Daniel Palencia picture via his Instagram

We are getting closer and closer to opening day for the minor-league season. Iowa kicks off next week on Tuesday the fifth while Myrtle Beach, South Bend, and Tennessee debut on Friday the eighth. We’ve been having a little bit of a preseason extravaganza here at North Side Bound as we get ready for the season. We have done some predictions of statistics, a three-part All-Star team, and this week we are rolling out who we think will be the players of the year for hitting, starting pitching, and relieving.

Yesterday, we broke down who we thought would be our hitter of the year and today we’re getting right back at it with starting pitching.

There’s no doubt in all of our minds that this is going to be an extremely exciting year as several players hope to return from missing all of 2021 in addition to the pandemic. We are pumped to see them get back at it and hope that they can stay healthy all year.

Let’s take a look at our picks for pitcher of the year in the Cubs minor-league system.

Last Year’s Winner – DJ Herz

Greg Zumach – In thinking about who could be the pitcher of the year, I weigh how likely that pitcher will be to log the sufficient innings as well as how their stuff should fare compared to the competition. Three pitchers were in serious competition in my view: DJ Herz, Caleb Kilian, and Jordan Wicks. I think Kilian ends the season in Chicago so I really drilled into Herz and Wicks. Two supremely talented lefties, Herz was the 2021 Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year and Wicks the Cubs 2021 first-round pick. Over the offseason, Wicks made substantial improvements to both of his breaking balls, his curveball, and slider, as well as changing to primarily a four-seam fastball from his two-seam. Wicks doesn’t look out of place in big-league camp. Herz improved his curveball, giving him another weapon to add to his changeup and fastball. His crossfire delivery gives batters fits. I think it’s going to be incredibly close, but I’ll predict that DJ Herz is the first back-to-back Chicago Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year with a final line of 9-4, 3.11 ERA, 172 Ks, 110 innings pitched. Go get ’em, DJ!

Jimmy Nelligan – This might be a stretch, but give me Max Bain. He’s shown an outstanding changeup that could give him three pitches that will generate outs. He has one of the best pitching minds in the system, and I just personally love his story. He’ll eat up a lot of innings in AA, and if he can find a way to put everything together, he could make a run for Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the year. Even better, this might be the year we see Bain touch 100.

Greg Huss – Daniel Palencia is my guy. The Cubs development team tapped into something special as soon as he was acquired in the Andrew Chafin deal last year as he saw the numbers become much prettier than they were as an Athletic. He’s gonna put up silly numbers thanks to a triple-digit fastball that he holds deep into games, a sword-inducing curveball, and a fading changeup that just needs some more consistency. The South Bend broadcasting staff is going to love calling Palencia starts this year.

Todd Johnson – Just as with the hitters, this was an extremely difficult decision. I actually considered five or six guys. However, I can only pick one and that is going to be Daniel Palencia. This kid is just going to break out in a big way. The Cubs have taken an arm that can throw 100 miles an hour and added some nasty breaking stuff to go along with it. As a result, he should dominate at South Bend unlike any pitcher we’ve seen in quite a while. He’s going to have stiff competition as DJ Herz is highly motivated to win the award in back-to-back years. Jordan Wicks is not be underestimated while Kohl Franklin has some catching up to do.