As it stands right now, the Cubs don’t have a number one, ace-type starter in the system. A lot can change over the next year, though, and it’s possible they could develop three such pitchers in relatively short order. A lot of that is going to depend on health an continued maturation, of course. Add in one or two draft picks from this year’s first round and the Cubs might be on to something.
When it comes to the top five right-handed starting pitchers in the Cubs’ system right now, they are very close in terms of both talent and potential. Ranking them based on either of those factors alone, however, would result in very different lists. Three of the five could easily be mid-rotation starters, a couple could be number ones or twos. At this point in their respective careers, it’s hard to tell.
Last week, we profiled Zach Hedges, Ryan Williams, Erling Moreno, and a few others as part of our first look at the Cubs’ right-handed starter prospects. Today, the top five righty starters get their day in the sun.
5. Jose Albertos – The 17-year-old international free agent shot out of nowhere on the strength of upper-90’s velocity with great command and control. He only threw four innings in organized ball last year but was dazzling throughout spring training and extended spring training. He should be in Eugene in 2017 and could jump to number two on this list very quickly if he can stay heathy.
ETA – 2019/20
4. Thomas Hatch – The 2016 third round draft pick has four pitches he can throw for strikes. Still only 21 years old, Hatch will likely start out at South Bend in 2017 and will be a part of maybe the most impressive staff in the Cubs system. While he has yet to pitch in an official game, it won’t be long before we will all be amazed. I look for him to not spend much time at any spot this year, maybe 50 IP here, 50 IP there. Next thing you know, he’s at Tennessee in August.
ETA – Mid-2018
3. Trevor Clifton – I think this is the year Clifton arrives as a fully developed pitcher. Playing near his home in Tennessee could result in Clifton’s best year in the system. From July through September last year, he was arguably the Cubs’ best minor league pitcher. What I like most about Clifton’s performance last year was that he walked very few and his changeup developed into a plus pitch. The sky’s the limit for him this year.
ETA – Early 2018 if all goes well
2. Oscar de la Cruz – He struggled with minor injuries in the first half, but took off when he was healthy in the second half. Once he arrived in South Bend, it was easy to see what a huge presence de la Cruz was on the mound. He should be fully healthy and in Myrtle Beach for 2018 and could be at Tennessee very quickly if he develops a third pitch. If healthy, he should terrorize the Carolina League with his 95 mph heater and plus curve. The Cubs have yet to fast-track an arm, though he is one, along with Hatch, who fits that profile.
ETA – Early 2019, with an outside shot of a September call-up this year.
1. Dylan Cease – Now that he has made it to the full-season team, all eyes are on Cease. While he can throw in triple digits, he does much better sitting 95 to 97, something only a couple Cubs prospects can do. After recovering from a forearm strain last summer, his curveball was much more fluid and he began to attack hitters in a different way towards the end of the season. Rather than getting them to chase balls, Cease began throwing strikes in the zone and his outings grew longer and longer.
He needs to pick up where he left off 2016 and I would like to see him somewhere about 100 to 110 innings for this year. If he performs up to his potential, those innings should come across two levels. Ultimately, it would be great for Cease to continue to build up that kind of arm strength three years after Tommy John surgery.
ETA – Late 2018 as a reliever, early 2019 as a starter. He needs some innings on that arm.
Dark Horse Names to Watch for in 2017
Stephen Ridings – He did not pitch last year after being drafted, but throws effectively wild in the mid-90’s. Could be at either Eugene or South Bend to start the season.
Tyler Peyton – The former Iowa Hawkeye had some personal and physical issues last year. As a result, he did not play after being drafted. Like Ridings, he will make his debut at either Eugene or South Bend.
With two starting pitchers set to leave the big league roster after the 2017 season, I hope one or two of the pitchers listed in these past two posts can make it to Chicago in some capacity. It could even be as a mid-summer replacement. Williams, Hedges, and Trevor Clifton are the closest, but will they be ready? I think Williams could make it this year, particularly if he comes up as a reliever. Neither Cease nor Albertos has pitched over 100 innings as a pro, so they’ll take some time.
The good news, though, is that the Cubs have a lot of guys with more than a little bit of potential who are all getting ready to knock on the door.
See below for previous breakdowns: