When the Cubs ended a 108-year drought by winning the 2016 World Series, they had a lineup loaded with young stars still on the rise and appeared well positioned for multiple titles. But after falling in the 2017 National League Championship Series, they faded down the stretch in 2018 before losing in the NL Wild Card Game and collapsed in September this year to miss out entirely on the playoffs.
An inability to grow pitching from within has hurt Chicago's title chances. Since the Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer regime took over in October 2011, the biggest contribution the Cubs have received from a homegrown pitcher has come from Rob Zastryzny, who totaled 34 1/3 innings from 2016-18. They received just 45 innings from homegrown pitchers in 2019 and have had to spend heavily on the free-agent market for the likes of Jon Lester and Yu Darvish or sacrifice premium prospects such as Gleyber Torres, Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease in trades for Aroldis Chapman and Jose Quintana.
Chicago tried to inject some arms into its farm system by loading up on college pitching in the 2016 and 2017 Drafts, but those efforts haven't paid off. The system's best prospects are infielder Nico Hoerner, catcher Miguel Amaya and outfielder Brennen Davis -- though left-hander Brailyn Marquez made exciting progress during the summer. Overall, the Cubs' Minor League talent ranks among the bottom third in baseball.
The front office has owned its shortcomings with developing pitching and is putting less of a premium on polish and clean deliveries, as evidenced by spending its 2019 first-rounder on right-hander Ryan Jensen, who had the best fastball in the college crop. The Cubs reshuffled the roles of several top executives during the offseason, moving Jason McLeod from senior VP of amateur scouting and player development to senior VP of player personnel, Jaron Madison from farm director to special assistant and Matt Dorey from scouting director to senior director of player development. They also hired Athletics assistant GM Dan Kantrovitz as vice president of scouting.
TOP FIVE PROSPECTS
HITTING & PITCHING PROSPECTS OF THE YEAR
Robel Garcia, 2B/3B/OF (No. 26): After the Indians released him in 2014, Garcia spent three years playing in Italy before the Cubs spotted him when the Italian national team played MLB instructional league clubs last fall. Garcia not only led the system in homers (27), slugging (.586) and OPS (.954) in 2019, he also went deep five times in 31 big league games.
Cory Abbott, RHP (No. 16): A repeat honoree as MLB Pipeline's Cubs pitching prospect of the year, Abbott led the Double-A Southern League in innings (146 2/3) and strikeouts (166) while ranking third in ERA (3.01), WHIP (1.12) and opponent average (.210). His best pitch is a cutter that he taught himself in college by watching video of Noah Syndergaard. More »
Riley Thompson, RHP (No. 13): Following Tommy John surgery in high school, Thompson had trouble staying healthy and throwing strikes in college at Louisville but thrived in his first full pro season, maintaining a mid-90s fastball and a quality curveball.
Brendon Little, LHP: The 27th overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft has seen his stuff fluctuate and has had difficulty harnessing it as a pro, leading to concerns that he might be more reliever than starter.
Draft: Ryan Jensen, RHP, 1st round (No. 7); Chase Strumpf, 2B, 2nd round (No. 10); Michael McAvene, RHP, 3rd round (No. 25); Chris Clarke, RHP, 4th round; Ethan Hearn, C, 6th round (No. 17); D.J. Herz, LHP, 8th round. Complete Draft list »
International: Ronnier Quintero, C (No. 18); Kevin Made, SS; Brayan Altuve, C.
The Cubs grabbed the best fastball (Jensen) and one of the best curveballs (Clarke) in the 2019 college ranks, and they landed the top catchers on the high school (Hearn) and international (Quintero) markets. Strumpf, Hearn and Herz all could be steals for where Chicago drafted them.
2020 IMPACT PROSPECT
Nico Hoerner, SS/2B/OF (No. 1): The 2018 first-rounder known for his premium hitting ability responded to an unplanned September callup by batting .282/.305/.436 with three homers in 20 games.
Hit: Nico Hoerner
Power: Brennen Davis
Run: Zach Davis
Arm: Nelson Velazquez
Field: Miguel Amaya
Best athlete: Brennen Davis
Fastball: Brailyn Marquez
Curveball: Chris Clarke
Slider: Keegan Thompson
Changeup: Kohl Franklin
Control: Cory Abbott
HOW THE TOP 30 WAS BUILT
Free Agent: 1
Garcia is the lone Cubs Top 30 Prospect not originally signed by the organization, making the system baseball's second-most homegrown behind the Rockies, who inked all 30 of theirs.
TOP 30 BY POSITION
Though Chicago does have more pitchers (16) than position players (14) on its Top 30, hitters claim seven of the first 10 spots on the list.