Chris Clarke – Picture by Todd Johnson
Welcome to part two of our roundtable sleeper series where we’re looking at prospects who could break out in a big way in 2022. Last week, the four of us examined our top sleeper hitting prospect and today we turn our attention to starting pitching, a much tougher task.
More often than not, a sleeper prospect usually breaks out in the lower parts of the system. Normally, that is going to be Low Class-A Myrtle Beach or in the Arizona Complex League. With the amount of video that’s out there and the amount of coverage in general of all pitching prospects, it’s hard to find someone who has pretty much flown under the radar.
When we first thought of doing the series, my mind went straight to Carlos Garcia. However, a small problem happened last week as he was suspended for 60 games. There are also guys we have right in our scopes like Drew Gray, Daniel Palencia, and Tyler Schlaffer who we expect to take a leap forward in 2021, but they are not really flying “under the radar.”
Let’s see who everybody wound up selecting!
Greg Zumach -Chris Clarke boasts one of the best pitches in the organization with his curveball and he’s armed with a full starter’s arsenal. Clarke’s 2021 season started with injuries, but he managed to throw 50 innings with High-A South Bend. Next season he’ll be 24 and likely ticketed for Double-A where he’s only one call away from the majors. Behind the scenes, Clarke discussed improvements he’s made in his strength and conditioning to put him in the best position for 2022. I’ll have the full report on his work in an upcoming article. But if I’m picking a starter not in my Top 25, I’m buying-in on Chris Clarke.
Jimmy Nelligan – Although he hasn’t thrown a single pitch professionally, my sleeper pick is Koen Moreno. Moreno was the final pick for the Cubs in the shortened 2020 draft and was relatively unheard of. He is an incredible athlete who has posted videos of himself running 22 mph on the treadmill and dunking a basketball pretty easily at 6’2″. In high school he topped out at 94 but hasn’t shown a consistent off-speed offering. Luckily, Moreno has had a couple years to develop in the Cubs system. His time spent with the Cubs pitching infrastructure, combined with his incredible athleticism, leads me to believe Moreno will get some starts at Myrtle Beach during the 2022 season where he will throw with success.
Todd Johnson – Oliver Roque pitched very well last year in the Dominican with a 0.85 ERA. Some of that was in relief but as the year went on, he changed roles and was a starter down the stretch. He’s probably not going to be playing stateside until the middle of June, but he’s about as big of a sleeper as I can get. In 31.2 innings last year, he struck out 26 and had a whip of 0.66. Those are some pretty heady numbers, especially in the DSL. If I had to pick a guy in full season ball, like at Myrtle Beach, I would roll with Koen Moreno. Then again, he’s a pretty well known guy who just happened to miss 99% of 2021. So, I will let it all ride with Oliver Roque.
Greg Huss — As a prospect writer/blogger/podcaster/nerd, it is never easy to realize when you should hop off a player’s bandwagon. You hype a guy up for years, believe in his ability to turn raw talent into results, only to watch as he falls off the Major League radar. Luckily for me, I know for a fact that it is not yet time to hop off Benjamin Rodriguez’s bandwagon. Like so many other pitchers in this system, he didn’t get a competitive pitch in during the 2021 campaign due to an injury and long rehab process. He signed back in 2017 and most recently spent the 2019 season in Arizona throwing 50.1 innings with decent results (3.58 ERA, 17.6 K%, 7.9 BB%). He’ll start the 2022 season as a more physically and mentally mature starting pitcher in Myrtle Beach, cranking fastballs up into the high-90s and showcasing improved offspeed pitches.
We will back with a roundtable again next week with some sleeper relievers.
I’m with Nelligan on Moreno between this bunch. Clarke’s got a mediocre mix with mediocre numbers and a TJ already is only nominally a prospect, Rodriguez is that with hopefully more velocity after two years out of games. Moreno’s probably easily the best athlete of the trio, seems to have avoided surgery, hasn’t pitched at all to cite mediocre performance, threw as hard as any in this group, had some feel for pitching, hasn’t been with the org long
I honestly don’t think you need to dig so deep in the system. Gallardo and Gray seem very ignored and downplayed among the system’s multitude of teenaged sensations, Kilian probably only hit top 10s after the AFL championship game