On January 28th, respected baseball writer Keith Law released his top 100 Prospects list. Unfortunately, there were only two Cubs on that list. However, he was quite high on both of them, giving rave reviews and constructive criticism on both Brennen Davis and Brailyn Marquez. It was a bit surprising that the Cubs only had two prospects noted, as Miguel Amaya is on the MLB top 100. Optimistically, I had some hope for Adbert Alzolay and Ed Howard.
Here's a look at the three prospects he talked about.
Brennen Davis: 51st
"He just needs reps, as with so many players drafted in 2018-19 who haven’t gotten much playing time yet, but has star upside between the OBP/power potential and his range in center."
Law praises Davis's raw tools and plate discipline. He's a bit shy on reps, but figures to develop more power as he fills out. Law called Davis's swing balanced, but can get kind of long because he's so lanky. I don't like hearing the words "lanky" and "long swing." For a while, I had major concerns about Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ because of their long swings. Minor league fastballs aren't nearly as quick as the MLB level, and that extra fraction of a second to unload a swing can make a huge difference.
In his 68 games and 276 plate appearances, Davis struck out 50 times, for an 18.1% strikeout rate. Kyle Schwarber struck out at a rate 21.2% in the minors and 28% rate in the MLB. Happ put up a 23.8% in the minors, and a 31.5% in the MLB. Both of those guys had multiple college seasons, where Davis was drafted right out of high school. For what it's worth, he doesn't strike out at the same levels as those more traditional sluggers.
Davis is still a long way from the big leagues. But I suspect a key to his development will be his strikeout rate. If that rate explodes as he reaches the upper levels, he may wind up being a 4th outfielder. But if he can keep his rates around 20%, that bodes well for his potential stardom. We'll see!
Brailyn Marquez: 72nd
In short bursts, however, he could be one of the best relievers in baseball, with stuff that may rival Aroldis Chapman’s from the same side.
Law talks about his high heat fastball and wipeout slider. He mentions that Marquez's changeup is still developing. Law also mentions a difficult to repeat delivery, noting concerns about how he spins off his front heel, how late his arm is relative to when his front foot lands, and a tendency to let his arm slot drift downward.
I'm not going to lie, that Chapman comparison has me excited. Aroldis Chapman was one of my favorite pitchers to watch (mainly when he pitched for the Cubs), because of his ability to make hitters look foolish. Chapman began as a starter in the minors, but was shifted to the bullpen quickly. He started in Cuba, then was a SP in 20 of 53 minor league games. Marquez has started 55 out of 57 games
MLB: 2.25 ERA, 14.9 K/9, 4.1 BB/9, 1.019 WHIP
MiLB: 4.73 ERA, 12.2 K/9, 5.2 BB/9, 1.451 WHIP
MiLB: 3.19 ERA, 10.1 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 1.296 WHIP
It's not a precise comparison. Marquez isn't quite at the same level when it comes to striking hitters out, but he does walk less hitters. If Marquez can stick in the rotation, he'll need to develop that third pitch. If it doesn't happen, he clearly has the tools to be a deadly late inning weapon. As he has no experience at AA or AAA, he'll need some seasoning. But if the Cubs are in the race come August, I can see him being called up for the stretch run.
Miguel Amaya: Honorable Mention
Amaya has everyday upside, with plus power and a plus arm behind the plate, along with adequate receiving skills right now; he couldn’t crack the top 100 last year because of the poor choices he can make at the plate, often giving away at-bats and making weak contact on pitches he should take.
While Amaya has made other's top 100 lists, he falls just outside Law's. Law raises fair points. Amaya's minor league slash line is just .243/.334/.375, for a .709 OPS. Those aren't great results. For someone with plus power skills, he really struggled with pop his first two MILB seasons (SLG of .317 and .338 respectively). In '18 and '19, that improved to .402. Law's notes seem to indicate a discipline problem, swinging at stuff outside the zone.
Despite that concerning note, Amaya's MiLB strikeout rate is just 17.1%. Even though his minor league batting average is lower than I'd like, his 9.8% walk rate is good, leading to a respectable OBP. Even in his last two good minor league seasons, his BABIP is around .280. My hunch is that he has decent plate discipline, just needs to learn to be a bit more decisive on junk pitches.
As he figures to open 2021 in AA, I suspect this is going to be the key season for his development. If he continues to keep his K rate down, walk rate up, and develop more power, He'll be a major leaguer. If he struggles to hit the ball hard, I think he flames out. I am optimistic though.