Kevin Alcantara – Picture by Stephanie Lynn

Today’s post will be a fun one! It is going to be a mixture of the two types of posts that I’ve been doing this winter. It’ll be part affiliate sneak peek and part the Five Series. As most of you know, I live south of Rockford, Illinois, which puts me in a unique place where I can travel to see the South Bend Cubs play in the Western Division in less than a couple of hours for most their division opponents. I’m closest to Beloit, but I am not too far from Peoria, not too far from the Quad Cities, while Appleton and Cedar Rapids would be 2+ hour drives, but doable. I usually stay over night in Appleton in the summer.

Looking at next year’s schedule, I’m going to see about 30 games in the first four months of the season before I have to get ready to go back to teaching in early August. That means I’m going to be pretty busy in April, May, June, and July. In looking at that schedule, I also started thinking about which prospects I most want to see play for South Bend next year. Which guys do I wanna see up close and personal? Which guys do I want to see show me what they can possibly do? And which guys do I just want to take a closer look at how they go about their business?

My top 5 players I can’t wait to see at South Bend are as follows:

Kevin Alcantara

Don’t get me wrong, I was excited to see Brennen Davis in South Bend, as well as Alexander Canario and Owen Caissie along with Pete Crow-Armstrong. However, the arrival of Kevin Alcantara is probably the most excited I’ve been about a prospect since Eloy back in 2016. I am stoked for opening day in Davenport in early April. I can’t wait to see this kid in BP and in outfield drills before the game, I can’t wait to see his work ethic, and I can’t wait to see him play in games. There are probably not going to be a lot of home runs in April, because it is pretty cold in the Midwest. Once it warms up a little, I am expecting quite a few dingers to be flying around Midwest League ballparks.

Brandon Birdsell 

I don’t know what it is about him, but I wanted the Cubs to take him in the draft last year and they did! I like his arm, I like the fact that he’s overcome adversity a couple of times. I like the fact that he’s a big-time college pitcher, and I like the fact that he’s a little bit more mature than the other guys the Cubs have taken because of said adversity. My Twitter account, after all, is a Brandon Birdsell stan account. And North Side Bound is going to be a Brandon Birdsell stan website in 2023.

James Triantos

When I get to the ballpark for a game, I check in with my press pass and it’s anywhere from 2  to 2.5 hours before the game. I usually stop in to say hey to Max Thoma or Brendan King and let them know I am in the ballpark if they need pictures, I will be taking them. After that, I make my way down to the field and, depending upon the ballpark, I tend to find a good spot, either on the warning track or right behind the batting cage to watch infield and BP. For James Triantos, this is where I want to see him. I’m not too concerned about him playing in the game just yet, I want to see him take grounder after grounder before the game. I want to see his throw across the diamond time after time after time. I want to see him in the cage taking BP from a live arm and from the machine. This is where I’m going to get a pretty good idea of his foundational skills. The soon-to-be 20-year-old should be manning third base most of the year in South Bend.

Ezequiel Pagán

The young outfielder was in South Bend for about a week in 2021 at the beginning of the year. He wound up going back to Mesa where he had a very good season hitting .336 and I am excited to see him again as a much more mature 22-year-old after a year where he hit .292 at Myrtle Beach. I really like players that can get on base in a variety of ways and who also show a penchant for hitting which Pagán does. He’s not physically well-built, but he’s strong and quick to the ball. I’m also excited to see someone who is going to hustle every second of a game for 134 games.

Ethan Hearn

This is not really much of a stretch. But I’m gonna roll out the fact that Ethan Hearn is going to bust out in 2023. The soon to be 22-year-old catcher broke out a little bit last year at Myrtle Beach finishing the year strong. I expect him to pick where he left off at the plate. He displayed a mixture of power and the ability to take a walk. Over the last six weeks of the year, his strikeout rate fell, and he was one of the better players in the system over that span. My hope is that he is moving beyond a three outcome player and I can’t wait to see his actions behind the plate and on the mound as well. 

Honorable Mention 

When I tried assembling the rosters for South Bend and Myrtle Beach, I struggled with who’s going to start in the rotation and who’s going to be in the bullpen. I decided to just not do that anymore as it is a giant waste of my time. The Cubs will figure it out and they’ll let me know who’s doing what. That could change at any time depending upon promotions, injuries, and performance. But I do like what I’ve seen so far from Johzan Oquendo and Gregori Mantano as two possible guys who could step up in 2023.

Other names in consideration: Tyler Santana (Love him!), Parker Chavers (All-My Guy Team), and Christian Franklin (Mr. Comeback!).