7 Cubs prospects poised to make a leap in 2020
A staple of spring training is the trove of daily transactions teams execute as players flip between minor and major league rosters. Even with 21 non-roster invites, there will still be moves for the Cubs to make.
Sometimes the ledger will fill for late-game depth early in spring. Other times, Cubs fans will receive their first exposure to prospects stepping in for any of the team’s seven split-squad days in the first two weeks of March.
While the strength of the Cubs farm system is widely thought to be in the bottom half of the league, there are still relevant names poised to make an impact at Spring Training and into the 2020 season.
RHP Adbert Alzolay*
One tough outing on July 1 tarnished an otherwise steady MLB debut for Alzolay in 2019. His ability to throw curveballs and changeups to either handedness of hitter bodes well for his usage with the league-wide three-batter minimum. His real value comes from flexibility. The non-drafted free agent signed by the Cubs in 2012 can spot start, provide multiple quality innings of relief and pitch in medium-leverage spots late for a Cubs team with unanswered questions in their bullpen.
Keep an eye on Alzolay’s ability to generate whiffs with his curveball early in spring. He has an exceptional feel for spin, but his primary offspeed pitch didn’t fool many major-league hitters in 2019.
C Miguel Amaya*
The greatest testament to Amaya’s talent is the 20-year-old’s ability to provide defensive value at the major league level this season, an anonymous scout told Marquee Sports Network. His bat might take more time to develop, but if injuries strike behind the plate in 2020, outside help might not be necessary. The Cubs added Amaya to their 40-man roster ahead of the 2019 Rule 5 Draft, opening a pathway to a debut in the near future. The ultimate value of a strong defensive catching prospect in the current age of robotic strike zone chatter, however, is hazy.
Amaya has a tendency to anticipate the endpoint of a pitch and navigate his glove into the zone after receiving the offering, a common trait of good pitch-framers. For pitches towards the bottom of the zone, getting as low as possible and coming up to the ball is one way to spot this sure-handedness behind the plate. His interaction with major league-caliber arms will stand out among the rest of the Cubs core of catchers.
SS/2B Zack Short*
The most promising characteristic of Short’s profile is his ability to stick at shortstop long term. Most of his offensive tools grade out as average, but the baseline output needed to find some role is lowered for such a premium position. Even if projection systems and evaluators are not high on his ability to make an impact, it’s difficult to argue against the high probability Short maxes out his upside — a utility shortstop with a high walk rate and a tendency to hit balls in the air.
While spring training is often a time to let it loose, Short’s advanced eye at the plate will allow him to lay off breaking balls off the plate even in the eighth inning of an early March split-squad battle.
OF Brennen Davis
The Cubs drafted Davis in the second round of the 2018 June Amateur Draft out of Basha High School in Gilbert, Ariz. Davis has added muscle to his frame since his professional debut late in 2018 down in the Rookie Level Arizona League. That muscle has kicked up his present and future raw power grades and pushed his weight above the 175 pounds his MiLB page displays. Even with the added size, Davis is still agile enough to play a respectable right field with a plus arm. But his debut may have to wait until Jason Heyward no longer occupies right field (Heyward is under contract through 2023).
There are a lot of flashy tools to admire in Davis’ profile. With his extra muscle, his power will stand out even more. His swing is short to the ball, with an abrupt end to his follow-through, similar to the descriptions Kyle Schwarber warrants. You may also be able to pick out small variations in Davis’ stride leg during spring. At points last season he had a simple toe-tap, but more often than not, he employed a simple stride to the plate.
3B/SS Christopher Morel
Morel plays with an energy level higher than most 20-year-olds, sometimes drawing comparisons to Javier Báez on that characteristic alone. His bat projects to produce more power than a high batting average with the assumption he puts on more muscle as he grows into his slight, wiry frame. He shifted to third base full-time last season, where he will stick through the rest of his development with good actions in the field and a strong arm.
The Cubs signed Morel as an international free agent in 2015. He was part of an international class for the Cubs that included two other top prospects: Amaya and Brailyn Márquez. Morel played one season in the Dominican Summer League before making his professional debut in 2018. After hitting .284 with a .467 slugging percentage with South Bend in the Midwest League, he has popped onto the radar of many. His energy and leadership qualities should be evident even on a broadcast.
LHP Brailyn Márquez
Márquez has received the tag of the Cubs top prospect on a few industry lists, even over Nico Hoerner. There are not many left-handed pitchers in the minor leagues that can touch 100 mph. Even fewer of those arms have yet to turn 22 years old. To make things even more difficult for hitters, he releases from a full sidearm delivery–think Aroldis Chapman or slightly lower than Jon Lester — with quiet mechanics compared to other arms with his level of velocity.
The placement of center field broadcast cameras to the right of the pitcher’s mound can make appreciating the run on fastballs and changeups from a low-slot left-hander like Márquez difficult. To fully understand Márquez’s feel for pitching, watch how uncomfortable left-handed swings are against him — if a manager is cruel enough to leave a left-handed hitter in against the flamethrower.
RHP Ryan Jensen
Jensen made six closely-monitored starts for Eugene in 2019 after throwing 100 productive innings for Fresno State. The Cubs drafted him 27th overall in last year’s First-Year Player Draft, a surprise to some analysts expecting him to land outside of the first round. With his high-velocity fastball and polish from throwing three seasons in the NCAA Division-I Mountain West Conference, he should move quickly through the Cubs system. His velocity profiles him as a high-leverage reliever, but expect the Cubs to let him start deep into his development in the upper minors.
The lack of a notable secondary pitch is something to keep an eye on in his spring innings. He won’t need much beyond a heater facing organizational talent, but some deliberate work on his slider would be a promising sign.
* = Player is on Cubs 40-man roster as of 3/3/20