North Side Bound is back for another Roundtable and this time we discuss prospects that are being overlooked by national publications.
Here’s the question:
Derek Ring@DerekRing29 asked, “What is the 1 pitcher and 1 hitter that other prospectors are overlooking that you feel have the opportunity to be real solid MLB contributors?”
Let’s layout the ground rules for this. Players can’t rank in the top 10 of Baseball America or Top 15 in MLB Pipeline, Fangraphs, or Prospects Live‘s most recent Cubs rankings. Each NSB writer will pick 1 hitter and 1 pitcher.
So who did each North Side Bound identify?
Greg Huss: Our self-imposed restrictions here make it somewhat difficult, seeing as between BA, MLB, FG, and PL there are 20 guys we have to avoid here. My answers are actually somewhat obvious to me though, I’m going to go with Nelson Maldonado and Daniel Palencia. Maldonado may not be getting quite the hype as the other Nelson in the system, but he can flat-out hit. We always talk about the value of Major Leaguers with a good hit tool, that limit their strikeouts, and can hit for some pop. Well, Maldonado is that guy. I couldn’t care less that he doesn’t really have a position. I do care that he can rake. Palencia broke my Top 25 list last month at No. 24, so his inclusion here is pretty easy. He throws gas, is flirting with legitimate rotation potential, and can fall back on being a damn good reliever one day. Easy money.
Jimmy Nelligan: I know Manny Rodriguez has already made his MLB debut, but he still has his rookie status and I think he is being severely overlooked. He has a fastball with lots of run that can touch 100, and an absolute hammer of a slider with sharp downward movement that can touch 90. I’m not saying he’s going to go out and grab 30 or 40 saves for the Cubs this year, but of all the pitchers with rookie status in the system, I think Manrod is the only one with major league closer type stuff, although I would definitely hear arguments for other players in the system. Manrod’s ERA was 6.11 in 2021 in 17.2 IP, but he had a real bad outing September 11th that ballooned his ERA. Overall, he threw it pretty well in Chicago, and I expect that he will be a staple in the bullpen for all of the 2022 season.
For hitters, it’s a little more tricky, but I really like Luis Vazquez who was another Cub that played in the AFL this year. His skill set is perfect for a bench utility role: he plays great infield defense, he is fast on the basepaths, and his bat took a step forward in a shortened 2021 season. He could fill that occasional starter/pinch-runner/defensive substitution/pinch hitter type role for a team if he can stay healthy. He’s already gotten playing time in AA and AAA, but 2022 will be his first full season playing at the upper levels of the minors. 2022 could be the year that Vazquez breaks out.
Greg Zumach: The more I ask around about catcher Casey Opitz, who was drafted in 2021 out of Arkansas, the more convinced I am that he’s a big-league player down the line. He was lauded for his work behind the plate by his teammates, to Cubs VP Dan Kantrovitz, to Pitching Ninja Rob Friedman. His offense is less of a concern with Opitz who likely settles in as a backup catcher with a long major league career.
As far as pitching, is it cheating to say Max Bain? He doesn’t fit the above criteria so I suppose not. He features well above-average stuff with impressive velocity. Starter or reliever is a question that can be answered later, but I’m buying on the guy who transformed his body, threw plus stuff, and improved along the way during his first professional season.
Todd Johnson: This is a tough question as “contributor” has so many different connotations. Anyway, for a pitcher option, I am rolling with Ben Leeper. He is just so nasty. I am excited to see him in Chicago in 2022. It’s a shame he is not in the top 30 as he just mows guys down. However, when it comes to hitters, this is a bit more challenging. For me, Andy Weber is that guy. I don’t see him as a starter though. I could see him being a jack of all trades infielder who fills in at short one day, second another, and maybe he gets a DH spot here or there. With a left-handed bat, he also possesses late-inning pinch-hitting heroics as he has ice water in his veins. I just love his command of the strike zone. It’s Zagunis-like. Every team needs guys like Weber.
Thanks to Derek for the question! This is a system that is building out a really impressive level of depth, which means that there are guys that just get knocked in national reports. So what do you think? Who are your overlooked prospects in the Cubs system?