Down on the Farm: New MLB.com Top 100 Prospect Rankings Virtually Cub-Less

A flurry of MLB advancements and a whole lot of trading over the last several years has diluted the Chicago Cubs farm system from baseball’s crown jewel to a skeleton of its former self.

MLB.com recently revealed their annual prospect rankings, and they placed just one Cubs prospect within the top 100. To put this number in perspective, the Cubs had five prospects in the MLB.com top 100 in 2016 and 2015 and six in 2014.

However, just because the farm system has fallen from its previous glory, doesn’t mean that it’s completely devoid of talent.

As follows is a summary and an analysis of the Chicago Cubs farm system based on the recent prospect rankings compiled by MLB.com. Do the Cubs have the prospect pieces to flip a major trade prior to the deadline on Monday? Scroll down to the end of the article to discover the answer to this very important question. Read some of the analysis on your way down too!

Candelario Moves Up to №92

With seven years of minor league service time under his belt, Cubs top prospect Jeimer Candelario is ready for a prolonged MLB opportunity.

Unfortunately, barring tragic injuries, that opportunity is unlikely to materialize with the Chicago Cubs MLB squad. The stars aligned in such a way that his primary defensive positions are first and third base. This is an issue because Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant occupy the corner infield positions at the MLB level.

Unless he learns on the fly how to play the outfield, Candelario’s MLB destiny is with a team other than the Chicago Cubs.

Shift To Pitching

After being oversaturated with position talent during the long rebuild process, it’s pitchers’ turn to rule the day.

Right-handed pitchers Jose Albertos and Adbert Alzolay, who rank third and fourth in the Cubs minor league system respectively, have ascended through the Cubs minor league ranks since a season ago after standout performances over the last year.

Alzolay in particular is a nice surprise for the Cubs as MLB.com didn’t even rank him on their top 30 Cubs prospects in 2016. However, a 2.98 ERA in 15 starts with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans in Single-A ball this season followed up with a 1.69 ERA in three starts with the Double-A Tennessee Smokies will do wonders for improving a pitcher’s stock. Combined with a fastball that touches 97 mph with running action, and it isn’t difficult to figure out why he has ascended through the Cubs prospect ranks so quickly.

Oscar De La Cruz has quietly moved up to the №2 spot in the Cubs farm system after occupying the №8 and №24 spots on the list the last two years respectively.

The Cubs 2017 first-round draft picks further bolster this resurgent crop of farm system pitchers. Right-handed pitcher Alex Lange and left-handed pitcher Brendon Little occupy the fifth and sixth spots in the Cubs minor league system respectively. Little got his feet wet on Tuesday, making his minor league debut with the short-season Single-A Eugene Emeralds and he gave up three runs in three innings. Lange hasn’t pitched as a professional yet.

Victor Caratini Checks in at №7

The Cubs have stashed away the 23-year-old catcher in the minor leagues for longer than you may have thought.

Victor Caratini joined the Cubs in 2014 after the team sent Emilio Bonifacio and James Russell to the Atlanta Braves in a low key, pre-trade deadline move. This season, Caratini posted a .343/.384/.539 slash line in 68 games with the Triple-A Iowa Cubs. This success in conjunction with the inglorious exit of veteran backup catcher Miguel Montero prompted the Cubs to call Caratini up to the MLB roster on June 28.

In 24 MLB plate appearances, he’s slashed .182/.250/.273 and has started at catcher four times.

Although the MLB results have been disappointing thus far, it has been encouraging to see Caratini’s stock rise after entering the Cubs system as the tenth-best prospect in 2014 and then sliding back significantly to №23 in 2015.

The Cubs don’t have another feasible in-house catching option in the minors, so Caratini’s continued improvement is in the best interest of a team still searching for answers at the backup catcher spot.

So, About that Trade Deadline on Monday…

Let’s review the template for acquiring top pitchers to figure out if the Cubs could rationally add a big name using just farm system assets as ransom.

Right now, the Chicago Cubs have set the market value for a starting pitcher this season.

  1. Cubs acquire Jose Quintana for Eloy Jimenez (№7), Dylan Cease (№68), Matt Rose (NR), and Bryant Flete (NR).

What about a reliever? The Cubs have been linked to Baltimore Orioles lefty Zach Britton? Could they empty what remains in the farm system to acquire him?

  1. In 2016, the Cubs acquired New York Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman in exchange for Gleyber Torres (№16 in 2016), Billy McKinney (№34 in 2015), and MLB reliever Adam Warren.
  2. In 2016, the Cleveland Indians acquired New York Yankees reliever Andrew Miller for Clint Frazier (№15 in 2016), Justus Sheffield (№78 in 2016), Ben Heller (NR), and J.P. Feyereisen (NR)
  3. The Pittsburgh Pirates traded closer Mark Melancon to the Washington Nationals last season in exchange for prospect Taylor Hearn (NR) and young MLB reliever Felipe Rivero.

Generally, teams must surrender a top 25 prospect to land a top of the rotation starter or dominant reliever. Plus, in addition to the top 25 prospect, teams must also give away another top 100 prospect or an established MLB talent (Warren or Rivero in the above trades). Finally, tack on a few non-rated prospects and then it’s a deal.

The Cubs don’t have a top prospect right now; their top player is Candelario who checks in at №92 according to MLB.com. Unless Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein is willing to part ways with established MLB talent, (we’re looking at you Kyle Schwarber, Javier Baez, Ian Happ, and Albert Almora) the Cubs won’t receive reinforcements in the next three days in the form of a top-of-the-rotation starter or dominant reliever. Unless, of course, Epstein works his magic and pulls off a completely one-sided trade in his favor.

Expect the Cubs to make some fringe moves to shore up holes on the periphery of the roster rather than go all in to acquire another ace or big-time bullpen arm.

Paul Steeno spent 11 years pretending he was good at running. After hanging up the track spikes and officially becoming an elite hobby jogger, he decided to do something that he was actually good at: like writing about the Cubs. He is also a perpetually frustrated Chicago Bulls fan. This one time he got super lucky and ran 3:52 in the 1500 meter run.