Chicago Cubs 2021 Top 50 Prospects

Graphic design by John Stewart, @jonance on Twitter

Nine years ago, Theo Epstein came to Chicago to a farm system that most critics said was barren of talent. History has shown us different, but that is analysis for another time. As Epstein leaves the reigns to Jed Hoyer, the minor league system can be considered in the same condition that he found it.

Beyond the top four draft choices of Albert Almora, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, and Ian Happ, along with a few failed second and third round selections, the Epstein Cubs showed little interest in their minor league system. Minor league players were no more than trade fodder, and player development was spotty.

Make no mistake, the Cubs do have some talent. However, much of that can be considered underdeveloped. Last year’s health crisis did nothing to improve that, but the Cubs also didn’t help themselves. The front office has become increasingly wary of having prospects train in off-season leagues, and has pulled the team out of the competitive Fall Instructional League.

Whether Hoyer can come out of Epstein’s shadow and create his own legacy is something that remains to be seen.


Prospects1500 Tiers:
Tier 1: Players with high expectations of both making the majors and playing at an All-Star level for a number of years
Tier 2: Players with an above average expectation of making the majors and being a solid contributor
Tier 3: Players with an average expectation of making the majors and being a solid contributor
Tier 4: Players who have the potential of making the majors, or have high likelihood of making the majors but providing minimal impact (e.g. middle reliever, low-ceiling UT guys)
Tier 5: Players who are worth keeping an eye on, but likely to never make a team’s 40-man roster

Tier 1:

At this time, the Cubs do not have a prospect that can be considered for this level. This takes into account the current state of the Cubs’ minor league system. It is also based on the lack of competitive development last season due to COVID-19 protocols, and the Cubs unwillingness to allow top prospects to develop in the winter leagues. The Cubs do have some players with Tier 1 potential, but they do not rate that way presently.

Tier 2:

1. Brailyn Marquez, LHP (2020 rank #2)

Brailyn Marquez by Rikk Carlson

Opening Day Age:22
Highest Level: MLB

If there was one Cubs prospect that suffered in their development due to the health crisis, it would be Marquez. Coming off a breakout performance in 2019, the 21-year old didn’t seem to make much progress in what could best be described as glorified scrimmages. The Cubs bowed to external pressure in September when their playoff fate had been decided and gave Marquez a brief appearance. While his fastball, which can touch triple digits, looked like it belonged, Marquez’s slider and change showed they need more refinement. Perhaps the return to competitive development can hasten his improvement.

2. Brennen Davis, OF (2020 rank #3)

Brennen Davis by Rikk Carlson

Opening Day Age:21
Highest Level: A

Following a season of normal development, we most likely would be looking at Davis opening at Double-A Tennessee with an eye toward the majors. But without that year of seasoning, it’s hard to tell where Davis will be to start 2021. While Davis showed  the ability to both make contact and hit for power, his strikeout and walk rates still need to improve. Finding a home in field will also be on the menu. Davis split time between left and center field. Most reports say Davis has the speed for center and the arm for right field.

3. Ed Howard, SS (2020 rank N/R)
Opening Day Age: 19
Highest Level: High School

The Cubs’ affinity for shortstops is well documented. So when the chance came to grab the big, athletic Howard in the first round of the 2020 Draft, the Cubs took it. The fact the Howard is a local product from Lynnwood, IL was a bonus. Already physically mature at 6’2″, 215-pounds, Howard is still considered to be fluid enough to stick at short defensively. The right-hander has the quick hands of a power hitter, and is rated a plus base-runner. How much work his swing needs will determine how quickly he can advance.

4. Miguel Amaya, C (2020 rank #5)

Miguel Amaya by Stephanie Lynn

Opening Day Age: 22
Highest Level: A+

Since his debut in the Cubs’ system in 2016, Amaya has hovered near the top of the prospect lists. Saying this season is make-or-break for him may be a bit over-dramatic. But Amaya will still have a lot to prove. Always considered a top-flight defender, Amaya has also shown above average power. What is a concern is his ability to hit. In a brief stint in Puerto Rico this winter, Amaya put up a 1.161 OPS. Whether this is a turning point or Amaya is a Martin Maldonado-type player remains to be seen.

5. Adbert Alzolay, RHP (2020 rank #4)

Adbert Alzolay – Photo credit Rikk Carlson, @rikkcarl10 on Twitter

Opening Day Age: 26
Highest Level: MLB

Out of all the Cubs prospects, Alzolay has the opportunity to make the biggest splash in 2021. With three pitchers gone from last season’s rotation, and only one received in return, Alzolay is the frontrunner to land one of two open spots. In 6 appearances (4 starts), Alzolay posted a 2.95 ERA with a 1.172 WHIP and 29 strikeouts in 21.1 innings. With a fastball in the upper 90’s along with a slider, curve and change, Alzolay has the arsenal of a starter. Whether he is better suited for that role or as a closer is up in the air.

6. Cole Roederer, OF (2020 rank #7)

Cole Roederer – Photo credit Rikk Carlson. @rikkcarl10 on Twitter

Opening Day Age: 21
Highest Level: A

Like fellow 2018 draftee Davis, last year’s health crisis did Roederer no favors. The lefty showed some good pop in 2019, hitting 9 homers in 108 games. However, Roederer had too much swing-and-miss in his approach. There are also stories that Roederer didn’t see eye to eye with his batting coaches. If he can get those issues ironed out, he makes a good combination with Davis. While Roederer has good speed and instincts in centerfield, a lack of arm strength may push him to left.

7. Cristian Hernandez, SS (2020 rank N/R)
Opening Day Age:17
Highest Level: International Free Agent Signing

The newest entry in the Cubs top prospect list, the signing of Hernandez is the culmination of a 16 month romance by the Cubs’ front office. At 6’2″, 175, Hernandez has room to grow, but already shows exceptional power and arm strength. Scouts have compared him to Alex Rodriguez and Manny Machado, but that remains to be seen. One thing that has impressed is that Hernandez is said to be a student of the game with a high baseball IQ.

8. Ryan Jensen, RHP (2020 rank #6)
Opening Day Age: 23
Highest Level: A-

The plans to fast-track a few of the 2019 draftees got scuttled last season, and Jensen was one of the players to suffer from that predicament. With and upper-90’s fastball, slider, and questionable change-up, the plan was to get Jensen some innings as a starter, and then transition him to the back of the pen. Where those plans are with little professional experience are unknown at this time.

9. Kohl Franklin, RHP (2020 rank #8)

Kohl Franklin by Dustin Smith

Opening Day Age: 21
Highest Level: A

At least time is on side of Franklin, as the COVID break of 2020 may not have affected his development. At only 20-years-old in 2019, Franklin made it up to Low-A ball. That measure of success, along with his youth and lack of wear-and-tear on his arm may be a good combination going forward. Franklin had a mid-to-upper 90’s fastball and a solid change, but needed work on a breaking pitch. All the elements are there for a rapid rise.

Tier 3

10. Chase Strumpf, 2B (2020 rank #12)

Chase Strumpf. Photo credit Stephanie Lynn, @SRL590 on Twitter.

Opening Day Age: 23
Highest level: A

Along with Jensen, Strumpf was supposed to progress rapidly through the system in 2020. Since that didn’t happen, there is no telling what 2021 has in store. There was never any question about Strumpf’s power, as he has been reported hitting moonshots in the Fall Instructs. Where Strumpf would play in the field remains a concern. Considered only average at second base, Strumpf lacks the athleticism for either third base or the outfield. A move to first may be in the cards, but that could be a longer road to the majors.

11. Christopher Morel, 3B (2020 rank #10)

Christopher Morel by Rikk Carlson

Opening Day Age: 21
Highest Level: A

The biggest question concerning the future of Morel at this time is whether he will remain at third base. Although Morel is considered a plus defender at the position, the Cubs have invested in a bevy of young, big shortstops that might outgrow the position. Morel is a fast-twitch athlete that could easily move to the outfield if need arise. At the plate, Morel is a little pull-happy, but has the potential to hit for both average and power with refinement.

12. Reginald Preciado, SS (2020 rank #18, Padres)
Opening Day Age: 17
Highest Level; International Free Agent Signing

One of the four prospects acquired in the deal with San Diego, Preciado compares well to the above mentioned shortstop prospects Howard and Hernandez. Preciado doesn’t project for the same power as those two, but being a switch-hitter moves him close to their class. As in Howard and Hernandez, he has the ability to stick defensively at short, with the athleticism to move to other positions. However, Preciado may need more time to develop than his counterparts.

13. Cory Abbott, RHP (2020 rank #16)

Cory Abbott by Stephanie Lynn

Opening Day Age: 25
Highest Level: AA

A consistent, big-bodied right-hander, Abbott has the type of profile that screams innings-eater. In 2019, Abbott led all Cubs prospects with 146.2 innings pitched. Abbot features two fastballs, a cut and a four-seam, that he can throw for strikes along with a slider and change. He will compete for the backend in the Cubs’ rotation in spring, with being a call away at Triple-A Iowa if not successful.

14. Burl Carraway, LHP (2020 rank N/R)
Opening Day Age: 21
Highest Level: College

The Cubs’ second round selection in 2020, there were some that felt Carraway could possibly make it to the majors toward the end of the season. That didn’t happen, but the potential is there for this coming season. Carraway is like a left-handed Ryan Jensen in that he is slightly undersized, has an upper-90’s fastball, a max-effort delivery, and in need of work on his mechanics. If Carraway can make the adjustments, hard-throwing lefties are hard to keep out of the majors.

15. Owen Caissie, OF (2020 rank N/R)
Opening Day Age: 18
Highest Level: High School

Another component in the Darvish/Caratini deal with the Padres, Caissie is another player to potentially provide the Cubs with something they crave: left-handed power hitting. A Canadian Junior National Team member, Caissie displayed raw power from the left side, with the ability to drive the ball to all field. Caissie has a strong arm, but at 6’4″, 190, may even outgrow the outfield and switch to first base.

16. Riley Thompson, RHP (2020 rank #11)

Riley Thompson by Rebecca Snyder

Opening Day Age: 24
Highest Level: A

Coming into 2020, Thompson was on the upswing in his development. His performance in the Midwest League championship was a culmination of positive growth throughout the season. Now with a year off, who knows how that will affect his progress? Thompson has a strong, 6’3″, 205-pound frame and throws mid-90’s fastball, curve, and change-up.

17. Michael McAvene, RHP (2020 rank #14)
Opening Day Age: 23
Highest Level: A-

One of several 2019 draftees that was expected to progress rapidly through the system, this former third-rounder faces an uncertain future. The Cubs’ previous policy of not trying to push their recently drafted pitchers may come back to bite McAvene. Considering his age, the Cubs may scrap trying to develop his change-up and put the 6’3″, 210-pounder in the bullpen. If allowed to rely on his upper-90’s four-seam fastball and power slider, McAvene may make up ground rapidly.

18. Ethan Hearn, C (2020 rank #15)
Opening Day Age: 20
Highest Level: Rookie

The thought when the Cubs drafted prep catcher Hearn in the sixth round in 2019 is that he would be ready to open as a starting catcher at the Low-A  this season. The pandemic most likely will have the Cubs rethinking that and holding Hearn back in Arizona to start this season. Hearn had a lot of raw tools when he signed, so just how far he was able to polish them will be in question. When last seen, Hearn showed left-handed power potential and a strong throwing arm.

19. Richard Gallardo, RHP (2020 rank #17)

Richard Gallardo by Dustin Smith

Opening Day Age: 19
Highest Level: A-

After making a splash in Short Season-A ball in 2019, there was a lot of talk about Gallardo jumping to A+ in 2020. Last year may have quieted some of that talk, which could be to Gallardo’s benefit.  At only 19-years-old, Gallardo may not have to deal the hype that has affected so many young prospects in the past. Gallardo has a low-to-mid 90’s fastball and a curve which he commands well. His velocity is expected to increase once he get bigger and stronger.

20. Jack Patterson, LHP (2020 rank #9)

Jack Patterson by Stephanie Lynn

Opening Day Age: 25
Highest Level: AA

If 2020 could be considered a momentum killer for any prospect, it would be most for Patterson. In 2019, Patterson came out of nowhere with impeccable control and command rocketing him through the system. In something unusual for pitching prospects, Patterson uses his exceptional feel for his curve and slider to offset his low-90’s fastball. Whether Patterson can maintain his 2019 level remains to be seen. Patterson could battle for a back of the rotation spot in the majors this spring.

Tier 4

21. Ronnier Quintero, C (2020 rank #20)
Opening Day Age: 18
Highest Level: International Free Agent Signing

Another young prospect that will have a lot of catching up to do this season, Quintero will have to show he maintain his conditioning over the layoff. A left handed hitter with power potential, Quintero could be part of a particularly strong group of catching prospects.

22. Ismael Mena, OF (2020 rank #19, Padres)
Opening Day Age: 18
Highest Level: International Free Agent Signing

Another part of the San Diego Padres deal, Mena adds to the Cubs’ collection of young, raw left-handed hitters with power potential. Scouts also love his plus-plus speed and above average defense in the outfield.

23. Yeison Santana, SS (2020 rank N/R)
Opening Day Age: 20
Highest Level: Rookie

The final piece in the deal that sent Darvish and Caratini west, Santana appears to be more of a defensive prospect. Some feel that Santana’s defense may be close to big-league ready. While Santana has shown he can be selective and make solid contact at the plate, how he maintains that ability as he advances will be the key to his success.

24. Yohendrick Pinango, OF (2020 rank #23)
Opening Day Age: 18
Highest Level: Dominican Summer League

Although early success doesn’t always translate into future promise, Pinango showed a great pitch selection and feel for the strike zone in his first professional season. Teamed with well above average speed, Pinango is an intriguing prospect going forward.

25. Andy Weber, SS (2020 rank #24)

Andy Weber by Rikk Carlson

Opening Day Age: 23
Highest Level: A

The building blocks on both offense and defense that Weber put in place in the second half of the 2019 season should still be there despite the year layoff. While Weber isn’t the type of prospect that will “wow” you with any particular skill, he projects as a more athletic version of David Bote.

26. Yovanny Cruz, RHP (2020 rank #46)
Opening Day Age: 21
Highest Level: A-

With no competitive development last year, the Cubs may place Cruz at the Advanced-A level to start 2021 despite only a handful of games at Short Season-A. Cruz has a power sinker that can top out in the upper-90s to go along with a plus slider and advanced change-up.

27. Luis Verdugo, INF (2020 rank #18)
Opening Day Age: 20
Highest Level: Rookie

While there are a bunch of bright, shiny new toys at the shortstop position for the Cubs, don’t count out Verdugo. The 20-year old from Mexico shares a lot of the same qualities as the higher rated shortstops in that he has power potential, a strong arm, and is fluid around the middle of the diamond. An added plus is that Verdugo has already shown he produce at a higher level than any of his counterparts.

28. Chris Clarke, RHP (2020 rank #22)
Opening Day Age: 22
Highest Level: A-

Another 2019 draft choice that lost out on a year of development, Clarke has imposing size at 6’7″, 21-pounds. While his stuff may not be as good as some of the prospects ahead of him, Clarke has solid command of his sinking mid-90’s fastball, hammer curve, and change-up.

29. Kevin Made, INF (2020 rank #26)
Opening Day Age: 18
Highest Level: International Free Agent

Considered the second best player the Cubs signed in 2019 behind Quintero, Made will have a lot more competition than when he signed. A bit more raw of a prospect, Made may have to weigh his options after the Cubs acquired four highly rated shortstops. Although he rates to have a plus arm, Made saw a lot of action at second base in the Cubs’ Fall Instructs.

30. Justin Steele, LHP (2020 rank #27)

Justin Steele by Stephanie Lynn

Opening Day Age: 25
Highest Level: AA

Injuries have been the greatest obstacle in Steele’s career, as he has only 320.2 innings over six professional seasons. The lefty actually got a call-up to the big league roster last season, but didn’t see any action before returning to the minor league camp. Steele has a mid-90’s four seam fastball with both a hard biting slider and a curve.

31. Keegan Thompson, RHP (2020 rank #28)

Keegan Thompson by Stephanie Lynn

Opening Day Age: 26
Highest Level: AA

For most prospects, 2020 was a lost season. But for Thompson, it may have been a blessing. After missing 4 months of 2019 with elbow inflammation, Thompson had a wobbly performance in the Arizona Fall League. With a year to heal, Thompson can go back to commanding his curve, slider, change combination to overcome a low-90’s fastball.

32. Tyson Miller, RHP (2020 rank #34)

Tyson Miller by Stephanie Lynn

Opening Day Age: 25
Highest Level: MLB

Although Miller has had some pretty uneven performances over the past four years, there a plenty surrounding that still think highly of his ability. With a mid-90’s fastball, along with a cut fastball and change, Miller has seen his velocity dip over the course of a season. That loss usually ends up with Miller getting hit fairly hard.

Tier 5

33. Rafael Morel, INF (2020 rank #39)
Opening Day Age: 19
Highest Level: Dominican Summer League

Morel will have his work cut out for him with all of the high rated shortstop prospects the Cubs have acquired. The younger brother of Cubs top prospect Christopher Morel, Rafael has some of the crazy-good athletic skills of his older sibling.

34. Jordan Nwogu, OF (2020 rank N/R)
Opening Day Age: 22
Highest Level: College

The Cubs third round selection in 2020, this big, long-strider has plus speed and home run power. What Nwogu lacks is arm strength and a good feel for playing the outfield.

35. Luke Little, LHP (2020 rank N/R)
Opening Day Age: 20
Highest Level: College

A 6’8″, 225, left-hander, the Cubs’ fourth round choice in 2020 is said to have hit triple digits with his fastball. Little also has a slider and curve, and has battled weight and back issues.

36. Moises Ballesteros, C (2020 rank N/R)
Opening Day Age: 17
Highest Level: International Free Agent

The Cubs inked several international free agents recently, with Ballesteros leading the pack. The Venezuelan has some left-handed power and has recorded good pop-times behind the plate.

37. Oferman Hernandez, OF (2020 rank N/R)
Opening Day Age: 17
Highest Level: International Free Agent

Another from the Cubs’ 2021 International signing class, Hernandez is left-handed hitter that appears to fit the mold of a right fielder.

38. Koen Moreno, RHP (2020 rank N/R)
Opening Day Age: 19
Highest Level: High School

The Cubs’ 2020 5th round selection, Moreno was rated the number 1 high school prospect in North Carolina. Moreno lacks velocity at this time, but has a low-90’s fastball, advanced change-up, and curve.

39. Manuel Rodriguez, RHP (2020 rank N/R)

Manuel Rodriguez by Stephanie Lynn

Opening Day Age: 24
Highest Level: A+

With a high-90’s fastball, Rodriguez generated a  lot of interest in the n2019 offseason as a possible Rule 5 selection before an arm injury shelved him. Rodriguez is working his way back and could be ready to resume at the A+ level this season.

40. Alfonso Rivas, 1B (2020 rank #37)

Alfonso Rivas by Stephanie Lynn

Opening Day Age: 24
Highest Level: AAA

Considered a plus defender at first base with average power, Rivas plays a position the Cubs don’t value highly and already have a popular veteran playing it at the major league level.

41. Adam Laskey, LHP (2020 rank #40)
Opening Day Age: 23
Highest Level: College

The former Duke standout Laskey came to the Cubs in the nineteenth round of the 2019 draft. Coming off an injury, the Cubs chose not to pitch Laskey after the draft, and now he has had a full year to recover. The lefty has a low-90’s fastball along with an above average slider and change.

42. Trevor Megill, RHP (2020 rank N/R)
Opening Day Age: 27
Highest Level: AAA

A former seventh round pick of the Padres, the Cubs decide to take a flier on the 6’8″, 250-pound hard-thrower. Megill has battled injuries and had only 102 appearances over 5 minor league seasons.

43. Reivaj Garcia, 2B (2020 rank #45)
Opening Day Age: 19
Highest Level: A-

It’s hard to believe that a 19-year-old will be entering their four year as a pro, but 2021 will find Garcia at a crossroads. Is Garcia the phenom that hit .302 at a 16-year old in the rookie league, or the 17-year old that struggled at Short Season-A?

44. Erich Uelmen, RHP (2020 rank #29)

Erich Uelmen by Stephanie Lynn

Opening Day Age: 24
Highest Level: AA

The 2021 season will be one in which Uelmen has to show whether he is a prospect or suspect. In 2019, Uelmen performed well at the High-A level, but struggled at Double-A. However, Uelmen regrouped in the Arizona Fall League and exceeded expectations.

45. Fabian Pertuz, INF (2020 rank #30)
Opening Day Age: 20
Highest Level: Rookie

The offensive profile of Pertuz has never been in question, The native of Columbia has always made solid contact at every level. Pertuz is challenged position-wise, as he was below average at shortstop and his size does not profile to third base.

46. Ezequiel Pagan, OF (2020 rank #31)
Opening Day Age: 20
Highest Level: Rookie

Pagan was part of a class of some promising teenaged players in 2019, as he hit .283 with 19 stolen bases mainly out of the lead-off slot. Where he is at in his development at this time is uncertain as  spring training is set to open.

47. Dakota Mekkes, RHP (2020 rank #32)
Opening Day Age: 26
Highest Level: AAA

A mountain of a man at 6’7″, 275, velocity has always been a concern for Mekkes. With only a low-to-mid 90’s fastball, Mekkes has used his large frame and an exaggerated crouch to add deception to his average stuff. While Mekkes has had consistent success, it seems as if the front office doesn’t trust his ability to get out s at the major league level.

48. Hunter Bigge, RHP (2020 rank #33)
Opening Day Age: 22
Highest Level: A-

The 2019 12th round selection was scheduled to be the closer at Low-A to start the 2020 season, with that year gone, there is no telling what is in store for Bigge. A two-pitch pitcher with an upper-90’s fastball and slider, Bigge can quickly rise up the charts or languish behind other high profile prospects.

49. Davidjohn Herz, LHP (2020 rank N/R)
Opening Day Age: 20
Highest Level: Rookie

With only 10 professional innings under his belt, scouts have to rely on high school information in rating Herz. Throwing with a three-quarter delivery, Herz has a low-90’s fastball to go along with a slider and a lot of deception in his delivery.

50. Matt Mervis, 1B (2020 rank N/R)
Opening Day Age: 22
Highest Level: College

An undrafted free agent, Mervis has already made himself a fan favorite with reports of his mashing in the Cubs’ Fall Instructs. While Mervis pitched as well as playing the corner infield spots in college, first base appears to be his professional home.




About Tom Usiak 23 Articles
Born and raised on Chicago's Northwest side, Tom is entering his tenth year covering the Cubs minor league system, writing for prestigious sites such as Chicago Cubs Online, Locked On Cubs, and Cubs Den. Over that period, Tom has published interviews with top prospects such as Aramis Ademan, Miguel Amaya, Willson Contreras, Jeimer Candelario, Dylan Cease, Ian Happ, Eloy Jimenez, Cole Roederer, and Gleyber Torres. Known as "Tom U" across the internet, Tom also has a close working relationship with the front offices of all four of the Cubs' full season minor league teams. A frequent guest of the South Bend Cubs on WSBT radio, Tom has also written monthly articles for the South Bend Cubs' stadium program.

3 Comments

  1. Some comments:

    – Appreciate going 50 deep
    – I’d be pleasantly surprised if Howard were 215 already
    – Much props to have him in the top 3, could be the #1 already and I wouldn’t blink, huge talent and ceiling
    – While I think the lack of game reps headed into 2020 made them more volatile, there’s been nothing really wrong with Davis’ K and BB rates yet?
    – There was a plan to move Jensen to the bullpen? I don’t think so, his 2019 demonstrated a SP’s ceiling and the Cubs have basically no incentive to jump ship on that
    – First I’ve heard about Roederer’s issues with coaching too
    – Kohl Franklin had thrown 50 innings since signing out of HS and already missed most of his senior year to a hammy issue. Probably a stretch to say he wasn’t impacted, granted this doesn’t mean he couldn’t make gains
    – Preciado’s massive frame, like 6’5″ already, will move him off SS
    – Carraway’s delivery in and of itself is fine, DBU is a really good program like that. The issue is adding velocity to his breaking stuff as elite hitters might pick up his big curveball too easily

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