We haven’t had the opportunity to witness many impact prospects make their debut in Chicago over the last few years. Since 2019, there have only been six players to get their first call to the bigs that figure to be important cogs in the Cubs’ future plans: Justin Steele, Keegan Thompson, Manny Rodriguez, Nico Hoerner, Brailyn Marquez, and Adbert Alzolay.
But 2022 could be different. From the nearly dozen players that will surely make their debut this upcoming season, a fair amount of those guys figure to stick around on the Major League roster for years to come. Let’s take a look at five of the most highly anticipated debuts entering the 2022 season.
Brennen Davis | OF
I’d be leading the charge of complaints if someone else wrote this article and didn’t include Davis at the top. These Friday Five pieces are never a ranking, instead just a grouping. But it doesn’t matter when it Cubs to The Truth.
The amount of growth we’ve seen from Brennen in-season and in the off-season every single year has been nothing short of amazing. He’ll get a pretty extended look in Major League Spring Training next year (assuming it actually happens) and you should plan on taking trips to Wrigley to see the phenom in action sometime around June.
BRENNEN DAVIS JUST HIT A HOME RUN IN HIS FIRST TRIPLE-A AT BAT pic.twitter.com/XvTDUU7TPH— Greg Huss (@OutOfTheVines) September 15, 2021
Nelson Velazquez | OF
I love that we are finally talking about Nelly’s big league debut. While Davis’ strides have been consistent year after year, Velazquez just piled the improvements into one outrageous season.
Like Brennen, you probably won’t see Nelson in the majors in any role besides everyday starter, and the bright side is that there’s not really a whole lot of talent in Chicago’s outfield to prevent that from being a reality. We’ll need to see how he takes to a new level in Triple-A to begin next season and then after some adjustments and some moonshots, he’ll likely make it up by pretty late in the year. September call-ups aren’t the same as they used to be, but picture something like that!
Nelson Velazquez refuses to make an out 💣 pic.twitter.com/gxkHNn0OqN— Greg Huss (@OutOfTheVines) May 26, 2021
Caleb Kilian | RHP
From one AFL standout to another. Kilian will be playing his age-25 season next year, has spent time in the upper-minors already, dominated elite talent in the fall league, and is uber-talented.
There’s not a doubt in my mind that he’ll begin the year in Triple-A. That’s a rarity for the Cubs, as they haven’t started this type of top pitching prospect in Iowa since Alzolay back in 2018. Once a semi-permanent rotation spot opens up around June — whether that’s due to injury, ineffectiveness, or trades — that spot is Kilian’s for the taking.
Went back and watched Caleb Kilian’s start from last night. It was a much prettier outing than the final line indicates. Burned by 2 homers (one on a good pitch, one on a missed spot). I love his work early in the count to get ahead with his various forms of fastballs. pic.twitter.com/FtJavJ0CH9— Greg Huss (@OutOfTheVines) August 15, 2021
Ryan Jensen | RHP
When a top prospect or a 40-man prospect begins a season in Double-A, anything is fair game when predicting when he arrives in the majors. That’s definitely the case for Ryan Jensen, a guy that made four extremely successful starts in Tennessee to end the 2021 campaign. Equipped with the most electrifying stuff in the system, Jensen has begun to prove that the rotation will be his home long-term.
A year younger than Kilian, Jensen isn’t quite as ready to take up a spot in the Chicago rotation. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be as amped for his debut. I have two thoughts on when we could see him get the call — either he is up around July as a pitching “weapon” or he gets the promotion later in the year as a true starter.
I really like the idea that Jed Hoyer has been floating around for a while. Pitchers can sometimes just be pitchers. Any combination of Jensen/Alzolay/Thompson/Mills/Marquez used as piggybackers could be absolutely nasty and whatever it takes to see Ryan in Chicago, I’m here for.
Watched Ryan Jensen’s outing from yesterday: 4 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 5 K. Sat 96, touched 98. Showed curve (83-85), slider (86-88), changeup (90-92). Only 4 swinging strikes but cruised nonetheless. My favorite sequence: 97 at knees then a 85 plus curve starting to same tunnel. pic.twitter.com/NdkwRd7i8h— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) August 15, 2021
Ethan Roberts | RHP
Now that he’s on the 40-man roster, we are looking at a guy in Roberts than can compete for a spot in the bullpen right from the get-go. His stuff, mindset, and consistency has all the hallmarks of a Major League reliever right now.
Now, I don’t think we should necessarily expect Ethan to make the opening day roster, but I think setting our sights on him appearing in big league games by the time late May rolls around is fair. And at that point, he can turn into not only your favorite prospect, but your favorite Chicago Cubs player.
Feature photo of Ryan Jensen by Todd Johnson.