With spring training just around the corner, we are getting closer and closer to the real affiliate previews. Once spring training gets going, will have a pretty good idea of who is going to be on each roster by the middle of March. There are always injuries and sometimes trades that change things at the last moment. Earlier this winter, I profiled who is possibly going to be in the outfield for South Bend this year and today we’re going to take a look at some arms who should be in the starting rotation to begin the 2023 season.
South Bend Cubs fans are getting pretty spoiled. They won the Midwest League title in two of the last three seasons and there’s no reason to believe they can’t make a run to get back in the playoffs in the first half of this upcoming season. A large reason for that is going to be who they have in their starting rotation. Some of them will be familiar to South Bend fans as a few of them finished the 2022 season in South Bend and pitched in the playoffs. There will be a couple of new guys, but odds are some of them won’t be around South Bend very long as they will probably get a promotion to Tennessee fairly quickly.
Chances are that Kohl Franklin will be ready to go for his second go round with South Bend opening day weekend in the Quad Cities. The 23-year-old improved as last year went along. It was rocky in some places, but he kept at it after missing the pandemic season and then all of 2021. Franklin pitched well down the stretch in 2022 and got close to getting up to 80 innings. He should be one of the anchors of the staff the first couple months of the year. This winter, he shortened his delivery and has added a slider to his already plus repertoire. Now it’s all about commanding it in the zone.
Sadly, Porter Hodge is likely to be back to start the year in South Bend. I would prefer Porter be at Tennessee, but that decision is really left to Jared Banner, the Cubs Director of Player Development. I don’t see Porter being around South Bend very long as he dominated the Midwest League over the last two months of 2022. Porter was one of my favorite players to watch in person because he is such a bulldog on the mound. Hodge put up a 2. 01 ERA last summer with South Bend in 40.1 innings. In addition, he struck out 50 guys and only walked 16 for a nice 3 to 1 strikeout ratio.
Luke Little is going to be one of my favorite pitchers to watch. He came to South Bend shortly after my season as a photographer ended last year and I am pumped about the Cubs continuing to stretch him out as a starter. Last year, they took their time with him as he didn’t get to see the fourth inning until late in the year. But this year I expect him to see the fourth and fifth innings early and often and with his nasty curveball and slider. If he is on, there’s really not that much hope for the Midwest League. He only threw 13 innings at South Bend. He had a nice 0.69 ERA and struck out 17 batters and opponents only hit .143 off of him.
Coming Up from Myrtle Beach
Tyler Santana – One of the big mysteries of the 2022 season was why Tyler Santana did not get promoted from Myrtle Beach to South Bend. With a 2.12 ERA in a little over 98 innings, Santana was one of the most efficient pitchers in the Carolina League and he made mincemeat out of those hitters. Now that 2023 is here, Santana will finally get the promotion he richly deserved. I cannot wait to see what his breaking balls do in the Midwest League again.
2022 Draft Picks
It’s unclear at this point where some of the Cubs top pitching draft picks are going to go. Spring training should decide who ends up where. #1 pick Cade Horton could be at South Bed or he could be in Myrtle Beach. Odds are Brandon Birdsell and Connar Noland both end up in South Bend. Both are experienced college arms who probably would not benefit from playing in the Carolina League unless they just have a crappy spring. Noland is the guy who I think could pop this year at this level. Whether he can succeed in Double-A depends on how much the Cubs can help him adapt at that level. As for Birdsell, he’s my guy. I thought he was one of the best picks the Cubs made last year in the draft. Having overcome adversity twice in the last five years, he has the makeup you want for a guy in your rotation to go along with his frame built to carry 120 innings this year.
Richard Gallardo – As a pitcher who basically spent the past two seasons at Myrtle Beach, Gallardo’s future is quite uncertain. Considering the fact that the Cubs went out and got 15 pitchers last summer in the draft, he’s going to have to come in to camp in the best shape of his life and dominate from the beginning of March to the end if he wants his starting job. If there are injuries, those could improve his chances. I would not be surprised to see him piggybacking somewhere.
At Some Point
Tyler Schlaffer – After having undergone elbow surgery towards the end of last summer, Schlaffer is just now beginning to throw. He’ll be ready at some point this summer but will the Cubs have him start or come out of the bullpen when he’s healthy enough to begin games? Or, will he start in short stints? He’s going to begin the year in the warmer Mesa where the Cubs can monitor his rehab. I would not expect to see him in the first half of the season. If he does get back to South Bend then, that’s a big bonus.
Depending how spring training goes, maybe Cade Horton is just out of this world in spring training and debuts at South Bend. We might see Nick Hull who the Cubs took last year out of Grand Canyon. Maybe Brody McCullough takes to pro coaching and dazzles us to start the year. With so many new guys in tow, whoever ends up in the final two spots will be the ones who win it in spring training. It may sound cliché, but it’s the truth and it’s going to be fun finding out which two guys get those spots.