Lots of Young Surprises Among FanGraphs’ Top 31 Cubs Prospects

FanGraphs began releasing their organizational prospect lists last week, and I was waiting patiently to see what surprises we’d find when they got to the Cubs. Their lists are typically pretty aggressive, based more on projection than production, and this edition very much lived up to that trend.

CI‘s Evan Altman looked at the preponderance of pitching and youth, but I am going to focus on the latter. More than that, I’d like to dig into some of the surprises, many of which came in the top half of the rankings.

The first surprise, at least to me, was seeing Miguel Amaya still on top. He still has that massive power potential and amazing defensive skills that scouts love, but Nico Hoerner’s burgeoning power and his Arizona Fall League performance are very impressive. But scouts are still unsure of what position Hoerner is ultimately going to end up playing, with second base or maybe even center mentioned. The bat plays even better at second than it does at short, it’s just a less premium position.

The next big surprise came after the parade of usual suspects Aramis Ademan, Adbert Alzolay, and Justin Steele. Cole Roederer got the nod at No. 6 despite playing only 36 games in the Arizona Rookie League. Though he just turned 19 in late September, or perhaps because of that youth, Roederer’s 129 wRC+ even in such a short stint portends big things for the future.

Fireballing lefty Brailyn Marquez, who I profiled last summer, comes in at No. 7 on the list and 17-year-old righty Richard Gallardo rounds out the top 10. More polished than his age indicates, Gallardo has great control and command, but has yet to throw a pitch as a pro. The Cubs picked him up last summer through international free agency and he will likely debut in Mesa in 2019. He’s so green FanGraphs doesn’t even have a page set up for him yet, which is why seeing him ranked this high this early was unexpected.

But the biggest surprise came in at No. 11 with second baseman Reivaj Garcia, who held his own in the Arizona Rookie League last year at 17 years old. He drew plaudits for his bat-to-ball skills and won’t turn 18 until next August, so he’s got a lot of time to grow. Another eyebrow-raiser was 19-year-old Brennan Davis, who managed to put up a 138 wRC+ despite playing only 18 rookie league games due to injury. He came in at No. 12 because he might be a five-tool outfielder in time.

Pitching staple Trevor Clifton was missing from the list, along with Jared Young, the Cubs’ MiLB Player of the Year in 2018. Reliever Dillon Maples and starter Duane Underwood Jr. were likewise nowhere to be seen. DJ Wilson and Mark Zagunis had routinely appeared in the top 10 of previous lists but now *poof* they’ve been relegated to the “other prospects” portion.F

As the first major list to come out this offseason, FanGraphs really went hard to the young prospects. Fifteen of the 31 prospects on the list actually come from the international market and 17 of them are no more than 20 years old. That could be a condemnation of recent draft policy or it could be seen as praise of the Cubs’ ability to find and develop international talent quickly.

FanGraphs going so young does show that there is hope for the future. Whether and when that hope pans, however, is the key. You won’t see waves of talent coming soon, but the Cubs system is loaded with a plethora of young talent. Part of that is the result of a second rookie league team in Mesa, as the Cubs skewed younger in the 2018 draft than they have in recent memory. To wit, two of their top four picks were from the high school ranks.

It’s important to keep in mind that this list is all about projection. The prospects still have to go out and dominate at their respective levels to get ahead in the system. And that second rookie league team means competition for spots to move up in the system is going to be even greater in 2019 than ever before. How these young players react to that and adjust to new challenges both on and off the field will determine how accurate these rankings end up being.

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