Parker Chavers by Rich Biesterfeld (@biest22)
We’ve already seen the Cubs farm system rise in the national rankings and there’s significant optimism about the organization’s players making significant improvements heading into 2022. But what are those improvements players are making behind the scenes? I reached out to hitters and pitchers (Parts 2 and 3) to discuss their goals and player development plan for 2022.
Hitters on the Rise
2021 season in review: Evaluating his first professional season requires breaking the analysis into two halves. His overall numbers (.248/.344/.390 and 103 wRC+) don’t tell the entire story. In his first foray into professional ball, he struggled to adapt. Through July 12, Nwogu’s 34.3% K rate paved the way for a .576 OPS and 65 wRC+. Nwogu not only faced professional pitching for the first time but adapted to missed time because of the 2020 COVID-shortened season. But for a player with Nwogu’s work ethic and unbelievable skills, the hope would be that eventually some of the work that he and the hitting coaches were putting in behind the scenes would lead to a breakthrough. And breakthrough he did. From July 18 on, Nwogu slashed .297/.384/.446 (128 wRC+) while cutting his K rate to 24.5% and keeping his walk rate at a healthy 11.6%. The real Jordan Nwogu arrived. Heading into 2022, he’s ready to show that his second-half improvements are just the start.
2022 development and goals: Speaking with Jordan, he discussed several mechanical steps he is working to refine. First, he noted an emphasis on “using the ground”. I reached out to an individual who is involved in hitting instruction to shed some light on what this meant. According to the expert, “using the ground” is related to establishing a solid foundation at the launch position. Nwogu described his goal of barreling the ball more consistently by finding a better rhythm. Watching at-bats in May and June versus later months, he was changing his mechanics through the course of the season. The hope is that Nwogu can find a rhythm that allows him to feel most comfortable at the plate while showcasing his upper-level power. Jordan also spoke about the need to continue to work on the mental game. He looks forward to continuing to improve on defense and while he enjoys centerfield the most, he’ll play wherever the Cubs organization needs him.
2021 season in review: Taken at face-value, Wetzel’s .229/.339/.351 (95 wRC+) line across 86 games for Myrtle Beach doesn’t immediately jump off the page, however digging deeper, there are plenty of reasons to buy in on the outfielder. I see a player who was at the same age as a draft-eligible college junior but gained valuable experience by logging a half-season of full-season ball. And Wetzel had stretches during his debut where the potential became apparent. In a 103 plate appearance sample from July 23 through August 25, Wetzel slashed .279/.386/.453 (131 wRC+) with a 12.6% walk rate and a 25.2 K%. I picked Wetzel as my Sleeper hitter for 2022 and I’m sticking with it.
2022 development and goals: As soon as the 2021 season ended, Wetzel was already looking to improve during the offseason. This meant spending more time in Arizona, where he could continue with the strides he made later in his first season. As far as his hitting mechanics, Wetzel improved the consistency of his “gather” as well as worked to improve the distance his bat stays in the hitting zone. He’s looking forward to meeting his goal to hit for more power, especially by attacking early in the hitting count. Wetzel is absolutely motivated for 2022 and I wouldn’t bet against him. According to the young outfielder, “I have a lot in the tank and I’m going to show that this upcoming year” Wetzel said.
2021 season in review: Parker Chavers entered the 2020 season on the upswing before injuries and the pandemic combined for a lost year. He returned to Coastal Carolina where he continued to showcase his above-average OF arm and defense while slashing .318/.407/.477 with a 10% BB-rate and 13% K-rate. The Cubs drafted the 23-year-old in the 7th round, which prompted some outlets to refer to the pick as a steal. He played in five games for the ACL Cubs before the season ended.
2022 development and goals: As Chavers enters his first full season in professional ball, he recognizes there are additional areas for improvement, but his hitting mechanics only require adjustments and not a massive overhaul. In fact, Chavers notes his swing is feeling really good, but he is trying to gain consistency at the plate by ensuring his body is in the right launch position. He is hoping that establishing consistency will help him do damage at the plate more readily.
2021 season in review: The Futures Game was clearly a highlight for the Cubs top prospect (“how could it not be?”), but it wasn’t just hitting two home runs and winning the MVP award, it was the whole experience playing against the best performers in a major league stadium. What Brennen was most proud of this past season was his ability to control the mental game. He described not getting too high or too low throughout the course of the long 2021 season.
2022 development and goals: Unlike previous offseasons, Brennen didn’t enter the winter needing to make drastic swing changes. He and the development staff worked to tailor a program with him to make minor adjustments entering the 2022 season. He’s currently lined up to play all over the outfield. Davis begins this season as the organization’s top prospect barring a massive addition to the organization and he’s only a phone call away from Wrigley Field. Overall his goal remains the same as last season, “Start in one place, play well, and end up playing somewhere else”.
Level: Hi-A Key stats: .273/.360/.398 (111 wRC+), 11.8 BB%, 13.7 K%
2021 season in review: 2021 season had to be a frustrating one for Windham due to missing almost two months due to injuries, but it’s hard to discount the production both at the plate and behind it. His .360 OBP with a nearly 1:1 walk to strikeout ratio produced a solid line for the season. And pitchers loved throwing to Windham in South Bend. In conversations with South Bend pitchers, they will frequently mention the work Windham does throughout the game.
2022 development and goals: In 2022, the hope has to be a relatively full season of health. To his credit, he also recognizes the importance of his work at catcher to continue to propel him throughout the organization. “My focus on entering camp is really be locked into the defensive side of things, understanding all the pitchers, and being the best catcher for them that I could be!” Windham said.
Big Improvements in 2022
Every hitter featured here and throughout the organization is working to make improvements heading into 2022. After last season’s trade deadline, the writing is on the wall, opportunities are there if you perform. Which hitter are you most excited to see take the next step in their development? Make sure to check out Part 2 and 3 of the Spring Preview series diving into the goals and improvements Cubs pitchers are making this offseason.