Chase Strumpf – Pic by Micah Manuel/Tennessee Smokies

It has been two months since North Side Bound officially debuted on November 1. All four of us released our own individual top prospect lists that opening day and it was pretty exciting to see who we each thought were the top prospects in the Cubs’ system. Since then, I’ve been rethinking just exactly how I put my top 21 prospects together.

Usually, writing and publishing a prospect list is a tenuous adventure. As soon as you click publish one can begin to second guess where you place certain guys, who you left off, who is too low, and who is too high. This happens every time I do a list. In fact, it happens before I even click publish.

One thing that’s giving me pause over my list this winter is the performance of Caleb Killian in the Arizona Fall League. Our lists all came out a couple of weeks before his dazzling 18 inning scoreless stretch. I’m pretty sure I have him ranked too low. Just how high I would go with him the next time I do a list, I’m not sure exactly what number he would be at, but it’s certainly going to be in the top 10.

Those kinds of sentiments were not true when it came to Nelson Velazquez. I felt more secure in Velazquez and his performance this year because I got to see him in person quite often, beginning in May and on through the end of July. There was no doubt in my mind that his performance and development was genuine at the time I made my list.

In general terms, one of the things I’m second-guessing myself about when it comes to my list is the abundance of emphasizing prospects that have barely played in Class A baseball. Half of my list is 21 or younger. After Brennen Davis at number one, I’m not so sure where all of these young Cubs should fall. To be quite frank, I’m probably not going to know for another eight months or so until the middle of July when they will each have a good three-plus months of action under their belts, more specifically, they will have three-plus months of playing at Class A.

Normally, I don’t like to do prospect list updates very often. In years past, January 1 was usually when I did my big one and then again after the draft, unless there was a big trade. And in that tradition, I will not be doing one today. But I do want to discuss what will be a focus of my next list. One thing I want to really think about for the next list is giving more consideration to guys at Double-A and Triple-A who are being extremely productive. 

Relievers Ben Leeper and Cayne Ueckert are two players who immediately come to mind. They’re not what you might think of as elite prospects, but these guys are going to be major league baseball players for many years to come. However, relievers tend to get the short straw when it comes to prospect lists as the starters get more of the glory. It’s not really that fair, considering their upcoming value to the franchise over the next 5 to 6 years.

Chase Strumpf did not make North Side Bound’s top 20 list. He was close though. Strumpf struggled in June and part of July before turning it around the last two months of the season. His walk rate skyrocketed, his power numbers went up, and he was turning into everything we thought he could be. How he does in the first half of the year is really going to set the tone for him. He will probably be at Tennessee to start and then if things go well in spring training, you never know, he could be headed to Iowa. As a result, he is not that far from Chicago.

Jordan Nwogu also did not make the list as he fell just short. As this winter has gone on, Nwogu has been talked about quite a bit under the table. He could be a guy that really breaks out next year. Nwogu seems like the type of prospect that once it clicks, it does not shut off. He’s such a good athlete that his muscles can remember exactly what to do in any given situation.

One other player that I’ve been raving about since he was drafted out of Florida in 2019 is Nelson Maldonado. His lack of a position has probably kept him off most prospect lists. However, there is definitely not an issue with his bat. He’s probably the most underrated hitting prospect the Cubs have and he’s going to be at Triple-A next year and he’s going to rake. If there is a DH in the National League, Maldonado is going to find his way to Chicago very quickly. After Brennen Davis, Maldonado is head and shoulders above any other hitting prospect in terms of being ready for Chicago.

Someone who just missed my list at #22 is Yohendrick Pinango. Cole Roederer took the last spot at #21 and then Yohendrick was right behind him. It was fun watching Pinango play every day in person the last two weeks in Beloit and the Quad Cities at the end of the year. He definitely did not look to be overwhelmed playing at South Bend. The Cubs do need to reel him in a little bit because he sometimes tries to do too much in the moment. I spoke about that last week in his profile. If he begins producing HRs at a regular rate, look out! 

The system is getting extremely deep and if the big armed guys  coming back from injury like Riley Thompson, Kohl Franklin, Jack Patterson, and Michael McAvene produce, we could be looking at a totally different list by the middle of next summer. Or the young kids actually could step up to the plate and actually produce. We will find out soon enough. And then it will be time for the draft. The prospect list cycle never seems to end.

Over the next few weeks, we will see several prospect lists come out from MLB Pipeline, Prospects Live, Baseball Prospectus, The Athletic, and ESPN and we will see just how high they ranked the youngsters and if they had any issues in doing so.

In the meantime, I hope you have a happy New Year’s Day and I am looking forward to spring training beginning  for minor leaguers in just about two months and the MiLB season begins in 97 days to be exact. It won’t be long.