Cubs’ Pipeline: Are They Still the Best Farm System?

Heading into 2015, the Chicago Cubs farm system was second to none. The future of the team rested in two prospects in particular that had no questions surrounding their future Major League success. When Addison Russell joined Kris Bryant in a Chicago Cubs uniform yesterday, the farm system not only lost their top two prospects, but Grading on the Curve’s No. 1 and No. 5 prospect in all of baseball. The question now is: how far does the Cubs’ farm system fall? 

The good news for Cubs fans, is that the system is still loaded with potential. The Tennessee Smokies in Double-A have three of the more exciting prospects to watch on the Cubs’ pipeline. C.J. Edwards, the Cubs No. 3 prospect and 43 at GotC, is off to a rough start, but still has loads of potential. The 23-year old righty is built like Pedro Martinez and has a three pitch arsenal. What is holding him back is inconsistencies. He has been pitching out of the pen because in the past his velocity and accuracy have fallen off after the third inning.

Also in Tennessee is No. 4 prospect, Kyle Schwarber. Schwarber is one of the top catching prospects in the game and with Miguel Montero holding things down behind the plate, the Cubs have a year or so to develop Schwarber into a Major League ready catcher. Joining them in Tennessee is centerfielder Albert Almora, the Cubs’ 5th ranked prospect. With the recently acquired Dexter Fowler patrolling centerfield for the Cubs right now, it give Almora time to develop better plate discipline (a career .322 on base percentage) and find consistency in his raw power.

And don’t forget right fielder Billy McKinney and starting pitcher Duane Underwood in Myrtle Beach (High-A). McKinney, the 20-year old 2013 first round draft pick, was acquired with Russell in the Jeff Samardzija/ Jason Hammel trade and is batting .313 on the young season. Underwood? Well, he’s sitting at 2-0 with a 0.82 ERA and took a no-hitter into the sixth inning in his last start.

So, does that mean that the Cubs are still the cream of the crop? Right now, with the way things are going in Triple-A in Pawtucket, the Boston Red Sox are making a strong case for the number one slot. But if the Cubs have indeed fallen, they are 1B to the Red Sox 1A.

Feb 21, 2014; Ft Myers, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Henry Owens (76) throws during spring training at JetBlue Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Pawtucket Red Sox are the best team in the International League and they are led by some of the Minor Leagues best talent. Blake Swihart is unquestionably the best catching prospect in baseball, and already off to a hot start, people are left wondering why he isn’t in the bigs yet. The pitching staff is lead by three Top 100 prospects: Henry Owens (No. 18 here at GotC), Eduardo Rodriguez and Brian Johnson. Johnson is coming off of his first career shutout and is striking out batters in epic proportions.

The Red Sox also have the luxury of having two millionaires as “prospects” in their system. Rusney Castillo and Yoan Moncada make more than most Minor League teams, but we have yet been able to see if they can live up to the billing. Castillo is now hurt, and Moncada is still very raw in terms of American baseball. Still, there is no denying their talent.

Who else rivals the Cubs’ farm system? Who else can make a run for number one?

If any system is going to challenge for the number one spot, it is the Minnesota Twins.They are stacked. They have two of the most impressive offensive prospects in baseball in Byron Buxton (No. 3) and Miguel Sano (No. 15) but they can’t stay on the field. They need a full, healthy season at the top levels of Minor League baseball to make many believers that they can consistently produce. This is what is holding them back from being the elite system in baseball. 

Their pitching prospects Alex Meyer (No. 28), Kohl Stewart (No. 40) and Jose Berrios (No. 31) are all Top 50 talents and should be close to Major League ready. Add on 19-year old shortstop Nick Gordon (No. 38) and the Twins are super deep with Top 100 talent.

The Los Angeles Dodgers have a bevy of young superstars in the making. Joc Pederson (No. 13 on GotC) is already off to an impressive start in the big leagues, and the baseball world awaits the arrival of the game’s best lefty prospect Julio Urias (No. 6 on GotC). Throw in Corey Seager (No. 7 at GotC) and you have three of baseball’s best 15 prospects hailing from Hollywood.

Their system is deep, with pitchers like 19-year old righty Grant Holmes just touching the surface of his abilities. They also signed on one-time Cuban sensation Hector Olivera, who many feel simply needs some fine tuning before he makes his big league debut.

Mar 7, 2015; Port St. Lucie, FL, USA; New York Mets Michael Conforto (39) drives in a run against the Atlanta Braves during the spring training baseball game at Tradition Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

Lastly, the New York Mets garner some consideration, but really still have a ways to go. Why? There is a good chance that several of their top prospects won’t be prospects much longer. Rafael Montero, Hansel Robles and Kevin Plawecki are already in Queens. Noah Syndergaard (No. 10) will probably be a September call-up, if not sooner as will Steven Matz. Dilson Herrera, the 21-year old jack of all trades, is off to a scorching start and won’t be far from possibly starting for the Mets.

That leaves Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto as the cream of the Mets’ crop. And that they are. The two will certainly be the future outfield of the Mets and gives a lot to look forward to. Conforto has been a beast since being drafted in the first round last year, but we need to see what he can do at the upper levels before deeming him untouchable.

One team to keep an eye on is the rebuilt Atlanta Braves. Their pitching staff in Gwinnett (Triple-A) boasts three of baseball’s best pitching prospects. Matt Wisler, Michael Foltynewicz and Manny Banuelos, all acquired in trades this past offseason provide a promising back end of the rotation for an already stout Atlanta Braves’ rotation. Jose Peraza (No. 27) leads the way as a the best second base prospect in baseball and Rio Ruiz is not far off from claiming the hot corner. The new pieces need to gel together, but they have the makings of a legit farm system.

All in all, the Cubs are still a very impressive farm system. They earned the ranking of number one not solely based on two elite prospects, but because of the depth in the entire system. The Red Sox and Twins have the same characteristics, as do the Dodgers and Mets. At the end of the day, the Cubbies are still very strong on the pipeline.