Feature photo of Cade Horton by Todd Johnson

We made it. It’s finally Prospect List Week here at North Side Bound and we think we’re dropping our rankings at the perfect time. The first half of the minor league season just wrapped up and the MLB Draft is in two short weeks. It’s the ideal time to re-examine the system and re-evaluate where we rank players in comparison to one another.

Before getting into my list, here is the schedule for the week ahead!

Today: My List

Tuesday: Todd’s List

Wednesday: Greg Z’s List

Thursday: The North Side Bound Cumulative Ranking

Friday: The Fan-Created Ranking

So, as for what I’ve put together…

No, I don’t hate your favorite player. Yes, I have watched the games this year. And yes, I did take more than 15 minutes to put this together. In fact, this ranking was probably the most difficult for me to create in years. That’s why I’m emphasizing six distinct tiers.

The tiers are described as I get into the grouping of players that land in each one and the reason I point these out is you could reasonably make an argument of ranking the players that fall into a particular tier into any which way. The player ranked 17 and guy ranked 24th could theoretically flip flop, in my eyes. But this order is where I landed.

Enjoy it all!

Tier 1 – Clearly the best in the system. An elite, Top 20-type in all of baseball.

1. Pete Crow-Armstrong

Like: Whenever there’s a gap in Hollywood Pete’s game, he seems to fix it as soon as we notice it’s a thing. You know what he’s all about so I won’t waste your time going into detail here.

Dislike: The difference between an all-around player and a defense-focused center fielder boils down to a fairly simple concept. Can he maintain his current strikeout and walk rates? Say, for example, both rates worsen by 4%, an amount that’s not unreasonable to imagine. Currently at 24% K and 8% BB, a player that’s sitting with a 28% K-rate and 4% BB-rate is likely no longer an all-star caliber player. At that point, PCA becomes an every day starter instead of a team cornerstone. That’s worst case scenario but one that’s not all that ridiculous to imagine.

Tier 2 – Top 100 guys

2. Cade Horton

Like: Almost everything. The slider is as advertised. The new curveball could be something special and his changeup is getting plenty of whiffs. But then again, he’s getting a ton of whiffs with everything. The Swinging Strike rate is the best in all of professional baseball and he’s doing that while also limiting the walks.

Dislike: I’m gonna nitpick and say the fastball doesn’t seem special. Granted, it still touches high-90s and is getting whiffs, too. But I’d love to see more information on the movement profile.

3. Kevin Alcántara

Like: Another year in and the athleticism is still there with El Jaguar as is the ability to hit the ball hard. Why do I have him over Owen Caissie? Sometimes I gotta trust my untrained scouting eye and I’m gonna roll with it here. Let’s not overreact to a rough 40 games like we’ve seen the national publications do.

Dislike: He is swinging. A lot. Too often and at everything. I’m hoping that he is doing it because he’s young and eager to hit. If it continues for too long, it becomes an indictment on his approach but it hasn’t reached that place for me quite yet.

4. Owen Caissie

Like: ONKC hits the ball as hard as anyone in minor league baseball. His athleticism is improving dramatically and it’s positively impacting his defense and baserunning, which is the biggest reason why you’ve seen him ranked below El Jaguar in the past.

Dislike: Unfortunately, he will always be balancing along that K% tightrope. Do the exit velos and the power that follows outweigh a 30%+ strikeout rate? If he trims the strikeout numbers, does the power subsequently follow? It will always, always be a topic of conversation with Owen, just like we have seen with Kyle Schwarber for the past decade.

5. Ben Brown

Like: His fastball can gets outs by itself. The slider and curve are also really strong but still bleed into each other a bit too much for my liking. But I’m still throwing them in the “like” category here because there are sometimes those unicorn-like offerings that are strong despite the eye test, because he very clearly gets plenty of whiffs on each.

Dislike: The command has evaded him far more this year than last year but I think part of that is due to an uptick in pure stuff that he doesn’t locate quite as well. I’m not legitimately worried, it’s just something to keep in mind.

6. Jordan Wicks

Like: Wicks is everything you could want in a mid-rotation starter. He has a large pitch mix that he clearly feels comfortable with in any count and all are at least league-average offerings. He has a unique ability to locate the fastball inside on both lefties and righties.

Dislike: There’s this strange disconnect between the amount of whiffs and called strikes that he generates, the number of two-strike foul balls he allows, the overall strikeout rate, and the number of balls that inexplicably find no-man’s land. It feels like not all of these things can be possible simultaneously and it makes me think his development is just not quite complete in the minors.

Tier 3 – Reasonable Top 100 arguments

7. Miguel Amaya

Like: Everything we dreamed of Miggy becoming pre-injuries is coming true. He has been good in every single facet of the game (besides running, of course). It pains me to rank him this low so I’m excited to see my partners here have him higher on their lists (spoiler).

Dislike: Honestly, I’m not sure. We need to see him continue to stay healthy and see which of two categories of player he falls into: good MLB stater or MLB backup. That’s an awful fine development line these days but a pretty significant value gap.

8. Jackson Ferris

Like: The Cubs must really have confidence in his makeup to promote him to full-season ball the first few months after he was drafted from high school. His stuff (both the fastball and slider) looks exceptional with the eye test so I can’t imagine what the back-end data will tell us. Cut-ride fastball and the sweeper make Ferris feel like the ultimate Cubs-style prospect.

Dislike: It’s too soon to say his command will be there enough but right now that’s my only real concern. Stay tuned to see him soar up rankings nationally.

Tier 4 – The high quality depth we’ve been waiting on. Guys that would have clearly been top 5 in the system a few years ago.

9. James Triantos

Like: He’s exceeding the high expectations we set for him this offseason. We all knew he wouldn’t strike out, but I have more confidence in his power becoming league-average. He looks stronger, is making more quality contact, and is driving the ball more all while still posting a sub-10% strikeout rate in a now not-so-small sample size.

Dislike: There are just incredibly mixed reviews on his second base defense and I can’t get a feel for it myself. I typically don’t worry about defense with guys in the lower levels of the minors, but having at least average defense at second or third feels more important for Triantos than a corner outfielder.

10. Moises Ballesteros

Like: His approach to hitting reminds me of Owen Caissie from the past couple years, but he’s doing it while striking out less than half as much. Mo Baller is exceptional at peppering the opposite field gap. The best combination of “feel to hit” and solid contact of anyone in the system.

Dislike: We’re gonna see next year how he takes to actually attempting for more pull-side power. If he can add pull-side power without adding too many more strikeouts, then he can be a DH for all I care.

11. Matt Mervis

Like: Mash is extraordinary at tapping into power without sacrificing too much by the way of strikeouts. I think he’ll learn a lot from that initial look at Major League pitching.

Dislike: Same as when I’ve been scolded in the past for not ranking him higher, he simply has to put together a 120 wRC+ at least, on a fairly consistent basis, to be a valuable player at first base for the Chicago Cubs.

12. Alexander Canario

Like: No hiccups so far in his return from injuries. Like Morel, his Savant chart is gonna be hella red as he hits the ball hard, has a cannon for an arm, and has some serious speed that’s been underrated. If his approach can be what it was at the end of last year, his profile has very few gaps.

Dislike: So much of Canario’s game is built around explosiveness. So we will have to wait and see if it is still there when he is fully returned from injury. I’m nervous, but it’s a big hurdle in the coming weeks.

13. Brennen Davis

Like: He is proving to be a much more disciplined hitter and it’s showing in his walk rates. I was worried about the swing and miss on sliders he chased out of the zone in years past and now that’s not even on my radar anymore.

Dislike: He isn’t consistently hitting the ball hard and his overall stat line shows it. Plus, he’s missing more time after going down with core body surgery. That doesn’t concern me from a traditional “injury prone” narrative, but instead because he is missing serious developmental time once again.

14. Jefferson Rojas

Like: The Cubs front office seems to absolutely love him. His body, contact quality, and defensive actions are all well beyond his years. This very well could wind up being a SUPER low ranking by the end of the year.

Dislike: We need to make sure the bat development is deliberate and consistent. It feels like the strategies taken by a guy like Kevin Made with Rojas could prove to be really successful given Rojas is beginning from a more impressive profile. If he moves off shortstop, which is entirely possible given his good size at such a young age, can the bat keep up?

15. Cristian Hernandez

Like: In my eyes, he’s doing as well as you’d expect any good 18 year old prospect to do in Myrtle Beach.

Dislike: He’s just not quite there with anything. His approach is touch and go, the defense shows flashes but is inconsistent, and he isn’t driving pitches with authority at the plate.

16. Kohl Franklin

Like: Confidence. I love it from Kohl. He is very deliberate in what pitches he’s throwing and when he throws them. As a result, his stuff not only looks good but is playing in the way it’s supposed to.

Dislike: He needs more starts when he has three pitches all on. Too often does he have just two good pitches instead of three really strong ones.

Tier 5 – Successful development means they are MLB starters/high-leverage relievers

17. Pablo Aliendo

Like: We wanted him stronger so he added some serious muscle and it’s showing in games. In many ways, he is following the Miguel Amaya path.

Dislike: Take my concerns for Miggy and amplify it. The absolute peak feels like what Amaya is doing right now but there is a much lower floor.

18. Luke Little

Like: We stan a reliever with mid-to-upper 90s heat, a damn good slider, and hella ground balls. The size and delivery give him a slight edge over Daniel Palencia.

Dislike: As devastating as his delivery can be on opposing batters, he can get inconsistent with mechanics due to a lack of athleticism.

19. Daniel Palencia

Like: We stan a reliever with triple-digits heat and a closer mentality.

Dislike: Worst case scenario, we see what happened to Jeremiah Estrada happen to Danny P. The movement profile on Estrada is better even though it’s 5 mph less. If Palencia loses a few ticks from 100 mph to 96 mph, what are we looking at?

20. Kevin Made

Like: I can still see him adapting, changing, and improving every single game. Made (along with Cristian Hernández) is a prime example of a player that I feel nearly the exact same about as I did preseason but see him falling on my list because of the other talented players in the system.

Dislike: I don’t know that the constant improvements will make up for the lack of quality contact. It’s too soon to really say until we see a final product in the amount of muscle he puts on.

21. Ed Howard

Like: Silk came back looking to be in great shape and is finally able to get some “normal” development time. This upcoming offseason is gonna be massive for him.

Dislike: That development window just shrinks a bit. Another major injury or lost season at the plate could be detrimental.

22. Michael Arias

Like: He reminds me a bit of Luis Devers from last year in that he popped up on the radar fairly suddenly and features a strong changeup. The positive difference is that the slider looks better and the heater touches high-90s.

Dislike: The negative difference is he is more raw (I can actually spin this into a good thing) and he has FAR less command than 2022 Devers.

23. Adan Sanchez

Like: The 18 year old is already kind of a unit back behind the dish. The DSL numbers last year and reports at the time of his signing are encouraging.

Dislike: He’s struggling statistically in a small sample size in the ACL. I’ll need to see more video of him before throwing too much ridicule his way, but if he can perform a bit better, there’s a catching spot open in Myrtle now that Mo Baller is gone.

24. Porter Hodge

Like: I still think his fastball-slider combo is really strong. It’s a profile that could be really good in the bullpen and I can still dream on in the rotation one day.

Dislike: If this move to the bullpen is “permanent” in the way Little, Palencia, and Ryan Jensen’s moves were, Hodge slides down this list quite a bit. I’ve always baked on plenty of reliever risk into his rankings but this happened a little quicker than I figured.

25. Brody McCullough

Like: He’s leading the system or second to a man named Cade Horton in nearly every single stat category this year. He dots fastballs on the black and gets chases with two breaking balls. The fastball plays up because of a quirky-ish but repeatable delivery.

Dislike: I’m careful in overreacting to a college arm in Single-A, even a D2 guy. He’ll need to make sure the slider continues to get plenty of swinging strikes as he climbs the ladder.

26. Drew Gray

Like: The fact that he has returned from Tommy John and he’s officially in full-season ball is nearly enough for me. I love the reports on his pitch metrics and hoping that we see that now-normal post-TJ velo bump.

Dislike: The path to full-season ball took two compete season’s worth of games and that means two years of unnatural development. Hopefully Drew made the most of those two seasons in the weightlifting department.

Tier 6 – Successful development means they are MLB bench bats/low-leverage relievers

27. Riley Thompson

Like: I feel pretty damn confident the stuff and “just get outs” ability is good enough to succeed at the MLB level, despite the season statistics this year.

Dislike: I’ll pull back on that confidence a bit by saying I’m not sure those MLB performances will be in Chicago.

28. Luis Devers

Like: He was the best pitcher in the system last year. His command was insane and the changeup was/is the best I’ve seen in the organization in a while.

Dislike: I really hope the loss of command/control since his return from injury is just a matter of getting his feel back. If it’s more of a permanent thing, that could be all it takes for him to go from the Cubs’ MiLB Pitcher of the Year to a forgotten man.

29. Chase Strumpf

Like: I’ll beat the dead horse and tell you that production is production and it doesn’t matter what it looks like. Strumpf is a productive hitter and has been the same version of himself for the third consecutive year now.

Dislike: He isn’t a needle-mover and his three true outcome profile likely tops out at something that looks like Patrick Wisdom.

30. Haydn McGeary

Like: After a rough few weeks in Tennessee post-promotion, he took what he learned, adjusted, and is back to being a stud at the plate. His quick bat is a good combatant of his long arms so he can limit strikeouts and generate impressive exit velos.

Dislike: What allowed Matt Mervis to be successful was a uniquely strong batted ball profile and McGeary doesn’t have that outside of “hit ball hard.” Yet. Much like with Mash, there is a very clear ceiling to where I will rank Haydn thanks to his defensive value. Some of you will be mad about this ranking more than any others but this is the type of prospect I will never not exhibit extreme caution with.

31. Yonathan Perlaza

Like: The stat line and eye test compliment each other perfectly. He simply hits and the bat is clearly ready for MLB pitching.

Dislike: Because there is little-to-no value there defensively, he is gonna need to keep up with the bat. Say the K% rises a few percent, his walk rate drops 5%, and his absurd 9% doubles rate (meaning he hits a double in 9% of his plate appearances, LOL) drops… that scares me. 

32. Luis Vazquez

Like: He’s the best defensive infielder I’ve seen since I began covering this system a decade ago. I don’t believe his bat is .800 OPS good but it’s officially not a black hole anymore.

Dislike: He’s definitely tapping into more power but honestly, it doesn’t feel all that legit to me. The offensive performance is enough to land him on my list for the first time in years, but not convincing enough to send him up any higher.

33. Christopher Paciolla

Like: The Cubs seemed to quickly identify him as a third baseman as opposed to a shortstop which could help the direction of his development. He feels awfully blank canvassy.

Dislike: The bright side of not seeing him on MiLB TV yet is that I don’t have many negative things to say at this point. His long levers in the box are gonna be something to keep an eye on.

34. DJ Herz

Like: Given his quirky delivery that forces the fastball to play more like 96 mph than 92 mph, a slider that’s now legitimately above-average, and a changeup that’s still really strong, literally all DJ has to do it not be absurdly wild with his control in order to succeed.

Dislike: There hasn’t been that long-awaited uptick in velo and he’s still in the low-90s with the heater. To me, the reliever risk is still at like 90% which is why he lands here on the list. I hope like hell he proves me wrong — although you can do a whole lot worse than his makeup and mentality in the pen.

35. Brandon Birdsell

Like: He is doing everything he should as a Big 12 draftee assigned to High-A the year after he was drafted. I love his delivery that hides the ball until the last possible moment and his fastball has the consistent juice I was hoping for.

Dislike: I don’t think the pure stuff is quite good enough to be an eventual MLB rotation piece. There’s plenty of time to improve it and you should expect a fairly boring (in a good way) rise through the system.

36. BJ Murray

Like: There have been extended flashes in the early going where he looks more like a true bat with feel to hit and some pop as opposed to just being a dude with tremendous approach.

Dislike: The jump for this type of profile is really rough from Double-A to Triple-A and even tougher from Triple-A to the Majors. The biggest adjustment periods are yet to come for BJ.

37. Bailey Horn

Like: He spins the ball with the best of ‘em both with his slider and curveball all while touching high-90 with the heater from the left side. He’s MLB-ready today.

Dislike: Relief-only profiles are tough to rank because values are limited. But Horn is my top-ranked relief-only prospect in the system so pay more attention to that than the number beside his name.

38. Caleb Kilian

Like: He is finding ways to get outs in Triple-A.

Dislike: He simply doesn’t generate enough whiffs and he won’t find MLB success until he does. We aren’t talking an average number of whiffs that need to increase to average. Kilian needs to go from bottom of the system to somewhere near average and I think the only way that will happen is with a bullpen move where we see a reduction of pitches used and he can find some spin.

39. Jake Slaughter

Like: He does everything enough to profile as a decent bench bat in Chicago. There’s enough pop, speed, defense, and grittiness to stick around in the bigs for quite some time.

Dislike: I think the ideal MLB outcome for Slaughter is something that looks like the career of Jace Peterson. There’s value there, but not enough to send him much higher in this ranking.

40. Ezequiel Pagan

Like: He’s going on two straight years now of being the most consistent hitter in his lineup. There is a terrific feel to hit here which elevates his floor pretty significantly and I think there’s enough athleticism to play some center field and tap into some pop.

Dislike: The profile isn’t all that different from Darius Hill, a guy I don’t have ranked here. He will absolutely need to lean into that athleticism to be more than just a dude who hits his way through the lower minors.

Two notable omissions: Derniche Valdez and Angel Cepeda aren’t included in my rankings because I don’t feel like I have enough knowledge of the players to rank them appropriately. As soon as they come stateside and I get some more information on them, they will likely shoot into my rankings. Look for that to happen this time next year!

Stick around here at NSB for the remainder of our Prospect List Week festivities!