Sometimes, the mailbag can be a loaded question. By that, no matter how we answer, somebody’s not going to be happy. Such is the case today.
email@example.com asked, “Who do you see as the affiliate to watch next spring and how could that change over the course of the year?”
With the Cubs clearly reloading their farm system last summer, there are a lot more names to keep track of in 2022 and they could potentially reshape the Cub system. Off the top of my head, I would say it is a tossup between Iowa and Myrtle Beach. Then again, we don’t have the rosters for each affiliate and won’t for about 100 days, which is not that long. Those rosters and placements are really going to determine my focus next summer.
However, when you break down each affiliate, things become a lot muddier. Considering all the changes last year, every affiliate is going to be the affiliate to watch. A better question might have been which prospects are you going to watch at each affiliate? They are all going to be so different in terms of which prospects to watch or where and who you’re going to be watching and for what reason.
Brennen Davis is easily the star attraction in Des Moines for the summer of 2022. How Davis handles the pressure is going to be the main storyline for the Cubs Triple-A farm club. By the middle of the summer, several other prospects could be finding their way to Chicago, even if it’s just a cup of coffee. I expect to see Brailyn Marquez, Chris Morel, Chase Strumpf, Andy Weber, and Nelson Maldonado make their cases to be called up along with Cory Abbott, Ben Leeper, Cayne Ueckert, Brandon Hughes, and Ethan Roberts. That’s a lot of the Cubs very own guys to watch.
The Smokies’ starting pitching should be out of this world with Ryan Jensen and Caleb Kilian to start the year. If the lockout is averted by the beginning of the minor league season, Anderson Espinoza will be a third member of the rotation. Most of the position players are going to be pretty scrappy. Yonathan Perlaza is probably the main hitter to keep an eye on. I’d also expect to see some big-time arms in the bullpen blossom as the season begins. However, it is still unclear who is going to be where to start in 2022. More than likely, pitcher Riley Thompson should be returning to form a formidable wall of right-handed starters in the rotation along with Max Bain and Chris Clarke.
The Cubs are going to have a lot of competition for jobs to get to South Bend in spring training. The outfield alone is going to be amazing to watch. More than likely Alexander Canario will be there to start the year if the lockout has ended. He should be joined by Yohendrick Pinango and Jordan Nwogu. Kevin Made and Ed Howard will be manning the middle of the infield while Pablo Aliendo will be behind the plate. The Cubs are going to have two of the top 10 prospects in Jordan Wicks and DJ Herz probably starting in the rotation in South Bend. I don’t expect them to be here much past June 1. If he’s healthy, Kohl Franklin should be at South Bend as he comes back from missing all of 2021. I also wonder if Michael McAvene is there to start the year as well. In addition, outfielder Cole Roederer should be back to South Bend for the third time after missing most of 2021 after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
Buddy Bailey’s going to have his hands full again in 2022. That might be an annual thing without a short season team. He’s got a few guys who already had a cup of coffee at Myrtle Beach last year like Owen Caissie, Luis Devers, and Miguel Fabrízio. They will be joined by Kevin Alcântara, James Triantos, Reggie Preciado, and probably Pete Crow-Armstrong. The lefties Drew Gray and Luke Little should be in the rotation along with Koen Moreno. That should be exciting.
Mesa/Extended Spring Training
Even though the Arizona Complex League doesn’t begin actual gameplay until the middle of June, it’s still going to be an interesting place just because Cristian Hernandez will be stateside along with Pedro Ramirez. The two shortstops will be two names to watch in the box scores of Arizona Phil of “The Cub Reporter” during extended spring training. When the middle of June comes, I wonder if Hernandez will stay in Mesa or find his way to Myrtle Beach. Part of me thinks that because Kevin Made survived being an 18-year-old in Myrtle Beach that Hernandez could possibly get the call to begin his season as a Pelican.
So, every affiliate has something serious going on next year and that’s good for the organization. There’s still a lot of uncertainty about players coming back from injury and what is going to be the best assignment for them out of the gate. Needless to say, they’re all going to be fun to watch in April and May as certain guys try to establish themselves and their place in this new system.
As for the second half of the year, it could be the Wild West out there in terms of prospect watching. My hope is that we have players breaking out left and right and up and down the system. That would be the ultimate dream for me and my fellow writers at North Side Bound.
In the end, to answer your questions, most of my attention is going to be focused on South Bend because that’s who I see in person most often. However, Myrtle Beach and Iowa should both be very interesting to watch as well. From a pitching standpoint, Tennessee might be your thing. It all really depends on what you’re interested in watching. But when the second half of the year gets here, all bets are off because it’s really going to depend on what the big league club does at the trade deadline. Are they going to add or subtract? That determination could change what the farm system looks like again in the second half as it did last year.