Cubs place six among top 100 MLB prospects, according to ESPN’s Law

Contreras,-Willson-5.11_Blog(Photo by Roger Hoover)

Spring baseball is just one week away, with pitchers and catchers slated to report next week. This also kicks off one of the best times of the year for prospect watching. On Thursday, ESPN senior writer Keith Law unveiled his Top 100 prospects list, which includes six Cubs. Though the team graduated one of the greatest crops of young talent in organizational history to the majors last year, the quantity of players still on Law’s list demonstrates the waves of talent in the system.

Here is a small portion of what Law had to say on each Cubs prospect:

15. Gleyber Torres, SS

Torres looked much older than 18 in terms of his plate skills during the 2015 season; he stayed behind the ball really well, with great hand-eye coordination and the ability to shoot a ball to the outfield the way Derek Jeter would do with two strikes. It’s a very easy swing, and Torres keeps his head steady throughout in a way many major league hitters couldn’t emulate. He’s very smooth at shortstop already, with plus hands and a plus arm, showing me in Myrtle Beach’s playoff series against Wilmington that he could come across the bag well on a difficult double play. He needs to continue to get stronger, as well as work on some of his reads in the field and on the bases, where his physical tools have exceeded his acumen. He has a good chance to jump into the top 5 by next year.

Torres burst onto the scene in the Low-A Midwest League in 2015, hitting .293/.353/.386 with 24 doubles for South Bend. Despite his age, he was named the league’s prospect of the year for both his offense and his smooth defense at shortstop.

27. Willson Contreras, C

Contreras is a strong, coordinated, athletic kid with great body control, but none of that had manifested in his performances prior to 2015, except in his generally good contact rates. His bat speed seemed to pick up in ’15, and with a clean, direct path to the ball, he’s going to make a lot of hard contact, though mostly singles and doubles. There isn’t big loft in the swing, although he’s physically strong enough to hit for power, especially if he had a little more rotation in his path. Behind the plate, he has an easy 70 arm and good energy and actions but needs work on the mechanics of receiving and framing, as well as the finer points, like calling a game.

Contreras’ eye-opening 2015 season,  during which he won the batting title in the Double-A Southern League, earned him organizational player of the year honors. He finished with eight home runs, 46 extra-base hits and a .413 on-base percentage in 521 plate appearances.

47. Ian Happ, 2B

Happ is a switch-hitter, smoother and shorter from the left side, less consistent and longer right-handed, although the latter could improve with coaching help and more reps. He has 15-20 homer potential, driven more by his contact rate than any need to get stronger or change a swing.

A 2015 first-round pick, Happ spent all of his debut season in the outfield, where he played a large portion of his college career. Offensively, the 21-year-old demonstrated both his power and on-base abilities, hitting nine homers and reaching base via walk in 13.5 percent of his 295 plate appearances between Short-Season Eugene and South Bend.

69. Billy McKinney, OF

McKinney has a beautiful, fluid, left-handed swing, very easy to repeat, geared toward line-drive contact but without a ton of leverage in it, so he projects as a high-OBP, high-doubles guy, but his ultimate power ceiling might be south of 20 homers as a result. McKinney played center in the lower minors, but that was a pipe dream, especially since he’s a below-average runner. He should settle in as an average defender in left, which will be fine given his offensive profile but limits his potential to be a star unless he starts hitting .320, which isn’t out of the question given his swing and eye.

In 2015, McKinney continued to do what he does best: hit. Between High-A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Tennessee, the Athletics’ 2013 first-round pick hit .300/.371/.454 with 31 doubles. This season could be a big one for the outfielder, who is one of the toughest outs in the Cubs’ system.

88. Albert Almora, OF

Almora is a 70 defender in center with outstanding reads on balls off the bat, which makes up for his below-average running speed, and the defense will get him to the big leagues even if he doesn’t hit. He boosted his stat line with a huge August at Double-A, but the real difference was that he started making better quality contact as the season went on, squaring up the ball more frequently and thus improving his BABIP and hitting for more power, mostly doubles power.

Though he may be known for his defensive prowess, Almora’s offense in 2015 was strong as well. As mentioned above, the 2012 first-round pick started making better contact and improved his plate discipline, drawing 32 walks—that’s more than his previous two campaigns combined. He spent the entire season in Double-A, hitting .272/.327/.400 with six homers and 26 doubles.

91. Dylan Cease, RHP

Cease was a potential top-10 pick in 2014 after his fastball hit 99 mph and he showed a plus curveball that spring, but he suffered a partial tear of his elbow ligament that didn’t respond to treatment, requiring Tommy John surgery after he signed an overslot deal as a sixth-round pick of the Cubs that June. Cease returned this summer and was back up to 99, easier than ever with a cleaner delivery.

The sample size is limited (24 innings pitched), but the Cubs front office raves about Cease’s potential whenever there’s an opportunity. During Theo Eptstein’s postseason recap, he mentioned the right-hander as a player who could really break out in 2016.

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