Parker Chavers – photo by Rich Biesterfeld

Every year, there is a prospect who shoots into the lexicon of most Cub fans. Last year, Cayne Ueckert and Ben Leeper were two examples. But if you look close enough, the clues were there that these prospects could be breaking out. For example, Matt Dorey, the Cubs’ Director of Player Development, talked up Leeper in every podcast he did after fall instructs. When I profiled Ueckert in 2020, I thought the 2019 draftee could find a new career moving from being a starter in college to a reliever as a pro. He did.

Just as an FYI – Sleepers tend to mostly come from Class A or recent draft picks. However, we have seen sleepers breakout in Double-A as Willson Contreras did in 2015. In other words, they can happen at any level.

So, without further adieu, here are some sleeper hitting prospects we think could breakout in 2022.

Greg Huss – Let’s take this opportunity to discuss Cole Roederer, a guy that went from one of the most widely beloved players in the system in 2019 to forgotten far too often thanks to an injury in 2021. Tommy John be damned, Cole is still one of the most physically gifted players this system has to offer. He’s been certified to have the most beautiful swing in baseball, his defense is terrific in center field, and his pop might really show out in 2022 thanks to some more muscle. I’m willing to bet he starts the season on a full-season roster at DH. Don’t sleep on the California Kid.

Todd Johnson – My decision resulted in a tie.

I really dig what Parker Chavers brings to the table. He reminds me of a young Andrew Benintendi, just an outfielder with a lot of tools who just needs a chance to get healthy and play. Chavers can hit for power and average and play a mean CF. He should be in Myrtle Beach to start 2022 with an outside chance of going to South Bend.

Then again, I am all about Luis Vazquez tearing it up. I got see Luis play last year for South Bend before he was injured and then again before he was promoted to Tennessee. In between, he spent most of the year on IL and was sent to the AFL where he spent most of those six weeks injured as well. Anyways, what I love about Vazquez is he has this searing intensity in person. He’s a very physical player who makes everything look so easy in the field, which makes him the best defensive SS in the system. The issue for him is that his bat lagged behind. Last year, the bat was supposed to catch up. It’s hard to do that when you’re injured. In 2022, I am hoping for the bat to explode even if it is at Tennessee.

Jimmy Nelligan – A guy I’m keeping my eye on is the switch hitting 2021 15th round draft pick BJ Murray. At Florida Atlantic in 2021 he had an OPS over 1.000 due in part to his 41 walks in 57 games. But that was the only season where Murray had success collegiately after he struggled to find at the plate his freshmen and sophomore season. However, after Murray found his stride in 2021, he got the opportunity to play in the ACL for the Cubs while continuing to walk at a high rate. Physically, Murray looks the part of a corner infielder and displays a great power stroke, especially from the left side. At 22 years old, I could see Murray play a significant amount of innings early in the season at Myrtle Beach while the rest of the younger players on the roster get accustomed to full-season professional baseball. 3rd base isn’t a deep position in the system, meaning he won’t be logjammed at 3rd and could receive a quick promotion to South Bend if he performs well against the younger competition in Myrtle Beach.

Greg Zumach – Jacob Wetzel doesn’t get the same level of publicity as other high-impact outfielders in the system, but he needs to be in the conversation. The 2020 post-draft free agent signee out of Frederick Community College spent his first pro season at the same age as the 2021 college draftees but logged 86 games at Myrtle Beach. The overall stat line (.229/.339/.351 and 95 wRC+) doesn’t jump off the page. I’m optimistic that his 2022 will be much better. Digging into his numbers, Wetzel turned his performance on in July, until the long season caught up with him. His .363 OBP and 118 wRC+ line from 7/23-8/29 in the pitcher-friendly Low-A East will absolutely play if he can incorporate some of the changes he’s working on this offseason. In speaking with Wetzel, he noted that he’s working to be more aggressive early in the count to hit for more power. I’ll have a complete rundown of his offseason hitting plan and goals in an upcoming piece. I’m buying in on Wetzel next season.

We will be back at some point next week with a look at some sleeper starting pitchers.