Prospect Report: Cam Sanders

The 2018 draftee has top 10 prospect upside and is showcasing electric stuff this season

Cam Sanders via Rich Biesterfeld (@Biest22)

How acquired: MLB Draft, 12th Round, 2018

The Cubs’ 2018 draft is shaping up to be one of the most dynamic in the last two decades. Sanders had mid-90s velocity and a big curveball coming out of LSU in the 12th round. Most prospect publications thought he had high-leverage reliever upside if everything clicked, but that his control could hold him back. In fact, Sanders was most notable for being the son of former major leaguer, Scott Sanders. Cam Sanders debuted with 16 2/3 innings across the AZL and at Eugene in 2018 before a strong season in 2019 (2.94 ERA in 21 outings [20 starts] with 84 Ks in 101 innings) for then Low-A South Bend. Sanders used his time during the pandemic to his benefit. Cam Sanders garnered incredible feedback after his 2021 spring camp success. Cubs contacts were impressed with Sanders‘ improved command and ability to maintain velocity to the fifth inning (reminder this was spring camp so it was the equivalent to spring training for the major league squad).


Mechanics and Control

Sanders starts his motion with a quick step-back before initiating his throwing motion. His windup is abbreviated and similar to his throws from the stretch albeit without the rock back initiation. He appears to gather himself well at the top of his motion. Sanders features a longer arm stroke, but one that appears to hide the ball through the arm path well. He does have a habit of falling off to the first base side (though that leads to some impressive K-struts). His mechanics showcase an athletic, fluid delivery.

Though the control has taken a significant step forward, it still can come and go. Some of this should be put within the context that this is the first professional ball Sanders has played in 18 months. His control averages out to be solid, but can flash above-average at times. His command is still a work in progress, but like his control, can also flash above-average. There are innings where Sanders can put multiple pitches where he wants them in or out of the strike zone. When he does that, hitters can do little with them.


Pitching Arsenal

4-seam Fastball: Sanders had velocity in 2019, but it fluctuated in the 91-97 mph range. So far this season, Sanders was 96-98 mph in his first outing and 93-96 mph in his second. His third saw him hit 98 mph, but few other reports on his velocity are out there from that start. This pitch plays well up in the zone, but he’s still able to dot it on the outer half of the plate. I feel like this pitch is average right now, but needs to be better commanded. It has the potential for much more, especially when it can play of well-located curveballs.

Curveball: Sanders features a big breaking ball in his curveball. There is some impressive vertical movement where the pitch appears to start up around a hitters shoulders before dropping into the zone. This is a knee buckler at it’s best and still produces whiffs. It can be difficult to control due to it’s movement, but appears to be an above-average offering

Slider: The slider offers good movement with tight vertical break and a bit of horizontal movement off the plate to righties. This is also Sanders’ most inconsistent pitch right now. At times it will flash plus and other pitches it acts as a waste pitch. With more repetitions, the slider has the potential to be a true plus offering, playing off both his four-seam and 2-seam fastball.

2-seam fastball: The 2-seamer is where I get truly excited about Sanders’ potential. His 2-seam has excellent movement into righties and when he throws it in the top of the zone, it can absolutely eat up batters. Elevated 2-seam fastballs is a strategy employed by the Cubs at the major league level with great success. His 2-seam is a plus pitch when commanded up in the zone. Down and away it’s more above-average, but the fact that he is able to do both gives it a plus grade from me.

Changeup: I only saw a handful of changeups. But when Sanders threw them, they had good depth and solid fade away from lefties and into righties. It’d say this pitch is right now an above-average offering, but I do think it could play better down the line.


Future Projection

Cam Sanders is on the rise. In my 2018 draft review, Sanders was majorly slept on. His report read “A guy who may surprise likely in the pen. He keeps making adjustments (that curve could be something special) as he climbs the ladder.”. Sanders is far outpacing those projections. He is showcasing 5 pitches and flashes enough command to dominate AA hitters at times. Sanders has frontline starter potential. That’s an overused term as there are very few starters in the major leagues with that level of consistent performance. His command (and as always health) will be crucial as he continues to navigate advanced AA lineups, but if it comes together consistently this summer, Cam Sanders is an arm that should be ranked comfortably within the Cubs top prospects.


Prospect Report: Michael McAvene

Former college closer turned pro starter with plus-plus fastball and above-average breaking ball is set to debut 2021 with five pitches

Michael McAvene via Rich Biesterfeld (@Biest22)

A special thanks to Michael McAvene for providing insights into the progress he’s made over the offseason

How acquired: MLB Draft, 3rd Round, 2019

Flash forward from a time before 2018, and you’d be shocked at the selection of Michael McAvene. Not only was McAvene a former Tommy John survivor, but he was a college reliever. Both demographics, which historically the Cubs to shied away from. However, McAvene has a special arm, and the time was right to take more chances to find a higher ceiling of talent. So far, Michael has made right on that chance. In the limited opportunity he’s been able to play in-game, McAvene has shown off the triple digits (plus-plus) fastball and the above-average slider. Those tools alone give him an excellent opportunity to develop as a dominant reliever. The Cubs and Michael are hoping for more, and they’re both about to see it. Michael McAvene is excited to start 2021 with a total of five pitches.

Mechanics and Control

Unlike most relievers, McAvene utilizes a windup without men on base. If he is to continue developing as a starter, using the windup should allow him to comfortably continue that in a starting role. He has a durable build, which should be capable of handling the rigors of a rotation role. The effort in the delivery is something to watch coming out of the shutdown. It was high effort with a headwhack in 2019. He utilizes a tilted delivery where he twists his body before bringing his arm through in a low 3/4 slot. The mechanics are repeatable and consistent in viewings.

When McAvene is “on”, he’ll pound the strikezone. He did an exceptional job at limiting walks in professional ball with a 5:1 K:BB ratio (small sample size of 12 2/3 innings). It’s still control over command at this point, but I like Michael’s chances for average control and average command. That will be more than enough to succeed at higher levels if he continues to build out his repertoire as planned.


Pitching Arsenal

Fourseam Fastball: This is one of the best pitches in the entire organization. It runs in the upper 90s and touches 100, but it’s far more than just velocity. It is an explosive pitch with exceptional ride up in the zone. He often will pepper the lower part of the strikezone and I think that’s something that should be fixed. McAvene can succeed when he’s off-target. However, since he was primarily throwing two pitches in his debut if he missed both location and hitters were sitting on the pitch, it did find some barrels. The addition of other pitches will only help to improve the fastball since hitters should no longer be able to sit on it. All told, this pitch rivals any fastball in the system. This is a plus-plus pitch (one of the rare plus-plus grades in the organization).

Slider: The slider is above average. Its current iteration plays up better in more limited outings (1-2 innings), but that may change with an increased repertoire. It has good vertical movement and does have some horizontal movement away from righties (two-plane break).

Curveball: McAvene did throw some curveballs during his brief debut, but this pitch has now been morphed into a spike-curve. No grade on this pitch

Changeup: I only saw a handful of changeups. They were below average from 2019. He did use one to steal a strike. There was a velocity separation, but lacked strong “fade” seen in more developed offerings. McAvene has rarely had to throw one in college so the development of this pitch was pretty basic.


Future Projection

The full repertoire in 2021

According to McAvene, he now has added a 2-seam fastball and a spike-curve. Additionally he’s worked to get his changeup in a “pretty good spot”. You can see the pitching infrastructure’s plan during the shutdown: use this opportunity to build out robust arsenals. McAvene joins Ryan Jensen, DJ Herz, and Riley Thompson (among many others) as a spike-curve adopter. Bryan Smith of Bleacher Nation previously noted the spike-curve and developing changeup. The Cubs are clear believers in the 2-seam, which McAvene is also now employing.

Overall report

Michael McAvene is a pitcher who began in the Cubs system with two main pitches. He now enters 2021 ready to break out five. Until we see the new pitches in-game it’s hard to judge them. The optimism is that Michael’s curve come out above-average and plays off that plus-plus fastball. Throw in an above-average slider and an average pitch between the changeup and 2-seam and the recipe is there for a legitimate starting pitching prospect. In 2021, fans should pay attention less to the amount of innings McAvene throws, but rather on the quality of his new offerings. While the pandemic robbed both fans and players of minor league baseball in 2020, there are still some encouraging development signs from Cubs prospects. Michael McAvene is ready to show off far more than his elite fastball when baseball resumes this summer.

Prospect Report: Riley Thompson

Starter with strong spin rate fastball is set to debut a new “spike-curve”. He may have more velocity in the tank and looks the part of a starter with “Vulcan changeup”.

Riley Thompson via Clinton Cole (@cdcole55)

A special thanks to Riley Thompson for providing some insight into his development

How acquired: MLB Draft, 11th Round, 2018

Riley Thompson was an above slot signing ($200k) by the Cubs in their impactful 2018 draft. His time at the University of Louisville wasn’t marked by success on the statline (6.82 ERA in 33 innings during his draft year), but the Cubs saw the foundation for a pitcher with strong pitching metrics coming from a college team known for developing successful pitchers.

Though he boasted excellent spin rates, a riding fastball, new changeup, and an excellent curveball, development never ends for a player who dreams of impacting a major league ballclub. According to Thompson, he’s working on his fastball development and incorporation of a new curveball leading into 2021.

Mechanics and Control

Thompson is an athletic pitcher who works with a quick tempo. He uses an over-the-top delivery, which at times could be described as “aggressive”. It has some effort to it including a pronounced headwhack, but it seems fairly repeatable. He comes with a prior injury history (Tommy John surgery 2015), but a solid durable frame. He has a pretty decent chance to start.

For as “aggressive” as I described Riley’s mechanics, he has average control. He’ll usually be around the strikezone, which allows his stuff to play up. Thompson’s command of his pitches lags a bit behind, but it’s more fringe-average than below average. A player with his profile could still succeed even with the command as it is, but he has a good chance to improve. When Thompson is on (like in his 9/14/19 5 inning, 10 K, no hit masterpiece in the MWL playoffs), you can see what he can do when he’s clicking with three pitches and average or above-average command

Pitching Arsenal

Fastball: Thompson will throw low-to-mid 90s with impressive raw spin numbers. The fastball generally sets up his offspeed pitches, but it can sit on it’s own when he’s commanding it well. He struggles a bit to get it on the inside corner to righthanders (where it really plays off his changeup). It’s a successful offering when he goes up in the zone. In isolation, the fastball is an average pitch with average command, but it really truly can’t be viewed in that way. I’d say it’s an above-average offering when played off his secondaries.
Riley described his improving fastball traits during shutdown. Considering he already boasted excellent raw spin, this pitch will be one to watch in 2021.

2019 Curveball: Thompson’s traditional grip curveball is still a dynamic pitch (especially when locating the fastball). It’s a true power curve with high spin, however the shape of the pitch has more horizontal movement than a 12-6 direction (mirroring the directions on a clock; pure vertical drop). A modification in shape could allow it to tunnel with a riding fastball up in the zone.

2021 Curveball: According to Riley, he’s worked hard to develop a new “spike-curve”. Spike-curves or knuckle-curves are immensely popular pitches recommended often by the Chicago Cubs Research & Development (R&D) gurus. Thompson says it has a true 12-6 shape now and plays off his new fastball traits. It takes a lot of trust in R&D and the player to move on from a plus pitch, but if the pitch is as promising as advertised then this curveball will be an electric offering.

Changeup: Riley adopted a different grip for his changeup nicknamed a “Vulcan-change”, resembling the Vulcan greeting from Star Trek. This new grip has shone to be a successful adoption with a penchant for fading into righthanders. Batters won’t live long and prosper when this pitch is clicking (I will not apologize). There’s a significant velocity deviation from the fastball. I don’t have the numbers on it, but it appears to “kill spin”. A changeup with low spin is a challenge for hitters facing high-spin pitchers like Thompson. I find it’s an above-average pitch.

Future Projection

Scouts even outside the organization believe that Riley Thompson has a chance to be a long-term starter. According to Matt Dorey, Thompson has made strong progress during the shutdown (likely related to his fastball and curveball development) and should get a chance to start at AA in 2021. If he succeeds, Riley may see innings in Iowa or even Chicago later in the season. It’s not impossible to see him moved to the pen later in the year to manage innings. Thompson represented a high-ceiling selection out of the 2018 draft. Thus far, Riley Thompson is making good on that decision.

Prospect Report: Ryan Jensen

Premium velocity righthander is scratching surface of potential

Ryan Jensen by Rich Biesterfeld (@biest22)

How acquired: MLB Draft, 1st Round, 2019

The 2019 Cubs draft featured a remarkably different strategy than recent memory. They were projected to pick numerous safe college bats in the first round such as Michael Busch, Kody Hoese, and Logan Davidson. But the Cubs plan entering the draft was to debut a riskier plan. Even on Twitter there was a mild surprise as Jeff Passan announced the Cubs were taking high school right hander, Matthew Allan. High school righthanders are one of the riskiest demographic in the draft so to even see the Cubs prominently connected to a player in that profile raised eyebrows. Instead Rob Manfred stood up at the podium to announce… Ryan Jensen, RHP from Fresno State University. What just happened?

What just happened was the Cubs had started a long-overdue process to go all in on player development. They’d be willing to accept some higher risk if it meant higher reward. And Ryan Jensen is that type of profile. Possessing a similar build to 2020 #3 overall pick, Max Meyer, Jensen offers significant upside and a fallback as a potentially elite reliever.

Mechanics and Control

Jensen begins from the windup with a step back with his left leg before gathering himself. He’s fairly balanced through the hand break before exploding towards the hitter. He holds the ball off to an angle behind his body. It’s difficult for a righty to pick up, but left handed batters get a long look at it. Despite coming from a 6’0″ frame, the motion is a lot of arms and legs and there’s some effort there. I’m not concerned with the frame. A lot was made of his shorter stature (I’m 5’5″, for reference, so all of you above 5’10” might as well be trees to me), however with the progression of pitching staffs in MLB becoming less reliant on innings, a greater focus on impact stuff, vertical approach angle (how “flat” a pitch appears as it crosses the plate), and athletic deliveries can allow shorter pitchers to succeed. See below for screen caps of Ryan Jensen’s delivery.

Jensen struggled with command during his first two years at Fresno State. Racking up 72 walks in 111 innings, Jensen turned the table in 2019. In 100 innings during his junior year, he only walked 27 batters. The timing couldn’t be more perfect as he stormed up draft boards. Any semblance of control dissipated in pro ball, but I wouldn’t put much stock into future projection from 12 innings at Eugene. The talent is there to have average control and command. I’d currently put a below-average future projection on command, but the stuff can be so electric that it could still play in a big way.

Pitching Arsenal

Fastball: Jensen is the rare pitcher who could probably succeed on one pitch (if you count his 4-seam and 2-seam as one). For the purposes of this evaluation we won’t. Jensen sits upper 90s deep into starts with his four seam fastball. It’s a straight pitch, but when pitching up in the zone it can be an effective weapon. In shorter stints, Jensen is closer to triple digits.

2-Seam: This is currently Jensen’s best pitch. It still sits mid 90s, but features late life moving in to righties. The Cubs have had success incorporating 2-seam fastballs into pitching repertoires, especially when they can play off plus sliders. The natural sink from this pitch is pretty impressive. I have this as a plus pitch right now.

Slider: Jensen’s slider can be absolutely nasty, but the command is so erratic. In short outings at Eugene, Jensen would pair upper 90s fastball with a hard slider in the 88-90 mph range. It really fell off the table. It flashes plus, but the command right now gives me pause.

Curveball: From his Fresno St days, Jensen would throw a slower breaking ball that looked like a weaker curve. I didn’t see any evidence of it when he got to professional ball, but it appears that the Cubs are focused on Jensen incorporating a new breaking ball into his arsenal. Combining the following two quotes from The Athletic’s excellent reporting, this curveball is coming along.

Jensen threw around 60 simulated innings during the shutdown and experimented with changeup grips and shaping a new curveball.

Patrick Mooney of The Athletic (subscription required and encouraged)

Ryan Jensen, has an electric fastball, but the Cubs are thrilled about the development of his secondary pitches, a focus this past summer. The expectation is he’ll bring a much-improved breaking ball to the mound this season.

Sahadev Sharma and Patrick Mooney of The Athletic (subscription required and encouraged)

Edit: According to Bobby Basham, Chicago Cubs Director of Player Development, in an interview with confirmed the pitch is indeed a spike-curve

[Jensen] has used this spike curve and with that guy, anything that comes out of his hands is going to be power, right?

Bobby Basham, Chicago Cubs Director of Player Development

Changeup: A work in progress, but important for his future development. Even a below-average changeup pairing with the movement off the 2-seam and slider would benefit his profile. No projection at this time.

You can see what the Cubs pitching development infrastructure is working with Ryan Jensen to build: A four-seam fastball/curveball and a 2-seam/slider/(ideally)changeup to each play off each other. If that combination sounds familiar, it’s very similar to Adbert Alzolay’s repertoire in the later stretches of 2020 after he added his 2-seam and slider.

Future Projection

As I said in the review for Brailyn Marquez, I would still bet on Jensen landing as an elite reliever with the info presently available. But it’s so difficult to predict future role without 2020 game footage. Until we see how the new breaking ball and changeup play in live at-bats, we have to just evaluate based on the fastball(s)/slider combo. There’s some big time potential there, but it’s incredibly challenging to succeed in the starting rotation with just two(ish) pitches. Ultimately 2021 will help decide Jensen’s future. If he’s utilized his time in quarantine to hone his mechanics and pitching repertoire, Jensen has significant potential as a starting pitcher. The reports trickling in during the shutdown are encouraging. I can’t wait to see Ryan Jensen in action in 2021.

Prospect Report: Davidjohn Herz

High-upside lefthander is starting to incorporate three pitches with plus potential.

DJ Herz by Stephanie Lynn (@SRL590)

How acquired: MLB Draft 2019

Davidjohn (also goes by DJ) Herz came into the organization in the 8th round of the 2019 draft. The Cubs have placed an increased emphasis on higher upside selections in the draft. This strategy came with risks as the Cubs selected a bevy of players who would be described as raw and/or had a prior injury. Herz represented the former as clips available leading up the draft showcased projectability and a three-pitch mix that was was far more about “flashing” above-average pitches than repeating it on the mound. The Cubs identified Herz as an ideal pitcher to bring into the player development system with the upside as an impact pitcher who features a bulldog mentality on and off the mound.

For more backstory on DJ Herz, check out this article featuring an interview with DJ.

Mechanics and Control

Previously posted based on 2019 video: DJ Herz comes at the hitter with a lot of moving parts. It’s an athletic delivery, but one that is inconsistent. Herz uses a crossfire arm action that adds to deception to the hitter and eats up lefties. There is a very inconsistent foot strike (where his foot lands). In an ideal delivery, a pitcher will repeat his mechanics. Where a pitcher lands with their lead foot is vital to maintaining control, let a lone command. What Herz does succeed with is his ability to gather himself at the top of his windup. This offers hope that he can have more repeatable mechanics in the future, especially when factoring in that he was a three-sport athlete in high school.

2019 Mechanics

2021 Mechanics

2021: Herz’s delivery has come a long way since being drafted in 2019. It still has a lot of moving pieces to it, but it’s an athletic delivery. There are elements that he repeats well. Herz’s particular motion adds deception, which allows his low to mid 90s fastball with late life to play up. He gathers himself well and his hand break is consistent. In the follow-through Davidjohn will often fall off the mound to the third base side, but when he’s right he at least finishes in a balanced position. Despite long legs, one area for improvement is a longer stride to elicit better extension. Where Herz is still improving is his inconsistent foot strike. There are starts where it becomes apparent that he struggles with it. In recent starts, his mechanics are far more repeatable.


Herz has taken strides this year to improve his control and command. In multiple outings, it is obvious that Herz is in control over both his fastball and one off-speed pitch in-game. At times he is capable of commanding all three pitches in an outing, but that is an area of growth. At 19 in his first foray into professional ball, I’ll avoid capping Herz’s projected control and command. He has the tools to succeed with multiple pitches and at least average command in the future.

Pitching Arsenal

Fastball: Herz executes his fastball well. At the top of the zone, his four-seam fastball offers solid ride. He is able to elevate the heater as well as paint the outside corner when he is at his best. The fastball is sitting in the low-to-mid 90s at present, but in an interview with , Herz noted he believes there is more velocity to come. I have this as an average pitch right now, but it has significantly more upside in the future. When commanded well, Herz flashes plus with this fastball, especially as he’s successfully played elevated fastballs off his spike-curve and lower fastballs of his changeup.

“I was sitting 93-95 just in the bullpen in the lab. I’m hoping by [2021], I’m at 97-98.”

DJ Herz

Changeup: Herz has spent considerable time working to hone this pitch during the shutdown. His changeup is whiff inducing and able to both land in the strikezone and fall off the table generating feeble swings. The shape of this pitch varies, but at it’s best there is good depth and fade (into righties). This is an above-average pitch at its best.

Changeup for a strike
Changeup for the whiff

Curveball: I’ve already written about DJ Herz’s work with fellow Cubs pitching prospect, Chris Clarke to develop his new spike-curve. Herz’s effort to craft this pitch appears to have paid off well. Herz spoke this spring about how he was getting good bite on the curve, but having trouble to locate it. Those issues continued into his first start of the season. Since then, DJ has had considerable success utilizing the pitch as both an option in and outside the strikezone. His command of the curveball still wavers, but he has entire outings where he relies on the pitch. This spike-curve is a a heavy power offering with a 12-6 action. It already sits as above-average, but the curveball has plus potential.


Future Projection

DJ Herz is in the middle of a breakout performance this summer and a huge bright spot in an organization that has historically struggled to develop pitching. Herz was originally drafted with concerns about a future reliever profile, but with improved mechanics and the ability to showcase three pitches for strikes, he has largely quieted those concerns. As a 19-year-old in his first season of full season ball, there will be ups and downs with his performance this season, however with his deceptive delivery, bulldog mentality on the mound, and average (or better) command of three exciting pitches, DJ Herz boasts some of the highest upside in the entire Cubs system.

Prospect Report: Yovanny Cruz

Young arm with three average pitches. He’s a long way from Wrigley, but one to watch in 2021.

How acquired: International Free Agency 2016

When you think about Cubs pitching prospects with a legitimate chance to become a mid-rotation starter or better, Yovanny Cruz should be one to consider. Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2016 during the two year penalty window on international free agency, Cruz doesn’t receive the fanfare of bonus baby, Richard Gallardo. Don’t let the more modest signing figure ($60,000) fool you, there is a lot to like about the young righthander.

Mechanics and Control

Yovanny has a very smooth delivery. He uses his high waisted 6’1″ frame to deliver pitches around the strike zone. His high walk numbers are surprising, but he often will just miss a corner and put himself in worse counts. Another tendency is Cruz can get into the habit of relying on hitters chasing a slider instead of challenging them in the strike zone. Sequencing at the lower levels of affiliate ball isn’t concerning and should improve even as he reaches the upper levels of the minors. He can get out of whack at times, but in several instances he was able to quickly get a ground ball with his heavy sinker or a strikeout on his slider. If “it breaks”, Cruz has shown the ability to “fix it” mid-inning.

Pitching Arsenal

Fastball: Cruz’s velocity has increased steadily and now sits 92-96, but has peaked in the upper 90s. I haven’t seen this in game, but MLB Pipeline reports he hit 99. Unfortunately, by all accounts, it appears to be a low spin offering. Cruz is young enough that some time in the pitch lab could do wonders. The Cubs pitch design gurus can help Yovanny create more spin, especially with his solid feel for spin with his slider. Spin isn’t everything and the total movement pattern (horizontal and vertical movement) is equally important to the pitch. Another method to consider may be to have him change his fastball to include a “cut” dynamic. With Cruz’s more over the top delivery, this may play better than his current fastball.

Changeup: I like the pitch and think it plays pretty well, especially for his level. It has above-average potential, but needs far more consistency. Even just an average changeup can play if he can develop his fastball and slider into plus pitches.

Slider: It’s a good secondary pitch and probably the one closest to plus. He shows a solid feel for it and will throw it to lefties and righties. When he gets in a jam, he’ll go to his slider often to get swings an misses. Overall there’s good spin here and that’s promising for future in the development of Cruz’s repertoire.

Future Projection

It’s imperative to see where Yovanny Cruz is once baseball is back. Everything was trending upwards heading into 2020. He will flash three average-to-plus pitches and shows enough projection that there’s more to dream on.

Prospect Report: Miguel Amaya

Has all the makings of at least a future league average bat in a starting catcher

How acquired: International Free Agency 2015

Miguel Amaya is a divisive prospect in Cubs system rankings. There are some prognosticators who view Amaya as the no-doubt top prospect in the Cubs system with a future as an above-average bat and future all-star catcher. Others see a catcher putting in the work, but not breaking out like a Brennen Davis or Brailyn Marquez. It’s also fair to question how much the bat will play at the next level. And then you see this granny from Miguel Amaya and you wonder just how quick he can get a flight to Wrigley.


Baseball America listed Amaya as having the best strike zone judgment in the system. With players like Andy Weber, Chase Strumpf, and Alfonso Rivas in the Cubs organization, that is enormous praise. At this time I have it as an average hit tool. That’s about a .250-.260 hitter. With good strike zone judgement ideally leading to higher walk totals, that’s someone capable of a .340-.350 OBP.


The power department is where Amaya has made the most successful development. What I had rated as solid average power in 2019 when he blasted 11 home runs in pitcher friendly Carolina League stadiums at the age of 20, appears to be blossoming into above-average power at least. I won’t lie, this is an unfair comparison. That swing looks reminiscent to Carlos Lee. I don’t believe Amaya will ever reach that level of power, especially considering it was a different offensive environment at the time, but I think there’s real power coming.

Below image lists every catcher (minimum 220 at bats) who achieved a 100 wRC+ or better (see stats below) in 2019. It’s not a long list with roughly half the league having a catcher who was an above average offensive performer. Miguel Amaya can certainly be that. The power and strike zone judgment leads you to dream on a top 10 bat at the position with a wOBA of around .340.

Fangraphs leaderboard from 2019

Field/Arm/Work with Pitchers

By all accounts, Amaya has made consistent progress with his defense. Reports out of the alternate site suggested that Miguel worked considerably on his framing and receiving. From my 2019 video review, it’s solid, but like all young catchers could get a bit erratic at times. Of note, it’s unlikely that Cubs officials are going to pan Amaya in the press so it’s not an unbiased opinion, however he still had heaps of praise. Losing out on 140 minor league games hurt countless players inside and outside the organization, but I’m not sure Amaya is one of them (or at least not to the same extent). Miguel getting to work with advanced minor league and even major league pitchers every day will ultimately benefit him taking the next step.

I had the arm as above-average in 2019. I think it’s better than that now. In limited viewing in the Winter Leagues, Miguel is showing off what could be a plus arm.

Pitchers love throwing to Miguel Amaya. As he takes that next step to big-league catcher, commanding the respect of pitchers a decade his senior will be vital to his success. No one knows the dynamic of a pitcher-catcher relationship like someone directly involved so I’ll just leave it to Cubs pitching prospect, Jack Patterson, via Greg Huss (@OutOfTheVines) to describe Amaya’s work with pitchers.


He’s a catcher. Cubs fans have been spoiled watching Willson Contreras’s speed (albeit not his baserunning) over the years. Miguel has below average speed and I think it may tick down from there. It’s not part of his game and not tied to future projections.

Future Projection

With all that said, I still have Amaya as the fifth best prospect in the Cubs system. Admittedly I created that ranking prior to watching Amaya bash doubles into the gap and come rumbling around first with so much moxie that Mike Matheny tried to call all the way from Kansas City to have the opposing team throw at him. But I am also mindful that Miguel’s body type is far more Victor Caratini than Willson Contreras at this stage. I do question what the body may look like in his 26-29 years. So much of a catcher’s success behind the plate is tied to lateral mobility and I would imagine the Cubs development staff is keenly aware of the steps needed to keep him a viable and better defensive catcher

I’ll stick with my 5th best in the system ranking. Amaya is, in my opinion, a definite Top 100 prospect. He’s close to the majors and an absolute field general. The bat looks like it’s continued to improve, he works extraordinarily well with pitchers, and he’s popping off back picks to 2B with ease. The featured image in the article is from 2017 when Miguel was the youngest player on the Eugene roster. My wife and I had tickets behind home plate. It was clear then that Amaya was absolutely a take-charge catcher. I looked to my wife in the 5th inning after he blocked a pitch in the dirt and looked the runner back to third before going to the mound to calm down the pitcher (Jose Albertos) and said “that is a future major league catcher”. Fans may not have to wait long for that prognostication to be fact.

wRC+Weighted runs createdAttempts to quantify total offensive value and extrapolate the data into total runs. It takes park effects into account. 100 wRC+ is average.See specific calculation at Fangraphs
wOBAWeighted on base averageMeasures a hitters overall offensive value by assigning a weighted factor to each individual outcome a hitter is in control of at the plate.See specific calculation at Fangraphs. Of note, this calculation changes annually.

Prospect Report: Kohl Franklin

Young righthander oozes projection with potential to be impressive mid-rotation starter

Kohl Franklin in South Bend Cubs debut by Rikk Carlson (@RikkCarl10)

How acquired: MLB Draft 2018

Kohl Franklin was primed for a breakout season in 2020 with a slot in a full season rotation lined up. As a 6’4″, lean projectable righthander with three pitches he can land in the strikezone, Kohl is a dream for the Cubs Player Development staff. The Cubs have struggled to develop a significant starting pitching prospect for years, but with vast improvements in pitch design and biomechanics in the organization, Franklin becomes one of several legitimate prospects on the rise.

Mechanics and Control

Franklin is a long lanky righthander with a repeatable delivery despite a lot of moving pieces. He comes set in a balanced position and like most Cubs farmhands, Franklin has a long arm path. Kohl hides the ball well, but doesn’t incorporate a lot of deception in his pitching motion. Kyle Hendricks would be impressed with how quickly Franklin works. For a 19 year old facing recent college draftees, I was impressed with his control. He consistently works around the plate and he’ll give up some walks, but he doesn’t get mechanically out of sync as compared to his peer group. Command still a smidge behind control, but you can see the foundation for improvements in both as he matures. I’ll avoid putting a particular projection on either control/command in someone this young (especially without seeing in the past year), but both are encouraging.

Pitching Arsenal

Fastball: It has some zip. Even in 2019, Franklin’s fastball would be consistent low 90s with good movement. His fastball has some natural run to his “arm side” (meaning it’ll tail into right handed hitters). When Franklin is going well he’ll throw the pitch on the outside to righties and let it creep back onto the plate. That will appear like nibbling, especially in the low minors (see the control/command above), and Kohl can be guilty of it, but it’s a good use of the fastball. The most encouraging aspect of the fastball is the climbing velocity. What started out as high 80s when drafted, now tops off at mid 90s. There’s hope for even more as he continues to grow. I have this pitch as above-average right now.

Changeup: Franklin was drafted with a promising feel for a changeup. While it is still developing, his changeup is coming along. It’s a low 80s offering, with good fading action. It plays off Franklin’s natural movement on his fastball. Unlike the breaking ball, he doesn’t telegraph the pitch so it plays up with a 10 mph separation from the fastball. This is an above-average pitch with plus potential.

Curveball: Franklin can really snap a few curveballs. He’s always had a feel for spin as he was one of many pitchers the Cubs drafted from 2017-2018 who relied on a curveball as their offspeed specialty. When he got to pro ball though he’s become an adopter of the Cubs “spike curve” that they’ve incorporated into pitching repertoires throughout the organization. Especially as Kohl experiences velo gains with his fastball, the hammer curve can play off fastballs higher up in the zone. My only concern is the views from 2019 still show him “telegraphing” the pitch. The arm slot appears to be more over the top. He already throws from a high 3/4 delivery. I’ll reserve judgment on the arm slot changes as those could be different now, but it’s an average pitch at present.

Slider: There’s been talk that Franklin was working on a slider prior to the shutdown. But the progress of that is unknown.

Future Projection

Kohl Franklin offers the upside of a mid-rotation starter on a playoff team at present. Pitchers of this level are often the best pitcher on mediocre teams and capable of putting up consistent 2.5-3 WAR annual performances. If that at all sounds like a disappointment, it shouldn’t be. This is the level of a player that would start twice in a 7-game playoff series and you’d feel good about your chances. This current projection is based on his 2019 performances and limited video that Kohl has posted on his social media accounts. If Franklin debuts an effective slider, that could improve the overall projection. Recently, Matt Dorey, VP of Player Development for the Chicago Cubs, noted Kohl had some of the highest upside in the system. That’s enormous praise and enigmatic of the work that Franklin has exhibited during the shutdown and at instructs.

Prospect Report: Brailyn Marquez

True ace potential from left hand side, but development will require significant improvements to command, sinker, and changeup.

How acquired: International Free Agency 2015

There isn’t a single arm in the entire Cubs system with more ceiling than Brailyn Marquez. He’s steadily improved from the lanky left handed who could touch the low 90s and is on the doorstep to impacting Wrigley if he can make more incremental improvements to his mechanics and secondaries.

Mechanics and Control

Marquez has very smooth mechanics for a 21 year old fire-balling lefty, but there’s still work to be done in refining. He has a long arm path. It’s been in vogue for development staffs to shorten arm paths (see Giolito, Robbie Ray, etc), but the Cubs have actively worked to keep Brailyn’s arm longer in the delivery. While there’s very little effort in the delivery, the long levers can cause his arm slot to drift. The Cubs have made a concerted effort to work with Marquez to keep his upper and lower body in sync. It’s definitely control over command right now. If he wants to stay in the starting rotation it’ll be critical to establish even just below-average command and average control. His stuff is so elite that it could still play at a high level with modest improvements.

Pitching Arsenal

Fastball: Absolutely elite potential in this pitch. Marquez routinely pitches close to 100 mph (touches 102), but sits mid 90s late in starts. He looks like he’s just playing catch and it eats up hitters. While it doesn’t present with high spin rates (2384 rpm average in brief 2020 appearance), the velocity is unbelievably impressive. The command needs to make significant improvements for this pitch to reach it’s potential. Upper 90s from the left side down the middle of the plate will play at A+, but he’ll need more in the majors. I’m confident that can improve. The fastball can be a plus-plus pitch.

Changeup: Clearly Brailyn’s third pitch. During his one outing in 2020 he consistently slowed his arm action when throwing his change, which will need to be cleaned up. The White Sox were able to just spit on it. He threw it 10 times and two of the pitches were solid (one was actually really nice and I’m shocked Encarnacion didn’t swing at it). The pitch was consistently in the 90-91 range and not very effective due to his command issues. When he’s on, the changeup plays off the fastball. I won’t put too much stock into his one 2020 outing. I have this as an average pitch based on his 2019 outings and I really think the pitch fits well in his repertoire when he throws it down and away to righties. This pitch is the key to him becoming a starter.

Slider: Utilizes a curve grip in his “spike slider”. Marquez designed this pitch along with former Cubs pitching guru, Brendan Segara It tunnels fairly well with his fastball when his mechanics are flowing. I had this pitch from 82-85 mph and it’s the most successful when he’s burying it. Occasionally he’s let it slurve over the middle of the plate, which he was able to get away with that at Myrtle Beach. I have it as an above-average pitch on it’s own, but it plays up when the fastball is commanded well. With continued refinement, I’d project this to be a consistent plus pitch.

Sinker: This pitch is a work in progress and it wasn’t thrown at all during his 2020 outing. Marquez began to work with it this year with the pitch design staff. I’ll refrain from any sort of grade or prognostication. With the obvious caveat that the Cubs front office isn’t going to be too forthcoming if there were negatives, here’s Criag Breslow on Brailyn Marquez’s sinker courtesy of The Athletic ($, subscription required and encouraged).

“When he threw his first sinker, we realized that it could make sense to accelerate its development, given just how unique a profile it was,” Breslow said. “We still controlled the volume, wanting to focus on the development of the four-seam, until a few weeks ago, where we asked him to gain some additional comfort deploying what we believe can serve as a plus big league pitch.”

Craig Breslow via Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic

Future Projection

If I’m being cautious, I see a reliever, but don’t let that scare you. We’re talking elite, take-over-the-game time of talent. I won’t comp him to either player, but thinking back to the impact Andrew Miller in 2016 and Josh Hader in 2018-2019 had on playoff games. If the opposing team didn’t have the lead in the fourth inning, the game was over. Both pitchers were multi-inning incinerators and carried their respective teams further in the playoffs than anticipated. Brailyn Marquez can be that and more.

There is always the hope that Marquez has a more normal Spring Training, gets into a rhythm during the MILB season, and finds himself with the opportunity to start for the Cubs during the 2021 season. He’ll need significant refinement, but there’s elite talent there. If the changeup and sinker are able to be average pitches and he makes strides with his command, then the sky is the limit. The 2021 and beyond question is “will his impact be out of the rotation or the pen?”.

Prospect Report: Ed Howard IV

Local high school draft pick is the next in a long line of elite shortstop prospects in the Cubs system

Ed Howard in 2020 Instructs by Rich Biesterfeld (@biest22)

How acquired: MLB Draft 1st round #16 overall, 2020

Gavin Lux, Royce Lewis, Jordan Groshans, Bobby Witt Jr… Ed Howard. The track record for top prep shortstops in recent years is excellent. Heading into the 2020 MLB first year player draft, many draft sites noted that Howard was “falling” in the rankings and mocks. The perception was at the time that Howard didn’t have the opportunity to show his progress leading into his senior season that other prep shortstops like Carson Tucker did, and was “losing ground”. In mock drafts, the Cubs were frequently mentioned with a bevy of college pitchers and OF Garrett Mitchell (ultimately drafted by the Brewers) and while the Athletic named Ed Howard one of the six players they believed the Cubs had zeroed in on, it still was a surprise to hear his name called at #16 by his hometown team. Perhaps it shouldn’t have been surprising at all. Ed Howard possesses the skills to be an above average and even All-Star shortstop for over a decade in the major leagues.


I won’t dwell too heavily into the mechanics since he has been working with Justin Stone and the hitting department down in instructional league, but it’s a swing that doesn’t have a lot of moving parts. He utilizes a short rock-back and has a timing mechanism that’ll need to get ironed out. The mechanism works well in batting practice, but he had a few instances of being late on velocity in-game. The swing can get long, although in more recent footage it’s shortened up. It’s not there yet, but he’s just entering pro ball. I have seen Howard catch up to a really good fastball on the outside corner and drive it. I’m not concerned about the hit tool. It projects to be at least average. I’d bet his future projection is above-average. Fangraphs puts an above-average hit tool at .270 BA. That sounds within reach.


This is likely the most divisive projection for Howard. He looks to have put on some excellent strength and started to fill out his projectable frame during the shutdown. Without in game footage of his time in instructs, I’ll cautiously say he projects to average power (15-20 home runs), but I wouldn’t be surprised to see this projection increase in the coming years in pro ball.


Ed Howard is universally recognized for his defensive chops. He can move well laterally to his left and right and possesses a projectable frame that allows him to add muscle (see above) while still looking the part of a future plus shortstop. Nicknamed “Silk” by his teammates at Mt Carmel, everything Howard does in the field is smooth. He has enough arm for SS and that can continue to improve further in pro ball.


Steals don’t appear to be a huge part of Howard’s game, but he appears to have enough speed to put up a handful a year. If anything, his speed is more important to his fielding and that’s not in question. He looks like he’ll have above average speed.

Future Projection

Ed Howard IV has All-Star potential as a shortstop. Being drafted by the Cubs and working with Justin Stone offers Ed Howard a strong projection to provide above-average value on offense and plus (or higher) value on defense.