In 2018, most prospect lists for the Chicago Cubs had any one of shortstop Aramis Ademan, right-handed pitcher Jose Albertos, or catcher Miguel Amaya at the top. A few conservative raters had right-hander Adbert Alzolay first, but those three were not far behind.
However, at the start of the 2020 rating period, both Ademan and Albertos were left off of my Prospects1500 Cubs Top 50 list. What happened?
Draining the Well
The Cubs organization was loaded heading into the 2015 season. Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, and Addison Russell were all nominally still a part of the the minor league system. The next wave included Albert Almora, Jeimer Candelario, Willson Contreras, Billy McKinney, Kyle Schwarber, and Daniel Vogelbach. Waiting further down the chain were Victor Caratini, Dylan Cease, Eloy Jimenez, and Gleyber Torres. Adding to the mix was Ian Happ, brought in through the draft that year.
Most of these players would make it to the big leagues with the parent club. But the others ended up traded for major league talent, with no prospects in return. Making the situation more tenuous was the focus of Cubs’ player development. The Cubs’ emphasis on scouting and developing only top selections meant that they did not have the mid-round talent to fill the gaps. The result was a deepening talent void. Adding to dearth were the 2016 and 2017 drafts that have yet to yield a Top 10 player.
Into the Void
The underwhelming talent pool for the Cubs whipped up a frenzy among minor league followers coming into 2018. With no clear cut favorite for the top spot, raters went digging players that could make their rankings stand out. That placed a couple of teenagers in Ademan and Albertos directly in the cross-hairs.
At 18-years old, Ademan had all of 29 games playing in full-season baseball. In his time with Low-A South Bend, Ademan slashed an unimpressive .244/.269/.378/.647. What many liked was his 18.75% strikeout rate over two levels and 7 home runs in 288 at bats. In addition, there was hope that Ademan would develop into a slick fielder, even though the basic defensive metrics did not bear that out.
The warning signs came early for Albertos. In his first game as a 17-year old in 2016, Albertos was pulled after 4 innings due to tightness in his forearm. Albertos would not pitch in a meaningful game for the rest of the season. The following year found Albertos physically sound. But even though his 2.86 ERA and 1.096 WHIP to go along with 42 strikeouts in 34.2 innings were impressive, there were still some concerns. Most importantly, the command on Albertos’ mid-to-upper 90’s fastball and his curve appeared inconsistent. It was feared that the numbers were a product of his environment of Short Season-A ball.
The Bottom Falls Out
For a player with such promise, 2018 became a nightmare for Albertos. After promoting Albertos to Low-A South Bend to begin the season, the Cubs saw control abandoning their bright young pitching prospect. He was unable to find the plate, and there was fear the he could accidentally hurt someone with his lack of command. Following 9 appearances in which Albertos had an 18.69 ERA, 3.769 WHIP with 11 wild pitches in 13 innings, the Cubs mercifully sent him back to their Arizona training complex. Subsequently, Albertos’ troubles continued with a return trip to Eugene. While Albertos’ improved slightly with an 11.94 ERA, the rest remained constant. In 17 innings, Albertos had a 3.000 WHIP and clanked another 16 wild pitches.
Moving to Advanced-A Myrtle Beach, Ademan got off to a decent start by hitting .243 in April of 2018. However, Ademan would not hit any higher for the remainder of the year. Following his April, Ademan would go on to bat .203 in each of his next two months. But relief wasn’t coming for Ademan as it did for Albertos. There was no trip down to Low-A for Ademan to reboot against a lower level of talent. After a brief bump in July, Ademan hit bottom with a .183 August. For the 2018 season, Ademan slashed .207/.291/.273/.563 with 3 homers and 38 RBI in 114 games.
Last season, both Ademan and Albertos continued their struggles.
Remaining back in extended spring training, Albertos did not see action until May, once again with South Bend. Relieved of the pressure of starting, the Cubs had Albertos working out of the pen for all 8 appearances. Sporting an ERA of 5.02, Albertos had 14 strikeouts in 14.1 innings. But Albertos also posted a 1.744 WHIP, and was not seen after June 16th. Overtaking the star that shone so brightly were fellow 20-year olds Brailyn Marquez and Faustino Carrera.
Returning to Myrtle Beach in 2019, Ademan gave a glimpse of hope by batting .269 over the first half of the season. But a year and a half at the same level did not translate to success for Ademan. In the second half, Ademan took a nose-dive at the plate, hitting .173 and striking out 26% of the time. What’s more, Ademan was experiencing pressure all around. The Cubs’ 2018 5th round selection Andy Weber was settling in at shortstop in South Bend, and making improvements in his all-around game. Meanwhile, 19-year old Luis Vazquez had a .234/.288/.300/.589 line over four levels, including Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa.
The stagnating or declining development of Ademan and Albertos, combined with growth of other players, has led to a re-ordering among Cubs prospects. As the steamroller of talent continues to trudge on, it has altered the view of both Ademan and Albertos from promising to ordinary. Ademan and Albertos had 353 games and 39 appearances respectively over the course of their careers. It was time to judge them both not on the promise shown two years ago, but their body of work.
No longer hot-shot teenagers, Ademan and Albertos now have to compete among the vast ocean of 21-year old prospects. Whether each can regain their luster as elite prospects remains to be seen.