Wow! What a difference a year makes in the system. In our recent top Cubs prospect list here at North Side Bound, 10 right handed starting pitchers made the top 30. That’s an unbelievable number because I’m sure most of you consider them all to be legit guys who could start in Chicago in the next couple of years.
Just a year ago, Caleb Kilian was coming off a fantastic Arizona Fall League. Anderson Espinoza flashed hard at South Bend and Tennessee. Ryan Jensen ended the season pitching well in Double-A and Cory Abbott was looking much improved at Iowa in the second half. Kohl Franklin did not yet pitch at all and Daniel Palencia looked really good in his debut at Myrtle Beach. Now, heading into 2023, both Espinoza and Abbott are no longer Cubs and a whole new group of pitchers have taken their place.
What has changed in the year since is the Cubs went out and got a few guys who look like they could be major pieces in the rotation. They also developed a few good ones at Myrtle Beach and South Bend this year. And, they then went out and got a couple guys in the draft who could be big things in 2023. The one thing I really like about Dan Kantrowitz is that he’s taking three or four prep pitchers a year to develop along with guys from the college ranks. It’s not a straight up college class that we saw under Jason McLeod. There’s a lot of young guys to be hyped on under Kantrovitz.
Let’s look at who our top 10 RHSP are.
1. Hayden Wesneski – He is probably not going to be on the list next year because he’s going to be in Chicago on a permanent basis. His nasty slider is only going to ensure that.
2. Cade Horton – The simple fact that he was just 20 when drafted got lost in the shuffle but he’s going to open some eyes. And as I’ve mentioned before, I hope he pitches at South Bend in that first series in Davenport next April and that it doesn’t snow. I am extremely excited to sit behind home plate and the dugouts in the cold to take pictures. However, if he begins the year in Myrtle Beach, I am going to have to wait a while. He is going to be just 21 for most of the 2023 season.
3. Daniel Palencia – A year from now, we may wonder why we had this guy so low. He’s really going to take off this year now that the Cubs will be letting him pitch deeper and deeper in games. With an arm that hits triple digits, you have to really build up muscle groups to help support the shoulder and that’s what Palencia has done and his legendary long-toss warmup ensures that but precludes using him as a reliever right now.
4. Ben Brown – I really like this kid and I think he’s got a powerful arm. I wonder if the Cubs are going to try to engage his lower half more which could really generate some serious numbers on the radar gun. He is close to ready after striking out 149 in just over 100 innings last year.
5. Porter Hodge – He’s probably going to start at South Bend next year and I’m not sure if I really like that. I’d like to see him at Tennessee to begin the year but the Cubs might not agree with me.
6. Luis Devers – Double-A is going to be the big test for him as he basically made mincemeat of two Class A levels with a 1.91 ERA in 117.2 IP. Wow!
7. Caleb Kilian – The difference between him and the other pitchers in the system is not much. He could easily be number on this list quickly as close as he is to the majors. Sure, the Cubs are going to have him make a couple adjustments this winter and, if he does, he could be in Chicago with Wesneski fairly quickly.
8. Riley Thompson – When I started writing this post, the Rule Five Draft had not yet taken place and Riley was not protected. I kept my fingers crossed for three weeks that he would not get taken and that he would get a chance to make it to the majors with the Cubs. Well, I got my wish (so far) and he is even adding a slider to arsenal for good measure!
9. Kohl Franklin – Now that he’s added a slider to his nasty change and his plus curve and his upper 90s fastball, there’s really nothing to hold him back in 2023. He should start the year at South Bend and I hope he gets off to a really good start and makes it to Tennessee quickly.
10. Ryan Jensen – For now, he’s a starter. A year from now, he might be on another position ranking list or he might be in Chicago if the reliever thing works out. However, the Cubs didn’t place him on the 40-man to keep him as a reliever. They selected him in order not to lose him and to continue his development as said starter.
Wild Cards – The giant 6-foot-8 Walker Powell should be at Iowa to start the year. It is unclear if he will be starting or a long man. He dominated at three levels in 2022. Strangely, he got better the higher he pitched and with a great changeup and the high angle from which he throws, he is awfully hard to hit! He should be an upper level surprise at Iowa.
On the verge: Tyler Santana, Tyler Schlaffer, Brandon Birdsell, Connor Noland, Nazier Mule, Mason McGwire, Kenyi Perez, and Luis Rujano. Where do I start? I don’t think I have enough time to quietly sit down and go through how each of these guys could break out next year. They will all be pitching from South Bend on down and many of them will make next year’s top 15 list because that’s how deep it might be.
Keep an eye on Brody McCullough, Grant Kipp, Nick Hull, Will Frisch, and JP Wheat. All four were signed by the Cubs last summer and they might pop a little bit after getting a full off-season pro instruction. Wheat might be a little delayed as he did have Tommy John surgery about the time of the draft.
As for Richard Gallardo, Koen Moreno, and Sam Thoresen, who knows what their roles will be and if they will even start next year along with Manny Espinoza, Joe Nahas, and healthy versions of Derek Casey and Chris Kachmar.
Deep is an understatement.