Cubs Top Prospects 2021

Top Prospect lists are meant to be critiqued, saved, and shared. Enjoy!

Ranking methodology: I make every attempt to balance out my review of the player with statistics and biodynamic data when available. Proximity to the majors adds value, but has to be balanced out by floor/ceiling projections. That leads to players who could even be major league rosterable as early as next season not always making the list. Players at core positions like SS, CF, and C get bumped up for value they add to an organization. I try to avoid comps. They’re inherently skewed, but I’ll include a handful in the projections when appropriate. I am not Harold Reynolds. The next Mike Trout is not ranked #5 in the Cubs system and there’s very few plus-plus grades in an organization.

Organizational Review

2020 Season in Review – The Cubs invested heavily to overhaul the organizational player development system. Justin Stone and Craig Breslow were named Director of Hitting and Director of Pitching and changes occurred in scouting and research & development within the organization. A new Vice-President of Scouting was brought aboard in Dan Kantrovitz, who had success in Oakland and St. Louis. In order to stay competitive, the plan became evident: Identify talent and develop that talent. It seems obvious, but the teams that can successfully implement it are able to have sustained success (like the Dodgers and Yankees) and handle resource scarcity (like the A’s and Rays). Unfortunately, the 2020 lost pandemic season has put much of the opportunity to develop if not on hold, then at least outside of the public eye. Fans were left with scattered reports from the Alternate Site in South Bend ($ subscription to the Athletic required and encouraged) and from the Cubs postseason instructional league. You can find Ivy Futures reports with Cubs Director of Player Development Bobby Basham here and here.

You can’t discuss the major league system without acknowledging the significant impact the Yu Darvish trade had on the organization. The additions of Reginald Preciado, Owen Caissie, Ismale Mena, and Yeison Santana, add a collective upside, albeit one that is far from the majors. Individually each player has enticing qualities and will be fun to watch, but the organizational philosophy around the trade is puzzling. The Cubs appear to be hyper-focused on building out a 2024-2026 wave of talent at the expense of an impressive 2022 core that is advancing through the system (many of the players will be in AA next season). It’s hard to understand at this time, though more moves are likely on the horizon.

When evaluating the system as a whole, this is an improving group, especially after the Darvish trade. There’s significant talent at the top with a mix of hitting and pitching in the top ten. The top five players could be ranked 120 different ways and I’d honestly think you’d be “right” in 100 of them. The talent in the system is geared toward reaching the majors in the 2022 season with as many as six of the top ten on track to make their debut at that time. I found the depth compelling as well. By no means is this an elite farm system, but there are major league contributors throughout the list. Even more encouraging, the Cubs finally have the player development infrastructure that receives external praise, which is a significant departure form previous years. Even in the early rebuilding years, the system benefited heavily from high draft picks, but going forward this team will need to develop talent from deeper than the first round.

Talent influx in 2020-2021 offseason

  • Cristian Hernandez
  • Reginald Preciado
  • Owen Caissie
  • Ismael Mena
  • Yeison Santana
  • Moisés Ballesteros

2021 season preview-This system likely will not experience significant promotions in 2021. Adbert Alzolay has graduated off this list. I only forecast up to three more players (Tyson Miller, Cory Abbott, and Justin Steele) who may lose prospect status in the coming season. As with all organizations, the ultimate success will be largely dictated by the top prospects. In past years that was an enormous knock on the Chicago Cubs, but entering 2021, we’re witnessing an ascending system.


Updated May 1st, 2021

RankNamePositionReport (Links to full Prospect Report)
1Brennen DavisOFRemade swing after being drafted and was expected to be long-term project. Gained valuable experience at alternate site. Looks to start in AA and become an upper-echelon prospect in baseball in 2021.
2Ed HowardLocal Highschool draft pick is the next in a long line of elite shortstop prospects in the Cubs system
3Miguel AmayaCHas all the makings of at least a future league average bat in a starting catcher
4Brailyn MarquezLHPTrue ace potential from left hand side, but development will require significant improvements to command, sinker, and changeup
5Cristian HernandezSSAn ultra-hyped prospect, give him a chance to get his feet wet before being anointed “The next…”. Incredible upside with likelihood of staying at SS.
6Chase Strumpf2BFuture plus bat at the 2B position. Could move very fast in ’21
7Kohl FranklinRHPOozes projection and has potential to be an impressive mid-rotation starter
8Reginald PreciadoSSTook big steps in 2020 Instructs with Padres. This ranking may look laughably low in six months.
9Christopher MorelSS/3BTooled out player with electric skills starting to take the next steps
10Cole RoedererOFYoung outfielder sells out for power more than he should. A solid year in A+ would do wonders for his future projection.
11Ryan JensenRHPPremium velocity righthander is scratching surface of potential
12Andy WeberSSFuture MLB starting shortstop who will likely spend time all around the diamond in the Cubs system
13Richard GallardoRHPFuture #3-4 starter should make full-season debut at age of 19. He’s now topping out at 96 mph.
14Riley ThompsonRHPStrong spin rate fastball and curveball may have more velocity in the tank and plans to debut new “spike-curve” in 2021
15Cam SandersRHPThere’s a belief in the Cubs organization that Sanders has Top 10 prospect upside this season. The stuff was electric in spring camp.
16Cory AbbottRHPCubs minor league pitcher of the year started 2020 injured, but made up innings at Alternate Site and instructs. Could be back-end starter or reliever.
17Burl CarrawayLHPElite fastball/curveball metrics, but had mechanical issues in South Bend. A restart in ’21 could land him in the back-end of the Cubs bullpen.
18Jordan NwoguOFToolsy OF is the ultimate player development test for the organization. He’s spending the winter working with Justin Stone. The ‘Age of Jordan Nwogu’ is coming.
19Max BainRHP An UDFA. He leaned heavily into Driveline to unlock velocity. Now he’s sitting 96-99 mph and flashing plus secondary pitches.
20Ismael MenaOFDescribed as a “ballhawk”, this rangy OF could move up the board if he succeeds in first season stateside.
21Luis VerdugoSSImpressive shortstop who appears to have gotten stronger over the winter. Has the most potential of anyone in the system to jump 10+ spots in rankings
22Owen CaissieOFImpressive power from the young Canadian. Likely more of a COF than CF.
23Yohendrick PinangoOFThe biggest mover in the Cubs system. The Cubs are believers in the bat. He earned an aggressive full-season assignment in 2021
24Yovanny CruzRHPYoung arm with three average pitches. He’s a long way from Wrigley, but one to watch in 2021.
25Ethan HearnCHS catchers are the riskiest demographic. Has all the makings of a future above-average C. Great mentality who already made mechanical adjustments entering 2021.
26Yeison SantanaSS“Quick-twitch” athlete with success already stateside. May need to build versatility with organizational glut of young SS prospects.
27Kevin MadeSSMay get overshadowed by a strong system of shortstops, but a solid stateside debut may shoot him up rankings
28Davidjohn HerzLHPLefty with growing velocity and a new spike-curve. Mechanics have already improved. A breakout candidate in 2021.
29Michael McAveneFormer college closer turned pro starter with plus-plus fastball and above-average breaking ball. He’s ready to showcase five pitches in 2021.
30Ronnier QuinteroCPotential of future above-average and even All-Star catcher, but will take considerable time to develop.

One for the Money

Jeremiah Estrada, RHP
Dealt with injuries, but don’t sleep on him. Could benefit from a piggyback role to gain innings and determine rotation vs pen. When a HS righthander gets a seven-figure bonus, he’s one to keep dreaming on.
2021: Be healthy

Two for the Show

Tyson Miller, RHP
Major league option for the rotation. Demonstrates varied pitch-mix, which is improved with good tunneling
2021: Get an opportunity at Wrigley

Justin Steele, LHP
He may not last on these rankings with his success out of the pen. High spin-rate fastball and wicked slider show big-league promise
2021: Let it eat out of the pen

Three to Get Ready

Manny Rodríguez, RHP
A surprise add to 40 man last offseason. Dealt with arm issues and never got to show off 95+ with above average curve
2021: Stay healthy and make it to Wrigley

Alfonso Rivas, 1B
A former Dan Kantrovitz draft pick with high walk rates now appears to be getting time in LF at instructs.
2021: Get a chance at Wrigley

Keegan Thompson, RHP
Added to 40-man roster this offseason. He has a repertoire similar to Brad Peacock and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Thompson have a 10+ year major league career as a #5 starter.
2021: Be healthy and get a chance to start

More Names to Know

Hunter Bigge, RHP
Elite velocity is one of the most impressive arms in the 2019 class. Could close games in AA sometime in ’21.
2021: Breakthrough in AA

Bryan Hudson, LHP
Towering lefty (6’8″) who is now throwing 96+ from a good downhill plane in instructs. Given a shoutout by Matt Dorey for his work in 2020.
2021: Consistency

Rafael Morel, SS
More sure-handed than flashy in contrast to older brother, Christopher. He may move quickly.
2021: Get his feet wet in A-ball

Luke Little, LHP
Mr. 104 got press for extreme velocity from left hand side boasted extreme walk rates and poor feel for spin. A massive (in many senses) project for Breslow and company.
2021: Refine mechanics

Chris Clarke
Massive 6’7″ pitcher showing low 90s (and flashing mid 90s) with above average curve. May have more opportunity in piggyback/pen role
2021: Make the A+ roster

Brendon Little, LHP
Was always going to be a project, but lack of ability to even make alternate site in 2020 raises even more concerns. Likely time to try full-time pen role with fastball/curve combination.
2021: Show us something

Nelson Velazquez, LF
Round 5 find in 2017 draft with big raw power. That power flashed in the AZL, but is absent since.
2021: Bring the power

Jose Albertos, RHP
An arm to still dream on. Albertos has experienced baffling control issues since 2018
2021: Make or break

Jack Patterson, LHP
Incredible perseverance resulted in an impressive 2019. Future back-end starter who will be rehabbing form injury in 2021
2021: Get back healthy for 2022

Jacob Wetzel
My 2020 UDFA favorite as a rare JC signing. He played D1 before batting depression, transferring, and mashing JC pitching. Theo Epstein was personally involved in the signing.
2021: Make a full-season roster

Matt Mervis
1B only profile that was formally a two way player. Mashed in instructs, just want to see it at A+/AA.
2021: Pick on someone his own size

Bradlee Beesley, OF
Speed/contact guy with success in the Cape Cod League. Looks like a future OF off the bench. Think Matt Szczur.
2021: Hit the ground running in A/A+

Ben Leeper, RHP
If you get a shoutout from the VP of Player Development, you’re definitely a “guy”. UDFA out of Oklahoma State is a TJS survivor now throwing 97 mph with a big slider at instructs.
2021: Show us what you got (in A+/AA)

Moisés Ballesteros, C
Hulking C prospect signed in ’21 IFA period. The Cubs are loading up on C prospects. One to watch down the line with big time power.
2021: Succeed in DSL

Koen Moreno, RHP
Intriguing multisport athlete with projectable frame. Could be a huge “get” by the Cubs as he’s already topping out in low 90s on fastball with feel for changeup. Could have average or better breaking balls.
2021: Spend time in the pitch lab