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Chicago Cubs Top-10 Fantasy Prospects

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The reigning World Series champions have taken a hit to their farm system for all the right reasons, and they still have plenty of high-end talent on the way.

MLB: All Star Game-All Star Futures Game Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Our Basis

With fantasy prospect rankings, the key to knowing the usefulness of a specific player is how large and deep of a league you would need to be in for them to end up as a fantasy starter. We will be ranking 10 prospects in each system, but that doesn't mean that every one of them is useful if you play in a 12-team mixed dynasty league. With that said, we're aiming to provide useful information whether you play in a 10-team mixed, a 15-team AL-only, or a 24-team mixed.

Prospect rankings also come with the same caveat that must be rehashed every year. They represent a snapshot of how we view the players at the time of publication. There will inherently be more information published throughout the off-season, and so how we view a player may evolve significantly over time. We're going to get some of these right, we're going to get some of these wrong, and in general my reminder is to find information you trust, and use it to your advantage. If that comes from us, that's great and we're happy you're here. If it doesn't, we'll continue to work and hope that you'll keep checking in to see how we're doing.

The Tiers

The tiers are here though to provide some clarity when comparing players between different teams. It's by no means a perfect system, but the goal is to give you a general idea of which players we think are in a similar range in terms of value and ranking. Since the tiers are also expected to be relatively consistent across teams, there may be tiers that do not have prospects for certain teams.

Tier 1 - The Elite Prospects

These prospects are expected to be in the top-50 prospects overall, and have the potential to be among the top options at their position regardless of format or league size.

#1 - Ian Happ (2B)

Age on Opening Day 2017: 22

ETA: 2017

There is something seemingly unfair about Happ’s presence in the Cubs system, as he garnered comparisons to Ben Zobrist well before the King of Utility Men came aboard. The 22-year-old has an advanced approach at the plate to go along with an above-average hit tool, above-average power, and above-average speed, and is one of the rare players that genuinely drives the ball to all fields. Happ’s defensive home is the only real question mark on his ledger, as some believe that a permanent shift to the outfield may be in order; however, there are plenty of scouts that feel that his athleticism will allow him to continue to battle the keystone to a draw. He profiles as a borderline star regardless of his position, though, as a player that could regularly hit .290 or better with 15-plus home runs and 15-plus steals.

#2 - Eloy Jimenez (OF)

Age on Opening Day 2017: 20

ETA: 2019

Jimenez checked in at number nine on last year’s list, as he was still more promise than production ... and one year later he’s, at worst, one of the fifty best prospects in Major League Baseball. The 20-year-old hit .329/.369/.532 at Single-A this season, cranking out 40 doubles and 14 home runs in 464 PA while spending the entirety of the season at 19. Scouting the stat line is perilous, and yet it may actually sell Jimenez a bit short. In their eyewitness accounts from this summer, Baseball Prospectus evaluators Nathan Graham and and Grant Jones slapped a 70 on Jimenez’s power, suggesting that he could hit 30-plus bombs at his peak. Both also projected above-average or better hit tools, which could portend a .270 or better batting average. In short, he still has the classic right-fielder profile - it’s simply a bit clearer now.

Tier 2 - The Top 100 Candidates

These prospects are expected to be in the discussion for the top 100 prospects overall, and are expected to be starting options in all formats.

#3 - Dylan Cease (RHP)

Age on Opening Day 2017: 21

ETA: 2019

Cease is now two-plus years removed from Tommy John Surgery, and the greatest takeaway from this season may well be that he made it through healthy (he left a mid-July game early due to soreness, but he was back in the rotation for his next start). The fact that he pitched to a 2.22 ERA with more strikeouts (66) than hits and walks combined (52) stands out, too. Cease has an elite fastball that sits in the mid-90s, clean and repeatable mechanics, and a potential plus curveball, and has demonstrated feel for a change-up (though he hasn’t used it all that much yet). He’s a high-risk, high-reward type, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he ended up as an elite closer down the line.

Tier 3 - The Next Group of Starters

These prospects would likely slot into the 100-200 range on an overall ranking list, and would be starters in mid-depth formats, like 12 and 14 team leagues.

#4 - Duane Underwood (RHP)

Age on Opening Day 2017: 22

ETA: 2018

Underwood seems to be perilously close to a make or break season, despite being just 22. He has battled elbow soreness over the last two years, and hasn’t quite performed up to the level of his stuff. And therein lies the rub - his stuff is tantalizing explosive, as he boasts three offerings that flirt with the above-average to plus range in a mid-90s fastball, big breaking curveball, and change-up. The results have not yet matched that stuff, though, as Underwood has struck out less than 7 batters per 9 as a professional. A mid-rotation ceiling is easy to see, but he will have to stay healthy and find a way to translate his stuff into strikeouts in order to get there.

#5 - Jeimer Candelario (3B)

Age on Opening Day 2017: 23

ETA: 2017

It’s not often that a team can look at a player like Candelario and have no worldly idea how to utilize him, but such is life for the proud owners of Kris Bryant. Candelario crushed Triple-A pitching this year, batting .333/.417/.542 with 22 2B, 9 HR, and excellent walk (12.3%) and strikeout (17.2%) rates in 309 PA, while playing solid defense at the hot corner, to boot. He struggled in 14 PA at the highest level last year ... but it was 14 PA. Candelario is a frustrating proposition for fantasy owners because he could hit .270 or better with 18-plus home runs as soon as this year, yet his path to the Majors is unclear at best.

#6 - Oscar De La Cruz (RHP)

Age on Opening Day 2017: 22

ETA: 2018

De La Cruz didn’t start pitching until 2012, but you wouldn’t be able to tell if you watched him pitch. The 6’4” Dominican has excellent command of his low-90s fastball, a potential plus curveball, and a promising change-up, and his mechanics are surprisingly clean. The Cubs have brought him along slowly as he learns his craft, and it’s tough to argue with the results in 2016 (39.0 IP, 30 H, 11 BB, 51 K, 3.00 ERA). He dealt with an unspecified arm injury for part of the season, which is disconcerting - but he nevertheless profiles as a mid-rotation starter.

Tier 4 - Single League and Deep Format Plays

These prospects would likely slot into the 200-300 range on a ranking list, and would have the most value to mixed leagues with 16+ teams and single-league formats with 12+ teams.

#7 - Donnie Dewees (OF)

Age on Opening Day 2017: 23

ETA: 2018

There are whispers of average or better raw power whenever Dewees is discussed, and that is the most often discussed aspect of his game. Why? Simple - he has an above-average to plus hit tool, plus to plus-plus speed, and the ability to stick in the outfield, and few question that. The power, however, plays as below-average right now. If that remains the case, he could hit .280 with a handful of home runs and 25-plus steals. That’s a fine player. If there’s something more in there, he could be something more, as he’d look a heck of a lot better with 10 dingers.

#8 - Trevor Clifton (RHP)

Age on Opening Day 2017: 21

ETA: 2018

Clifton has improved markedly as a professional, with his strikeout and walk rates improving at every level even as he hones his mechanics. He attacks hitters with a heavy fastball in the low-90s, a loopy curveball, and a passable change-up, and he no longer looks like the raw project many saw coming out of high school. There are some chinks in the armor, including a paucity of groundballs (36.62% in 2016) and the lack of a swing-and-miss offering, but his steady progress lends some confidence that he could improve in at least one of those areas. As it stands, he projects as a fourth starter with solid stats across the board.

#9 - Thomas Hatch (RHP)

Age on Opening Day 2017: 22

ETA: 2019

The Cubs took Hatch with their top pick in 2016 (104th overall), and shut him down immediately due to his heavy workload at Oklahoma State. Hatch missed his sophomore season due to a partial tear to his UCL and, while it didn’t require surgery, a cautious approach makes sense. The 22-year-old’s repertoire includes an above-average sinking fastball in the low-90s, a potential plus slider, and a decent change-up, and he has solid-average command of all three offerings. He’s on the smaller side at just over 6’ and 185 pounds, but his polish leads many to believe that he can shoulder a starter’s workload regardless. Hatch profiles as a third or fourth starter, and he could get through the system in a hurry if he stays healthy.

#10 - Jose Paulino (LHP)

Age on Opening Day 2017: 21

ETA: 2019

Paulino opened eyes this season by pitching to the following line between Low-A and Single-A: 75.0 IP, 55 H, 13 BB, 69 K, 1.92 ERA, 58.51 GB%. The svelte southpaw is regarded as an excellent athlete, and has plenty of projection remaining as a result. At present he has a low-90s fastball, a low-80s change-up (a potential plus offering), and a slider/cutter hybrid in the mid-80s, to go along with solid control and passable command. If Paulino maintains that stuff with consistency, he could be a solid fifth starter; with a bit of an uptick, however, he could be a mid-rotation stalwart.