The last time we talked about investing in prospects, Brennen Davis, Chris Morel, and Kohl Franklin led the list of hot tips. One guy we didn’t really see coming was Nelson Maldonado, a 21st round pick out of Florida who outperformed everyone by hitting over .400 at Eugene. He will be at Myrtle Beach to begin 2020 and should be worthy of your investment.
Most players tend to break out in one of three places: Eugene, South Bend, or Myrtle Beach. At these levels, a prospect begins to face advanced competition while adapting to the grind of a 140-game MiLB season. Since Eugene is a short-season affiliate and gets started later, we’ll focus our attention on the other two for the time being.
In addition to Maldonado, I have put together a brief list of six more prospects for you to keep a close eye on as the new season gets started. In order to diversify your portfolio, the mix includes draft picks, international kids, and some more seasoned players who’ve been doing a slow burn to this point.
Cam Sanders throws in the mid 90’s now and he is really developing while also producing at this level, which is a great thing see. He had a 2.94 ERA for the season, but really figured out the curve and put up a 2.36 ERA with a paltry .161 batting average allowed in the second half. It is rumored that he is going to be working on adding a slider this offseason.
Riley Thompson was the opposite of Sanders in some ways. He had 2.50 first half ERA, then struggled a bit in the second half with a 3.83 mark. When push came to shove in the playoffs, however, Thompson was the man. In the championship clinching game, he struck out 10 men in five innings and did not allow a hit. Talk about flashing for the future.
Cole Roederer has potential when you look beyond the .224 batting average. His first full season as a pro was a grind both physically and mentally as he was pressed into more action than expected due to injuries to teammates. He lost some weight and had a slump, but rebounded to hit .256 in August. He was the most patient hitter on the squad during the playoff, showing extreme poise in stressful situations to generate a .429 OBP.
The swing is still beautiful, the work ethic is there, and the positive attitude is most definitely evident. Roederer needs to use this winter to add some muscle and work on going the other way, but he’s just 20 years old and he will be fine in time.
Michael McAvene is my guy. He’s the one I would invest in most for next summer because he’s just a bulldog out there on the mound. After drafting him in the third round in 2019, the Cubs moved McAvene back to the rotation after having served as Louisville’s closer during his final college season. He only threw 12.2 innings for Eugene, but struck out 20 with an ERA of 1.42 and a measly .119 batting average against. He will likely skip South Bend and head straight to Myrtle Beach, after which he could matriculate pretty quickly through the system with his upper 90’s heat.
Chase Strumpf was the Cubs’ second round pick in June and should begin 2019 at South Bend. After signing last summer, he hit .292 with a .405 OBP in 26 games at Eugene. That was good enough to be named a Northwest League All-Star and earn a promotion to South Bend in August, though he only saw action in six games there after tweaking his back. Strumpf looked extremely polished as a hitter, like Nico Hoerner but with a bit more pop, and was outstanding as a situational hitter. He’s another who could move quickly.
Richard Gallardo was signed last year as an international free agent and was the highest ranked pitcher in the class. He will only be 18 when 2020 begins and is obviously still growing in many ways, but he was outstanding as a 17-year-old touching mid-90’s with a 1.50 ERA in four starts at Mesa. I expect him to stick around for extended spring training, after which he could end up in South Bend in mid-to-late May. That’s the conservative route. If the Cubs go aggressive, Gallardo might be freezing in the Northern Indiana spring right out of the gate.
With administrative and philosophical changes coming to the system, next year could be a transformative one when it comes to prospect development and performance. The seven players listed here are already off to a good start, with many more names sure to join them.