As we continue our tour of the top prospects across the Chicago baseball landscape this afternoon, we take a look at Chicago Cubs #8 prospect, Trevor Clifton.
When he was drafted in 2013, Trevor Clifton had plenty of natural talent, but was completely unrefined. He slipped to the 12th round for that reason before the Cubs snatched him, and lured the skilled high school-er in with a healthy $375,000 dollar signing bonus.
Immediately upon his placement into the Cubs’ farm system, Clifton’s coaches and trainers set to work on his refinement issue. In large part due to their efforts, during his four years with the Cubs, Clifton has made impressive strides, including an incredibly promising 2016. Much of this growth can be attributed to his actual physical growth, as he’s added three inches and almost fifty pounds since being drafted.
Clifton was relatively unknown prior to the 2016 season, and MLB Pipeline only had him ranked 21st in the Cubs’ system in March. He got off to a scorching hot start by winning the Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Month award for May, and his success continued into the summer, when he rocketed up to ninth in the Cubs system in MLB Pipeline’s mid-season rankings.
He locked up the Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Month award for August as well en route to being awarded the Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year award in September. As 2016 was a season that saw top pitching prospects Pierce Johnson and Duane Underwood struggle, Clifton has now become the Cubs’ best pitching prospect above the single-A level.
Among his other accomplishments last year, Clifton improved his ERA to 2.72 in an increased workload, had more than 9 K/9, and boasted a 3.05 FIP. To put his incredible improvement in refinement on display, he significantly improved his control, ending the year with a 3.05 BB/9, contrasted heavily with his initial 6.97 in 2013. He also doesn’t throw meatballs; only four home runs were hit off of Clifton in 2016 in 119 innings of work. To put that in perspective, if he threw a complete game every single time he pitched, he’d only give up one homer in less than every three games.
Clifton wields a plus fastball (rated 60 on Minor League Baseball’s 20/80 scale) paired with a still-developing curveball and changeup. His fastball sits in the mid-to-low 90s (it’s reached as high as 97), and his curve has transformed into a very useful ground-ball inducer.
He projects as a low-end starter, but continual refinement and improvement could change that for the better. There’s also the option of turning Clifton into a reliever, in which case his fastball might see higher velocities due to shorter appearances.
The case of Trevor Clifton is a true testament to the developmental skills of the Cubs’ minor league staff. He has transformed from a 12th-round pick who couldn’t control himself, into the Cubs’ next top pitching prospect. He’ll probably spend most of his time at Double-A Tennessee in 2017, but expect to see him at least in Spring Training in 2018.