- C – Ian Rice – 22 yo
- 3.44/.819 combined – PAG/APPA – (LoA South Bend – 3.87/.968; HiA Myrtle Beach – 3.16/.726)
- 2016 stats combined: .265/.380/.461; .841 OPS; 21 doubles, 15 home runs
Wow. Is there a better word to describe the 2016 Chicago Cubs? After a 108 year World Series drought, the Cubs finally won the biggest prize in the sport; and quite honestly, Game 7 was one of the most entertaining, gut-wrenching World Series games I’ve ever watched. Despite becoming world champions, I believe the Cubs are far from finished, as they head into the 2017 season with perfect mixture of youth and veterans. In fact the average age of their young nucleus is 25; and to reach the level of success the organization has at this point might force some to think “dynasty.” But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. One of the key cogs to their youth movement is catcher Wilson Contreras. In 76 games this season, he batted .282 with 12 homers and 35 RBI’s. I’ll take that every day of the week from a 24-year-old catcher. Now, you know how we work things here. The Cubs have long since been known to house some of the richest core of minor league depth in all of baseball. In 2016, that didn’t change, as 2015 draftee Ian Rice is this year’s UTR OAS. The 6’0″- 195 pound righty was drafted out of Houston University as a junior, but began his collegiate career at Chipola College (Marianna, FL) where he batted .328 with 11 home runs and 70 RBi’s in 80 games over two seasons. Rice transferred to Houston for his junior season and in 55 games with the Cougars, he logged a slash line of .255/.427/.364/.791. Not the production he was hoping for after the transfer, but the organization looked past the stat dip and saw a kid with supreme makeup, unmatched competitiveness and the willingness to learn. Upon being taken in the 29th round, Rice was assigned to Short Season Eugene. In 47 games with the Emeralds, Rice hit .252, with 14 runs scored, 19 RBi’s and 16 runs scored. However, his plate discipline was the eye catcher, as he drew 26 walks to 34 strikeouts. This year, Rice blew up, starting out with LoA South Bend, then a late June promotion to HiA Myrtle Beach. His power arrived leading all Cubs minor league catchers in extra-base percentage (.404), slugging (.461) and OPS (.841). There’s no reason to believe that Rice will slow down. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him begin 2017 back with HiA only to receive an early promotion to Double-A if his production shoots out of a canon like it did in 2016.
- 1B – Yasiel Balaguert – 23 yo
- 3.20/.741 – PAG/APPA – (HiA Myrtle Beach)
- 2016 stats: .263/.316/.424; .740 OPS; 25 doubles, 19 home runs
Moving onto first base, the Cubs offer the same type of situation as they do at catcher. With all due respect, it’s more prominent, as Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo is looked upon as the emotional (and statistical) leader of a young Cubs team that just won the World Series. In my humble opinion, you cannot replace that. The Cubs have Rizzo locked up until the year 2021 (Rizzo’s option year) and this gives the organization a ton of time to develop more talent at the position in the minors. 2016 offered up quite a plethora of intriguing kids. Within my spreadsheet I do a tale-of-the-tape. Five prospects made the cut with each offering their own standout statistic; and this year’s pack was led by 23-year-old Cuban Yasiel Balaguert. In the fifth pro season for the 6’2″- 215 lb. righty, Balaguert posted career highs in doubles, home runs, he ranked second in the Carolina League with 96 RBi’s (behind Cleveland first baseman Bobby Bradley‘s 102) and tied with Bradley for the third most total bases in the league with 226. Not that there’s a downside to Balaguert, but he’ll be 24 years old for the entire 2017 season. This leaves him one more year of UTR eligibility; and while I’m hoping he kills it in Double-A, my focus will turn to the remaining collection of up-and-coming first baseman in the organization. Kids like Luis Hidalgo, Gustavo Polanco, Chris Pieters, Matt Rose, and my personal favorite moving forward, Kevin Zamudio. So, keep an eye out for these names, some of which could be fixtures in this year’s UTR Hitters of the Day feature. For those in extremely deep minor league fantasy leagues, there’s a lot of intrigue sitting here.
- 2B – Zack Short – 21 yo
- 3.33/.787 combined – PAG/APPA – (Arizona League – 4.00/.933; Short Season Eugene – 3.31/.768)
- 2016 stats combined: .257/.427/.339; .766 OPS; 9 doubles, 1 home runs; 15 stolen bases; 47:33 BB:K
One of the fun things about PAG/APPA is how multi-dimentional it can be. Not in the realm that it can do numerous things, but that the scores it produces places everyone on an even playing field. And if several prospects are close in P/A scores, then I reference standard/fundamental factors that help make OAS choices easier and more reasonable. Thus was the case with second baseman Ian Happ. Now, it’s no secret that Happ, the Cubs 1st round draft pick in 2015 out of the University of Cincinnati, is one of the premiere bats in the organization. He’s seen four levels since his 2015 debut beginning with Short Season Eugene, then concluding this season with Double-A Tennessee. In 201 pro games, he has a 3.46/.807 P/A, and if he continues to produce at that level, he could see Triple-A Iowa this year and possibly even Wrigley Field by the end of 2017; as 22 -year-old. All the Happ love doesn’t necessarily mean there aren’t other worthy second basemen behind him. 2016 – 17th rounder Zack Short is one of them. Drafted out of Sacred Heart University (Fairfield, CT), the 5’10”- 175 lb. righty debuted in the Arizona League. In 14 games he hit .318, with three doubles, 12 runs scored and eight RBi’s. What stood out however was his 14:9 walk-to- strikeout ratio. Short was promoted to Short Season Eugene in mid July. In only 39 Northwest League games, Short tied for the team lead with 33 walks (to only 24 strikeouts) and ranked second among Emerald regulars with a .401 on-base percentage. I love this kid. Despite his debut (combined) batting average, he’s a high contact-type with superior plate discipline, above average speed and some sneaky pop. Second base is his home and if he builds upon his debut, the Cubs have yet another well-above-average, yet sneaky good prospect on their hands.
- 3B – Wladimir Galindo – 19 yo
- 3.58/.834 – PAG/APPA – (Short Season Eugene)
- 2016 stats: .243/.337/.462; .798 OPS; 19 doubles, 9 home runs
The Cubs third base situation reminds me of last month’s Philadelphia Phillies OAS third base post. I explained how 23-year-old stud Maikel Franco has entrenched himself at the hot corner in Philadelphia and the depth behind him would have to work near miracles to unseat him. This is equal the situation (maybe even more so) the Cubs face with World Series champion and reigning National League Most Valuable Player Kris Bryant. Regardless of who’s on the third base position vector underneath the 25-year-old, who’s going to dethrone him? Let’s just say that the Cubs have a top-heavy load of riches at the position. Twenty-three year old Jeimer Candelario was recently ranked as the #4 third baseman in the minors over at MLBPipeline.com. The young Dominican is a top 100 prospect and ranked #5 overall in the Cubs system. Some say a trade is imminent, which would make sense, but you’re talking about a Theo Epstein-run club here. Somehow, the organization could make it work. But even beyond Bryant and Candelario sits another young slugger who had himself quite a 2016. The Cubs signed Wladimir Galindo out of the Dominican Republic in 2013 and assigned him to the now defunct Venezuelan Summer League. In 62 games, the 6’3″- 210 lb. righty batted .278, clubbed 18 doubles, seven home runs and drove in 30. The equated to a pro debut P/A of 2.98/.740 as a 17-year-old. The following season Galindo went state side to the Arizona League. Due to injury, Galindo saw limited action in 2015, but made every bit of it count with a 19-game slash line of .358/400/.522/.922 and a 3.57/.880 P/A. This season, Galindo kept the momentum rolling ranking within the Northwest League top five in runs scored (47), doubles, home runs and slugging percentage (.462). This coming from a teenager who’s home ballpark, PK Park, is considered one of the toughest ball parks for hitters in the entire Northwest League. The best part about Galindo’s stats are that they match his scouting reports perfectly. He’s a big-bodied slugger with plus raw power and good bat speed. The fact that Galindo carries a career .459 extra-base percentage and will play all of 2017 as a 20-year-old gives the Cubs a ton of hope. Question is though: Where is his ultimate defensive home? With Bryant and Candelario ahead of him, he’s bound to move. My take? Who cares. If Galindo’s first three years of production is a sign of what kind of bat we’re going to continue seeing, who cares where he plays. In extremely deep minor league-heavy leagues, pick Galindo up immediately.
- SS– Rafael Narea – 18 yo
- 2.95/.705 – PAG/APPA – (DSL Cubs1)
- 2016 stats: .263/.402/.306; .708 OPS; 7 doubles, 27 stolen bases; 42:28 BB:K ratio
Here we have a mere continuation of the “young superstar who’s yet to meet his full potential and just won a World Series” narrative. Kris Bryant filled the third base role while Addison Russell employs that space at shortstop. Despite batting .238 this season, Russell belted 21 home runs, scored 67 runs, drove in 95 and earned his first career All-Star nod. The former 2012 – 1st round draft pick (Oakland) is positioning himself as one of the bright young shortstops in all of major league baseball. This helps makes sense of the Cubs trading Venezuelan-born, blue chip prospect Gleyber Torres, who was dealt to the New York Yankees last season for uber-closer Aroldis Chapman. This set up gives us here plenty of time to scour the minors for the next noise maker at the position. After running figures, I was not only reminded how much the shortstop position has changed over the years, but that the Cubs possess several that fit the mold of what shortstop actually calls for offensively. Rafael Narea came to the Cubs as an 2015 international signee out of Venezuela with a defense-first profile. What they’ve gotten so far is a lean in the other direction. Narea debuted in the Venezuelan Summer League in 2015 at 17 years of age and struggled batting .212 with only five extra-base hits and seven stolen bases, but got on base at a .356 clip by drawing four more walks than strikeouts (40:36). This past season with the Dominican Summer League squad, the wiry 5’10”- 160 lb. righty improved on every front. In 63 games (the same as in 2015 with the VSL), Narea led the DSL roster in runs scored (36), stolen bases, on base percentage and once again, drew more walks than strikeouts. I believe the Cubs advance him another level to Short Season Eugene this season. He’s definitely a prospect to watch rather closely within the system.
- LF – Eloy Jimenez – 19 yo
- 3.65/.881 – PAG/APPA – (LoA South Bend)
- 2016 stats: .329/.369/.532; .901 OPS; 40 doubles, 14 home runs; 8 stolen bases
I’m going to make the Cubs left field UTR OAS short, sweet and to the point. There may not be a better outfield prospect, not only in the Cubs system, but in all of minor league baseball than 2013 international free agent signee Eloy Jimenez. The 6’4″- 205 lb. righty from the Dominican Republic has immense raw power, hits for average and has supreme makeup. Although there are a few intriguing players behind him. Jimenez dominated the left field numbers within this off-season’s UTR hitter spreadsheets. He’s one of those rare cases where each year he’s ascended through the minors, he’s actually gotten stronger posting P/A numbers of 2.57/.657 in 2014, 3.23/.736 in 2015 and the number you see above. Jimenez is that no-brainer prospect to own in all minor league fantasy leagues; and if you don’t own him, do whatever you can to trade for him. A star in the making.
- CF – Donnie Dewees – 22 yo
- 3.47/.775 combined – PAG/APPA – (LoA South Bend – 3.36/.771; HiA Myrtle Beach – 3.74/.784)
- 2016 stats combined: .284/.338/.416; .754 OPS; 25 doubles, 14 triples, 5 home runs; 31 stolen bases
Another short and sweet OAS post; and another case where several of the Cubs UTR prospects were simply buried when it came to the best of what the position offered up in 2016. Amongst all other centerfielders, the 2015 – 2nd round draft choice out of the University of North Florida nearly dominated every offensive category. Of course he dominated all the fundamental stats, as several kids sitting in the high-2.00/low-3.00 PAG range played in short season leagues. But the 5’11”-180 lb. lefty also commanded nearly all peripheral stats as well. Dewees’ debut in 2015 with Short Season Eugene produced a 3.20/.696 P/A. This season, he improved as the season progressed posting the splits you see above. Dewees has the skills to do even better. He can really, really hit, can drive the ball anywhere between the lines and the ability to work himself into hitter counts. He’s got plus speed and in 195 games as a pro, has a .984 fielding percentage in center. It’s almost embarrassing how prospect rich the Cubs are. I firmly believe that if Dewees was with any other organization, he could be a near top 5 prospect; and still has time to do it. This time with the Kansas City Royals, as he was traded February 9th to Kansas City for 6’4″ – 190 lb. starter Alec Mills. The trade helps both clubs and could be the move Dewees needs to speed up his ascent to the majors.
- RF – Kevonte Mitchell – 20 yo
- 3.19/.753 – PAG/APPA – (Short Season Eugene)
- 2016 stats: .243/.318/.378; .696 OPS; 12 doubles, 5 home runs; 15 stolen bases
In the case of left fielder Eloy Jimenez and centerfielder Donnie Dewees, their production this season in conjunction to their UTR competition was just too much when considering anyone else as an OAS. The Cubs right fielders presented a different circumstance. One that not only forced me to dig deeper into the numbers, but rely heavily on PAG/APPA to help me make my choice. Looking at raw numbers, Eddy Martinez, a 2015 international free agent signee out of Cuba led all right fielders in doubles (25) and home runs (10) which is the power strongly considered for the right field position. However, in this day of analytics, notably P/A, this is where Kevonte Mitchell’s production and projection come into play. Considered a high-ceiling prospect coming out of Kennett HS (MO), the Cubs drafted the 6’4″- 185 pounder in the 14th round in 2014 and assigned him to the Arizona League. In 39 games, he batted .294, stole 19 bases and scored a debut 3.28/.785 P/A, but only 7 of his 42 hits went to extra bases. The following year, Mitchell began the season back in the AZL, but saw a quick promotion to Eugene of the Northwest League. In 54 games between both levels, his production plummeted scoring a 2.06/.585 and logging a .176/.279/.248/.527 slash line. Mitchell spent all of 2016 back with the Emeralds and seemed to come back to life. He posted the highest P/A score of all right fielders in the system from HiA down. Albeit, Mitchell hasn’t shown the power a right fielder is called upon to produce, but in a UTR-like stretch, I like what he has to offer. It’s sneaky enough and the Cubs are deep enough that if he heads to LoA South Bend this coming season, he could improve across the board and still fall far under the radar. Mitchell came into the organization with a huge raw power bat, quick hands and the physique that has a lot of room to grow. There’s no reason to bail on the idea he could do special things simply because he hasn’t produced fundamental Eddy Martinez-type numbers yet.