The 2022 season showed that the Cubs had a System on the Rise. We saw numerous breakouts and players previously on the periphery commanded attention with their respective performances. It was also a year where some of the top prospects fell to injury. Names such as Brennen Davis, Ed Howard, Drew Gray, Reginald Preciado, and later Alexander Canario all lost development time due to injuries. If that were to happen in a previous season, it would be easy to mark the year down as a flop, but the sheer impressive levels of depth allowed the Cubs to weather the injury storm while those players work their way back. This is a group to believe in.
Let’s dive into the rankings
The Elite (60-tier)
1. Pete Crow-Armstrong
What I said in 2021: He may never project for anything more than below-average power, but Pete Crow-Armstrong has all the tools needed to be an all-star centerfielder and table-setter for the next great Cubs team.
Report: Crow-Armstrong took the Carolina League by storm with an even 1.000 OPS in 38 games before being promoted to South Bend. While he displayed his signature gold-glove defense in CF, speed on the bases and in the field, and impressive hit tool, what was even more astounding was his ability to hit for power (7 home runs in 38 games). The future power projection adds even more value to his profile. PCA had an adjustment period in South Bend, but rebounded to post a .287/333/.498 with 9 more home runs in 68 games in the Midwest League. While many are already dreaming of PCA roaming Wrigley Field in 2023, a word of caution. While I wouldn’t bet against Pete Crow-Armstrong, the AA level is a huge test for any hitter. It’s far more likely that any MLB debut comes in 2024.
Top-50 Caliber Talent (55-tier)
2. Brennen Davis
What I said in 2021: The Chicago Cubs 2018 2nd rounder has improved by leaps and bounds. He now resides as a consensus top 20 prospect in all of baseball and forced his way to AAA at the age of 21.
2022 Report: Injuries prevented the debut of one of the most dynamic players in the system. Davis’ had more whiffs than you’d like to see in AAA, but I don’t put much, if any, stock into that this season. He’ll be 23 all of next season and just like last year his goal will be to “Start in one place, play well, and end up playing somewhere else”.
2023: Iowa and then Chicago
3. Kevin Alcántara
2022 Report: Alcántara absolutely oozes potential and he’s beginning to see those results in game. It is incredibly difficult to hit in the Carolina League, but Alcántara didn’t just hit. He showed power, patience, and production. Alcántara also proved capable of playing a solid centerfield. Standing an imposing 6’6″ with plenty of room to fill out, it’s possible Alcántara will outgrow CF, but he looks to be an asset in the outfield.
2023: South Bend
Top 100-Caliber (50-tier)
4. Matt Mervis
Report: It was the year of Matt “Mash” Mervis who took the minor leagues by storm en route to the MVP of the Fall Stars game in Arizona. Mervis showed power and patience, as well as improvements in strikeouts as he progressed each level in the majors. Based on data that I’ve had passed along to me, he showed he could punish fastballs. While he held his own on breaking balls, sliders presented more of a problem. Mervis is underrated defensively and likely provides some value at the position as well. While everyone has high hopes for Matt Mervis, a word of caution: even top flight first basemen (like Rizzo, Freedman, and Goldschmidt) often required some time before they became impact MLB sluggers.
5. Hayden Wesneski
Report: Scott Effross was a huge developmental story early in the year and the Cubs turned that success into Hayden Wesneski. That deal appears to be a rousing success so far as Wesneski showed he could compete right now with MLB hitters. Wesneski’s signature pitch, a sweeper slider, gave hitters fits (and generated a 33% whiff rate), but it was his total repertoire of that slider, a 4s fastball, sinker, cutter, and changeup that proved to be so successful. His 2.18 ERA isn’t a level fans should expect, but he proved more than capable of battling against hitters. Will he be a Top 100 overall prospect? Personally I feel he is a no-brainer.
6. Jordan Wicks
Report: Save for an injury scare late in the year, Jordan Wicks had an excellent 2022. The first-round pick in 2021 showed capable of incorporating multiple pitches into a robust repertoire. At times this past year, Wicks used a 4s fastball (now with good ride up in the zone), sweeper slider, his signature changeup, a curveball, sinker, and a new cutter that he broke out late in the year. The 4-seam fastball, slider, changeup, and cutter are particularly compelling. Wicks has the profile of a pitcher that starts a playoff game and you feel great about your chances.
2023: Iowa then Chicago?
7. Owen Caissie
Report: I picked Caissie for my hitter of the year and I underestimated the leap to the Midwest league. It’s a big adjustment and Caissie struggled mightily the first month. A four day break, mechanical adjustments, and a refocusing set ONKC on a completely new trajectory. He slashed .271/.371/.438 the rest of the way with a 127 wRC+ and a .371 wOBA. He showed a mature approach. Caissie will need to continue to make adjustments against advanced matchups, but he showed above average contact and power against older competition. The defense even looked a bit better in the OF.
The Next Wave (45-45+ tier)
8. Cristian Hernández
Report: Of all the players, this ranking may come off as the most shockingly low, but it’s also based on just wanting to see Cristian play at Myrtle Beach. Numerous times we find that the jump from the Complex League to Carolina League is a steep one. If Hernández continues to show that athleticism and some of the rumored improvements to his swing, he’s a Top 100 prospect (maybe higher). Having watched him in Arizona, I’m very impressed with his defense at SS. He is smooth moving laterally to both sides along with a solid transfer.
2023: Myrtle Beach
9. Cade Horton
Report: “That Cade Horton is a bad man” became a rallying cry behind the scenes leading up to the 2022 Draft. Horton can do some wicked things with his pitches. Currently it’s more fastball and sweeper slider, but expect the Cubs to build out his arsenal.
2023: South Bend
10. Ben Brown
Report: Brown has some of the highest upside amongst the organization’s arms. He combines mid-upper 90s velocity along with power breaking pitches. Over the offseason I would expect the Cubs to coni tie to you with his arsenal. He has a splitter in his back pocket and I wonder if that’s brought back in 2023.
2023: Tennessee but Iowa also a possibility
11. Daniel Palencia
Report: No one in the organization can throw a fastball like Daniel Palencia. It is truly elite and probably the only 80-grade I have ever given to a tool. The fastball has excellent ride and upper tier velocity. Currently he’s starting and I would expect that to continue into 2023, but if he had to move to relief, it’s an MLB caliber arsenal right away.
2023: Tennessee, but he could get MLB bullpen innings late in season
12. Porter Hodge
Report: Perhaps my favorite profile of any of the pitchers in the system, Porter Hodge has the framework of a SP that the Cubs have demonstrated significant success developing. His fastball has natural relative cut and he pairs it with a changeup and sweeper slider. Hodge’s biggest issue is building out execution. If he develops consistency into 2023, he could explode onto the national scene.
2023: On the border between starting out at South Bend or Tennessee
13. James Triantos
Report: This may feel pessimistic, but Triantos’ ranking mostly reflects the depth of the system. He’s more than performed well enough to be a Top 10 caliber player. It was a long season for Triantos and he had a dip in his performance later in the year. Expect him to start out at HiA where he could move quickly if everything is in sync.
2023: South Bend, but don’t count out Tennessee later in the season
14. Alexander Canario
Report: In October this ranking would have felt blasphemous. Ranking Canario here is mostly reflective of his current ankle and shoulder injuries. He was a total breakout this past season. Here is hoping he comes back strong.
15. Luis Devers
Report: Luis Devers generates, perhaps, the most devisve opinions of anyone in the organization. The Cubs MiLB pitcher of the year, Devers was awesome this past season built upon the back of good command and a changeup that fools hitters. His velocity has ticked up, but it remains to be seen how this profile will continue to perform against advanced hitters.
2023: South Bend
16. DJ Herz
Report: DJ Herz showed a tremendous amount of positives. The stuff, clearly, still plays at higher levels. Command is still a work in progress. I’m curious if Herz will learn a slider. Consider me very much a believer in DJ Herz.
2023: Tennessee with both Iowa and Chicago within reach later in the season
17. Moisés Ballesteros
Report: Ballesteros can really hit. Similar to Owen Caissie last year, Ballesteros performed well enough in the Complex league that he forced his way to Myrtle Beach. Like Caissie, we saw a marked decrease in offensive performance transitioning from the hitter haven of Arizona to the depressed Carolina League, however it was still above league average. Ballesteros also kept his K-rate to a manageable 21.7%.
2023: Myrtle Beach
18. Ryan Jensen
Report: Perhaps no one has had as powerful a transformation after a Developmental List stint in the organization as Jensen has. His shorted arm action and improved FF, CT, and SL now give him an ideal bullpen repertoire. I’ll go out on a limb (or maybe not that out there) and say Jensen gets opportunities this season in the Cubs pen this season.
2023: Iowa and then Chicago
19. Kohl Franklin
Report: Franklin battled injuries in 2021, but the story in 2022 was his challenge to harness more velo and stuff. It’s not an indictment on his future, but an area to focus on early next season. The hope for the Cubs is that Franklin doesn’t get taken in the Rule 5. Ever since his first interview with Growing Cubs podcast it’s been rumored that Kohl would work on a slider. Is 2023 the year that happens?
20. Kevin Made
Report: I was so high on Kevin Made entering 2022. I’ll completely own that. He showed underlying tools to take a huge next step. last season was a tale of two seasons where he started to demonstrate increased patience and ability to drive the ball in Myrtle Beach. His time at South Bend showed that there’s work to be done. I’m also projecting him now at 2B/3B more likely than SS, which caused him to rank a bit lower. I’m still a believer in Made and think his 2023 will be better than his 2022.
2023: South Bend
21. Jackson Ferris
Report: full disclosure I was fist-pumping when I heard the Cubs would go aggressive to draft Jackson Ferris in the second round. In many ways it was a second first-round pick. Ferris throws four pitches and the upside is there for a frontline starter. It’ll take some time to get there. Questions arise for whether the Cubs make any significant mechanical changes. Do they toy with what’s working?
Report: Myrtle Beach
Report: In a season of breakouts the hope was that Kilian would continue to take steps forward and claim an MLB rotation spot. Unfortunately significant control/command problems presented and his new curve and changeup were inconsistent. His fastball has always been more command-driven than pure stuff and the location misses meant it wasn’t playable. 2023 is a new year and Kilian could easily rebound. He could also thrive in the pen with a FB (4s and SI)/CT combination.
23. Yohendrick Piñango
Report: If Piñango offered defensive upside I would rank him much higher on the list. He combines contact with emerging power. He is set up as a possible future LF/DH so the offensive bar will need to be high, but the path for a Michael Brantley profile as an 85th-percentile outcome is there.
Very Good Prospects
24. Miguel Amaya
Report: 2023 is an enormous year for Miguel Amaya. With Tommy John surgery now a full year behind in his rear view mirror, Amaya has the opportunity to cement his status as the Cubs top catching prospect.
25. Luke Little
Report: Luke Little continues to add to his profile as he moves through the Cubs system. While he isn’t building out deep starts, the quality and locations of his pitches continues to improve. Little recently added a changeup and it’s flashed above-average. He’s Rule 5 eligible in 2023. If healthy there’s no way he wouldn’t get selected. The raw tools are just too huge. So expect the Cubs to be more aggressive with Little and give him Tennessee opportunities.
2023: South Bend
26. Jeremiah Estrada
Report: It has been a long and winding road for 2017 6th round pick, Jeremiah Estrada, who made his debut in 2022. Estrada’s fastball is one of the best in the systems and combines both velocity and movement. He can beat batters with the breaking pitch as well, especially if they’re geared up for a fastball.
27. Zac Leigh
Report: Leigh boasts high-leverage MLB reliever upside. He’s mid to upper 90s with a fastball that occasionally has relative cut to it. It generates feeble swings from hitters and when paired with his slider, it makes for short at-bats. It’s going to be a big year for relievers to make their mark in the organization. Leigh could be a huge part of that.
2023: Tennessee. He’s not Rule 5 eligible until 2023 so a Chicago debut isn’t a guarantee.
28. Bailey Horn
Report: Bailey Horn is a MLB reliever in 2023 barring injury. Armed with a fastball with good life up in the zone and a killer slider, Horn generates whiffs in bunches. He had a very successful stint in the Arizona Fall League.
2023: Iowa, but Horn is a candidate to get Chicago bullpen responsibilities next year as he’s Rule 5 eligible in 2023
29. Ed Howard
Report: The story about Howard right now is his comeback from a gruesome hip injury sustained early in the 2022 season. What is lost is that he had dropped his K-rate 10% and nearly doubled his BB-rate. We won’t know how Howard looks as he comes back. It is fair to be concerned about athleticism, but the bat was making improvements.
2023: South Bend, but may not get thrown into the cold Midwest league to start the season.
30. Haydn McGeary
Report: The 2022 draft was all about power. Power arms and a handful of power bats. Despite being taken in the 15th round, McGeary looks the part of a late-round steal. His 35 home runs for Colorado Mesa got the attention, but McGeary is a balanced hitter at the plate. He’s already 23 so look for the Cubs to give him an aggressive start.
2023: South Bend
31. Drew Gray
Report: Tommy John surgery robbed fans of an exciting breakout from the 2021 3rd round draft pick. Reports out of spring camp were nothing short of exhilarating. Gray still has that potential in him. Expect him to spend time in Myrtle Beach along with an exciting rotation.
2023: Begin year in extended spring training (in Arizona) and then make debut in Myrtle Beach midseason
32. Chris Clarke
Report: Perhaps the most underrated pitcher in the organization, Chris Clarke just keeps plugging along. He limits walks and should be in the AA/AAA rotation mix to start the season. If he were to go to the pen, his ability to throw strikes paired with fastball/curveball combination would be viable. Don’t be surprised if he makes an MLB debut in 2023.
2023: Earned trip to Iowa but a return to start in Tennessee to begin the year wouldn’t surprise
33. Mason McGwire
Report: McGwire was a relative unknown coming out of the 2022, but early reports are strong (see Breakouts section below). He’s landing multiple pitches and it really looks like he could take off next season.
2023: Going to be bullish and say he spends at least half the season in Myrtle Beach
34. Riley Martin
Report: Riley Martin had a breakout season as a long-reliever (piggyback starter). The Cubs have worked hard with him to incorporate sweep into his slider and it really played. At times Martin also has cut-ride in his fastball. If that sounds familiar, that’s a similar profile of Justin Steele. As a caveat, the overall projections are very different between Martin and Steele, especially because Steele’s cut action is a true outlier in the game. Martin looks to take on a larger role in 2023.
2023: Tennessee as a SP/piggyback
35. Jordan Nwogu
Report: Perhaps no one in the organization had as quietly successful of a season as Nwogu did in 2022. Mechanical changes that Nwogu talked about prior to the year started to click and he dropped his K-rate (to 23.8% from 28.2% in 2021) and added power (.234 isolated power [ISO] to .142 in 2021). He’s often overshadowed when discussing the Cubs OF and even CF prospects, but Nwogu could settle in as an excellent power-speed threat in the majors in 2024. Next year will be huge for him as he’s Rule 5 eligible winter of 2023.
36. Nazier Mulé
Report: No one has as much upside in the organization as Mulé, especially when you factor in his talent on both sides of the ball. The tools are jaw-dropping. Don’t get ahead of yourself, however, there will be a lot of ups and downs in his development. It also remains to be seen whether the Cubs continue to develop Mulé as both a pitcher and a hitter.
2023: Arizona Complex League
37. Reginald Preciado
Report: It was not a good year for Reginald Preciado. The 19-year-old combined both a setback at the plate and with injuries. Preciado’s .557 OPS and 37% K-rate won’t propel him forward. It is important to remember the switch-hitting 3B is still young.
2023: Mytle Beach
38. Pedro Ramírez
Report: Ramírez was one of the youngest players in the organization, had success in the Complex league, and yet still remains underrated (perhaps even by me). The young infielder just hits showing an aptitude for contact. If he continues to grow into his power, Ramírez looks the part of a future switch-hitting sparkplug.
2023: Myrtle Beach
How Did _____ Not Make the Cut?
RP: Ben Leeper, Yovanny Cruz, Riley Thompson
All power arms that have battled injuries and inconsistency. However they all feature late-game stuff. A healthy year in 2023 pushes Lepper and Thompson squarely into the Wrigley bullpen
SP: Richard Gallardo, Brandon Birdsell, Connor Noland, Tyler Schlaffer
Early iterations of this list featured all four of these pitchers. I was particularly high on Schalffer who still had a solid season, but he’ll be out with Tommy John surgery. Each of these pitchers has the potential to pop, but (and I know there will be those that don’t love this comment) Richard Gallardo, I’m just not sure what his potential is. Statically, Gallardo had a very good year and he’s young, but reaching out to people within the game, they weren’t impressed. Perhaps the Rule 5 is a good measure for how clubs feel about him. He’s eligible this offseason.
Hitters: Cole Roederer, Pablo Aliendo, Chris Paciolla
Hitters at completely different paths in their careers, but in my mind they didn’t matchup with a much more robust ranking than previous seasons through absolutely no fault of their own.
Breakouts to Watch
Mason McGwire is listed above, but he could be primed for a huge year in 2023. Every thing I hear about him makes me want to buy in more. He’s been up to 93-94 in instructs and he’s taken to multiple offspeed pitches very well in addition to his splitter. I’ve been tempted to move him up even higher.
Kenyi Pérez is a name that doesn’t look like he should be listed here on the surface. He was older in the DSL and ACL and the stats don’t show it, but when I asked around inside and outside the org his name came up. Other writers have heard even more impressive things, but I’ll leave that to their pieces.