Connor Noland – Picture via University of Arkansas Athletics

To see Walker Powell move three levels in 2022 was pretty exciting as he got better at each stop. It’s going to be a difficult task for someone to do that in 2023 as there seems to be a little clog in the system somewhere around Tennessee next year. But someone who dominates is going to move.

The best bets to do that are probably the guys that started out the 2022 season in Myrtle Beach and then moved to South Bend in the second half. They might start out 2023 in South Bend. They include Porter Hodge, Luke Little, and possibly Luis Devers. I am a little iffy on whether Devers will start out in South Bend next year or in Tennessee. It depends how much he picks up in velocity this winter. With Tyler Schlaffer undergoing some sort of procedure on his throwing arm, it’s unclear how long he’s going to be out but that does open the door for some movement.

Small, problem. None of theses guys are what we would consider sleepers. The expectations are there that they will all be on prospect lists aplenty this winter. So, even though they could all move a few levels, their very top billing eliminates them.

Now that he stayed healthy for a full season, Kohl Franklin is another guy I could see the Cubs doing some tinkering with this winter to make a few adjustments. After missing all of 2021, the Cubs handled Franklin with kid gloves for almost all of the first half and by the end of summer, he was pitching up to five innings at a time. The Cubs could make some adjustments this winter to what he throws which probably would include some sort of slider or, what the kids are referring to as, a sweeper. For Franklin, adding that kind of pitch to his arsenal would be quite deadly. However, he is still on many top prospect lists, including NSB’s. Thus, he could be one who could move a few levels, but does not fit the “sleeper” tag.

2022 Draft Candidates

The big question heading into next season will be just exactly who is going to be pitching where from the 2022 draft class. It’s likely that Cade Horton and Brandon Birdsell start out at South Bend and either one of those guys could move three levels easily. They’re both polished guys who might have a leg up just based on their experience and the fact that they’ve already dealt with adversity in their college careers. However, Horton is a guy who is going to be a top 7 guy on most lists this winter. Birdsell, he probably won’t make one list. So, we can count him as a “sleeper.”

Fellow 2022 draftee Connor Noland will more than likely start out in South Bend, but odds are Myrtle Beach might be an option because of the aforementioned logjam. He’s a guy who could end up the season in Tennessee. He’s got SEC experience, Friday night starter vibes, and some pretty good control. If the Cubs bump up his fastball a couple mph over the winter, he might be our “sleeper” in the clubhouse.

I also liked what I’ve seen in short stints from Brody McCullough who the Cubs took out of D2 Wingate in the 10th round this year. How much he develops with pro instruction could turn him into a different pitcher than what we saw with the Pelicans. If you want to take a guy coming out of nowhere, he might be your “Cinderella story.” Part of that is wishful thinking because we really don’t know what his development plan entails. We don’t even know if he is going to be a starter or a reliever.

Free agent pitcher Grant Kipp and Nick Hull could also surprise us next year and who knows all what Luis Rujano, Will Frisch, Branden Noriega, and Mason McGwire will do.

Other Guys

I could also see righty Tyler Santana and his bulldog mentality going from South Bend to Iowa in one season. A lot of that depends upon the role that he’s given and whether the Cubs give him those chances. They did not do it for him this year when he clearly earned a chance and the Cubs basically kept him at Myrtle Beach for 2 and 1/2 months longer than they needed to.

As a longshot, depending on physical conditioning and an improvement in his arsenal, you could also include Richard Gallardo in that mix. He is still 20 and has plenty of time to improve over the winter.

Still, with so many high profile pitchers in the system now, it is going to be hard to sneak up on dominate out of almost nowhere.

My money is on Birdsell and Noland