It’s been kind of a muted year for the Cubs’ minor league prospects, but the system stock index appears to be trending upward in a big way over the last 6-8 weeks. The big reason for the improvement in the system has been the rise of several players yet to reach 20 years of age. If you were an investor, you might want to lay some money down on a few of them.
Near the top of that list is 19-year-old outfielder Brennen Davis, who garnered a lot of attention for his play at South Bend after something of a surprise promotion. It’s been two months now and Davis shows no signs of slowing down. He’s hitting .295 with a .371 OBP and has five home runs and 23 RBI in 45 games. In addition to his offense, Davis has displayed good range and a solid arm in both left and center for South Bend.
The fastest riser, however, is one player no one saw coming this year. Third baseman Christopher Morel showed up in South Bend in mid-April as an injury replacement for Fidel Mejia and has forced the Cubs to keep him there. Morel hit .299 in June and was at .405 in July before he went on the IL last Saturday. He annihilated Midwest League pitching over a four-week period, just barreling everything up and hitting it hard.
I was surprised by how much he improved from the gangly kid who seemed overmatched at short-season Eugene last season. It took about a month for things to really click in on a consistent basis for him as he occasionally flashed a rifle arm at third and the ability to barrel the ball up. Once he put it all together, he really took off.
Tyson Miller finally get the bump to Triple-A Iowa after dominating the first half at Double-A Tennessee in a manner we haven’t seen since Kyle Hendricks in 2013 (1.85 ERA in 21 starts). Miller’s first start for the I-Cubs was not good, and that’s probably the nicest thing I can say about it as he only lasted 1.1 innings. His second start, on the other hand, was much much better and it looks like it’s all up from here.
Myrtle Beach features a pair of pitchers have turned it on at the same time, as Paul Richan has morphed into a strikeout machine and Erich Uelmen has only allowed one earned run in July. The key to Uelmen’s success is a sinker that hitters struggle with and an improving slider that he continues to hone.
Even though he’s just 19 years old, righty Kohl Franklin of Eugene looks poised beyond his age. Already blessed with a mid-90’s fastball, he has an amazing amazing change that displays both horizontal and vertical movement. It’s got a nice armside tumble that annihilates right-handed hitters, something you don’t see too often. His curve still need some work, but Franklin is a guy who could move quickly next year.
If you want to invest in one more guy who will probably take off next year, my money would go on second round pick Chase Strumpf. In 10 games at short-season Eugene, he has two home runs, six doubles, an .429 OBP, and a very strong 1.104 OPS. He is displaying great situational hitting approach and I don’t see him slowing down when he gets to South Bend.
There are a lot of other players putting together solid seasons that you might bear a little more research before meriting your investment. Both Riley Thompson and Cam Sanders have taken off at South Bend and I want to see more of them at a higher level. They display almost effortless deliveries with fastballs in the mid-90’s and their secondaries are coming along quickly.
As long as the Cubs don’t trade away any of the guys listed (along with Nico Hoerner), the farm system should be fine. And we haven’t even mentioned Ronnier Quintero and Kevin Made, both of whom are ranked as top 10 international free-agent prospects by FanGraphs. They should both be in Mesa next summer and could start having an impact not long after.
We’ve heard for a while now that the strength of the system, particularly the pitchers, resides in the lower levels. That’s going to change before long as these players move up, so expect to hear a lot more about them over the next few months and years.