I’ve payed attention to the Cubs farm system for as long as I can remember. I’ve just enjoyed watching players, who have potential to make a difference in the future, develop into those players behind the scene. I always seem to latch on and find my favorites. Guys who tend to fly under the radar, but could still make some sort of name for themselves. Most never even sniff the cup of coffee they so desire, but it’s fun to watch them anyway.
This year I’ve identified eight guys that are not considered “top prospects” as far as the MiLB.com top 30 list for the Cubs that came out at the beginning of the season. When the list updates later this year, that may change, but for now none of the players listed below are on the list. As a result, these guys don’t get the publicity, but they are off to starts worth noticing.
1. Bijan Rademacher – LF
How Acquired: Drafted in the 13th round in 2012 out of Orange Coast College
Notes: As you can see, Rademacher is slightly older than the competition at his level by almost a year, and he is repeating the level after decent, but not eye popping numbers last year, but we’ve seen an increase in the power as he’s on pace to have more HR in a season than he’s had at any level so far, and he has increased the OBP well over just the increase in batting average.
2. Ian Rice – C
How Acquired: Drafted in the 29th round in 2015 out of the University of Houston
Notes: The Cubs have lacked catcher depth for a little while now. With Miguel Montero probably nearing the end of his time with the Cubs and David Ross retiring at the end of the season, a guy like Ian Rice could find himself in a potential backup role behind someone like Willson Contreras, who most feel is the future backstop of this team. We’ve obviously got a long way before that, but Rice could move quickly, if he hits, considering he’s a college guy.
3. Paul Blackburn – SP
How Acquired: Drafted in the 1st round of the 2012 draft out of High School
Notes: For some reason, a guy that was picked in the 1st round, has played as a young player at every level he’s been at, and has shown he can be competitive, does not get the love he deserves. In my opinion, Blackburn is the most underrated player in this system and I think he can crack the big league staff in the next by 2018 at the latest, possibly even earlier. The knock on him is that he doesn’t strike hitters out, and we’ve seen that decline at each level he’s been at, but while strikeouts are a huge factor in success, so is the ability to get hitters out, and that’s what Blackburn has done. Note the strikeout to walk ratio increasing.
4. Jeremy Null – SP
How Acquired: Drafted in the 15th round in 2014 out of Western Carolina University
Notes: I’ll admit that I’m a little biased on this one. Null was drafted out of Western Carolina, which is where I graduated from, but he’s worth noting. Again, not a guy that is going to blow hitters away, but he doesn’t walk a lot of guys either. He got a late start this year as he had some issues getting stretched out and had to start the year in extended spring training getting loose and ready for work, but since returning to Myrtle Beach this year, he’s made three starts and has looked good.
5. Gerardo Concepcion – RP
How Acquired: Signed out of Cuba in 2012
Notes: The Cubs signed Concepcion out of Cuba for $6 million over five years, so you can expect them to try to move him to the Majors at some point this season to know what they have. Up until this season, it appeared that the investment they made in Concepcion, albeit small, was not going to work out. After trying him as a starter, unsuccessfully, he’s pitched out of the bullpen and has been less than impressive. To be honest, had he not been a foreign guy they paid money to, I could have seen him get released after posting the numbers he did in 2015, but this year something has clicked. His 2016 numbers, which include time at Tennessee and now Iowa, have been a remarkable turn around. I don’t know what to attribute it to, but something seems to have clicked and fallen into place. He’s worth watching down the stretch this season to see if the Cubs give him a look.
- Zach Hedges (SP) – 2.35 ERA in 9 starts for Myrtle Beach
- Jake Stinnett (SP) – 3.09 ERA in 8 starts for Myrtle Beach
- Spencer Patton (RP) – 0.50 ERA in 18 innings with a 13.5 K/9 ratio for Iowa