The Consensus Ranking
One of the best parts about a joint operation at North Side Bound is comparing and contrasting each other’s player evaluations. As you can tell after reviewing each of our lists, there is a wide degree of variability in how each North Side Bound writer stacked their rankings. Creating a consensus list proved to be just as fun as setting up our own. Take a peek behind North Side Bound’s metaphorical Cubs blue curtain in our first Prospect Roundtable, featuring the inaugural consensus ranking.
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Greg Zumach: The Cubs have amassed an impressive group of shortstop prospects and it seems like you could rank them any number of ways. However, you’re definitely the “high-guy” on Reginald Preciado. What made you such a believer in Preciado to rank him #2 overall and the top shortstop in the system?
Greg Huss: For all the pub Owen Caissie and Kevin Alcantara received during their time in the Arizona Complex League, I feel like we haven’t talked enough about the performance Preciado put together down there. A .333/.383/.511 slash line as an 18-year-old playing shortstop and third base should be drawing our eyes early and often. I feel like Preciado is one of the few young shortstops in the system that have combined high-upside you can dream on with strong statistical performance.
Jimmy Nelligan: I have more of a broad question. Your rankings seem to be really high on the pitching in the Cubs system overall. You have Jensen at 5, Herz at 6, and Franklin at 9. Not to mention Marquez and Wicks are just out of the top 10. As a whole, do you think the Cubs’ pitching is undervalued and could be better than the batters?
Greg Huss: Better than the batters? Absolutely not. But I want to be careful about getting too awful lost in the potential that could be realized by the boat load of position players when a few pitchers are already realizing that potential. Jensen and Herz are a couple strong examples of that and it’s why I have them as my highest ranked pitchers.
Todd Johnson: I got to see Jensen pitch several times in person. Each time was different than the time before. When he shut down the potent Quad Cities team in late July with basically a 2 seamer and a curve, that was impressive! Now he is said to be doing a slider with a new grip versus the one he dropped in June. With those four pitches, do you see him continuing to start over the next year or so, or do you see him heading to the bullpen to get to Chicago quicker?
Greg Huss: I was one of Jensen’s biggest critics heading into the 2021 season so the fact that I have him ranked the highest of any of us is pretty crazy to me. I was so impressed by his mix of pitches as the season wore on that I feel much more confident about him sticking in the rotation long-term. I see no reason why the Cubs would rush him to the big leagues to be a member of the bullpen when he has a legitimate shot as a starter moving forward.
Greg Z: Cubs minor league Twitter definitely was engulfed in Canario-mania post-deadline, but I was floored when I saw Alexander Canario in your top 10. He may have the most fun profile in the entire system, but I was still a bit skittish about the K%. Are you banking on Canario’s Ks dropping or the power just taking over in 2022 and beyond?
Todd: Getting to see him play quite a bit in Beloit and the Quad Cities gave me a really different perspective on Canario than everybody else. He is extremely athletic and he talks about the game constantly. I’m just counting on his athleticism kicking in at some point. Considering the homerun barrage he had in August, I would not be surprised to see that type of thing happen again In 2022 with more frequency
Jimmy: I think one of the biggest differences in our lists is how high you have Morel. You write he’s going to be a tour de force when he figures it all out, is 2022 the year where he consistently shows fans his talent?
Todd: The one thing people tend to forget about Morel is that he was done playing baseball in the middle of 2019. He was done the second week in July and got some time in at the alternate site against advanced competition. Then he skipped High-A and went right to Double-A. Of course, it’s going to be an adjustment. It just took him a little bit longer to produce a consistent rate than others.
Between the middle of August in the end of the year at Iowa, he cranked out six home runs and had 24 RBI. In his two week stint at Iowa, he looked like he belonged and he even was drawing walks. Currently, he’s playing winter league and that should help keep his eye fresh at the plate for when spring training comes around. It’ll be interesting just how much of a jack of all trades he’s going to be next year. But, yes, I am all in for Morel in 2022.
Greg H: The star of the Arizona Fall League, Nelson Velazquez, shows up on your list at #10. How many spots up the list did he make thanks to his performance over the past month or so?
Todd: Nelson was not even on my list at the beginning of July, shortly after the draft. He was close though. I began moving him towards the list in June and if I had done the list at the beginning of August after all the trades, he would have just missed there too. His performance at Tennessee and in the AFL have really pushed him all the way up this list. The potential for power has always been there, but now it is there and that is what will separate him from the rest and possibly get him to Chicago.
Greg Z: Jimmy, that’s a heck of a debut article. I found your rankings thoughtful, but still concise and to the point. I think we’re very similar in our general rankings for players. But one guy that I really struggled ranking was Kohl Franklin. He placed in my Top 10 prior to the year, but it’s been two years since starting. Franklin slots in very close (23rd on mine, 19 on yours) in our rankings, but I’m curious how do you balance the upside of Franklin against the backdrop that he hasn’t started since 2019?
Jimmy: Upside versus performance is always a difficult thing to balance when creating a prospect list. We know Franklin, before we drafted Wicks, has one of the best changeups in the system, we just haven’t seen it thrown in game action much like you’ve said. If you believe Franklin will stay healthy as a starter and effectively and consistently use his pitches to their potential, he could be a top 15 prospect. If you believe he’ll end up in the bullpen (he is 22 years old now after all), he could slip to the mid twenties. I played him a little safe in my rankings and ranked him in between because honestly I don’t know where he’ll end up long term. 2022 will be a huge year for Franklin. If he struggles in the rotation, or has some health issues, maybe it’s time to move him to the pen. After all, lots of people think Marquez has already lost his opportunity to start games and both Marquez and Franklin were born in 1999.
Todd: After having seen Jordan Wicks pitch in person twice, I came away very impressed with his changeup and thought it a plus-plus pitch. What do you think the Cubs are going to tweak about him over the next year to complement that changeup?
Jimmy: What’s not to love about Wicks? You mentioned his changeup, but he also has great command, high spin rates, and a good slider. I think the next step is a spiked curveball with downward movement. We’ve seen some Cubs prospects use that pitch early in counts (Max Bain comes to mind) to “steal strikes” early in the count. Or, when behind in the count, to catch a hitter looking for a fastball. If Wicks can add a spiked curve to his repertoire, it’s going to be easier for him to get two strikes on hitters and finishing them with that excellent plus-plus changeup.
Greg H: Our guy, Jordan Nwogu, with some serious 30 home run potential, eh? Count me in! Is it going to take more mechanical adjustment to see him reach that potential? Or have the swing changes already been made enough that now we just need to see some continued progression and development?
Jimmy: Oh no, Nwogu still has work to do. However, you can’t take away the fact that there are still mechanical improvements to be made with his swing, and he still hit 10 home runs in non-hitter friendly Myrtle Beach after a slow start to the season. Nwogu has always been a project type prospect, and I expect the Cubs to keep him on a one affiliate a year pace. If he can develop at the same pace he did in 2021 in more hitter friendly ballparks, he can definitely reach that 30 home run potential. Is it likely? I’m still skeptical, but the power potential is there!
Jimmy Nelligan: Greg, you seem to be the president of the Kevin Made fan club at this point with your ranking of him above all the other teenage SS/INF like Hernandez, Preciado, Triantos, and Howard. What makes Made the best out of all the guys in this grouping?
Greg Z: Jimmy, I’ll happily put on my pin as President of the Kevin Made fan club. Ultimately I’m confident that I’m the “high-guy” on Made, but I see an 18-year-old SS adjust within two weeks of facing 5 years older and more advanced pitchers to finish the season on a .306/.326/.428 pace. His contact-heavy approach will need to grow and adapt, but this is a guy that you’d hope to just tread water facing that level of competition. Instead, he was a valuable hitter and a defender that commanded starts at SS despite Ed Howard (who I’d still absolutely bet on) being on the roster. Made even put a charge into a few balls towards the end of the season so I do buy that there’s average power in his profile. It could be a silly pick, but hey, this is the fun of it, right? I feel convicted on Kevin Made so I’ll stick with it.
Todd Johnson: Nice to see Tyler Schlaffer so high. I really like him a lot in terms of his ceiling. What do you see as his true potential?
Greg Z: Yes! The more I watched Schlaffer, the more optimistic I became that he’s another Cubs pitching success story. He got massive shout-outs from the Cubs strength and Conditioning team for all the strength and muscle he added during the pandemic season. He finished the season strong as a 20-year-old in Myrtle Beach (2.94 ERA in August) while showing off a low to mid 90s fastball, one of the best change-ups in the Cubs system, and a new cutter. He also throws a slider. The hometown pitcher put himself in a position where he could be one of the better pitchers in the system next season.
Greg H: I guess I’ve gotta be the guy to bring it up… You have PCA in there at #2 on your list. You’re the high-man on him while I’m the low-man way down at #15. What are you seeing/thinking that I’m not?
Greg Z: Hey, I get it. If you look at PCA on the surface he’s a contact bat with no power who relies on defense. It’s not the most exciting profile, but after the trade deadline I had heard that he had begun to drive the ball with more authority in spring camp and at the very early part of the year. Now The Athletic has similar reports that PCA has been able to incorporate his legs more in his swing. I’ll admit those immediate reports heavily factored into my future projections of him. Crow-Armstrong likely won’t even have average home run power in the majors, but does he need it? A plus hit, plus-plus defense, above-average speed center fielder who can drive the ball into the gaps for extra bases will absolutely play. And, hey, if you’re into comps, that profile worked very well for Jacoby Ellsbury.
How did we do?
Whose ranking came the closest to how you’d stack yours up? Any player in your personal Top 10 that didn’t make our Top 20?
Featured photo by Todd Johnson