The arrival of the offseason means that it's time to rank stuff. Already this winter, we've sized up the 60 best free agents, both on an overall and positional basis. There's no law that prevents us from ranking minor-league players in addition to their big-league counterparts. As such, we're going to spend the winter evaluating every team's farm system.
The lack of a minor-league season makes that more of a challenge this year. It doesn't help that some teams opted against sharing video and data from their alternate-site camps with the rest of the league. As such, we've opted against overthinking this. Our rankings will essentially be the same as they were last winter with a few changes. First, we'll exclude anyone who graduated by exhausting their rookie eligibility; second, we'll replace them with draftees or other worthy prospects; and third, and lastly, we'll present the information in a new format.
In every article in this series, you'll find a team's top five prospects as well as five others we felt like including, either because of their promise or some other reason. For those top five prospects, you'll find a quick summation of their pros (their saving grace, if one will) and their cons (their fault line), as well as beefier report and our attempt to peg their "likeliest outcome."
These rankings were compiled by talking to industry folks -- scouts, analysts, and other evaluators -- and include a touch of our own evaluative biases. Remember, that this is more of an art than a science, and that the write-ups matter more than the rankings themselves.
Now, let's get on to the top five prospects in the Chicago Cubs system.
1. Miguel Amaya, C
Age (as of 4/1/2021): 22
Height/Weight: 6-foot-2, 230 pounds
Acquired: International amateur free-agent signing (Panama)
Highest level: High-A
Saving grace: Two-way potential
Fault line: Power
Scouting report: Amaya will turn 22 just before the season begins. That's notable because he was an above-average hitter in High-A the last time we saw him. Amaya is more than a stat sheet creation: he profiles as a two-way contributor who'll hit for average, walk, and provide above-average defense. If you're looking for a nit to pick, it's that he's posted an ISO over .150 just once thus far, suggesting he might not offer a ton of power.
Likeliest outcome: Starting catcher
2. Brennen Davis, OF
Age (as of 4/1/2021): 21
Height/Weight: 6-foot-4, 175 pounds
Acquired: Second-round pick in the 2018 draft (Basha High School, Arizona)
Highest level: A-ball
Saving grace: Immense upside
Fault line: Durability
Scouting report: Davis has one of the most dynamic skill sets and highest ceilings in the system. He's an above-average runner and he has above-average strength, giving him star-level potential and the chance to contribute both home runs and stolen bases. The biggest concern -- other than general nuance things that he should improve upon with repetitions -- is his health. He was limited to 50 games in 2019, and it's anyone's guess as to how his body reacts as he adds years and muscles over the coming seasons.
Likeliest outcome: Regular outfielder, perhaps more
3. Ed Howard, SS
Age (as of 4/1/2021): 19
Height/Weight: 6-foot-2, 185 pounds
Acquired: No. 16 pick in the 2020 draft (Mount Carmel High School, Illinois)
Highest level: High school
Saving grace: Defense
Fault line: Bat
Scouting report: Howard is a pure shortstop who has the arm strength, the hands, the quickness, and everything else it takes to stick at the position for the long haul. The question with him is how much he's going to hit. He's coming from a cold-weather state where he didn't always face the best of competition, and that means it's unclear how he'll perform when he's consistently playing against high-level pitchers. At least the glove gives him a wide berth.
Likeliest outcome: Starting shortstop
4. Brailyn Marquez, LHP
Age (as of 4/1/2021): 22
Height/Weight: 6-foot-4, 185 pounds
Acquired: International amateur free-agent signing (Dominican Republic)
Highest level: MLB
Saving grace: Arm strength
Fault line: Inconsistency
Scouting report: Marquez has one of the best fastballs among prospects. In his single big-league appearance last year, he averaged 98 mph on his heater. Alas, the rest of his arsenal isn't that far along, and neither is his command. Marquez also delivers the ball from a lower slot, raising questions about whether he'll be vulnerable versus right-handed batters. There's a ton of upside here if he can take the necessary steps forward over the coming years. If not, though, he might end up as a dominant late-game reliever.
Likeliest outcome: Mid-rotation starter, maybe better
5. Adbert Alzolay, RHP
Age (as of 4/1/2021): 26
Height/Weight: 6-foot-1, 208 pounds
Acquired: International amateur free-agent signing (Venezuela)
Highest level: MLB
Saving grace: Stuff
Fault line: Command, health
Scouting report: Alzolay has several above-average to plus offerings. What he doesn't have is the command or durability to project as a starter heading forward. He's walked more than four batters per nine dating back to 2018, and he hasn't worked as many as 75 innings in a season since 2017. Alzolay is out of minor-league options, meaning he's certain to start the season on the Cubs' pitching staff.
Likeliest outcome: High-leverage reliever
Five others to know
- Burl Carraway, LHP
While high-round college relievers don't work out often, Carraway has the potential to be a late-inning force if he can find more command. He has a big-time fastball-breaking ball combination and he struck out 41 percent of the batters he faced during his collegiate career.
- Riley Thompson, RHP
Thompson was the 338rd pick in the 2018 draft. He's a well-built right-hander who improved his standing with a strong first full professional season. His fastball and breaking ball could make him a force in spurts if injuries push him to the bullpen.
- Ryan Jensen, RHP
Jensen is short and he made more relief appearances than starts during his time at Fresno State. Nonetheless, his athleticism and well-rounded arsenal (including a well-above-average fastball) could help him stick in a big-league rotation someday sooner than later.
- Cory Abbott, RHP
Abbott doesn't have a plus offering in his bag, but he does locate well and should make his big-league debut before he turns 26 next September.
- Chase Strumpf, 2B
The Cubs scooped up Strumpf in the second round of the 2019 draft based on the strength of his performance at UCLA and his potential for five average or better tools. He's not the most exciting prospect, yet he should enjoy a big-league future.