We saw a metric buttload of prospects debuting in Chicago this season. To be completely honest with you, I’m not going to dig into the numbers to compare it to past seasons but it sure seems like a significant amount more. But that makes perfect sense, right? This year’s Chicago Cubs team was all about finding out what you have in certain players and determining what guys will play a role on the “next great Cubs team.”
The number I can tell you is that there were 17 dudes that made their Big League debut with the Cubs this season and while each one of them was an accomplishment worth celebrating, I want to take a look at each of the players and rank them in terms of their future value. For this exercise, I actually removed two of the players that debuted in 2022. This list does not include Nick Padilla, who debuted as a Cub this year but now is part of the Chicago White Sox organization, or Seiya Suzuki, who was technically a prospect entering this year but was never evaluated as such. This list DOES include three players who recently elected free agency, Anderson Espinoza, Narciso Crook, and Matt Swarmer. While they are no longer part of the organization, they have not yet officially signed elsewhere, so technically there is a chance they return to the Cubs on some sort of minor league deal.
1. Hayden Wesneski
I think Wesnasty proved that there‘s some number 2 or 3 starter upside in him when he made his debut this year. He has a truly plus pitch in that slider and the fastball might actually be better than we have given him credit for. There are plenty of useful pieces that debuted this year, but Wesneski clearly has the highest upside of them all.
2. Christopher Morel
Going from a guy that barely snuck onto the Major League roster at the end of the year to a player in Morel that spent a significant portion of the season in Chicago. He promotion was a bit of a surprise, his immediate success at the plate was even more shocking. But at the end of the day, Christopher is projects in the exact same way that I figured coming into this season — he’ll be a fun, talented, streaky utility man who gets in plenty of games over the course of a season thanks to his versatility. That’s valuable.
3. Caleb Kilian
Simply not a good season from Kilian, both at the MLB and Triple-A levels. My favorite quality in him coming into this year was that extraordinary command and that seemed to escape him all year long, whether it’s because of or in spite of his uptick in pure stuff. Account for this season when you evaluate him, but don’t change up your expectations you set for him as a big league starter.
4. Jeremiah Estrada
He’s the best reliever in the system and arguably has the best stuff of any pitcher in the organization. His fastball is plus-plus and his slider has to settle for just one plus. Future closer.
5. Nelson Velázquez
I’ve gotta say, I didn’t love some of the inconsistencies we saw in Nelly’s playing time this year because I think so much of his game at the plate relies on getting regular ABs. He puts up terrific exit velos and the power is legit. But it’s just a matter of if he’s a 4th outfielder or can step up a level.
6. Brandon Hughes
What a freaking terrific season from this kid, huh? I think Hughes is the number one lefty out of the pen in Chicago for the next handful of years — even on a World Series contending team. He’s that good.
7. Ethan Roberts
It’s so unfortunate that the great story of Ethan Roberts making the big league squad out of camp was squandered by a trip to the IL and subsequently Tommy John surgery. He’ll be out the first few months of 2023 before he hits the comeback trail, but given his drive, I can’t imagine he will do anything but absolutely kill it on his road to recovery. I can still dream about a Roberts, Hughes, Estrada 7th, 8th, and 9th.
8. Javier Assad
I think this is where the list converts from consistent Major League contributors to depth players. Assad’s come-up shocked even the most dedicated Cubs prospect followers and he even performed more than admirably during his time in Chicago. With that being said, the stuff doesn’t strike me as being good enough to consistently get outs in a MLB rotation.
9. Erich Uelmen
When I’m evaluating relievers, I want to see something that makes him stand out. It can be a plus pitch or a quirk. I think there’s plenty of quirk in Uelmen’s game and that’s why I rank him above the other guys on this list.
10. Jared Young
I’d be a little surprised if JY made it through the offseason still on the 40-man roster but he was definitely deserving of the call-up this year. He progressed methodically through the system and seems to be a teammate that everyone loves playing alongside. His value comes in an ability to play multiple positions and the hope is that he can hit close to league-average rates.
11. Brendon Little
This is such an asterisk-worthy inclusion here. Little made his MLB debut but was technically never on the 40-man roster as he was used as a COVID replacement for the Cubs’ trip to Toronto. He is on the outside looking in for protection from the Rule Five Draft in December.
12. Narciso Crook
Not your traditional “prospect” because the Cubs are actually his second organization, Narciso went on an incredibly hot stretch in Iowa, one worthy of his promotion. After spending a few days in Chicago, he was sent back to Iowa where he cooled off a considerable amount. He’ll stick around in baseball for quite some time, just likely not on a Major League roster.
13. Anderson Espinoza
It was fun to dream on Espinoza when he was acquired for Jake Marisnick. His return from years worth of injuries was capped off by a trip to the bigs, an achievement that was likely a lost dream at points for Anderson on his long road to recovery. Now a reliever, we can hold onto hope that his stuff plays up entering 2023, but we shouldn’t hold out hope.
14. Matt Swarmer
“Remember that time when Matt Swarmer was the most talked about player on the Chicago Cubs?” – me, in 10 years. I hope he becomes a legitimate I-Cubs legend and gets tastes of the big league life every so often for the next several years.
15. Esteban Quiroz
I mean, Quiroz is down this low because he’s gonna be playing his age 31 season next year and would be considered a prospect by literally zero publications. But he did debut this year and I’m willing to bend the rules a bit. The Pony should be a fan favorite, no matter who he is playing for, for the rest of his career.