When it comes to right-handed starting pitching, the Cubs depth and talent level is tremendous. What is not are the injuries and the lack of domination by those power arms in 2021. However, things could change greatly in 2022 depending on adjustments those pitchers make this winter or in spring training and if some of the aforementioned injured get healthy..
As we begin to move up through the position rankings, we are going to start adding more prospects to analyze each week. This week, we are looking at six pitchers who we think are the best in the system in terms of their talent and potential.
1. Caleb Kilian
Kilian really busted out in the Arizona Fall League with 18 straight scoreless innings including six perfect ones in the Arizona Fall League championship. The big righty the Cubs acquired in the Kris Bryant trade looks like he could easily be in the middle of the rotation at some point in 2022. He really took a leap forward this fall by adjusting the grips on his curve and changeup to contrast to his fastballs and cutter. Now that cutter looks like an out pitch based upon how it compares to the other three. It’s a pretty impressive combination of pitches. With his rather large frame, he’s built for the long-haul of a 162 game season.
2. Anderson Espinoza
Anderson Espinoza easily has the best stuff of any Cubs pitcher, starter or reliever. The issue is that he missed four years and he is still figuring out the best way to control what he throws. I would not be surprised to see him move really fast if he can put the ball where he wants to this spring and summer. The former number one prospect in the Padres’ system is still only 23. I am stoked to watch him throw.
3. Ryan Jensen
For right now, Ryan Jensen is a starting pitcher. He had a lot of success revamping what he threw in 2021. He did it on the fly last June with horrific results in that month. But he put things together in July as he figured out how to throw a curve and a changeup to complement his two seam fastball. I watched him in person carve up one of the best teams in the minors in the Quad Cities River Bandits late last July. He went 5 IP, gave up 1 run, and struck out 10. At that moment I knew he was ready for Tennessee and he was gone by the weekend. He did well in Tennessee in just four starts.
4. Kohl Franklin
I am really looking forward to the return of Kohl Franklin. If he is ready to go at the beginning of 2022, it’ll be almost 2.75 years between pitches. More than likely he should be at South Bend to resume his career. In 2019, Franklin flashed a plus-plus change and was getting a pretty good feel for his curve while throwing 93-95 on his fastball. During the pandemic, those fastball numbers went way up. Matt Dorey, the Cubs Director of Player Development, said the Cubs had to pull him back from over working his body. Seeing how the Cubs use Franklin to start the year should be interesting as they will most likely limit him to 40-50 pitches an outing for a month.
5. Cory Abbott
For Abbott, 2021 did not start according to plan but it sure ended well as he was pretty fantastic the last month and a half (2.20 ERA over 7 Starts) in Iowa. Hopefully that carries over to next year and he’s made the adjustments he needs to make to thrive in Triple-A to get to Chicago.
6. Daniel Palencia
Here is another guy with a big arm who can shove a fastball close to 100. I am excited to see him in Davenport in late April when I get to my first games of the year.
Coming on Strong
I really like what Tyler Schlaffer did in Myrtle Beach after he was promoted from Arizona. He had an ERA under three and he missed a lot of bats in the last month of the season. He will likely start there again, but I don’t expect him to be there long. With a plus changeup and a mid 90s fastball, I think he’s really going to break out next summer.
I really like how Max Bain ended 2021. He was the Cubs August Pitcher of the Month and I got to see him at several points throughout the year as he transformed how he threw. It was interesting talking with him at every point in the process and, needless to say, Max did most of the talking. I really like his curve and changeup combination. The four seamer really plays well with the curve and the changeup because of the eye level going from the top of the zone to the bottom. Max’s only issue is walks at this point. He’s also said to be possibly bringing back his slider for a fourth pitch but the Cubs could be revamping that before we see it in game action.
To be honest, I could talk about another 10 guys including Richard Gallardo, Riley Thompson, Michael McAvene, and Chris Clarke (who I just love to watch pitch). We hopefully will get to see Koen Moreno and Josh Burgmann finally debut after missing all of 2021.
The Cubs are really deep with a lot of right-handed starters. These guys just need to step it up, take control of their arsenal, and just flat out shove on the mound.
Lead Photo of Ryan Jensen by Todd Johnson