Today is going to be a fun post for you.
One of the things we have found out here at North Side Bound is that we like talking about baseball together. We did three pieces together at Cubs Central together (1, 2, 3) before North Side Bound opened for business. We did a Prospect List Q & A last week along with our predictions for the Rule 5 Draft. We have different opinions and we are OK with those differences. We had them in our initial prospect rankings even though we unintentionally used the same 23 prospects.
The offseason is the perfect time to do these types of articles. Today, we have a good one for you as we answer a mailbag question from Twitter for you.
Here’s the question:
Jimmy@jimmynewdc asked, “Of the many non-40 roster relief pitchers currently in the Cubs system, who do you think might get the first call up to Wrigley? Do any make it in ’22?”
Strangely enough, we agreed and then we disagreed.
Greg Huss: This is an incredibly nuanced question and I love it. I think it is a very real possibility that we see all of Leeper, Ueckert, Carraway, and Hughes in Chicago at some point next year. But really, I think Leeper is the only one of the bunch that has a shot of making the opening day roster and even that would take pure dominance in Spring Training. With that being said, my prediction is that no one makes the roster out of Spring so we will be sitting on our hands waiting for that first non-40-man, relief pitcher call-up. Because there are often so many reliever injuries at the beginning of a season, we could see someone promoted fairly quickly, but my wild prediction here is that it doesn’t come from one of these “top prospect” type relievers. Instead, I think it will be a guy that the front office thinks they can run back through waivers and off the 40-man roster. Is this answer my way of cheating? Possibly. Give me Bryan Hudson or Dakota Mekkes.
Jimmy Nelligan: The first call up to Wrigley? That easily will be Ben Leeper, and I don’t think it’s even close. Of all the relievers in the higher levels of the system, Leeper has the best stuff (except maybe Carraway) and Leeper’s entire season in 2021 was nothing short of incredible. I don’t know if he’ll be a quick call up though. If he isn’t moved to the 40-man roster by the start of the year, we might not see him until around the All-Star Break. Now, who will make their debuts in 2022 is a completely different story. Look at 2021. We saw Scott Effross, Michael Rucker, Keegan Thompson, and Tommy Nance, all get added to the 40-man and make their debuts with the Cubs. I would imagine that after some shuffling with the 40-man, injuries, and some potential trades some spots in the bullpen would open up after Leeper and Ethan Roberts get brought up to the pen. I think a lefty like Brendon Little, Scott Kobos, or Bryan Hudson could get a look as well as one of the AAA righties like Cayne Ueckert, Dakota Mekkes, or Brandon Hughes. Depending on how well the Cubs play in 2022, we might see all of those guys. But I expect the Cubs to be more competitive in 2022 though. If I had to wager I would put money on Ben Lepper, Brendon Little, Scott Kobos, and Dakota Mekkes to be the only non-40 man guys to pitch for the Cubs in 2022.
Greg Zumach: I’m so intrigued by this question because my immediate gut feeling response to this was to say “Ben Leeper”. I think that’s still the case, but let me walk through each of the main candidates. Brendon Little: I’ve been high on him all summer, but the stress reaction in his elbow gives me significant pause. Brandon Hughes: This is definitely a lefty arm that could play at the major league level, but the Cubs also had the opportunity to add him to the 40-man and didn’t. He could easily be a Rule 5 pick or continue to have to earn a roster spot in 2022. He’s a definite contender though. Cayne Ueckert: I get the sense that he’d have the opportunity to start in AAA Iowa, but does he have enough of a K profile to be called up to the major leagues early? I’m not sure. I think you could make a compelling case for Carraway or Kobos, perhaps one of my colleagues will. In the end, I go with my gut, Ben Leeper. He has plus-plus stuff and succeeded in AAA. I feel like he would have been in Chicago if the major league team had been in contention. I’ll bet that we see Leeper by May of 2022.
Todd Johnson: My first impulse was to pick Leeper. In a perfect world, the Cubs would likely take the hot hand. However, finding a lefty arm might be the more urgent need, especially if the Cubs DFA or nontender Brad Wieck in the coming days. As a result, while I would like to say Leeper, I am going with a lefty. For me, that lefty is Brailyn Marquez in an ideal situation, but he’s already on the 40-man and does not fit the parameters of the question. I thought about Bryan Hudson, Brendon Little, and Brandon Hughes. If Burl Carraway and his slider work out, he could even be in the discussion. I even had Scott Kobos in my thoughts.
Odds are the Cubs will need a reliever by May 1. Injuries in April are common which leads to the idea that the Cubs will select the contract of the player that is already on the 40-man. However, that player may not be the most ready and not a lefty. This is a tough call. If he is healthy, Brendon Little will be my guy. However, I don’t expect him to stay in Chicago that first year if he is called up. He could be up and down several times unless he just wows in his pro debut. He might wear out Interstates 80 and 88 going back and forth if he can put it all together.
We really enjoyed this question and writing our individual responses.
So, to recap – Hudson/Mekkes, Leeper, Leeper, and Little. The thing to take away from all these discussions is that several arms are going to be in play. The hot hand and handedness will probably play more into the decision than we know.
We will have more roundtable mailbag questions and other discussions for you as we go along.