Jordan Wicks – Photo by Todd Johnson
As this off-season has gone on, I have wavered several times about where to rank the Cubs’ cadre of left-handed starting pitchers in comparison to the other positions. The Cubs arguably have three left-handed starters in their top 10 prospects and probably four in the top 25. And they could have another player or two make it on to some prospect list by the end of the summer. This is a position on the rise. While the numbers are not great in terms of the total depth, they do have some high-end lefties in the system now.
1. Jordan Wicks
This was a tough decision mainly because there’s not a lot to differentiate between the top three lefties. While Wicks is armed with a plus-plus changeup and an insane work ethic, he also seems to be a little bit more polished around the edges as to how he attacks haters And he’s pretty polished physically at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds. He’s likely to start 2022 at South Bend unless he just wows in spring training. I could see him finishing 2022 in Iowa easily especially if he has a third pitch that takes a leap forward to go along with his fastball and changeup.
2. Brailyn Marquez
I know what you’re thinking, but right now there’s a lot of uncertainty of Marquez’s future role. If he can show in 2022 that he’s back as a starter and has improved on his command of his pitches, he’s easily the number one starter on this list. But after missing all of 2021 with Covid and shoulder issues, one has to wonder what he’s gonna be like next year and if he’s going to be a starter.
3. DJ Herz
I’m not sure how some of my fellow writers here at North Side Bound will react to seeing DJ Herz at number three. To be honest, there’s nothing wrong with him being at number three as it’s not a slight against him considering who is ahead of them and their profiles. Right now, DJ’s had a lot of success and 2022 is going to be a big step in his career. We will see if he adds a fourth pitch and I’m sure he’s going to be just fine at South Bend. When he moves to Double-A, he’s going to face more polished hitters and he’s going to have to throw more strikes. Whether his curve can find the zone enough to keep hitters off balance for his changeup is going to tell the story. I’m excited to see how he does. I’m also excited to see if he’s put on a few more pounds this winter to add to his fastball.
4. Drew Gray
When the Cubs took him in the 2021 draft, my eyes opened a little bit as the previous regime under Jason McLeod was not known for taking prep pitchers that high. In fact, the Cubs had a pretty poor track record of prep arms outside of Justin Steele until 2019. But for Gray, he appeared in a few games in Mesa last summer and completely dominated the opposition. Gray will start 2022 in Myrtle Beach at the age of 19 and he could find his way to South Bend by July 4, hopefully. We’ll see how good he is and if he is dominant.
5. Luke Little
The big 6-foot-8 lefty pitched sparingly in his debut season but did pitch well when he did. His last start was a 3 inning 6 K affair that dazzled those in attendance. If he comes to camp healthy and ready to go, he should be in Myrtle Beach to begin 2022.
The Question Mark
It is unclear when Jack Patterson is going to return from TJS. And when he does, what is role going to be? Are the Cubs going to stretch him out slowly as a starter? Or, will they keep him in the pen to protect his arm this year? We didn’t even ask when he will be ready. That is probably the biggest question.
A Probable Breakout
Carlos Garcia was a stud in the DSL with a sub 1.75 ERA in 15 games. However, the Cubs never let the 2021 IFA get out of the fourth inning in the DSL. He should be in Mesa in extended spring training and could hopefully make it to Myrtle Beach in June rather than Mesa.
Luis Rodriguez dazzled in the ACL as a long reliever/piggyback starter and then did well in relief for Myrtle Beach the last couple of weeks. He should be back in Myrtle Beach to begin the year. However, will he get a shot to start or will he be a long man again?
The same is true for Bailey Horn. He first came on in relief in August and it did not go well. However, he did improve as a starter at South Bend. In a strange twist of fate, I saw him in-person three times the last two weeks of the year and each time was better than the start before. His last start saw him go 4 innings with 1 run and 4 Ks. A good way to end the year.