Riley Thompson – Pic by Micah Manuel/Tennessee Smokies
In yesterday’s post, I detailed the large number of players who either “chose” free agency, were released, or were activated off the injured list. Most of the players were stationed at Iowa in 2022. A few more were in Tennessee and a couple more were in South Bend.
One thing I thought about all day yesterday was the impact that those moves were going to have on the Iowa Cubs’ roster in 2023. Ideally, one would like to have most of Iowa filled with your own prospects. However, that is rarely the case as the function of Triple-A is to provide depth for the major league squad. As it currently stands, Iowa’s roster is in need of some players. And come opening day of 2023, it’ll be interesting to see the mix of players on the squad. Will it be an overwhelming majority of the Cubs own guys or will Jed Hoyer and Carter Hawkins go out and acquire some outfield depth, some catching depth, and some pitching depth?
As it stands right now, here is the current roster of the Iowa Cubs:
Pitchers – Andres Bonalde, Danis Correa, Stephen Gonsalves, Kyle Johnson, Ben Leeper, Brendon Little, Peyton Remy, Cam Sanders, and Cayne Ueckert.
Infielders – Jared Young, David Bote, Christian Donahue, Levi Jordan, Scott McKeon, Matt Mervis, Esteban Quiroz
Outfielders – Brennen Davis, Darius Hill
To you, that probably does not seem like a lot. That’s because it isn’t. I don’t expect Kyle Johnson and Peyton Remy to be on Iowa’s opening day roster. I will also not be surprised if Correa, Sanders, and/or Hill get taken in the Rule Five Draft. Mervis will probably be close to ready for Chicago at the end of spring training and the same may be said for Brennen Davis. Odds are that Brennen starts the year at Iowa no matter how good he does in spring training. Donahue and McKeon will probably head back to Tennessee to provide infield depth there while Quiroz and Young are likely candidates to either be taken in the minor league portion of the Rule Five or be straight up released.
That does not leave us with a whole lot of players to debut in Des Moines in the first week of April. Let’s reconfigure.
Pitchers – Stephen Gonsalves, Ben Leeper, Brendon Little, and Cayne Ueckert.
Infielders – David Bote, Levi Jordan
Outfielders – Brennen Davis
You could probably add pitchers Hayden Wesneski, Caleb Kilian, and Javier Assad to Iowa’s opening day roster as they probably will not break camp with the major league club as the Cubs will probably go out and add some more experienced starting pitching this off-season. The same may or may not be true for Jeremiah Estrada. The Cubs will probably also add some minor league free agent starters and a couple relievers along with a catcher or two. There may even be a backup shortstop and some outfielders added all in the name of depth. At some point, Alexander Canario will also return, hopefully in July at some point.
But if the Cubs were to look internally for roster solutions, the Tennessee Smokies are filled with some really good candidates who do have MLB potential and were outstanding last year at Double-A.
There are several candidates here that I could see the Cubs adding to Iowa. The most likely candidate for a starting role would be Riley Thompson followed by Chris Clarke. Both had up and down seasons last year but both pitched well in the second half and down the stretch including in the playoffs. DJ Herz, Ryan Jensen, Jordan Wicks, and Ben Brown will probably stay in Tennessee to begin the year. They do need a little bit more seasoning at that level. Then again, Walker Powell might be the dark horse to earn a rotation spot after he went through three levels of baseball in 2022.
As for relievers, Bailey Horn and Blake Whitney are probably the two closest bullpen arms to being ready to succeed at Iowa. I know this sounds strange but coming off a good campaign in the Arizona Fall League, Riley Martin might be a guy as well. But that’s really a long, long long, long shot. Who knows, the Cubs may have Ryan Jensen coming out of the bullpen next year. We will see what the winter brings.
Tim Susnara and Bryce Windham are likely candidates to get a shot at Triple-A along with Miguel Amaya if his arm is ready. If the Cubs bring in a veteran minor-league free agent, odds are the Cubs may only want two of the three from Tennessee.
If Bryce Ball does not get taken in the Rule Five or its minor league version, he should be up at Iowa along with Jake Slaughter, Chase Strumpf, Luis Vasquez, and Andy Weber. In fact, I am expecting the entire returning Smokies infield to head to Iowa.
The speedy Zack Davis will probably head back to Iowa and Nelson Maldonado will get a second chance and probably play more at first and DH than he will in the outfield. Yonathan Perlaza is also a lock. Depending how good of a winter season Cole Roederer has in Australia along with his spring training, he could be a guy we might see in Triple-A as well. He will be fully recovered after a year out from coming back from Tommy John surgery.
We should start to see signs of just how many guys from Tennessee are going to get an actual shot at a roster spot in Iowa fairly quickly as MiLB free agency is usually more fluid and quicker to happen in the offseason versus the MLB hot stove season.
In the big scheme of things, Iowa’s going to change a lot in 2022, but how much change will come from within? Or, will AAAA players take up most slots? Buckle up, folks. The answer begins soon.