Five Cubs Prospects to Watch This Spring

Carlos Sepulveda by Lauren Usiak

While a 50 player prospect list may seem like a lot to some, it usually doesn’t tell the whole story of a team’s minor league system. Here are five compelling stories to watch from the Cubs as Spring Training unfolds.

Rochest Cruz, INF

There’s an old adage in baseball that says “you can’t teach speed”. While the baseball world will not be sure just how much speed Rochest Cruz has until he comes stateside, he has certainly utilized what speed he has.

The 19-year old infielder led the Dominican Summer League last season with 56 swipes in 65 attempts. But stolen base marks in the DSL should always be taken with a grain of salt. Players are often trying out new positions, and the person behind the plate today may not having catching in his future. In addition, the ability for many of the pitchers to hold runners is in question.

But Cruz also put up other numbers that makes one sit up and take notice. Cruz’s .420 on-base percentage fell just outside of the league’s top ten. Add to that a .302 batting average, .404 slugging, and an .824 OPS. And Cruz’s 29:43 strikeout-to-walk ratio is better than Top 50 prospect and teammate Fabian Pertuz.

Defensively, Cruz has not stood out at either shortstop, second or third base. But since defense usually doesn’t get you “off the island,” Cruz may improve once he makes it to the Arizona complex. A move to the outfield may also not be out of the question in the future.

Riley McCauley, RHP
Riley McCauley (Twitter)

While developing pitching is hard, developing relief pitching may be harder. However, developing someone exclusively as a closer may be the hardest thing of all. Pitchers need innings to develop, but closers lose their effectiveness the more consecutive innings they pitch. Finding the right balance is always the most difficult task. For 2018 14th round pick Riley McCauley, the effort may be worth it.

McCauley followed fellow Cubs prospect Dakota Mekkes as the closer for Michigan State in 2017. In that role, McCauley went 1-0 with 9 saves, a 2.10 ERA, and a 17.18 K/9 rate. McCauley went on to further success in the Cape Cod League, getting a lot of whiffs with a 15.51 K/9 rate and 1.92 ERA while becoming an All-Star.

But in 2018, the Spartans moved the 6’1″, 205-pounder into the rotation, and the results weren’t as good. After starting three games and posting a 3.24 ERA, McCauley swung between the bullpen and the rotation in his other 14 appearances (four more starts). McCauley’s ERA ballooned to 4.55 as he went 2-5 with a 1.54 WHIP, dropping his K/9 rate to 9.98.

After signing with the Cubs and a quick, 2 game refresh in the rookie league the 22-year old was assigned to Short Season-A Eugene. McCauley was an integral part of the Emeralds’ championship run, posting a 3.07 ERA and 1.227 WHIP in 14.2 innings while moving his K/9 rate back up to 11.66.

The reason why McCauley had trouble in longer outings is the lack of a third pitch. McCauley has a mid-90’s fastball, while his best pitch is a late breaking low-80’s slider. Finding consistency while limiting his workload will be a challenge.

Yonathan Perlaza, INF
Yonathan Perlaza by John Arguello (Cubs Den)

At Low-A South Bend this coming season, fans will get to see some young, talented, but offensively challenged middle infielders. Among those included are Luis Verdugo (# 32 in the Prospect1500 to 50), Christopher Morel (#33), Luis Vazquez, and Luis Diaz. Providing the offense for this group will be switch-hitter Yonathan Perlaza.

Signing in 2015, Perlaza was part of the same international free agent class as C Miguel Amaya (#3) and INF Aramis Ademan (#14). The 20-year old has taken a little longer to develop than his  more advanced classmates.

Following a Dominican League showing in 2016 where he hit only .256/.311/.387/.697, Perlaza seemed a bit over-matched in 2017. Moving stateside to the Arizona rookie league, Perlaza saw action in 25 games and hit .235.

A trip back to Arizona and another year under his belt seemed to be just the thing for Perlaza this past season. The Venezuelan batted .317 in 50 games and earned a late season call-up to Eugene, where he played a pivotal role in the Emeralds’ championship. Overall, Perlaza was .307/.354/.391/.745 with 9 doubles, 2 triples, a home run, 26 RBI, and 9 stolen bases. The switch-hitter also showed great splits, batting .300 as a lefty and .372 from the right-handed side.

A stocky 5’11”, 195 pounds, Perlaza has played shortstop but lacks the lateral quickness to remain there. Look for Perlaza to split his time between second and third base, as well as DH, in the coming season.

Carlos Sepulveda, INF
Carlos Sepulveda by Lauren Usiak

As the 2016 season closed, the future looked bright for infielder Carlos Sepulveda. Signed as an 18-year old out of the Mexican League in 2015, Sepulveda hit .310/.366/.373/.739  with 14 doubles and 2 triples as the lead-off man for South Bend. Sepulveda also formed a dynamic double-play combination with Andruw Monasterio.

But as the left-handed hitter prepared for the 2017 season, he injured his shoulder. Sepulveda tried to play through the injury, which led to a .196 batting average in 28 games for Advanced-A Myrtle Beach. After a trip to the disabled list, things were not right even after hitting .324 in the rookie league. Sepulveda underwent surgery in the off-season.

While Sepulveda was at the Cubs Arizona training complex in 2018, he did not play in any regular season games. Going back to his native Mexico this winter, Sepulveda signed with Obregon. Rounding back into form by regular season’s end, Sepulveda would gain the starting second baseman’s job. He proved to be a spark plug in the playoffs that brought the Yaquis to the league championship.

The 22-year old Sepulveda’s high contact rate style of  hitting compares favorably with high 2018 draft choices Nico Hoerner, Jimmy Herron, and Andy Weber. Double-A Tennessee manager Jimmy Gonzalez also called Sepulveda the best defender he has ever coached.

Riley Thompson, RHP

In viewing the Cubs pitching prospects over the past few seasons, you get a monotonous, almost cookie-cutter profile. And then, there is Riley Thompson.

Prior to the 2015 draft, Thompson looked liked a first round selection as a high school player. But Tommy John surgery two weeks before the draft scuttled those ambitions. Thompson then went the University of Louisville, where he redshirted while recovering. After an uneven freshman year, Thompson continued to struggle in 11 appearances  in 2018 before being selected in the eleventh round.

Upon signing with the Cubs, the 22-year old was assigned to Eugene and made his presence felt. Appearing in 9 games (8 starts), Thompson posted a 2.84 ERA and 1.303 WHIP to go along with 25 strikeouts in 25.1 innings.

The big attraction with Thompson is his 4-seam fastball, which can run up to nearly 100 MPH. Thompson also has a mid-90’s 2-seam fastball, but both his curve and change-up are pitches that get him into trouble. Coming back from the surgery and inactivity, control has been a big issue. Thompson is ticketed to be in the rotation for South Bend to get more innings, but the back of the pen may be in the future.

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.

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