Position Player Prospects #1-5: Preseason 2016

After reading up on position player prospects #16-20 as well as #11-15 and #6-10, it is now time for the top five hitters in the Cubs minor league system. At this point it is pretty clear what five players are left but it is just a matter of what order they are in on this list. Before you jump to conclusions on where those five will be listed, why don’t you just check out how I see some of the top prospects in the system.

5. Albert Almora Jr.

Position: Outfield

Age: 21

Hits/Throws: R/R

Height: 6’2”

Weight: 180

Highest Level: AA Tennessee

106 Games, (.272/.327/..400/.727), 26 doubles, 6 HR, 8 SB, 7.1% BB, 10.4% K

As the first draftee of the Epstein-Hoyer era, Almora hasn’t exactly brought the same success as the rest of the front office moves the two have made. After a couple down years out of high school, Almora showed in 2015 that there is still quite a bit of promise in his stock. Albert is one of the most Major League ready players defensively in all of the Minor Leagues. He doesn’t have elite speed, but as a centerfielder he covers a gold glove level amount of ground. You look at his incredibly low strikeout rate as a good thing but when it comes to his bat, Almora needs to improve upon his selection of pitches to hit at the plate. Making contact with everything is not necessarily always a good thing in his case as his very low BABIP (batting average against balls in play) is a result of his low K rate. As Almora’s defense is ready for Chicago, if he can turn his hitting around a little he will be up as soon as late 2016 or early 2017.

  1. Gleyber Torres

 

Position: Shortstop

Age: 19

Hits/Throws: R/R

Height: 6’1”

Weight: 175

Highest Level: A+ Myrtle Beach

126 Games, (.287/.346/.376/.722), 24 doubles, 3 HR, 22 SB, 8.2% BB, 21.4% K

I’m absolutely the odd man out on this ranking of Torres. The consensus number one prospect in the Cubs system I have ranked at number 4. This is not saying I don’t believe in his incredible upside. Gleyber was an 18 year old playing in Myrtle Beach with and against players that were 3 to 4 years older than him. His plate vision is very good, drawing a high walk rate and he mashed at the plate. That being said, there seemed to be a little swing and miss in his game that I actually expect to increase due to an increase in power numbers over the next few years. Something that I see as a positive in Gleyber’s game that keeps him up so high on my list is his defensive game. He is real slick with the glove at shortstop and even though he doesn’t quite have the range you would like to see from a shortstop, he could easily make the switch over to second or third while bringing his soft and quick hands with him over there. This ranking is in no way tearing down what Torres is because I think he has the ability to be a Major League starter as soon as 2018, but I think the guys I have ranked ahead of him have much higher floors in this system.

  1. Jeimer Candelario

 

Position: Third Base

Age: 22

Hits/Throws: S/R

Height: 6’1”

Weight: 210

Highest Level: AA Tennessee

128 Games, (.277/.339/.431/.770), 35 doubles, 10 HR, 0 SB, 8.0% BB, 15.8% K

Yes, it does feel like Candelario has been in the Cubs system for about 10 years, but believe it or not the kid is still only 22 years old. After dominating both Myrtle Beach and Tennessee last season I don’t think the Candy Man will be spending many more years down there. Candelario showed in 2015 he had the ability to consistently make solid contact while flashing quite a bit of power toward the end of the year. His higher walk rate and very solid strikeout rate show that he is ready to continue his ascension up the ladder that is the minor leagues. The big question coming into 2015 was his glove that seemed destined for first base. But after showing very soft hands and an accurate enough arm, he has shown the ability to stick around at the hot corner. That being said, with third and first base being Jeimer’s primary positions there isn’t much space in Chicago for him. With his MLB ETA being Opening Day 2017, don’t be surprised to see him as a major piece to a deadline deal this July.

  1. Willson Contreras

 

Position: Catcher

Age: 23

Hits/Throws: R/R

Height: 6’1”

Weight: 175

Highest Level: AA Tennessee

126 Games, (.333/.413/.478/.891), 34 doubles, 8 HR, 4 SB, 10.9% BB, 11.9% K

Contreras has a bat that is ready for Chicago right now. If his Southern League batting title doesn’t convince you then I can point you to his 34 doubles or his .413 on-base percentage. To me though, the most impressive stats with Willy’s hitting is his walk and strikeout rates. Anything above a 10% walk rate is great and shows that you have the ability to work counts to get on base and find your pitch. Anything below a 20% strikeout rate is very impressive and at 11.9% Contreras’s walk rate is incredible. The lack of strikeouts is what convinces me that Willson is ready for the big league challenge now. The part of his game that is not entirely convincing is his glove behind the plate. He was just converted back there a few years ago and he continues to improve his game calling and pitch framing abilities. According to many, his arm strength is there but it just comes down to little changes in his defensive game. With his work ethic that is praised in the minors I see no problem with him improving this year on those problems and being ready for the call-up whenever that first catching injury occurs in Chicago.

  1. Billy McKinney

 

Position: Outfield

Age: 21

Hits/Throws: L/L

Height: 6’1”

Weight: 205

Highest Level: AA Tennessee

106 Games, (.300/.371/.454/.825), 31 doubles, 7 HR, 0 SB, 10.2% BB, 13.9% K

McKinney is probably the best pure hitter in the Cubs system. I know you are arguing that there is a guy also in Tennessee that won the batting title for the Southern League (Willson Contreras) but M-Mac’s hit tool is about as good as they come. He is locked in at being a fixture in left field due to his lack of true speed to play center and his lack of a real strong arm to stick around in right. If he can add to his power a little, which is very possible with his still very young age compared to his level, he could end up being a middle of the order type of player. He already had 31 doubles in just 106 games last year and that gap to gap power can very easily translate to over the fence power with a little muscle added to his frame. Even with only 10 homers a year, a guy pushing .300 each year always has a spot on a major league roster. As is stands now, expect to see McKinney knocking on Chicago’s door at the end of this upcoming season.

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