If we were to apply for a trademark on a defining characteristic of this historically successful Cubs team, it’d be their ability to develop top position-player draft picks. Javy Baez, Albert Almora Jr., Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, and Ian Happ are all contributing to the big league roster in a big way, a far cry from the days of empty prospect promises.
On the flip side of that coin, however, is the organization’s lack of success in developing pitchers. That has led in turn to a willingness to deal from redundant position-player prospect depth in order to acquire top-flight pitching. They moved Gleyber Torres, among others, for Aroldis Chapman and have seen their former charge become an AL All-Star. Then they traded Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease — currently the Nos. 2 and 40 prospects on MLB.com’s top 100 list — for Jose Quintana.
And we can’t forget about the deal that sent Jeimer Candelario and Isaac Paredes to Detroit in exchange for Justin Wilson and the guy who drove Javy in on that beautiful walk-off slide against the Blue Jays last season. Yes, I know his name is Alex Avila. Anyway, Candelario is the Tigers’ starting third baseman and Paredes is their No. 8 prospect.
Point being, the Cubs have moved five of the best players in their system over the previous two seasons in order to improve a roster that’s already pretty darn good. They’ll have to deplete the system again this year if they want to pull off one of the moves Theo Epstein said they were in a more difficult position to make this season. But there’s one top prospect who might be untouchable even when others before him have not been.
Signed as a 16-year-old out of Panama in July of 2015, Miguel Amaya just turned 19 in March and is putting up an .804 OPS in his first full season of pro ball with the South Bend Cubs. He’s only the No. 10 prospect* in the Cubs’ system according to MLB.com, but he represented the organization and started at catcher for the World team in the 2018 Futures Game. Amaya was one of only five low-A players among the 50 total prospects in that showcase and he’s got the kind of skill set behind the plate that makes him far more valuable than his ranking indicates.
Though he doesn’t have the same singular, jarring talent displayed by the likes of Jimenez or Torres, Amaya’s got the kind of preternatural maturity the Cubs aren’t willing to part with (subscription required) just yet. Not for a short-term asset like Zach Britton, JA Happ, or Nathan Eovaldi, anyway. Now if the Mets dangled Jacob deGrom…
Since that appears highly unlikely at this point, you don’t have to worry about Amaya becoming another one of the players whose production you lament as he becomes a star in another organization. At least not this year. Barring a blockbuster, the Cubs want to see what they’ve got in Amaya, who can play a little first base in addition to catching. It’ll be a while before he’s ready for the biggest stage, but he offers the kind of impact potential that’s hard to part with.
*Baseball America’s new rankings (subscription required) actually have Amaya ranked as the Cubs’ top prospect (No. 100 overall), but I didn’t have those rankings available at the time I wrote this. What’s more, I have generally avoided linking to them ever since BA’s Ben Badler followed me on Twitter in order to request that I remove a link to their paid content (which you can only access if you’re a subscriber), then unfollowed. Sour grapes? You betcha, but in addition to it being kinda bush league, I figured that they don’t need my help to promote their product.