Pete Crow-Armstrong – Picture by Todd Johnson

This was the toughest prospect list I have ever done since I began doing prospect lists at Cubs Central. What made it difficult was just the shear volume of names to consider. There were several times in the process where I asked myself, “Did you really just put so-and-so at 17?“, “How did you leave player A off?“, or “How could rank that player so high?” As you are reading this, I am probably still asking myself these questions.

When it came right down to favoring one guy over another, I focused only on three things – Toolbox, Ceiling (potential), and Production. I tended to favor the first two over the last one, but some guys just produced at a higher level in the upper parts of the system and that cannot be overlooked. However, some players’ athleticism and skillsets are just too glaring to not be slack jawed over.

I have noticed I have become more and more hesitant about performance at the lower levels the past five years and I am have turned into a “CALL ME WHEN THEY GET TO DOUBLE-A” guy. Seeing baseball at high-A up close and personal the past two years has something to do with that, but Tennessee really exposes what players need to work on or what they are really good at doing. As a result, my list is going to be a little different.

Honorable Mention – Andy Weber, Bryce Ball, Luis Rujano, Jefferson Rojas, Parker Chavers, Tyler Schlaffer, Bailey Horn, Riley Martin, Ben Leeper, Cole Roederer, and Chase Strumpf.

And remember, this is just a list. No one was injured or maimed by where I ranked someone.

46-26 – Al A Carte Menu

I have never made a list this big, but you technically mix and match these next 21 players in any formation you want. In fact, that’s what I am going to let you do as I don’t see a lot of differentiation between them but rather just a group of prospects who have not set themselves from their peers just yet. It’s a blob of guys and that probably is a good problem to have as it shows off the depth of the organization.

Maybe that separation will happen in 2023.

They are in alphabetical order.

Pablo Aliendo – Love this guy! Great competitor and teammate, really came on strong with the bat in the second half. Looking forward to seeing it carrying over to Tennessee.

Christian Franklin – The comeback of comebacks is coming after he missed all of 2022. The former Razorback should be one of the more fun storylines of 2023.

Kohl Franklin – He’s just about ready to take off. 2023 should be a breakout year for him.

Ethan Hearn – I see a big breakout year coming in 2023.

Alexis Hernandez – You could not have started a career in a worse way last June than by going 0-19. After that, he hit .288 the next two months in the DSL.

Darius Hill – The dude just hits. Odds are not good that he makes it through the Rule 5 process. Someone will snag him if left unprotected.

Ryan Jensen – Not sure how 2023 is going to work for him. He sort of had a discombobulated 22 season and no one knows how much more he gets time to work on being a starter. That uncertainty clouds his future.

Zac Leigh – He struggled at times in the AFL but he just dominated at South Bend in July and August and pitched well in Tennessee.

Luke Little – When he gets to Tennessee at some point this year, we shall see how his stuff plays. The most interesting aspect about his career so far, is he has only pitched into the fourth inning six times and into the fifth once.

Kevin Made – The glove is great. The arm is great. The bat…well, you can definitely see the potential. He will be fine starting this year at South Bend right where he should be.

Nazier Mule – Hard to know where to rank him right now until he sees game action but he looks to be an incredible athlete.

Jordan Nwogu – Tennessee will be his huge test next summer. He showed massive improvement last year at South Bend and finished strong.

Christopher Paciolla – I like what I have seen in small videos so far. He could be a fast riser on 2023 lists if he starts the year at Myrtle Beach which he should.

Yonathan Perlaza – He recently re-signed with the Cubs. Hopefully, he will make it through the Rule Five process and ends up in Iowa showing what he’s got.

Yohendrick Pinango – Showed some power at the expense of average last year. Still just 20 and he will probably start the year in Tennessee where he will need to be a little more patient than he has been in the past.

Reggie Preciado – He is still so young and most don’t realize how young – he will still be 19 when 2023 begins.

Sheldon Reed – There’s just something about him. I love how everything is a learning moment for him.

Jake Reindl – The frisbee slider is for real.

Adan Sanchez – He could be the fastest riser in July and August once he begins hitting the ACL.

Jake Slaughter – Do I believe what I saw in 2022? Yes, it was real due to a shorter swing path. How will it play at Iowa? We are going to find out soon.

Luis Verdugo – If he adds 10-15 pounds of muscle this offseason, he could be a top 15 prospect in no time with his glove and arm.

The next 15 players would all be in the top 10 any other year. That fact that I have the back-to-back pitchers of the year in the system in this range tells you just how deep and nasty the system has become. To be quite blunt, there’s not that much difference between 10 and 25. If you see Caleb Kilian at 22 and get mad, get over it because the space between 22 and 11 is infinitesimal. That’s how good the system is.

25. Ed Howard – Fingers are crossed he comes back healthy.

24. Drew Gray – Less than a year removed from TJS and he looks to be on pace to be ready for opening day in Myrtle Beach in 2023. Cubs will probably keep him on a short leash next spring.

23. Luis Devers – If he can get away with his quick pitches and differing deliveries at Double-A, then he will probably not be in Tennessee long. He will be in the top 10 fairly quickly and at Iowa with his plus change.

22. Caleb Kilian – When Kilian came to the Cubs, he had not really pitched that much at AA and the Cubs pushed him to Iowa quickly. By mid summer 2023, he could be much better and it’ll be interesting to see if the Cubs change anything this winter.

21. Pedro Ramirez – I really like this kid and he’ll be 19 to start next year in Myrtle Beach. How quickly he can move remains to be seen. I am excited to see the totality of his game this year. That includes his defense, his arm, and his ability to run the bases.

20. James Triantos – The power we saw in 2021 should return this year to South Bend. I am excited to see him opening weekend in the Quad Cities. Usually, after I see somebody playing in person, I have a totally different view of what all they can do. He might be the one who benefits most from that kind of evaluation in 2023.

19. Miguel Amaya – In his career, Miguel Amaya’s bat has always been behind his defense. The question this year is, “Can his arm catch up after not throwing at all last summer. If it does, Chicago beckons quickly.

18. DJ Herz – Two things: a fourth pitch and a lot more strikes will quickly move DJ back up the list. It’s not that he’s fallen off, because he hasn’t. It’s just that the system is that much stronger and deeper. There’s really not much difference between him at 18 and the next seven guys.

17. Ben Brown – I really like this kid a lot and how he attacks in the strike zone. He should be starting 2023 in Tennessee. I’m curious as to how much the Cubs work on him developing to use his lower half more.

16. Jeremiah Estrada – He was one of the highlights of 2022 and he has a good shot at breaking camp in spring training with the big league club.

15. Jackson Ferris – I’m not sure what to expect from him in 2023 other than he starts the year in Myrtle Beach and we’ll see how his performance plays from there. We’ll see just how good he can be quickly.

14. Porter Hodge – The dude is a workout machine and he probably grew the most out of any pitching prospect last year. I am wondering just exactly what funky thing he’s gonna throw with his slider in 2023. I hope he starts next year in Tennessee. We’ll see how if starts there or back in South Bend.

13. Jordan Wicks – After adding a slider, I could finally see him pitching in Chicago for the first time.

12. Riley Thompson – STUD. Big game pitcher, pitched great the last 6 weeks of 2022.

11. Moises Ballesteros – His swing is just so effortless! I love to watch him launch baseballs. Who cares what position he plays right now, let’s just enjoy watching his barrel hit some baseballs. In an early iteration of this list, he made the top 10.

The Top 10

Click on the arrow to open.

10. Cristian Hernandez

I am hoping for a breakout year offensively, but we might be seeing a breakout year defensively. It was on The Cub Reporter that he had a very impressive instructs. Now that he is stateside this winter, that sort of leads me to believe that we could see a big jump in his performance in 2023. Hopefully, he will add some strength and cut down on his K rate.

9. Owen Caissie

The first thing that stuck out about Owen last summer was just how good of an arm he had. That, and he hits the ball really loudly. He looks like he’s added some muscle this off-season already and I’m pretty pumped to see him at Tennessee at 20-years-old. That, in and of -itself, is just amazing!

8. Daniel Palencia

Once he gets his secondaries down, I don’t see him needing much more seasoning in the minors. He is now pretty well stretched out in terms of innings as the Cubs were pretty cautious with him last year. I hope he just destroys the Southern League the first two months of the year.

7. Cade Horton

Getting picked in the first round generates some expectations just by the nature of the pick. I’m hoping that he’ll be in South Bend to start 2023 and that I’ll get to see him that opening weekend in the Quad Cities.

6. Hayden Wesneski

Armed with a plus-plus slider and a changeup, he may never see the minors again. I’m hoping he can earn a rotation spot in the spring as it looks like the Cubs got a good one.

5. Matt Mervis

Along with Estrada and Wesneski, he could, and probably should, be seen in Chicago the first week of 2023. The opportunity is going to be there, but I don’t see him needing to be in Iowa any longer. The fact that he’s demolished the highest levels of minor league baseball and the AFL warrants his shot. He now needs to develop in Chicago.

4. Kevin Alcantara

I’m looking forward to seeing him in person over 30 times next summer for South Bend! I don’t think I’ve been this excited to see a position guy since Eloy back in 2016. We’re going to see a lot more home runs from him next year than we saw this year just due to the fact the ball flies a little better, especially when it gets to May, in the Midwest League.

3. Brennen Davis

I know that many of you are surprised to see him here at number three. The injury thing is a concern, but they’re also freak injuries, not wear and tear things. The talent is definitely still there. A week of being healthy in the Arizona Fall League was very promising, and then he went down with back soreness/tightness. I have no doubt that he could be a major league player fairly quickly, he’s just got to be healthy to do it.

2. Alexander Canario

All 2022 assured me was that this dude is just a freak of an athlete and a player. Outside of speed, he has four really loud tools and he would be someone I could see in the outfield in Chicago late next year. In getting to see him play up close in the summer of 2021 and this spring, he just oozes talent at the plate and in the field. His moving to number 2 is not a knock against Brennen, but rather a validation of Canario’s skillset and tools, which are just immense.

1. Pete Crow-Armstrong

The thing I don’t think gets talked about with him is that he matured as a person quite a bit from the beginning of the year to the end. He still has things to work on at the plate, but he’s also one of those prospects that’ll get better as he goes up the ladder because he’ll be facing pitchers who throw more strikes. And for him, he tends to punish balls in the zone. And I like that.

He also is pretty decent out in the field. He could start the year in Chicago in centerfield on day one in 2023 and be a gold glove candidate on day two. However, that’s not going to happen this year. Still, it just shows you how good he is defensively and how close he is to being ready.

I would not be surprised to see Pete called up late this summer if the Cubs are anywhere near contention, he’s going to be playing October baseball in Chicago if the Cubs do. That defense and that speed is ready now. The bat is pretty close. August might be a good time for a trip to Chicago if he can put it together in Tennessee.