Zac Leigh – Picture by Todd Johnson

The number one storyline for this fall is actually going to be which relievers the Cubs protect in the Rule Five Draft and which relievers they do not. We are going to see right away if Cam Sanders and Danis Correa are protected because, if they are not, they are more than likely not coming back as Cubs in 2023. And they’re not the only two guys who the Cubs could lose this winter as relievers are the second greatest depth position in the system.

You can look at that in a lot of ways, but the ones in which I am approaching are that the Cubs are having success developing relievers and they have a lot of guys that throw hard. They cannot protect every single one. Who knows, maybe they’ll make a trade shortly after the World Series in order to get something for them instead of losing them.

Let’s take a look at what should be the top storylines for relievers will be in 2023.

1. The 3 to 6 Headed Monster at Iowa

Depending upon who gets taken in the Rule Five Draft, Iowa could have anywhere between 3 to 6 relievers who could help the big league club at any point in time next summer. The only issue going forward is that 40-man spots are going to be tight for the next couple years. Ben Leeper is in this group along with Estrada, possibly Correa and Sanders along with Cayne Ueckert. I am not sure what the story is going to be with Brendon Little. Do the Cubs really see him as possible guy? If so, he might be in the mix as well.

2. The Summer of Zac

 I want to see Zac Leigh make it to Iowa by June 1 and Chicago by August 1. I think that’s a good timetable for him as it gives him a couple more months at Double-A and then a couple months at Triple-A. We are going to get a good look at him this fall against the best of the best in the Arizona Fall League and I am excited to see what he can do. In fact, he’s holding his own right now.

3. McAvene 2.0

Now that he’s completed a full year healthy in the minors as a reliever, I’m pretty pumped to see Michael McAvene come back even stronger in 2023. He spent all of 2022 at South Bend except for one appearance in the Southern League championship series. He’s going to start the year at Tennessee and I am pretty excited to see how the Cubs adjust his secondaries for next season. Will those secondaries be enough to get him to Chicago on the same timeline as Zac Leigh? I would not be surprised if it was close. But he’s got to get his side pieces in line.

4. The Return of the Lefties

How will Scott Kobos and Burl Carraway look next year when they return after missing most of 2023? Both guys had a disappointing season more so for injuries than anything else. I’m curious as to how the Cubs will attempt to rebuild them and what they’re going to be throwing next year when they come back.

5. The Lack of Lefties

The Cubs seem to be in the middle of a little lefty reliever drought.. Some of that has been caused by injuries, but they’ve also let quite a few of them reach free agency the past couple of years. They’re going to need to build that corps back up in the coming year. They can do it via minor league free agency, the draft, independent leagues, or non-drafted free agents. But whatever way the Cubs go, it needs to get done. And the sooner the better

6. Tennessee Logjam 

There’s going to be a little bit of a logjam at Tennessee this year as some pitchers that were starters last year move to the pen, some guys come off the injured list after being out for all of 2022, and some guys that missed basically most of 2021 and 2022 come back and rejoin the system. That’s going to really slow things down especially for guys at South Bend and whoever ends up in the relief corps at Myrtle Beach.

7. What is the 2022 Draft Class going to end up doing?

The Cubs took 15.5 pitchers in the 2022 Draft. Three of them have had Tommy John surgery in the past few months. At least 12 guys are more than likely going to start their careers at either South Bend or Myrtle Beach while a couple will stay in Mesa. How many begin their careers next year in the bullpen is still up in the air.

8. Wilber Rodriguez

The now 22 year old debuted this summer in the DSL. He’s a big guy at 6-foot-3 that Arizona Phil seems to like a lot and has been doing well in instructs this fall.

Wilber Rodriguez:
FB: 95-97, SL: 84-86 
NOTE: An older, big, mean, scary RHRP who could move VERY quickly 

9. Myrtle Beach Relief Corps

You could say this about the entire pitching staff at Myrtle Beach, but no one really knows just exactly who is going to be there. It is going to be one of the most interesting storylines of spring training as the Cubs figure out who is good enough to succeed at that level.

10. MiLB Free Agency

The Cubs have had a lot of success in minor-league three agency the past five years when it comes to developing bullpen arms. Don’t be surprised to see them go out and get three or four guys as possible bullpen arms this winter and they can stash them in Iowa. I will be shocked if they don’t.

11. Mesa

I’m curious to see who all ends up coming north from the Dominican for extended spring training when it begins in April. Usually if they come stateside, they stay stateside.

I’ll be back tomorrow with a look at some draft storylines for 2023.