Picture by Todd Johnson
Heading into the 2022 Major League Draft and the trade deadline, the Cubs are in a unique opportunity to strengthen the farm system which in time will strengthen the major league club. The Cubs currently have four top 100 prospects in Brennen Davis, Pete Crow-Armstrong, Christian Hernandez, and Caleb Kilian/Kevin Alcantara, depending on the list. Owen Caissie, James Triantos, and DJ Herz are close on other lists with Jordan Wicks closing fast.
With the seventh pick in the draft and the Cubs are possibly getting a couple of top prospects at the deadline, the system is going to have more high-end talent than it has in years, easily since 2015 and 2016. Come August 3, the Cubs should have a top 4 or 5 farm system in all of baseball.
When you look at the system as a whole and its strength and its weaknesses, there are still some things out there that they could improve on and there are other areas that they can use as capital because of their depth. And by capital they could use that to promote to the major league level or they could use that capital to acquire talent for the major league level.
8 to 10 years ago, the joke was the Cubs had all the shortstops. Now, the Cubs have all the outfielders. Three of their top four position players are from the outfield. They are scattered throughout the system but 8 of them made our midseason top 25 prospect list last week. Right now, High-A has half of them with Pinango, PCA, Nwogu. and Caissie all on one squad.
Relief pitching, as a whole, is a strength. But this really bodes well for another strength and that’s acquiring nondrafted free agents and developing them. The Cubs have used the late round picks and NDFA to the point that each affiliate pretty much has a bunch of high-powered arms in the bullpen. And it’s not just one arm at each level, there are several. For example at South Bend, they have Zac Leigh, Eduarniel Nunez, Yovanny Cruz, Sheldon Reed, and Gabriel Jaramillo. All mid to upper 90s guys.
The Cubs system is filled with a lot of young infielders who have immense physical talents and can play a variety of positions. Kevin Made and Ed Howard both can play a couple positions in the infield. The same is true of Luis Verdugo and Fabian Pertuz at South Bend. And you can add in Andy Weber and Luis Vasquez at Tennessee along with Chase Strumpf. Down in Mesa, Pedro Ramirez and Rafael Morel play all over the infield while Cristian Hernandez is at SS.
The Cubs have a few guys with a lot of power. The keyword here is few. Those they do have stick out like a sore thumb. Matt Mervis, Alexander Canario, and Bryce Ball are pretty obvious in Tennessee. In fact, the Smokies have 5 guys with 10 HRs and they lead the Southern League. As for the rest of the affiliates, the Cubs have a lot of guys with the potential for power. Owen Caissie and Kevin Alcântara are a ways away from developing it fully. Mervis and Canario could be the only Cubs to hit 20 home runs this year. Think about that! The Cubs could only have 2 guys crank 20 home runs for an entire season in the minors and still be a top 5 system.
Between Covid and injuries, the Cubs starting pitching depth was exposed in 2021. I don’t care how good Craig Breslow is or what the pitching lab can do. Unless the guys can get healthy soon, the Cubs are still in need of high end starting pitchers. And the only way to get them usually is in the draft or a trade. And we saw that with the additions of Caleb Kilian and Jordan Wicks last year. And we’ve seen what that lack of depth has done at the major league level as there are few prospects at Iowa who are ready to step in and be a starter from day one. There are guys with potential like Cam Sanders, but he’s going to need to develop AT the MLB level if the Cubs take a chance. It’s going to take a couple years before we have a full-fledged rotation arm ready outside of Kilian. Herz and Wicks aren’t going to be there on a fast track anytime soon and neither is Daniel Palencia. Kohl Franklin‘s looking good lately and Luis Devers has a nasty changeup, but he might be better suited for the pen. And no one at Tennessee is lighting it up on a regular basis just yet.
The Big Thought
Over of course of the next two weeks of July last summer, we saw the Cubs system change greatly between the draft and the trade deadline. The same thing is going to happen this year.
The Cubs are going to go out and they’re going to acquire talent in three ways. They’re going to use the draft to get the best players they possibly can. They’re going to use non-drafted free agency to help fill some holes in the system. And they’re going to use their major league talent, sadly, to bring in some more elite prospect talent that could give them close to seven top 100 players by August 2. That is going to be crazy if that happens.
Odds are it will.
Now, the questions become, what kind of talent will they be getting in return – pitching, hitting, or both?