In a wisp of a season, the dark shadows of the Billy Goat curse and Bartman have been pushed into the annals of history. The misery of the 71 year drought without a National League title and the 108 years vacant of a World Series championship disappeared like a Lake Michigan wave hitting the shores of North Avenue Beach. Theo Epstein is the jinx-buster, joining the Cubs in 2011 after being the architect of the Red Sox’s first World Series title in 86 years back in 2004. Epstein and the front office constructed the Cubs from the bottom-up, relying on homegrown products out of the farm system. First round picks of Kyle Schwarber (2014) and Kris Bryant (2013) were the main cogs towards the Fall Classic, along with trade pieces Anthony Rizzo (2012) and Addison Russell (2014). The biggest piece in the whole puzzle was the trade from the Baltimore Orioles that brought Jake Arrieta to Wrigley. But don’t be fooled thinking the Cubs solely focused their re-build on hitters. Their MLB staff remains solid with a patchwork of outstanding arms to hold down the fort, while some young pitchers simmer their way up the ladder. My UTR-OAS, including this years version, continues with some of the same cast of familiar names. My first roster in 2014 debuted with Paul Blackburn, Duane Underwood, Daury Torrez, and Rob Zastryzny. All expect Torrez were top draft picks still under the radar, as they just completed their first full seasons. Blackburn was listed as a “Solid Stash” when he made my list again in 2015. Near the 2016 trade deadline, he was sent to the Seattle Mariners and then later traded to the Athletics. In Oakland, Blackburn could join a rotation chock full of former UTR’s in Sean Manaea, Kendall Graveman, and Jharel Cotton. Underwood repeated in 2015 and of course, I recommended my readers with the “Solid Stash” tag. Zastryzny dropped from the UTR radar when he spent most of 2015 at Double-A Tennessee, but worked his way to Wrigley Field with a late season call-up last season. Daury Torrez also appeared as a 2015 OAS and was moved into the bullpen in 2016. Continue to keep an eye on him if your fantasy league values relief pitchers. As an extra tip……remember another decent bullpen arm that could surprise in 2017 in James Pugliese. The right-hander has always scored in the top 1/3 on my Cubs spreadsheets since 2013. Another top pick from the 2014 OAS that faded was Tyler Skulina. The 4th rounder from 2013 struggled with his control in 2015 and saw the return of bouts of wildness in 2016.
New names that appeared in 2015 were Jonathan Martinez, Jeremy Null, and Trevor Clifton. The Cubs fell in love with Martinez after he came over from the Dodgers in 2014. They have pushed him after his successful 2014 campaign in the Midwest League. The then 21 year old backed it up with an outstanding 2015 season at HiA Myrtle Beach going 9-2 with a 2.56 ERA. He repeated HiA in 2016, getting a taste of Double-A and appears in #5 slot below. Null is a 15th round pick from 2014 and completed a solid HiA season in 2016, just coming up short of making the roster. Trevor Clifton has been a fast-riser within the Cubs system and sure to crack the Top 10 with his performance at Myrtle Beach. Clifton garnered his old 2015 #4 TPS spot for 2016.
On the International side for the Cubs, notables on my list included Andri Rondon (2016 Watch List), Oscar De La Cruz (2015 UTR-OAS), and Santiago Rodriguez. De La Cruz went through three levels in 2016 and is the front runner for the “One to Watch” in 2017. His Factor Score of (10) had him within my Top 1o prospects for the Cubs.
Top 5 Starting Pitchers – (Factor Score) / TPS
1. RHP Preston Morrison – 21 / .088
23 years old – (LoA South Bend / HiA Myrtle Beach)
8th round – 2015
I tend to shy away from other prospect lists in order not to place bias when I encounter close calls within my rankings. During my research, I will take a peek from other blogs that mirror Marc’s and my work. It’s interesting to see some of the same pitchers ranked on those sites, listed as a fringy arm. Morrison fits that type, but I disagree, as he could follow the same path as Trevor Clifton. As a polished college arm out of TCU, the right-hander had a stretch this past summer where he tossed 45.2 innings allowing only one earned run, while striking out 47 and walking six. His success continued after his promotion to HiA Myrtle Beach which is where his assignment should be to start the 2017 season.
Leal came over to the Cubs from the Diamondbacks prior to the 2013 season in the Tony Campana deal. The then 18-year-old was assigned to the AZL Cubs to start the 2014 season and he posted an unbelievable 6.50 K/BB ratio over 48.2 innings. I predicted a breakout for the 2014 season, which is currently labeled as the “One to Watch.” Zoom ahead three seasons and Leal should continue to be watched. He quietly returned to UTRMinors and I was surprised after running my numbers that he came in as the UTR-OAS runner-up. Turning only 22 in March, Leal still has plenty room to grow and to improve his three pitch arsenal.
Kellogg crowbarred his way into the Arizona State rotation as a freshman and went 11-1 with a 3.15 ERA. He, again, posted 100+ innings over his sophomore and junior seasons, combining for a 17-5 record over that time. He’s a presence on the mound with his 6’6″ 230 lbs frame, but he doesnt come at you with power. His fastball only registers in the upper 80s and low 90s range, so he’s more of a finesse pitcher working hitters into favorable counts. He finished his first full season at Kane County, putting up similar numbers to those he posted at ASU. Kellogg could be a true sleeper within the Cubs’ system.
I was right on par with Trevor Clifton, tabbing him as my “One to Watch” selection for the 2016 season. He shot up the Cubs prospect rankings going into 2017, cracking the Top 10. From a fantasy perspective, Clifton is the type of pitcher where you wish you’d see him hovering in the middle-of-the-pack; and making an in-season waiver pickup on the righty. That won’t be case come next month during many drafts, as Clifton had an eye-opening 2016 season. It’s hard to keep the UTR persona when you receive the Carolina League and Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year awards.
22 years old – (HiA Myrtle Beach / Double-A Tennessee)
International Free Agent (LA Dodgers) – 2011
The Cubs fell in love with Martinez after receiving him from the Dodgers in the Darwin Barney deal back in 2014. TPS hasn’t felt that love quite yet, though Martinez has performed decently, already being pushed to Double-A as a 22 year old.
Top 3 Relief Pitchers – (Factor Score) / TPS
1. RHP Pedro Araujo – 12 / .062
22 years old – (LoA South Bend / HiA Myrtle Beach)