For the last three seasons, the Chicago Cubs have spoiled me and South Bend Cubs fans all over the Great Lakes region with who they assigned to play the outfield in the Midwest League. We have seen Brennen Davis, Cole Roederer, Yonathan Perlaza, Alexander Canario, Yohendrick Pinango, Jordan Nwogu, Owen Caisiie, and the piece de resistance of Pete Crow Armstrong came last year.
In 2023, South Bend Cubs fans are going to be extremely happy again looking out to the grass to see Kevin Alcantara, Ezequiel Pagán, Jacob Wetzel, Christian Franklin, and possibly Parker Chavers.
There’s no doubt that Kevin Alcantara is going to put people in the seats and make them very happy. At Myrtle Beach last year, he hit 15 home runs and drove in an amazing 84 runs. In addition, he had a .811 OPS. To be quite honest, he should hit much better South Bend for a number of reasons. One is that he’s not going to be dealing with an ocean breeze every day. The ball at South Bend tends to travel better and considering that he can drive the ball the other way, there’s a little bit of a wind tunnel out to right center at four winds field. 20 dingers is within reach if he stays at South Bend all year. I am not too sure about that.
Ezequiel Pagán really came into his own last year once he got a chance to play every day. He’s a little scrappy guy who underwent a procedure on his right leg this winter, but should be ready for spring training. In addition to hitting for average, Pagán showed he has a little bit of pop as he can turn on pitches in the zone. He led the Pelicans in hitting last year at .292 and he also cranked 11 dingers and drove in 68. I also love the fact that he plays hard all the time. He is a little reminiscent of Darius Hill, but he also has a little bit more pop than Darius.
The Comeback Kid
Christian Franklin missed all of 2022. When the Cubs took him in the fourth round of the 2021 draft, I was pretty excited as he was rated a top 100 draft pick before the 2021 season started. He’s got the power, he’s got the speed and he just needs an opportunity to play. Considering that he played in the SEC, starting at South Bend next year should not be a problem.
From the first time I saw Parker Chavers swinging a bat at Coastal Carolina, I immediately fell in love. His swing is as silky smooth as anybody. What Chavers needs to do in 2023 is to stay healthy above all else. He’s going to play all three outfield spots and he’s going to show off his mixture of power and speed. While he did miss most of 2022, he came back and got in some action in August and September and was really starting to look good when the season ended. He made the August All-Star team here at North Side Bound after hitting almost .300 in the month.
The Guy That Could Surprise
If you were looking for a guy who could be the 2023 version of Matt Mervis, it is Jacob Wetzel. The 22-year-old left-handed hitting outfielder displayed all the same penchants for hitting that Mervis did. They both had a really good approach at Myrtle Beach, they both showed the potential for power, they both hit left-handed, and they both had ungodly uneven stats throughout the year that left you scratching your head. For a while, it looked like Wetzel figured some things out in July when he hit almost .300 and had an OBP close to .400. He also hit seven home runs and drove in 21 in July. I thought, “This is going to be great!” And then he just seemed to tank once August arrived. Still, the foundations to be a good hitter are there. He’s got a really good swing, he knows what a strike is. He just needs to execute.
Being an outfielder in the Cubs’ system is not gonna be easy in 2023. A player is really going to have to produce to move up a level. Considering who’s in Iowa and Tennessee, there’s not a lot of space for guys to just move up a level on a moment’s notice.