Updated prospect rankings show Cubs there's work to be done

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • In the current Top 100 MLB prospects, the Cubs have just three players. Center fielder Pete Crow-Armstrong leads the way at No. 31.

    In the current Top 100 MLB prospects, the Cubs have just three players. Center fielder Pete Crow-Armstrong leads the way at No. 31. Associated Press

  • Caleb Kilian was the team's highest-rated pitcher earlier this year, but he dropped to the No. 7 pitcher and No. 14 overall.

    Caleb Kilian was the team's highest-rated pitcher earlier this year, but he dropped to the No. 7 pitcher and No. 14 overall. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 8/17/2022 5:50 PM

MLB Pipeline updated the prospect rankings this week, but did those moves push the Cubs any closer to fielding a contender?

As president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said recently, comparing the current state of the Cubs to 2014, when the team was one year away from the NLCS and two years from winning the World Series, is premature.

 

"At that point, we might have had three or four guys in the top 10 in the farm system rankings," Hoyer said. "I do feel like at that point, we were a little bit more mature farm system than we are right now."

The archives tell the story. The 2014 list of Top 100 prospects in all of MLB saw four Cubs in the top 20 and six in the Top 50. Javy Baez was No. 7, Kris Bryant No. 9, Addison Russell No. 12, Albert Almora Jr. No. 18, Carl Edwards Jr. No. 42 and Jorge Soler No. 49.

A year later, Baez dropped out because he made his big-league debut in 2014. But Bryant was up to No. 2 (behind Byron Buxton), Russell was No. 5 and Soler No. 22. Edwards, who's given the Cubs trouble as a reliever for Washington was No. 47, Kyle Schwarber debuted at No. 49 and in a sign of things to come, Almora dropped to 57.

"It was pretty apparent in 2014 that we would have a whole team of prospects on the field in 2015," Hoyer said. "I certainly want to get to that point where we're young and athletic and talented at every position. That's certainly what we're working toward, but I don't think we're as far along as we were at the end of '14."

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In the current Top 100, the Cubs have just three players. Center fielder Pete Crow-Armstrong leads the way at No. 31. Outfielder Brennen Davis, after missing most of the season with a back injury, dropped to 51. Another outfielder, Kevin Alcantara is No. 91.

Plenty of things have gone well with the Cubs rebuild. The minor league teams are winning, the pitching development has made strides and last year's trades provided some solid prospects.

But just about everyone on MLB Pipeline's list of Top 30 Cubs prospects either has more to prove or a long way to go.

Crow-Armstrong dominated at Myrtle Beach, but was hitting .260 for South Bend heading into Wednesday's action. Defense is a strength and he's shown some power with 15 home runs.

Alcantara is still at Low A Myrtle Beach and just turned 20 in July. The 6-foot-6 Dominican Republic native carries some impressive tools, but he has several levels to climb. Likewise, No. 6 prospect Christian Hernandez is still trying to master the Arizona rookie league with a .259 batting average.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Caleb Kilian was the team's highest-rated pitcher earlier this year, but he dropped to the No. 7 pitcher and No. 14 overall. Kilian struggled in his first shot at the majors back in June, but has been decent in Iowa with a 3.49 ERA and 11 strikeouts per nine innings.

MLB Pipeline pushed 2022 first-round draft pick Cade Horton to the top of the Cubs' pitching prospects at No. 4 overall. Of course, Horton and No. 8 Jackson Ferris have yet to pitch in a pro game.

Left-hander Jordan Wicks, last year's first-round pick, checked in at No. 5, just behind Horton. He was promoted to Double A Tennessee in mid-July and struggled in his first two outings. But in three August starts, Wicks has posted a 0.69 ERA 19 strikeouts in 13 innings.

The two pitchers acquired at the trade deadline flipped positions. Ben Brown is now ranked No. 7 and Hayden Wesneski No. 12. Neither is off to a great start with the Cubs. Brown has a 7.88 ERA in two starts for Tennessee, while Wesneski struggled to a 19.06 ERA in his first 5 innings with Iowa.

Some prospects are putting up good numbers. Outfielder Alexander Canario moved up to No. 9 in the MLB Pipeline rankings. He has 29 home runs between South Bend and Tennessee, and might be the Cubs' best chance of developing a power hitter.

First baseman Matt Mervis finally arrived in the rankings at No. 21 after posting some of the best numbers in the minor leagues. He's played at three levels this season and is hitting .306 with 24 home runs and 93 RBI.

A couple of high-rated players in Class A have cooled off recently. Outfielder Owen Caissie, the best player from the Yu Darvish trade, has hit .194 in August. Third baseman James Triantos has hit .159 for Myrtle Beach. No. 10 Caissie and No. 11 Triantos were drafted out of high school, so they're just getting started.

Another new addition is husky catcher Moises Ballesteros at No. 15. He was already promoted from rookie league to Myrtle Beach. Shortstop Ed Howard, the first-round pick in 2020 out of Mt. Carmel High School, checks in at No. 20 after being sidelined by a hip injury. The Cubs are hoping he'll be ready for spring training next year.

Two more 2022 draft picks made the list -- Nazier Mule at No. 23 and shortstop Christopher Pacciola at No. 24. Mule will start as a pitcher, but has potential to be a position player.

The Cubs have had a good year with Class A starting pitchers. Right-hander Luis Devers (No. 26) might end up being the team's minor league pitcher of the year. He's produced an 0.57 ERA over 31 innings since being promoted to South Bend. Porter Hodge (No. 22) has a 2.85 ERA between the two Class A affiliates. Six-foot-8 lefty Luke Little (No. 27) just made his first start for South Bend.

A couple of older pitchers worth watching are No. 28 Ryan Jensen and No. 29 Kohl Franklin. Jensen, 24, was the Cubs' first-round pick in 2019 and spent a few weeks on the developmental list this summer, which involved going to Arizona and working on mechanics. Franklin, 22, returned to game action for the first time in three years and has had ups and downs in South Bend.

No. 30 is lefty Drew Gray, a third-round pick in 2021 and former IMG Academy teammate of Ferris. He threw 4 innings in rookie league last year, but missed this season with Tommy John surgery.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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