2021 Chicago Cubs Top 5 Prospectsby Joe Ricotta March 20, 2021 1 comment
The Chicago Cubs’ farm system has a fascinating and somewhat unknown dynamic to it. Near the top of its ranks, feature players that might not have been expected to blossom into much up until more recently.
Looking at the Cubs’ major league roster, it feels as if the championship window is beginning to close, and they are in a full rebuild mode. Despite what many would like to believe, they haven’t wholly torn it down yet, nor have they replenished the farm system enough to jump back into the top ten among MLB franchises.
Make sure to check out all of our other MLB Team Top Prospects.
However, the Cubs made some moves, like the one headlined by stud starting pitcher Yu Darvish, who was sent to the San Diego Padres in exchange for pitcher Zach Davies, shortstops Yeison Santana and Reginald Preciado, and outfielders Owen Caissie and Ismael Mena.
They also have many other players to be positive about and now feature a relatively deep group of young players with high ceilings. Some higher than others, but at least most of them are relevant at a big-league contributing level. Let’s take a look at their top 5 prospects.
DISCLAIMER: All prospects mentioned were judged on a 20-80 scouting grade scale, and they are my personal grades and ranks, not the ones listed on MLB Pipeline or other sites.
#1 – Brennen Davis – OF
The 2018 second-round draft pick has dealt with a few injuries that led scouts to become conflicted about his future outlook. When on the field, Davis has produced and shown growth. He has skyrocketed through the Cubs’ system as a potentially dangerous future outfielder. He possesses a plethora of different skills, including hard contact, a power-speed combo, good fielding, and an above-average arm, which makes him a potential five-tool caliber player.
Being 6’4” with plus speed and raw power can be a chore to maintain and get comfortable playing at a high level with. He has started to improve his body and grow into it more. The in-game power seems to be coming along as well, given his recent performance. In 50 games at South Bend in 2019, Davis hit eight bombs with a .305/.381/.525 (.906 OPS) slash line.
MLB Pipeline has the next guy on my list ranked as the Cubs’ number one prospect. However, Davis is a potential 30-30, solid fielding, centerfielder. He gets the edge as the Cubs’ top overall prospect in my book. It’s cliche, but the sky is the limit for Davis. Assuming he maintains his current trajectory, expect him to make an appearance with the parent club in 2022.
#2 – Brailyn Marquez – LHP
The 22-year old power left-handed pitcher was signed by the Cubs internationally in 2015 to the largest signing bonus for a lefty on the market. Marquez came into the system throwing 92 MPH. He’s made serious progress and rose up the system’s ranks due to his continued development and increase in velocity. He now sits 98, topping out at 102.
Due to not having a minor league season last year, the Cubs called him up for his major league debut in an appearance against the Chicago White Sox. Things didn’t go the way he wanted, as he allowed five earned runs on two hits while walking three batters in 0.2 IP. He struggles with command at times, but clearly, he was uncharacteristically wild and a little overamped. Even so, there were some positives. Marquez flashed why he is a top prospect, striking out the 2020 American League MVP Jose Abreu on a 99 MPH fastball. During the appearance, he registered the Cubs’ fastest pitched ball of the season at 99.6 MPH. The strikeout pitch to Abreu was the Cubs’ second-fastest.
To go along with his overpowering heater, Marquez features a sharp slider that sometimes morphs into a slurve and a developing changeup that has good movement but is a work in progress. The big lefty has top of the rotation upside. He was optioned to Double-A Tennessee on Friday, but don’t be surprised if he makes another big league appearance at some point this season.
#3 – Miguel Amaya – C
Amaya was a 2015 international signing out of Panama. Potentially, this is the Cubs’ long-term replacement for Willson Contreras at the catcher position. While he won’t be rushed into big league action, it doesn’t sound like he’s too far away from making his debut. Amaya is a fielding first catcher that has made strides to improve as a hitter. Although he likely won’t hit above .265-.270 consistently in the majors, he has shown the ability to get on base with the help of a 13.2 percent walk rate in 2019 at Advanced-A. The raw power is there, but the in-game power is coming along, as he hit double-digit home runs in both 2018 and 2019, sporting a 114 and 122 wRC+, respectively.
Minor League coaches have reported many positives when it comes to his progress managing pitchers and commanding games. His arm strength that was once in question has since become a strength. Backed up by his 35 percent caught-stealing rate in 2019. Barring an injury or trade, the Cubs will be patient with Amaya this season. He could become a September callup, but the more realistic MLB arrival expectation is next year.
#4 – Cristian Hernandez – SS
How could we leave off a player with the nickname “Baby A-Rod?” Hernandez was one of the top international signings of this year’s class. He’s a shortstop out of the Dominican Republic with a wickedly powerful-looking swing. Not only is it powerful, but it’s rather smooth and effortless. Hernandez turned 17-years old in December, so he’s raw and will need some time to develop before making an impact at the Major League level. However, he comes with a gigantic upside. A lot of loud noises come off his bat, and he has the athleticism and tools to stick as a shortstop at the major league level. 30-plus home runs per season could be in his future. Being as young and inexperienced as he is, it was hard to move him higher than fourth in the rankings, although I believe he could have the highest future grade.
Given that he’s an International prospect that has yet to play in the minors, there isn’t a ton of information out there about Hernandez. However, taking one look at his swing, it’s not hard to understand why he’s regarded as one of the top international signings of this year’s class. Baby A-Rod debuts at the number four spot in the Cubs’ system. No pressure, kid.
#5 – Ed Howard – SS
The more you look at the Cubs’ farm system, the more you realize why the organization might be hesitant to extend Javier Baez to an expensive, lengthy contract. Howard was the Cubs’ 2020 first-round draft selection at pick 16 overall. He’s a local kid out of Mount Carmel High School in Chicago.
Howard oozes defensive excellence at the shortstop position. He has good range, an above-average arm, and soft, quick hands. He’s a bit average at the plate as it stands in the power department, but he has a quick bat and makes solid contact.
As aforementioned, COVID-19 effectively eliminated minor league baseball last year. Although he’s played some ball in the instructional league, Howard will get his first real taste playing professional ball this season. Howard makes consistent contact, but he’s working to improve his strength and hit for more power. With that said, based on reports, the ball was jumping off his bat in the instructional league, and he was stronger than the Cubs originally thought. His quick hands and smooth, fluid actions at shortstop give him a high floor as a major league utility player with gold glove caliber potential and hitting prowess as well. 2024 seems like a reasonable estimated time of arrival.