The Cubs have been blessed with a lot of top prospects over the past few years. It has generally been rather easy to determine which prospect was number one in the system, but that task could be quite difficult this year. John Sickels released his evaluation of the Cubs’ top prospects on November 26, atop which was none other than Eloy Jimenez. Dylan Cease came in second, with Trevor Clifton a surprising number 3 and Ian Happ at 4.
Starting in December, many evaluators will be publishing their top prospect lists. From MLB Pipeline to Baseball America to Keith Law, Fangraphs, Baseball Prospectus, all have their takes on who is and who is not the best Cubs prospect in all the land. While the order of these lists do not matter in the grand scheme of things, evaluating an organization’s top players is a necessary task. The ability to do so properly can result in developing talent and using assets in the best possible way – like winning a World Series championship.
Some of those outside evaluators have Ian Happ as the Cubs’ number one minor league player. Over the next month, however, I think Jimenez could supplant Happ on many of those lists. That’s not to say that Happ is not talented, he is. It’s just indicative of the projection that Jimenez currently has to hit for both power and high average based on his 2016 season at South Bend. It will be interesting to see which sites and publications pick Jimenez as number one and which ones pick Mr. Happ.
That said, let me throw a giant rock in the pond here.
Over the next 12 to 18 months, it’s not gonna matter whether it was Happ or Jimenez who was in the top spot this winter. And if Dylan Cease throws in 2017 like he did from the middle of August to the end of the season in the Northwest League, it really won’t matter.
One of the most exciting things for me in 2016, besides winning the World Series, was being able to watch the Eugene Emeralds’ home games on MiLB.TV. As a part of those teams, it was cool to watch Cease develop over his 45 innings.
There were two huge developments that I saw:
1. Arm action – At the beginning of the year, there was a slight hesitation at the top of Cease’s delivery when he threw the curveball. It’s hard to tell if the batter saw that from a straight-ahead point of view, but it was easy to pick out on film. After a forearms strain caused him to miss three starts, he began to throw the ball with much more fluidity. It was no longer obvious whether he was throwing a fastball, curve, or change just based on his arm action. As a result, Cease’s strikeout totals began to rise more quickly.
2. Strikes for strikeouts – The fact that Cease throws hard is not news. But high velocity or not, hitters in the Northwest League soon caught on to his approach when trying to get a strikeout. Cease would often get to two strikes quickly and then spend three to five more pitches trying to put batters away. That resulted in high pitch counts, which meant he almost never saw the fifth inning after running up 75-80 pitches through the first four. In early August, either Cease or someone else — likely the coaching staff or one of his catchers — figured out that his stuff in the zone was good enough to get that third strike and that Cease was just wasting pitches. Next thing you know, he was racking up 8, 7, 8, and 10 strikeouts in his last four regular season games. That latter game saw him only throw 71 pitches in five innings, a major plus for his development.
If Cease is still throwing mid-to-upper 90’s heat after 80 to 100 innings in August, he is going to warrant some consideration for the top spot in the organization at the end of this year. Ideally, you want him to accumulate 120 innings pitched in order to be listed that high. All things considered, t’s not that far away from reality.
For now, though, bloggers, writers, and evaluators can duke it out between Ian Happ and Eloy Jimenez. From my vantage point, it’s just a matter of time before Cease steals their thunder.
Then again, if Jimenez hits 25-30 homers this year, all bets are off.