Jordan Wicks – Picture by Todd Johnson
Writing this post was fun and torturous at the same time. In trying to pick just six starting pitchers, I really limited myself because the Cubs have some pretty good depth in their system.
The whole process started out with close to 13 starting pitchers. From there, I got down to 10, then eight, and finally to six with one sleeper….then two sleepers, then three.
As soon as you start reading this list, you will notice that Caleb Kilian is not on it. That’s because he’s not going to be in the minors all season. He should be up in Chicago at some point in the middle of the year. The same is probably true for Corey Abbott.
As a result, The only players included in this list are starting pitchers we see sticking in the system throughout all of 2022.
Let’s start with the honorable mention list.
I would’ve loved to put Riley Thompson on the preseason All-Star team but he hasn’t pitched since 2019 in the championship game of the Midwest League for South Bend. I will not be surprised when he makes an All-Star team at some point this year. He might be the Cubs most intense competitor in the organization. His workload and innings limits are not yet known but he should be at Tennessee to start the year.
Anderson Espinoza could be special after not pitching for four years. Espinoza looked great late last summer with the Cubs after coming over for from the Padres. Word is he reworked his slider. He could be special, very special, if he stays healthy.
If Max Bain starts the year in South Bend, I think he pitches much better for the season than he would if he starts at Tennessee because it’s a much bigger learning curve at Double-A. Getting going at South Bend would give his ERA a low cushion.
Meanwhile, youngsters Koen Moreno and Luke Little both missed a lot of time last year in what would’ve been their first full season. Luckily, they are healthy now and both should be at Myrtle Beach. Both could really breakout this year.
Let’s get started with the top six!
Kohl Franklin was probably the easiest pick for me. No matter where he starts throwing this year, he’s going to be lights out. His stuff is just too good. Hopefully he can stay healthy this year. If he does, he might be one of the top two or three pitching prospects in the system if he does. The fact that he was sitting 97 and 99 in spring training is a good harbinger.
I really think Daniel Palencia was a steal in the Andrew Chafin trade. While everybody was focused on Greg Deichmann, Palencia comes in and starts throwing upper 90s gas and then shows up in the first game of spring training and was lights out in one inning of work. If all goes well this year, he could and should take the system by storm. I’m excited to see him pitch live in the Quad Cities next month when I make my first trip.
In fact, four of these arms on this list are slated to start the year in South Bend.
Jordan Wicks has changed a lot since I saw him last September. He’s added a slider, dropped the two seam fast fall, and changed the grip on his curveball. He looked pretty decent in spring training last week and will probably see some more action as time goes on. But when it comes to the minors, I don’t see Wicks sticking around South Bend very long. He might be the first fast-rising pitching the Cubs have seen since Kyle Hendricks. I would not be surprised to see Wicks in Iowa in September. I love his make up, work ethic, and, of course, his changeup.
As for DJ Herz, he has set some lofty goals for himself. The Cubs 2021 minor league pitcher of the year put repeating the award at the top of his list. If he can get off to a good start in April at South Bend, he is going to put himself in the running. When I saw him up in Beloit last September, I came away pretty impressed with his competitiveness, his passion to do well, and his ability to just take everything in and learn from it.
When righty Ryan Jensen showed up to Tennessee after being named the Cubs August minor-league pitcher of the month while at South Bend. When he got to Tennessee, he did not miss us a beat. I see him picking up right where he left off last September and he’s going to put himself into the conversation to get called up to Iowa in the second half of the year. Once the Cubs reworked Jensen‘s curveball and changeup, he really took off in the second half of the year. The Cubs tried adding a slider and it really hasn’t worked out yet. It’ll be interesting to see if the Cubs have him adding a fourth pitch or if they’re still going to stick with the slider.
Tyler Schlaffer threw the baseball like a stud when he got to Myrtle Beach last summer. The Cubs 2019 eighth round pick out of Homewood-Flossmoor almost looks ready and up to head to South Bend to start 2022. More than likely, he will begin the year at Myrtle Beach just because of the depth in the Cubs system. I don’t see him being there that long. If he shows up to the Carolina League with a mid 90s baseball and his plus change it, he’s going to own most of the league just like he did last year in August last year when he posted a 2.90 ERA for the month.
Some of the next few names probably will make my monthly all-star teams at one or two points during the year. They are technically not considered sleepers. They might just POP more than other. I still like Chris Clarke a lot and I am really looking forward to how he’s improved this winter. With Michael McAvene and Josh Burgmann coming back from injuries, it will be exciting to see them get back on the horse. I would not rule out Luis Rodriguez or Benjamin Rodriguez from breaking out either. All they need is an opportunity.
The Cubs also signed several nondrafted free agents last summer and it will be intriguing if any of Walker Powell, Tyler Santana, or Riley Martin get a shot at starting.
As always, this is just a preseason All-Star team. It’s not rocket science, but it does show that the Cubs have some pretty good talent when it comes to starting pitching from Double-A on down.
In the second half of the year, Dom Hambley might be the name will all be chanting. That kid has a work ethic most pros would love to have. He could start at Mesa in June or he could arrive in Myrtle Beach about halfway through the season.
Had Drew Gray stayed healthy, he definitely would’ve been in my top six. That’s probably going to lead you to ask which player actually took Gray’s spot in the top six? I’m not going to tell.