*MLB Prospect Watch will be recapping each farm system as a whole, focusing on particular players who did something noteworthy this season. For the next 30 (business) days, we will be featuring one organization per day.
9/17 - Washington Nationals
Even with the promotions of Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara, the Cubs still boast one of the top systems in all of baseball. Sure, most of the impact talent is at the plate rather than throwing towards it, but that's a fixable problem. A good system got even better with a mid-season trade that added Addison Russell, who could end up being the best of them all (though Kris Bryant will have something to say about that). No system in all of baseball can boast the collection of impact bats the Cubs currently have developing.
Biggest Step Forward: Billy McKinney, OF: I guess McKinney is technically one of the newest additions (along with Russell), because they were traded after the draft, but he also took a major step forward this season in becoming a legitimate prospect in a system filled with exactly that. McKinney has a tendency to get overlooked in prospect circles because his tools aren't flashy, but McKinney can flat out hit, has some power, and can stay up the middle, at least while he's in his twenties. He also has solid plate discipline and should provide plenty of value as a player. The A's jumped him all the way to High-A ball to start the season despite the fact that he was just 19, and he handled the challenge admirably. Then he was traded to the Cubs and put in the toughest hitters league in the minors and hit even better (albeit with less power). He's poised for a full-season in Double-A at just 20 and a breakout campaign that should put him firmly in the Cubs plans.
Take a Step Back: Christian Villanueva, 3B: Sometimes these are easy to pick. Villanueva literally took a step back this season, beginning the season in Triple-A and on the verge of the majors but being demoted back to Double-A after significant struggles. He didn't hit much better in Double-A in a season in which he actually needed to take another step forward to fulfill his potential. At this point, he's been passed on the Cubs 3B depth chart by Kris Bryant, Javier Baez (who could play there if the pieces moved appropriately) and others, and it will be difficult to overcome those obstacles.
Ready for the Majors: Kris Bryant, 3B: In incredible season by an incredible player leaves little left to prove in the minors. He's probably the best overall prospect in baseball, and if not, certainly in the brief discussion. He'll probably start the season back in Triple-A for financial reasons, but there's little need from a developmental standpoint. He's ready to take his spot next to Anthony Rizzo in the middle of the Cubs lineup for the next half-decade.
Statistical King: Jen-Ho Tseng, RHP: A 2.40 ERA as a 19-year-old in Low-A ball is worth getting excited about, but it should be taken with a grain of salt. Tseng is a very good pitching prospect, but his ceiling is a mid-rotation starter and not anything higher, despite his numbers. He was extremely successful this season thanks to being significantly more polished than his competition, something which will even out as he moves up the organizational ladder. He's a pitching prospect for sure, and probably one of the better ones in teh Cubs system, but he's not going to head up their rotation anytime soon.
Newest Addition: Kyle Schwarber, C/OF: Schwarber took the pro ranks by storm, dominating short-season and Low-A ball until the Cubs finally found an appropriate level of competition for him in the Florida State League. Schwarber will be a big league bat, but his status as a prospect is more of a high-floor guy than a high-ceiling player. He's going to hit, but he may not be the kind of bat that carries a team. The Cubs are still working him out behind the plate, and reviews are mixed as to whether or not he can stay there and just how much he'll be able to play back there if he does, but if he can catch at all, it dramatically increases his value. Otherwise, he projects as a solid-average left field bat.