At the beginning of 2015, the Cubs had the best farm system in baseball and perhaps the game's best collection of position prospects in decades. They ended a streak of five straight losing years and advanced to the National League Championship Series that season, then vanquished their 108-year World Series title drought in '16. Multiple championships seemed to be a given.
Chicago has continued to achieve in the regular season, stretching its string of winning years to six to match its longest since 1967-72. But it has won just one playoff series since the World Series, and its last postseason victory came in 2017.
While the Cubs have excelled at developing hitters since president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer arrived in October 2011, they have struggled mightily to grow their own pitchers. The most career innings they've gotten out of any homegrown arm in the last nine seasons is a mere 36 1/3 from Duane Underwood. In-house pitchers totaled just 45 innings for Chicago in 60 games this year.
As a result, the Cubs have had to shell out nine-figure free-agent contracts for Jon Lester and Yu Darvish, and trade blue-chip prospects Gleyber Torres, Jorge Soler, Eloy Jiménez and Dylan Cease to acquire Aroldis Chapman, Wade Davis and José Quintana. There's some hope that Adbert Alzolay and Brailyn Marquez can make significant contributions in 2021, but time is running out as the team's once-young core gets older and more expensive each year.
Chicago shook up its front office last offseason before the pandemic, making several changes in player development and scouting. Jason McLeod shifted 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 farm director. Former Athletics assistant GM Dan Kantrovitz took over as vice president of scouting and chose local high school shortstop Ed Howard in the first round in June.
FARM SYSTEM RANKINGS
2020 Midseason: 26 | Preseason: 23
2019 Midseason: NR | Preseason: NR
2018 Midseason: NR | Preseason: NR
2017 Midseason: NR | Preseason: NR
2016 Midseason: NR | Preseason: NR
2015 Midseason: 4 | Preseason: 1
Only the top 10 systems were ranked from 2015 to 2019 preseason; the top 15 systems were ranked 2019 midseason.
TOP FIVE PROSPECTS
Waivers: Max Schrock, 2B/3B
The starting shortstop on the Jackie Robinson West (Chicago) club that reached the 2014 Little League World Series finals, Howard was the top talent at his position in the 2020 Draft. Carraway is a pure reliever who could arrive in Chicago next season, while Nwogu is one of the most physical players the system has seen in years.
2021 IMPACT PROSPECT
Adbert Alzolay, RHP (No. 6): Sidetracked by minor injuries in 2018 and '19, he posted a 2.95 ERA with 29 strikeouts in 21 1/3 innings in Chicago this summer, thanks to a power curveball and a fastball that sits around 94 mph.
2022 TOP PROSPECT
Brennen Davis, OF (No. 2): Also a basketball star in high school, Davis is a potential 30-30 center fielder and a more polished bat than initially expected.
Hit: Alfonso Rivas
Power: Brennen Davis
Run: Zach Davis
Arm: Ethan Hearn
Field: Ed Howard
Best athlete: Brennen Davis
Fastball: Brailyn Marquez
Curveball: Burl Carraway
Slider: Justin Steele
Changeup: Kohl Franklin
Control: Keegan Thompson
HOW THE TOP 30 WAS BUILT
The lone player on our Cubs Top 30 not originally signed by the club is the sweet-swinging Rivas, who was acquired from the Athletics in January in exchange for Tony Kemp.
TOP 30 BY POSITION
Though they have struggled to develop pitchers, the Cubs tied the Astros for the most on a Top 30 list (18) among all organizations. Chicago's total of three outfielders is the second-fewest, ranking ahead of only the Blue Jays (two).