Featured Photo: Miguel Amaya, C, Cubs
STATE OF THE SYSTEM: The Cubs have traded away from the farm system in recent years to improve the big league club, though there’s still talent in the pipeline. Breakout seasons in the low-minors from Miguel Amaya and Brailyn Marquez have added some upside to the system. Aramis Ademan, Alex Lange, and Keegan Thompson add high-floor prospect depth. Justin Steele is a sleeper arm that could take a big jump with a full season of health in 2019. The Cubbies don’t have an elite farm system, but it isn’t barren. There are a number of prospects who look like good bets to reach the big leagues in some capacity, there just isn’t a true top fifty prospect at this time to headline the system. Keep reading for more writeups and pro-style scouting reports on promising prospects in Chicago’s system. -Adam McInturff
Aramis Ademan, SS, Cubs (High A Myrtle Beach, Carolina League)
Ht/Wt: 5’11”/160 lbs. B/T: L/R Age (as of July 1, 2018): 19y, 9m
Ademan signed with the Cubs for a $2M amateur bonus in 2015, tops in the team’s J2 class that year. He has struggled at the plate against older competition in the High A Carolina League this season, though the tools play above his 2018 stat line. Ademan carries himself with a mature presence for a player his age, showing a well-rounded skillset and projectable hitting tools.
A slight frame with wiry and athletic features, Ademan has a good infielder’s build that needs to put on strength to do more damage at the plate. The glove is his carry tool, playing a big league shortstop right now and projecting future plus at the position. He’s light on his feet and ranges well to both sides, showing soft hands and a quick transfer that plays up an above-average arm even more. Ademan hits from an open base with a small leg lift to close off. There’s minimal movement through his load which gives the ability to see the ball deep and ID pitches well for a young hitter. His hands are loose and whippy through the zone with projectable batspeed, and while Ademan’s hit tool grades as a present 30, he has the offensive tools to double-project on the bat to future average. He’s never going to be a huge power threat, but the batspeed and compact swing could grow into sneaky gap power with 8-12 homerun potential. An above-average runner—though not a true burner—he runs the bases with instincts and can swipe an occasional bag due to his timing and feel.
Ademan’s plus glove at a premium position will get him to the big leagues and gives a high floor. While it takes a fair amount of projection, the ceiling is an everyday shortstop if he develops into an average hit/on-base threat. I’m inclined to believe there’s a lot more coming with the bat, but even if he never hits enough to be a regular, Ademan’s defensive ability will keep him around for a long time. -Adam McInturff
Miguel Amaya, C, Cubs (Class A South Bend, Midwest League)
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/185 lbs. B/T: R/R Age (as of July 1, 2018): 19y, 3m
Amaya signed with the Cubs from Panama as a 16-year-old in 2015, agreeing to a $1.25M bonus. He moves well behind the plate, projecting as an above-average defensive catcher with enough offensive upside for a solid-regular ceiling. The 6-foot-1 Amaya exudes confidence and comfort behind the dish. He is a quiet receiver with soft hands, and he shows framing aptitude by consistently keeping his glove inside his body on borderline pitches. There are more informational nuances to catching than ever before, and while it takes time for catching prospects to become refined defenders, Amaya has all the ingredients to be a future 60-grade glove with an above-average throwing arm (1.94-1.98 pop times).
Offensively, he showed above-average raw power with enough carry to clear the power alleys with the bat control to square up off-speed pitches Amaya’s hit tool projects to fringe-average, applying a pull-heavy approach that leaves him vulnerable on the outer third–especially on well-placed changeups late in the count. This approach lets him punish mistakes, balanced with swing-and-miss that has him striking out over 20-percent of the time, both of which featured in this look. The result is a 45 hit tool with 50 game power. A plus athlete with a physical frame that’s built to withstand the rigors of the position, Amaya’s defense carries the profile, but the 16-20 HR power potential could make him as high as a FV 55 above-average everyday contributor. -John Eshleman
Jeremiah Estrada, RHP, Cubs (Rookie AZL Cubs, Arizona League)
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/185 lbs. B/T: S/R Age (as of July 1, 2018): 19y, 8m
Estrada was the Cubs’ sixth-rounder in the 2017 Draft, paying him second round money to forego his UCLA commitment. He appeared briefly in the Rookie-Level Arizona League last summer, and I got a look at him this May after he began the season in Extended Spring Training.
Estrada isn’t tall, but he’s well-built and has solid strength in both his upper and lower halves. His best pitch is a tailing 92-to-93 mph fastball. When the delivery is synced, he gets solid plane from his ¾ slot, extending well through the pitch. In order to throw more consistent strikes, Estrada needs to iron out some aspects of his mechanics: pronounced inverted-W strain causes the arm to clear late, and he consistently sailed the fastball up and armside in my viewing. A mid-70s curveball projects as his best secondary pitch, showing 11-5 tilt and flashes of late action. A lesser-used changeup at 81-to-84 mph is the third; there’s less ability to keep it around the plate than the curve, though the best of Estrada’s changeups showed separation and fade.
Despite difficulties repeating the delivery, the overall operation is low-effort and Estrada generates velocity easily. I think he’s athletic enough to project on the command slightly, but there’s enough present noise to clean up, the command isn’t likely to finish better than fringe-average even with improvements. There might not be a carry tool for a starting rotation role; Estrada’s most impactful contribution seems more likely to be that of a two-pitch pen piece. His fastball could jump a few ticks, allowing the curve to play closer to above-average off the increased velocity. -John Eshleman
Justin Steele, LHP, Cubs (High A Myrtle Beach, Carolina League)
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/195 lbs. B/T: L/L Age (as of July 1, 2018): 22y, 11m
Chicago’s 2014 draft class already looks impressive enough with the likes of Kyle Schwarber, Dylan Cease, and recent big league callups Mark Zangunis and James Norwood. Justin Steele could make it a draft class for the books if he reaches his ceiling, too. Steele was the Cubs’ fifth-round pick that year, one of the prep arms that Schwarber’s under-slot bonus with the #4 overall pick allowed the team to sign. He was in the middle of a breakout 2017 season before Tommy John surgery in August of last year, though the lefty returned surprisingly quickly and is already pitching in games for Myrtle Beach.
I saw him work in the 90-to-94 mph range with his heater in a recent look. Before the injury he would reach the 95-to-96 mph band with his fastball, so there’s some reason to believe above-average velocity could be on the way back. Even if not, Steele’s movement and control/command project out enough to turn lineups over as a starter. His fastball has some natural sink down in the zone, flashing a hint of cut action at times. He’s aggressive over the plate and throws strikes, working quickly and making hitters adjust to his pace. Steele’s curveball is a separator and might wind up being his best pitch, a sharp upper-70s bender with 2-to-7 tilt that flashes swing-and-miss bite. The fastball and curve are ahead of his mid-80s changeup, but Steele shows feel for the pitch and has the clean arm action to get it to average.
Steele’s slow climb and time missed with injury have dropped him off the national prospect radar, but from what I’ve seen—both before and after surgery—he’ll be back on the map after a full season in 2019. If Steele can stay healthy he’s a safe bet to contribute in some capacity, with the best-case ceiling being that of a solid #4 or #5 rotation piece for a contender. -Adam McInturff
Feature Pro-Style Scouting Reports
- Alex Lange, RHP, Cubs (High A Myrtle Beach) -Adam McInturff
- Brendon Little, LHP, Cubs (Class A South Bend) -John Eshleman
- Brailyn Marquez, LHP, Cubs (Class A Short-Season Eugene) -Adam McInturff
- Keegan Thompson, RHP, Cubs (Double-A Tennessee) -Adam McInturff
Other Cubs Prospects
Editor’s Note: Andruw Monasterio was traded to the Nationals just before this piece ran.