SportZreport.com Top-25 Pitching Prospects List: 14 to 1

PREVIOUS: End of season SportZreport.com Top 25 Pitching Prospects List: Introduction and 25 to 15

CHICAGO, IL.– Just the other day, we released the first segment of the SportZreport.com end of season Top-25 Cubs Pitching Prospects ranked #25 through #15. Today, you will finish reading the entire rankings list with #14 to #1 revealed.

We thought it would be easier for you to read in two segments since they are extra-long articles. The rankings are based on my system of sorting through different stat categories and finding what names popup near the top each time. You could disagree with some of the players but the end goal is for the Cubs to win. These are the guys best suited to help the Cubs win.

14: RHP James Pugliese

Age: 25

Level: Tennessee

Acquired: Drafted by Cubs in 18th round of 2011 MLB June Amateur Draft

Key Stat: 7-2 record with 1.84 ERA

Pugliese’s best pitch is his fastball that is in the low-90s with lots of tailing movement. Pugliese also has a very good changeup in the low-80s that he uses a lot. Both pitch types led him to shutting out opponents in his final five appearances of 2017. Pugliese is just another one of those good relievers the Cubs keep finding. He probably has the best chances of making the pros next year because of his age and development. Pugliese is in the top-three for all relief pitchers in the Cubs farm system.

13: RHP Emilio Ferrebus

Age: 19

Level: Arizona

Acquired: Signed international contract with Cubs in 2015

Key Stat: Very young pitcher who is already dominating with good number of wins and great ERA

You haven’t heard of Ferrebus yet but you will hear his name a lot more when he is with South Bend. He has great velocity with a fastball that can reach the low-90s already as a teenager. Ferrebus has good secondary pitches, including a mid-70s curveball and low-80s changeup. He showed a lot of growth, earning a promotion from the Dominican Summer League to the Arizona Rookie League. His numbers are good at 7-4 with a 2.21 ERA. I would expect Ferrebus to start the 2017 season with Eugene once the short season starts. He should then easily be promoted to Single-A South Bend by the end of next season. Ferrebus’s future is very unknown at this point if he could ever reach the majors. I do like the fact that he already has a great fastball and good secondary pitches only at the age of 19. There is plenty room for growth in Ferrebus’s future.

12: LHP Justin Steele

Age: 22

Level: Myrtle Beach

Acquired: Drafted by Cubs in 5th round of 2014 Draft

Key Stat: Great ERA

Steele is a solid guy that you can use at the back of your rotation. He can win a decent number of games and has a solid ERA. Steele’s best pitch is his fastball which tops out in the mid-90s that creates groundouts because of its sink and run. He is gaining more consistency with his curveball that has good depth and misses’ bats when at its best. Steele’s third pitch is his fading changeup that comes in useful at times. Like I said before Steele is best suited as a No. 3 or No. 4 in a major league rotation.

11: LHP Manuel Rondon

Age: 22

Level: South Bend

Acquired: Cubs traded with Angels in July 2015

Key Stat: Leads all pitchers in farm system for wins

Rondon is only the third lefty to make our list but he is most deserving to be in segment two. He showed a ton of growth in 2017 after winning the NWL Pitcher of the Year award with Eugene. Rondon always seemed to have the confidence to go out there on the mound and win. That’s largely why he led the Cubs farm system in wins. Rondon features a mid to high-90s fastball with good sink. This led him to finish fifth in the minor league system in strikeouts. Rondon attacks the zone and is doing a great job of executing each pitch he makes. I could see Rondon moving to the bullpen soon but for now, he will stick it out as a starter.

10: RHP Michael Rucker

Age: 23

Level: Myrtle Beach

Acquired: Drafted in 11th round by Cubs in 2016

Key Stat: 2.38 ERA

Rucker in his second season since being drafted in 2016 showed tons of improvement and growth to his game. He started 2017 in Single-A South Bend, but after a month was promoted to Myrtle Beach. From there, Rucker completely dominated once having three shutout games in a row. His best pitch is his fastball which has great command reaching the mid-90s and tops out at 96 MPH. Rucker has an improving curveball which has offerings as a great secondary pitch. His changeup is the only pitch that lacks but he has found success against lefties. The ceiling is sky high for Rucker as he is rising fast. I could see him end up in Iowa by the end of next season and reach the Cubs by ‘19.

9: RHP Tom Hatch

Age: 22

Level: Myrtle Beach

Acquired: Drafted in 3rd round by Cubs in 2016

Key Stat: Leads entire farm system in strikeouts

Hatch is a developing young pitcher fresh out of college. He immediately got a jump start to his career starting in Myrtle Beach. The amount of skill Hatch showed was incredible, leading the farm system in strikeouts (126). Hatch features a low-90s fastball than can reach 96 MPH at times, which creates lots of groundouts with its run and sink. He also features a slider in the low-80s that he can locate on either side of the plate. The potential for Hatch is incredible but the only reason he is #10 on this list is his record and ERA of 5-11, 4.04. If he can get his record up to about 8-8 with an ERA in the mid-threes, Hatch is in great shape.

8: RHP Dakota Mekkes

Age: 22

Level: Myrtle Beach

Acquired: Drafted in 10th round by Cubs in 2016

Key Stat: Best ERA and win-loss record among all relievers in farm system

We have reached the top reliever on our list which means the next 8 are all starters. Mekkes is the best relief pitcher on our list because of his height which creates amazing velocity. That velocity gets a lot of guys out. That’s why he has the best ERA among relievers at 0.98 on the year. Mekkes also has racked up quite a few wins, going 8-2 which also leads the system. He has a phenomenal fastball that reaches the low-90s but it has something no other pitcher has. Mekkes delivery has a rare deception with how it hits the plate. To batters, it makes his fastball look like 97-99 MPH instead of the low-90s. He is one of the few relievers in the system that pitches almost two innings or more in every appearance. Mekkes is blowing people’s opinion out of proportion and should reach the majors in early 2018. The Cubs have unearthed a gem here in Mekkes.

7: RHP Oscar De La Cruz

Age: 22

Level: Myrtle Beach

Acquired: Signed international free agent deal with Cubs in 2013

Key Stat: Physical pitcher with incredible fastball

De La Cruz probably has some of the best talent here in our pitcher rankings. The only thing holding him back is injuries. When he is fully healthy, De La Cruz features a fastball in the mid-90s that can reach 97 MPH at times. When he throws his fastball, it has great life with a good angle that he creates with his big frame. De La Cruz has a solid curveball that features both power and depth. He is also developing a third pitch which is his changeup. That also has life like his fastball and has the ability to maintain his arm speed when he throws it. The future is hard to tell if he bounces back well from injuries or not. If De La Cruz does, he is going to cut the Top 3 in next year’s rankings.

6: LHP Jose Paulino

Age: 22

Level: South Bend

Acquired: Signed by Cubs as non-drafted free agent in March 2009

Key Stat: Great consistency in terms of a starter

This is where the rankings become more in-depth and much longer since the prospects are super exciting to watch. Paulino is the best pitcher you can have in terms of consistency. In an article we featured about Paulino and his dominating consistency we highlighted how good he is at stringing quality starts in a row. Even when he has a very rare bad start, he bounces right back and produces two or more quality starts right after. Paulino unfortunately didn’t have the chance to show his bounce back skills after an unfortunate start to end the season. His biggest takeaway from the season was all kinds of progress he made to improve his skills. Paulino finished 7-6 with a 4.51 ERA in 27 games including 22 starts. His stats from his last ten before his unfortunate start were incredible. He was at 5-2 with a 2.81 ERA on August 27th for his last ten. I believe his ERA was even lower than that after his second to last start. Anyway, Paulino had a very successful year and should reach Myrtle Beach by May 2018.

Paulino’s best pitch is his fastball that operates in the low-90s and can reach as high as 96 MPH. It’s most notable for its groundout-inducing sink which is unique for lefties. Paulino is still working on his secondary pitches which both look like they have incredible potential. His slider is very good that can complement his third pitch which is his sinker. Paulino has a changeup with the makings of an average offering. If he already has 4 different pitch types with one really good and two developing, the future looks bright. Paulino sliced his walk rate from 3.0 per nine innings in his first four pro seasons to 1.6 last year. He did a better job of challenging hitters and understanding how to sequence his pitches. Paulino should be durable enough to remain a starter moving forward. I can easily see Tennessee by the end of 2018 and Iowa for the start of ’19. This lines up perfectly for the MLB.com ETA of making the majors in 2019. Paulino would be 24 in ’19 and should have three good pitches developed with an average changeup as well. The ceiling is sky-high.

5: LHP Bryan Hudson

Age: 20

Level: South Bend

Acquired: Selected by Cubs in 3rd round of 2015 Draft

Key Stat: Great velocity on his pitches

Hudson is one of the pitchers in the farm system you want on your team. He is a towering force on the mound at 6′ 8″ which creates great velocity on his pitches. In Hudson’s last time out, he completely dominated over 7 2/3 innings. He gave up only three hits and one unearned run while fanning 4 batters. For the season, Hudson was very impressive going 9-3 with a 3.91 ERA. If you take it a step further, in his last ten starts to finish the season he went 7-0 with a 3.54 ERA. He also ranked near the top of the system in strikeouts on the season (81). All this ranks as the top lefty in the organization. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Hudson start next year in Myrtle Beach or at least get up there by May.

Hudson has a well above average fastball and curveball. His fastball can already reach 94 MPH with sink. His curveball can be a hammer in the upper-70s. Hudson is still working on his changeup which would be his third pitch type. He improved his ERA and WHIP significantly in 2017 compared to ’16. Hudson looked much more polished once he finally turned twenty. The ceiling is sky-high with plenty of room to grow into an even better pitcher. Tennessee is a realistic option for the end of 2018 and he could be part of the September Cubs call-ups in 2019. The future is very bright for Hudson.

4: RHP Jen-Ho Tseng

Age: 22

Level: Iowa

Acquired: Signed by Cubs as non-drafted free agent in July 2013

Key Stat: Major improvement to his game

Tseng came out of nowhere in 2017 and finished the season dominating in Iowa. He won the Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Month and has flourished ever since. Tseng went 7-3 with a 2.99 ERA in 15 starts for Tennessee. They moved him up to Iowa in early July and he completely dominated. Tseng went 6-1 with a 1.80 ERA in 9 starts for Iowa. His WHIP stayed the exact same but improved his GO/AO per game significantly. The bar wasn’t set too high for Tseng after a 6-8 season with a 4.29 ERA in ‘16. The progress he made in 2017 improved his stock moving forward.

Tseng features a fastball that can reach the mid-90s. He also has a solid knuckle-curveball, sinker, changeup, and cutter. Tseng is the first pitcher on the list with 4 pitch types. Most of these guys have 2-3 but this is what makes Tseng unique. He has already played against higher level talent, pitching for Taiwan in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. The fact that he is dominating with 4 pitch types at the age of 22 is incredible. I see Tseng playing for the Cubs next season out of the bullpen, then moving back to a starter eventually.

3: RHP Jose Albertos

Age: 18

Level: Eugene

Acquired: Signed by Cubs as free agent to minor-league contract in July 2015

Key Stat: Exceedingly quick arm

Albertos is the youngest pitcher to make this list and it’s for a good reason. He is only 18 years old but he can already throw a fastball 97 MPH which is incredible. Albertos can even locate that 97 miles per hour fastball on either side of the plate. Once again, only being 18 is INCREDIBLE! Albertos changeup is a nice addition to his game. He also has a very good slurvy breaking ball. The future for Albertos is nearly impossible to predict but he is the best raw talent in the system. On the season, he went 2-1 with a 2.86 ERA in 8 games for Eugene. The ceiling is sky-high but so is the risk. If Albertos develops fully, he is the next big thing.

2: RHP Duncan Robinson

Age: 23

Level: Myrtle Beach

Acquired: Drafted by Cubs in 9th round in 2016 MLB Draft

Key Stat: Best ERA in entire farm system for starters with 20+ games

Robinson is the fastest growing pitcher for the Cubs and isn’t going to slow down. In one short year, he has grown tremendously into the most developed pitcher in the organization. Robinson draws likes to current Chicago Cubs Pitcher Kyle Hendricks. They both happened to attend the same college (Dartmouth) and look to have the same pitching traits. This likely happened because both Robinson and Hendricks might have had the same coaches as they were only separated by a few years. On the season, Robinson went 9-9 which is all right but with the best ERA in the system 2.21. He appeared in 25 games but only started 20 of those. Robinson also boasted the best WHIP (1.09) among starters with 20+ appearances. This was an all-around incredible year for Duncan starting in South Bend, and moving up to Myrtle Beach after 3 months.

Robinson features an upper-80s fastball that tops out at 89 MPH. He can put his fastball anywhere he wants it with great curve. Robinson’s curveball has a great break that makes some hitters look foolish. The curve is in the upper-70s range with a high of 81 MPH. Robinson also features a cut fastball that has some good movement. The cutter was coming in about the same speed as his fastball, topping out at 88 MPH. Robinson also is working on a changeup which would be his fourth pitch type. That’s incredible for a second-year guy. The potential here for Robinson is HUGE. I absolutely wouldn’t be surprised if he was in Iowa by the end of 2018. I really think he has the potential to be the next “Professor” on the Cubs starting in ’19. It should be fun to watch his journey to the big leagues.

1: RHP Adbert Alzolay

Age: 22

Level: Tennessee

Acquired: Signed as free agent to minor-league contract in March 2013

Key Stat: Very developed young pitcher with solid numbers

We made it. Our number #1 ranked end of season SportZreport.com Cubs Pitching Prospect is Adbert Alzolay. If you haven’t heard of him yet, he is the next pitcher to obsess over. Alzolay had a great season in 2016 going 9-4 with a 4.34 ERA but he knew he could be even better. In 2017, Alzolay went 7-4 with a 2.99 ERA. He possesses a solid 1.10 WHIP and strikes out a lot of guys (108). Even before last season, he went 6-2 with a 2.04 ERA in Eugene. We knew he was going to be a great prospect putting up those kinds of numbers, but he really turned things on this year. In every single game, out of his last ten appearances, he gave up no more than three earned runs. How is that for consistency? If you take it a step further, he gave up two earned runs or less 7 times. Pretty incredible for a guy who is only 22. Alzolay has been in the Cubs minor leagues since 2013 but really broke out in ’15 for Eugene. ’16 was all right in South Bend, and ’17 was his best year yet.

Alzolay has gotten stronger and is doing a great job using his lower half in his delivery, which has resulted in improved velocity. He is currently operating with a mid-90s fastball that can reach 97 MPH on occasion. Alzolay gets running action on his heater, which makes it difficult for hitters to barrel. His hard curveball shows great potential for an above-average offering. Alzolay is also making strides with his changeup, but it needs minor work. He would be the perfect fit for a number #2 or #3 on any major league team. The ceiling is at its highest for Alzolay after 3 seasons of great numbers including 2 of dominance. I for sure see Alzolay in Chicago pitching by early 2019. If things go right like they should next year, he will be a September call-up. That is how good he is.

Well, this concludes the SportZreport.com End of season Top-25 Pitching Prospect Rankings. Watch for another segment but for position prospects.

FULL LIST:

  1. Matt Carasiti
  2. Kyle Miller
  3. Tyson Miller
  4. Zach Hedges
  5. Luis Aquino
  6. Wyatt Short
  7. Jhon Romero
  8. Jake Stinnett
  9. Duane Underwood
  10. Pedro Araujo
  11. Brendon Little
  12. James Pugliese
  13. Emilio Ferrebus
  14. Manuel Rondon
  15. Michael Rucker
  16. Tom Hatch
  17. Dakota Mekkes
  18. Oscar De La Cruz
  19. Jose Paulino
  20. Justin Steele
  21. Bryan Hudson
  22. Jen-Ho Tseng
  23. Jose Albertos
  24. Duncan Robinson
  25. Adbert Alzolay
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