Luis Devers – Pic by Todd Johnson
We still have a few mailbag posts to go, but today’s question is going to take up the whole article. There are still a lot of moving parts that need to take place between now and opening day in the minor leagues. And to answer the upcoming question, a lot of those parts need to be healthy and the major league club also has to be healthy. Here is the question.
Let’s start in Iowa.
Depending upon the health of the major league club, we are probably going to be looking at Caleb Kilian, Javier Assad, Riley Thompson, and possibly Ryan Jensen, along with Roenis Elias and Nick Neidert,
The biggest issue here is which guys have contracts that allow them to become free agents if they don’t make the major league club. Otherwise, the Cubs have a lot of depth and I don’t see Hayden Wisneski being a part of Iowa in 2023. If he doesn’t make the Chicago rotation, odds are that he will be in the Chicago bullpen.
The wildcard for this rotation is Walker Powell. The 6‘8“ right hander dominated Double-A as he gained strength throughout the year and increased his fastball by four mph. In addition, he did it with pinpoint control as he got better when he moved up an affiliate. He was probably the most under reported storyline of the year. I will be extremely interested to see if he makes it to Iowa for opening day.
Meanwhile, in Tennessee…
The Smokies staff looks to be the most legit rotation in the system. We’re looking at having Ben Brown, Jordan Wicks, DJ Herz, Daniel Palencia, and probably Luis Devers going every five days. It is just plain stacked, I tell you, stacked!!!
The Cubs pitching infrastructure also has a slight buildup of arms who are probably ready for Double-A but there’s just not a spot for them. The Cubs also took 15 pitchers in the draft last summer and they all need some place to play in the spring. Although, most of them will probably be at Low A with a few at High A.
As for South Bend…
Here is where we see the backup play out. Porter Hodge is probably ready for Double-A and would be assigned there in any other year in Cubs history. There is not a spot for him yet and he only has two months of time at High-A. The Cubs are probably going to want him to get some more time at this level.
Hodge should be joined by Kohl Franklin, who is also returning along with Luke Little and probably Tyler Santana from Myrtle Beach. We could see a couple of draft picks like Connor Noland and Brandon Birdsell make it to South Bend for their opener on April 7. Odds are that Cade Horton starts the year at Myrtle Beach as he is still just 21-years-old and does not have a lot of mileage on his arm. Who knows, maybe Horton shines in camp and that changes everything.
There are a lot of other starting pitching candidates, including Joe Nahas, Manny Espinoza, Richard Gallardo, and Derek Casey, all of whom need to find out what their role is going to be heading into 2023. Some of them may end up starting at one of the aforementioned affiliates, and some of them could actually be piggyback starters and try to earn their way into a rotation by June.
So, to paraphrase “The Big Lebowski,” there are a lot of ifs and what have yous that need to be figured out between now and the beginning of April. I’m sure injuries will play a role, but it’s going to flow from Chicago on downward. And, to be quite frank, this is a good problem to have because the Cubs do have a lot of starting pitchers just waiting for an opportunity.