitch. That distinction goes to his changeup, which may already be the best in the system, and projects as a double-plus pitch long term. Albertos also has a curveball that projects to be at least average, but for now is inconsistent, ranging from a loopy, big breaking curve to one that looks more like a slurve. Other than the changeup, what sets Albertos apart is that he already has good control and some feel he may develop above-average command in time.
There isn’t a lot of physical projection with Albertos. He has a relatively mature frame. He also shows an advanced feel for pitching. The downside here is that we just haven’t seen a lot of Albertos and he appeared too advanced for the AZL and extended spring training hitters last year. The other concern is obviously the injury, which has slowed down his development and raises questions as to how it will affect him down the road. He’s just 18 years old, and a lot can happen, but he is the highest ceiling pitcher on the Cubs but also presents the biggest risk of the Cubs’ top pitching prospects. If he stays healthy and it all comes together, we could be looking at a frontline starter with two plus to double-plus pitches, plus command, and a third pitch which projects to at least an average grade.
Aramis Ademan, SS, Rookie DSL Cubs 2 | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/50
Ht/Wt: 5’11”/160 lbs B/T: L/R Age (as of December 1st, 2016): 18y, 2m
Quick Hit: Ademan isn’t an elite athlete like some you’ll see at shortstop, but he possesses many of the traits you want to see as a player who can be above average on both offense and defense. On defense, Ademan has fluid, shortstop actions with quick feet, soft hands and a strong arm. He has good instincts at the position and he already seems able to slow the game down. Ademan always seems to look smooth out on the field and not rushed as you see many other shortstops his age. The combination of polish, skills, and baseball athleticism make him a good bet not just to stick at shortstop but also to be an above-average player at the position.
The soft hands Ademan shows out on the field become surprisingly explosive at the plate. His hands are quick and he’ll attack the baseball with his swing, displaying good bat speed. Ademan has good contact skills but looks to drive the ball with an all-fields stroke built for doubles and triples, though on occasion he has also shown the ability to turn on pitches for home-run power. He shows a good eye at the plate with the discipline to wait for a pitch to drive. He’s an above-average runner with good instincts on the bases, which help play up his raw speed. The Cubs challenged Ademan a lot this spring by having him face advanced pitchers, and he responded very well. There is still some physical projection left with Ademan, though his modest frame should keep him from outgrowing the position or losing any of his speed or quickness. Just 18 years old, Ademan has the skills and instincts to move quickly and projects as a shortstop that, with the exception of power, brings 55-grade tools across the board,
Thomas Hatch, RHP, High A Myrtle Beach | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/45
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/190 lbs B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st, 2016): 22y, 2m
Player Stats | 2080 Profile |
Quick Hit: Hatch changed his arm slot to low-3/4’s and it has paid a lot of dividends by adding movement to his fastball and pushing him to drop his curveball in favor of a more effective slider. Hatch will throw 94-to-95 mph early in the game, though it drops a tick or two as the game progresses. It’s the movement on the fastball that makes it a potential plus pitch, featuring good arm-side run and some sink. He doesn’t project to be a big strikeout pitcher but the movement on his fastball should be enough to consistently miss barrels and get hitters to swing on top-half of the ball. The results should be plenty of ground ball outs, which would fit extremely well with the Cubs’ infield defense. The slider is currently an above-average offering and considering it is relatively new to him, still has some upside left and may end up being a second plus pitch for him. Hatch’s changeup lags behind the others, in part because he never really needed it in college.
Hatch projects more as a number-four-type starter if the changeup develops and he is better able to sustain velocity in games. If he can’t pull that off developmentally, the plus fastball he shows in shorter stints along with the 55-grade slider would make him an effective bullpen piece, especially versus right-handed hitters.
Eddy Martinez, OF, High A Myrtle Beach | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/50
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/195 lbs B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st, 2016): 21y, 9m
Player Stats | 2080 Video (2016) | 2080 Spotlight (2016)
Quick Hit: Martinez was the subject of a bidding war between the Cubs and the San Francisco Giants. The Cubs eventually signed him for a $3 million bonus in 2015. There was a bit of a mystery about Martinez, as scouts seemed to be split as to whether he would be a plus hitting, speed-oriented center fielder or a power-hitting corner outfielder. It is beginning to look like the latter projection is the more accurate one, though Martinez is still quite a bit away from tapping into his raw power. He has the traits that scouts look for in a potential power hitter: good natural strength, explosive hands through the zone, and just enough lift in his swing. While he can hit the occasional jaw-dropping home run, Martinez hasn’t hit as well as some thought. His early swing had a bit of a hitch, which has since been corrected, but he just isn’t a natural, instinctive hitter at this point. His approach is inconsistent and he can be prone to chasing pitches outside the zone. There are other times where he gets locked in and makes consistent hard contact. It’s those moments that give hope that it may just be a matter of time and experience for Martinez.
That same unpolished feel is true of him in the field. He possesses the best outfield arm in the system, which rates as at least plus. He’s not the burner some scouts have reported him to be, but he does have above-average speed. The instincts aren’t quite there and he doesn’t get the best reads or take the best routes, making most feel now that he is a better fit in right field because of his arm and his potential as a power hitter.
Isaac Paredes, SS, Class A South Bend | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/45
Ht/Wt: 5’11”/175 lbs B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st, 2016): 17y, 9m
Quick Hit: Paredes doesn’t look like your prototypical shortstop. He has a naturally thick build and my guess is that he is playing well above his listed weight. He’ll have to work hard to stay as lean as possible as he ages and physically matures. That he is 18 years old and appears to have already filled out somewhat makes it a realistic possibility that he outgrows the position. Paredes already has well-below-average speed and probably can’t afford to lose any quickness.
Despite all of this, Paredes is a pretty good athlete with good instincts who shows good shortstop actions and a plus arm, so the Cubs haven’t given up on the idea of him staying at the position.
Where Paredes stands out is at the plate. He has an excellent feel for hitting and a natural ability to barrel the baseball. He’s not particularly quick with his hands nor does he have electric bat speed, but his athleticism shows up in his great balance and weight transfer. Paredes makes consistent hard contact and should be able to hit for at least average power in time. The body doesn’t allow for much projection and in fact, he may find that as he fills out naturally, he might have to move off the position. He has played some third base and has shown a good aptitude for the position. The arm strength is certainly there. Because he has such good instincts, surprising athleticism, and good actions, second base is also a possibility. One scout from outside the Cubs’ organization even suggested that he would try him behind the plate. Paredes polished skills give the Cubs hope that he can be at least average wherever he plays, but it’s his bat that is going to punch his ticket it to the big leagues.
D.J. Wilson, OF, Class A South Bend | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/40
Ht/Wt: 5’8”/177 lbs B/T: L/R Age (as of December 1st, 2016): 20y 6m
Quick Hit: Wilson is an exciting, quick-twitch athlete with plus speed and explosive hands at the plate, giving him surprising power for his size. Wilson has good bat speed and capable of making loud contact. He put that on display just a couple of years ago when he finished as the runner up in an instructional league home run derby as an 18-year-old. Once he puts the ball in play, Wilson can use his great speed to leg out ground balls or stretch singles into doubles and doubles into triples. The athleticism is also evident in center field, where Wilson shows tremendous range and a solid arm that projects as average to above average. He has a good feel for outfield defense, often getting good jumps and taking efficient routes as opposed to just using his raw speed to run down fly balls.
Despite all these exciting talents, Wilson is a very high-risk player because his bat lags behind the rest of his game and threatens to undermine his otherwise impressive tool set. There are a wide range of possibilities here. If Wilson can’t develop the hit tool he may be no better than a fourth or fifth outfielder, if that. But if the bat comes around, then you have a uniquely talented player in this organization who can add a dynamic element to an already-potent young lineup in Chicago.
Adbert Alzolay, RHP, High A Myrtle Beach | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/40
Ht/Wt: ’6’1”/180 lbs B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st, 2016): 21y, 9m
Quick Hit: On of the more unknown Cubs’ pitching prospects, Alzolay hasn’t developed quickly enough to warrant a lot of attention, nor does he have the physical attributes or prospect pedigree that bring scouts flocking to see his starts. But Alzolay is another good athlete with a loose frame and a live arm that allow him to generate above-average velocity despite a less-than-imposing frame. He’ll pitch in the 93-to-95 mph with his four- seam fastball but he’ll cut the pitch at times to add movement, while sacrificing about five mph off the velo. Alzolay also throws a solid-average curveball and changeup. He’s is off to a good start in 2017, perhaps better than anyone on this list and that can be attributed simply to experience and physical maturation. Alzolay looks to have gotten stronger this year and added some lean muscle weight, which should help him better sustain his velocity late in games. He also has a pretty good feel for pitching and has the aptitude to keep building on that knowledge. Of all the pitchers on this list, Alzolay is the sleeper of the bunch. He projects as a number four or number five starter.
Justin Steele, LHP, High A Myrtle Beach | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/40
Ht/Wt: ’6’2”/195 lbs B/T: L/R Age (as of December 1st, 2016): 21y, 4m
Player Stats | 2080 Profile
Quick Hit: Steele is an excellent athlete and perhaps the best left-handed pitching prospect in the organization. He’ll throw his fastball 91-to-94 mph and mixes in a curveball, which has the potential to be his best pitch. It flashes average now but has an upside of an above-average to plus pitch. The changeup is a work in progress but it projects as at least average as well. Steele was a multi-sport athlete in high school (George County, Lucedale, MS) and the Cubs rave about his mental makeup and competitiveness. The athleticism gives him a good chance to repeat his delivery and develop average-or-better command.
Steele struggled mightily at times last year, especially with men on base, and that is an area earmarked for improvement this year. Steele is a player that gets a pretty wide range of opinion on from scouts, but any time you have a lefty arm with this kind of athleticism and work ethic, you want to give him every chance to figure things out. He’s a potential back-end starter, though it is also easy to see him sliding into a Travis Wood (RHP, Royals)-type role where he swings back and forth from rotation to bullpen. And like Wood, Steele can even hit a little.
Carlos Sepulveda, 2B, High A Myrtle Beach | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 5’10”/170 lbs B/T: L/R Age (as of December 1st, 2016): 20y 8m
Player Stats | 2080 Video (2016)
Quick Hit: The Cubs seem to be pretty good at finding second baseman who are fundamentally sound on defense and possess good contact skills on offense. They have Tommy La Stella, Chesny Young, Stephen Bruno, and David Bote who all generally fit this description at the upper levels and Carlos Sepulveda is the most advanced player with this profile at the lower levels. Sepulveda has exceptional hand-eye coordination. He has a seemingly innate knack for squaring up the baseball, using a short and simple swing geared for making line-drive contact. He struck out in just 11.2% of his plate appearances as a 19-year-old in the Midwest League last year. He has a good eye at the plate but is more accurately described as a selectively-aggressive hitter.
The Cubs moved Sepulveda around a lot early in his tenure here and since then, he has settled in at second base for the past two seasons. They’ll likely start playing him at different positions to increase his versatility and widen his path to the big leagues. He has the arm to play third base and that likely will be his second-best position though, he has played some shortstop in the past. Some have mentioned Sepulveda as a player the Cubs may try at catcher because of his intelligence and feel for the game.
Yeiler Peguero, 2B/SS, Class A South Bend | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 5’10”/150 lbs B/T: S/R Age (as of December 1st, 2016): 19y, 7m
Quick Hit: Peguero is a slender, switch-hitting middle infielder who can play at both shortstop and second base, with the latter being his best defensive position. He is a good, but not great athlete and makes up for it with polished skills and fundamentally sound play. He has quick hands, which you can see in his defensive play around the bag but also at the plate, where he shows surprising pop as a hitter. He has deceptive, wirey strength and can slash the ball down the lines or through either gap. Combined with above-average speed, that should give him the opportunity to hit some doubles and triples. He’s not an on-base type of player and it won’t get any easier as advanced pitchers will throw him strikes unless he can keep them honest with sufficient extra-base pop. Peguero may be something of a tweener, or perhaps an old-school-type middle infielder who handles the bat well, puts the ball in play, and gives you solid defense. In today’s game he likely profiles more as a utility player, with his best shot at starting being at shortstop for a second-division team.
|1. Eloy Jimenez, OF, High A||6. Jeimer Candelario, 3B/1B, AAA||11.Isaac Paredes, SS, A|
|2. Ian Happ, 2B/OF, AAA||7. Aramis Ademan, SS, Rk.||12.Justin Steele, LHP, High A|
|3. Dylan Cease, RHP, A||8.Mark Zagunis, OF, AAA||13.Carlos Sepulveda, 2B, High A|
|4. Oscar de la Cruz, RHP, High A||9.Thomas Hatch, RHP, High A||14.Adbert Alzolay, RHP, High A|
|5. Jose Albertos, RHP, Rook||10. Eddy Martinez, OF, High A||15. Victor Caratini, C, AAA|
It is no secret that the Cubs will be buyers once again in 2017. While they have a strong system from which to draw, they are not loaded like other organizations such as the Phillies, Braves, and Dodgers, and thus only have the depth to make one big deal. Given their glut of young bats and there being eventual limits to their positional creativity, the most likely move with be to bolster their rotation and prepare them for the potential departure of right-hander Jake Arrieta. Second baseman Ian Happ is the first name that comes to mind, and pairing him with one of their young power arms (Cease or De la Cruz) plus a mid-level outfielder like Mark Zagunis could land them one of Jose Quintana (LHP, White Sox) or Chris Archer (RHP, Rays). With third baseman Kris Bryant and first baseman Anthony Rizzo going nowhere anytime soon, perhaps their prospect closest to graduating, Jeimer Candelario (3B/1B) is also a piece that may make the most sense to deal. With his power potential and overall offensive projection, he could be an enticing piece to a bigger deal, or could reel in a tier-two-type big leaguer like J.A.Happ (LHP, Blue Jays) or Ian Kennedy (RHP, Royals) on his own.
2016 marked the conclusion of team president Theo Epstein’s latest successful five-year plan, and with their roster no worse for the wear a year later, they seem primed to role year-to-year for the foreseeable future. They will need to continue to make smart free-agent decisions and avoid the potential pitfalls of overpaying assets like right fielder Jason Heyward going forward, but their financial prowess will always give them margin for error. It is unlikely that Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and their front office will go down the same road the Dodgers did a few years ago and make money no object in their pursuit of a Word Series title, but they also won’t hesitate to loosen the purse strings for the right big-time guys. The name that has to be atop their list is Japanese standout, Shohei Ohtani (RHP/DH, Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, NPB). Not only does Ohtani give them the elite arm they covet, but also has to be the ultimate versatility prize for a club that can’t seem find enough ways to get creative. Look for the Cubs to continue doing their thing and filling their system with a mixture of high-upside young players while still taking advantage of their deftness in picking advanced college bats who need little seasoning in the minor leagues. Even if they do close the deal with Ohtani this offseason, they will still be in great position to go after one of the other big name arms like Masahiro Tanaka (RHP, Yankees) or Johnny Cueto (RHP, Giants) who could opt out of their current deals and hit the market in November.