When the Cubs parlayed baseball's best collection of position prospects in decades into a World Series title in 2016, ending a 108-year drought, more championships seemed inevitable. But though their current six-year streak of winning seasons is their longest since 1967-72, they've prevailed in just one playoff series since 2016 and their last postseason victory came in 2017.
After president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer took over in October 2011, Chicago excelled at developing hitters but couldn't produce pitchers. Duane Underwood leads all in-house arms in the Epstein/Hoyer regime with a mere 36 1/3 innings, and he was designated for assignment and traded to the Pirates earlier this month. Homegrown pitchers totaled just 45 innings in 60 games last season.
To compensate, the Cubs doled out nine-figure contracts to sign Jon Lester and Yu Darvish and traded elite prospects such as Gleyber Torres, Jorge Soler, Eloy Jiménez, Dylan Cease to acquire Aroldis Chapman, Wade Davis and José Quintana. As the club's once-young core got older and more expensive each year, something had to give.
With ownership trying to toe the luxury-tax line, Lester and Quintana left as free agents and Darvish was traded to the Padres for Zach Davies and four toolsy but extremely young prospects not close to the big leagues in December. Javier Báez, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo all are eligible for free agency after the 2021 season, and Willson Contreras may be getting too expensive for Chicago's taste.
The Cubs still should contend this year, but their future beyond that is uncertain. After remaking the player development and scouting departments the previous offseason, Epstein resigned with a year left on his contract in November and Hoyer was promoted to president of baseball ops. The strength of the farm system is up-the-middle position players such as center fielder Brennen Davis, catcher Miguel Amaya and shortstops Cristian Hernandez and Ed Howard, though there's hope that lefty Brailyn Marquez and righty Adbert Alzolay can contribute in the big leagues in 2021.
Here's a look at the Cubs' top prospects:
- Brailyn Marquez, LHP (MLB No. 60)
- Brennen Davis, OF (No. 61)
- Miguel Amaya, C (No. 89)
- Cristian Hernandez, SS
- Ed Howard, SS
Here are the players whose ranks changed the most from the 2020 preseason list to the 2021 preseason list.
Jump: Yohendrick Pinango, OF (2020: NR | 2021: 14) -- Though his 2020 development was restricted to instructional league, he stood out with one of the best left-handed swings and perhaps the best pure hitting ability in the system
Fall: Yovanny Cruz, RHP (2020: 16 | 2021: NR) -- He still flashes a lively mid-90s fastball and a plus slider, but he dropped off the list for now because of all the talent the Cubs added via the Draft, international market and the Darvish trade.
Players are graded on a 20-80 scouting scale for future tools -- 20-30 is well below average, 40 is below average, 50 is average, 60 is above average and 70-80 is well above average. Players in parentheses have the same grade.
Hit: 55 -- Yohendrick Pinango (Brennen Davis, Cristian Hernandez, Reginald Preciado, Yeison Santana, Chase Strumpf)
Power: 55 -- Brennen Davis (Owen Caissie, Cristian Hernandez, Christopher Morel)
Run: 70 -- Ismael Mena
Arm: 65 -- Christopher Morel
Defense: 60 -- Ed Howard (Miguel Amaya, Kevin Made, Ismael Mena)
Fastball: 80 -- Brailyn Marquez
Curveball: 65 -- Chris Clarke (Burl Carraway)
Slider: 55 -- Cory Abbott (Chris Clarke, D.J. Herz, Ryan Jensen, Brendon Little, Brailyn Marquez, Michael McAvene, Keegan Thompson)
Changeup: 55 -- Kohl Franklin (Keegan Thompson)
Control: 55 -- Keegan Thompson
How they were built Draft: 16 | International: 10 | Trade: 4
Breakdown by ETA 2021: 5 | 2022: 9 | 2023: 8 | 2024: 7 | 2025: 1
Breakdown by position C: 3 | 2B: 1 | 3B: 1 | SS: 7 | OF: 6 | RHP: 8 | LHP: 4