It is finally time for the Top 5. The depth within the pitching staff in the minor leagues heading into 2016 is unbelievable and I would not be shocked to see the entire list flipped around by the time the midseason list comes out. But without further adieu here is the best 5 pitching prospects the Cubs currently have in their farm system.
Highest Level: A South Bend
108.2 IP, 3.98 ERA, 1.270 WHIP, 8.5 K/9, 3.9 BB/9
No one really seems to have a real idea on where to put Trevor Clifton on their prospects lists. I have seen him upwards of top ten for all prospects but have seen him nowhere to be found on other lists. The jury of Clifton is definitely still out. I am one of the people that is a little higher on the young righty. A 12th rounder out of high school in 2013, Clifton still has quite a bit of room to fill out on his slight 170 pound frame. After a couple of up and down years, Clifton will need to work this year on limiting the walks (and sacrificing a strikeout or 2) in order to advance through the system. He has never really been hit hard, it’s all a matter of his ability to find the zone and still induce weak contact. 2016 is a big year for Clifton and his future in the Cubs organization should be more clear after this season.
Highest Level: A- Eugene
40.2 IP, 2.66 ERA, 1.303 WHIP, 8.4 K/9, 3.3 BB/9
Justin Steele is one of those guys that is sliding all around the prospect rankings along with many other guys. I have him much higher than many at number 4 due to a combination of the fact that he throws left-handed, he has great stuff, and he is still very young. Taken in the same draft as Carson Sands, just one rounds difference, the two have often been associated with one another due to the fact that they have always been at the same level. That is where I see the difference. I think a lot of Sands tools are much more refined as Sands and I see Steele forcing his way up the ladder in 2016 possibly ending the year in AA Tennessee. That would be a lot for a 20 year old pitcher, but everything is there in place for him to accomplish that feat. Steele has the upside of being a future big league 2 or 3 starter but being a lefty I wouldn’t count a smooth transition to the back end of the bullpen completely out of the question.
Highest Level: AA Tennessee
141.2 IP, 2.16 ERA, 1.011 WHIP, 6.2 K/9, 1.1 BB/9
Ryan Williams might just be my favorite pitcher on this entire list. The former 10th round pick showed out in 2015 as the clear cut breakout star of the Chicago Cubs minor league system. After putting up ridiculous stats at Class A South Bend, he skipped over A+ Myrtle Beach and got the promotion straight to AA. That’s quite the accomplishment. A pretty intimidating presence on the mound, he surprisingly isn’t an overpowering pitcher. Williams relies more on ground ball out and inducing weak contact from hitters using exceptional command. (Insert Kyle Hendricks comparison here.) If Williams can keep progressing the way he did last year, expect to see a call-up to Chicago this year with the potential of being a back-end starter in the future.
Highest Level: A+ Myrtle Beach
78.1 IP, 2.41 ERA, 1.009 WHIP, 6.2 K/9, 2.8 BB/9
Duane Underwood has always been that guy in the Cubs system that has all the potential in the world. His health has been in question over those years though, and it is still in question today. That being said, if he can stay healthy Underwood’s absolutely nasty stuff will play up to the Major League level. His mid to high 90s fastball to go along with his devastating 12-6 curve are now starting to be accompanied by what is looking like a league average changeup. All the pieces and talent is there for Underwood and as long as he stays healthy the 21 year old starter could eventually see himself in the middle of the Cubs rotation in the next couple of years.
Highest Level: AA Tennessee
95 IP, 2.08 ERA, 1.137 WHIP, 6.8 K/9, 3.0 BB/9
Pierce Johnson is my top rated Cubs pitching prospect. There has plenty of skepticism throughout the past few years on if Johnson is actually a potential piece of the Cubs future starting rotation but I have no question that will be the case. The only real knock on Pierce is his ability to stay healthy. As long as he has been healthy he has performed very admirably. After spending time in Tennessee last season, he is on pace to spend his 24 year old season in AAA Iowa before looking at a September call-up if not sooner. Although his strikeout numbers lowered considerably last year, so did his walk numbers which is the more important number. Expect Johnson to be a solid middle of the rotation starter for the Cubs for many years.