Riley Thompson – picture by Todd Johnson

As spring training is quickly approaching, I got to thinking some more about some possible posts we could do here at North Side Bound to get ready for the season. I started doing the affiliate sneak peaks last week, but I wanted to add in something special this week about who I thought would be the first prospects who get bumped up a level. At first, I wanted to do it by affiliate but I decided to just do a list of prospects who should be the first to move up regardless of level.

Ben Leeper Is sort of a no brainer. All that needs to happen for him to go to Chicago is that a spot opens up, then he needs to be added to the 40 man, and away he goes. It’s not a question of if for the non-drafted free agent at Oklahoma State, it’s a matter of when. In reality though, there’s nowhere for him to go right now.

Part of me wants to see Casey Opitz start the year in Double-A Tennessee. The Cubs fifth round pick out of Arkansas last year is already defensively ready for the majors, but the Cubs are likely working on the bat. However, I don’t think the Cubs are concerned because his defense is his calling card. Opitz’s time in the minors this year is going to be more about learning the pitchers and playing against more advanced competition, which is going to be weird because he played in the SEC since he was a freshman.

One player that could benefit from Leeper moving up would be Brandon Hughes. The former outfielder has really moved fast since converting in 2019. He played three levels that summer and then played two more in 2021. While I would like to see him start the year in Iowa, it’s more than likely that he’s going to be in Tennessee to begin 2022. But once Leeper goes, Hughes should be moving up to Iowa to take his spot.

Another prospect that could be promoted really fast this year is Tyler Schlaffer. While him getting a spot in South Bend is a bit of a longshot, It is not out of the realm of possibility that he pitches his way there in April and early May. If he’s just dominant at Myrtle Beach, I don’t see the need for him being in Myrtle Beach for much longer than four or five starts. Based upon his sub 3 ERA in August last year, he’s pretty close to being ready to get the bump.

The wild cards for getting promoted are players who did not play much last season. 

I could see Riley Thompson use the lower part of the system like a rehab tour to start the year before he finally finds his way to Double-A, his likely landing spot for most of the year.

Michael McAvene is probably going to be on the same circuit. However, his role in returning this year should be as a starter. I am still on the reliever train for him, but I understand the Cubs trying to stretch him out for the rotation. 

Kohl Franklin and Josh Burgmann would be two other arms who could move fast after missing all of 2021. Because of temperature concerns in the South Bend area, both could begin in Myrtle Beach and move quickly to South Bend.

Two arms I would love to also see move quickly are Ben Hecht and Jack Patterson. Both had TJS and both should be in Tennessee to start the season. Ironically, both finished there in 2019 after great seasons. Both will probably be watched very closely once they begin pitching in games. 

The other big name I could see moving quickly this spring is Jeremiah Estrada. It would not surprise me to see him move two levels in 2022. He was dominant in his 30+ innings last summer in relief in Myrtle Beach. After missing the better part of three seasons, it was really amazing to see him just dominate Low-A hitters. And, to be quite frank, High-A hitters are probably not going to much of a challenge for him, either.

I would also love to see Pete Crow-Armstrong hit Myrtle Beach for a month and just tear it up. The same would be true for Cole Roederer who is likely back at South Bend after coming off TJS.

While trying to predict who gets promoted first may be a futile exercise, all of the aforementioned players were picked based on possible performance and returning from injuries. As most of you know, injuries are really what drive promotions in the first month of the 2022 season. Then again, raking at the plate will do it too!