With the regular season concluding, we've decided to take a look at each team's future -- not by using a crystal ball or other psychic abilities, but by evaluating their farm systems. Below you'll find our ranking of the top five prospects in the organization -- sorted by perceived future potential -- as well as five other players who fit various categories. Those categories are:
2020 contributor: A player who is likely to play a role for the big-league team next season.
Analyst's pick: A player who is a strong statistical performer and/or whose underlying measures are better than the scouting reports suggest.
Riser: A player on the way up.
Faller: A player on the way down.
One to watch: An interesting player to keep in mind (for whatever reason).
These rankings were compiled after talking with various industry sources about the systems (and players) in question. It should be acknowledged that this process is more art than science, and that there are limits to ordinal rankings. Still, it's an intuitive system, and our hope is that the write-ups will answer any questions by providing additional context and analysis of each player -- such as their pluses and minuses; the risk factors involved; and their estimated arrival date.
One last word on eligibility: we're following MLB's rookie guidelines by disqualifying any player with more than 130 big-league at-bats or 50 innings pitched.
The Cubs lack surefire studs, but that's somewhat to be expected after years of win-now trades and drafting low. Still, there are some players worth watching on the farm.
1. Nico Hoerner, SS
Much of the top of the Cubs system is filled with players who are risk-reward types -- or who have boom-bust profiles. Nico Hoerner, who has already experienced life in the majors, is an exception in a sense, and what he lacks in ceiling he makes up for in immediate availability. There is perhaps more potential downside than realized, however.
Hoerner, Chicago's first-round pick in 2018 by way of Stanford, more than held his own in Double-A this season despite dealing with injury and relative inexperience. Even when he was called up to the majors late in the year -- the rare "break glass in case of emergency" promotion after Javier Baez, Addison Russell, and Dixon Machado all went on the shelf -- he hit .282/.305/.436 in 20 games. Those marks may not be far off from his norm.
Hoerner's hit tool is his best offensive attribute and there's a chance it plays as plus. There's also a chance -- due to an aggressive approach and gap power -- that it underperforms, or that he posts an empty average, in which case his bat might be too light to start everyday. For now, that's to be seen. To Hoerner's credit, he receives high marks for his intelligent and instincts, and that bodes well for him making the necessary adjustments as required.
Provided Baez remains in town as the shortstop, Hoerner ought to be just fine defensively at second base, giving the Cubs one of the savviest double-play combinations in the game.
2. Miguel Amaya, C
While attrition risk is most often cited with young pitchers, young catchers are prone to falling off the map for a variety of reasons, too.
Miguel Amaya, who will turn 21 in spring, had an encouraging season then by hitting .235/.351/.402 with 11 home runs and harvesting a healthy walk rate against older competition. Though his bat is ahead of his mitt, he also threw out 35 percent of perspective base stealers -- a rate that speaks to his above-average arm, and one which decreased his career rate.
Amaya projects as a starting backstop in due time. With Willson Contreras in the fold, the Cubs should be able to give him the proper seasoning he requires to max out his potential.
3. Brennen Davis, OF
Another part of that 2018 draft class, Brennen Davis has the innate athletic qualities of an impact player. He's 6-foot-4 with obvious power potential and both above-average speed and throwing strength that should see him remain in center moving forward. (He's also the son of former NBA player Reggie Theus, for whatever that's worth.)
The question with Davis is how much of his physical ability he'll be able to convert into production. In 2019, the answer was a good amount. He hit .305/.381/.525 with eight home runs and four steals in 50 games at A-ball. (He missed time due to a hand injury.)
Davis will have to prove he's able to hang in there against advanced pitching, and will need to continue to firm up his swing and the underlying aspects of his game -- true of most every 19-year-old -- but he's potentially -- emphasis on "potentially -- the Cubs' next star.
4. Brailyn Marquez, LHP
Brailyn Marquez is a 6-foot-4 southpaw with a fastball that can bump triple digits who'll pitch next season at age 21. Ending the analysis here would justify a high placement, but let's go on.
Marquez's game does feature some question marks -- predictably, perhaps, or otherwise he'd rank No. 1 in the system. He throws from a lower release point than most starters, and he needs to continue to refine his changeup and his breaking ball -- though each shows potential. Marquez topped 100 innings for the first time this season, and that included a 77-inning stretch in A-ball where he walked more than five per nine. He was working on improving his mechanics, so you don't want to punish him for that, but it must be noted as part of the picture.
There are a wide range of outcomes at this point for Marquez, ranging from mid-rotation starter (or better) to shutdown closer. For now, he's the Cubs' most intriguing pitching prospect.
5. Adbert Alzolay, RHP
You can argue Adbert Alzolay should be higher than Marquez on the grounds that he's already reached the Show and has had a few fine outings -- he started his career with a pair of four-inning, one-run appearances before getting dunked on by the Pirates in July -- and that he's sporting at least two high-quality pitches, his fastball and curveball.
The argument for putting Alzolay here boils down to his ceiling appearing to be lower than Marquez's due to various factors, including his durability and the nuance aspects of pitching. He's on the smaller side, listed at 6-foot, and while he has a strong build, he's thrown just 120 innings over the last two seasons combined due to arm trouble. Additionally, Alzolay still needs to improve his command and his changeup -- he threw it 20 percent of the time in the majors and coerced whiffs with, but too often the pitch was non-competitive in locale.
Add it all together and there's a fair chance Alzolay ends up in the bullpen before he hits arbitration. That's okay -- his high-spin, mid-90s fastball and swing-and-miss breaking ball grant him a wide berth, and it's easy to see him pitching in high-leverage spots at full maturation. It just isn't the outcome -- a homegrown mid-rotation starter -- that Cubs fans so desire.
2020 contributor: Robel García, UTL
Robel Garcia has a lovely story that includes playing in Italy for several seasons. He resurfaced with the Cubs organization this year, and did enough to earn a 31-game cameo in the majors, where he homered five times (giving him 32 overall). Garcia is a switch-hitter who can play all over, and -- well, this sounds like a useful bench bat, but there is a catch. Garcia is highly prone to swinging and missing and striking out, to the extent that he whiffed on 45 percent of his big-league swings -- including more than 60 percent of his swings taken on non-fastballs. Until he proves that he isn't as exploitable as he appears, he's going to carry a high risk factor.
Analyst's pick: Trent Giambrone, INF
Trent Giambrone is listed at just 5-foot-8 and he's probably too pull-heavy, leading to a 27 percent strikeout rate this season in Triple-A. Yet he did set a new career-high with 23 home runs and he saw time at every position except catcher, center fielder, and pitcher. He'll probably get into a big-league game or two in 2020, and there's a chance he latches on as bench filler.
Riser: Riley Thompson, RHP
The 338rd pick in the 2018 draft, Riley Thompson is a well-built right-hander who improved his stock with a quality first full professional season. He fanned nearly a batter per inning while holding the opposition to a .237 average against in A-ball. Thompson has a pair of quality pitches in his fastball and power breaking ball. He also has a history of injury woes that could derailed his career, or at least cause him to end up in the bullpen, within any given year.
Faller: Brendon Little, LHP
The Cubs selected Brendon Little a pick ahead of Nate Pearson in the 2017 draft. Unfortunately, while Pearson has developed into a top pitching prospect, Little has stagnated. In his second full professional season, he was limited by injuries and inconsistency. He's attempted to tweak and broaden his arsenal, and he could still pitch in the majors down the road. But his subpar command suggests that, barring some major gains, he's going to do so as a reliever.
One to watch: Aramis Ademan, SS
Shortstop prospect Aramis Ademan repeated the Carolina League and improved upon his first spin there -- raising his OPS from .563 to .652. Ademan, who turned 21 in September, is still young for his level, and was nearly three years the junior of his average opponent, per Baseball-Reference. He doesn't have loud tools, but he does have a keen eye and enough else going for him to think someday he's going to play in the majors -- whether it's as a regular or as a reserve is to be determined.