Porter Hodge – Picture by Todd Johnson

We are getting closer and closer to opening day for the minor-league season. Iowa kicks off this Friday, Myrtle Beach, and Tennessee debut on Thursday the 6th, and South Bend starts the festivities on Friday the 7th. We’ve been having a little bit of a preseason extravaganza here at North Side Bound as we get ready for the season. We have done some predictions of statistics, a three-part All-Star team, and this week we are rolling out who we think will be the players of the year for hitting, starting pitching, and relieving.

Yesterday, we broke down who we thought would be our hitter of the year and today we’re getting right back at it with starting pitching.

Let’s take a look at our picks for pitcher of the year in the Cubs minor-league system.

Last year’s predictions

Last Year’s Winner – Luis Devers

Greg Zumach

The pitching in this system is no joke so when I tell you I had difficulty deciding on this selection, it’s because I seriously looked at a dozen possibilities. I could make a case for Brown, Wicks, Hodge, Wicks, Palencia, Kilian, Luke Little, DJ Herz, a repeating Luis Devers, Brandon Birdsell, Connor Noland, among others. Ultimately I removed Horton Birdsell, and Noland because the Cubs let pitchers throw 100+ innings in the year after they are drafted. I could go any number of ways, but I removed Wicks, Kilian, and Palencia because I believe if everything is clicking all of them would be in the majors during the second half. I focused strongly on two names, Porter Hodge and Luke Little. I’m going to go with the most fun option, Luke Little. Because a dominant Luke Little isn’t just a top caliber pitcher, that’s an elite prospect. Let’s have a little fun with this and hope it happens.

Greg Huss – .

You could convince me of about ten different guys that could win this award. I wouldn’t really bat an eye if you argued for Wicks, Jensen, Brown, Herz, Palencia, Hodge, Devers, Little, or Horton. So let’s work backwards real quick and nitpick reasons why some of these dudes might not win the award.

Cade Horton is in his first season of pro ball and will likely experience some minor growing pains. Luke Little might still be a starting pitcher that only logs three innings at a time, preparing him for a multi-inning role in the Majors down the road. There is simply no way Luis Devers repeats what he did a year ago. DJ Herz flashed some serious issues once he reached Double-A in 2022 and will need to find the zone significantly more. Ben Brown will be facing competition at the highest levels of the minors and, since he is on the 40-man roster, will be more focused on perfecting his pitches for the Major League level rather than generating pristine results. If Ryan Jensen performs well, he will spend more time in the bigs than the minors.

That leaves three guys: Jordan Wicks, Daniel Palencia, and Porter Hodge.

Guys, I seriously don’t know. While I’m expecting another really solid year from Hodge and a truly explosive, breakout campaign from Palencia, I’ll choose Wicks. I expect the former first rounder to perform admirably in the categories he did a year ago (generating swings-and-misses, improved repetoire, quality command) while also reaping the benefits of some better batted ball luck. He’ll be in the 2024 MLB opening day starting rotation.

Richard Colaizzi

Ben Brown – Assuming Ben remains a starter for the entirety of the 2023 season, I expect some big gains for  him at the AA level, with a possible promotion to Iowa by season’s end.   A big body guy who throws upper 90’s with a solid slider and curveball who has shown the ability to K a lot of hitters at that level.  Adding a change-up might be the key for a future rotation spot.  Ben has held his own in limited appearances this spring training with the big club. 

Todd Johnson

The Cubs will have a lot of great arms in 2023. My pick for Pitcher of the Year is going to come from the lower levels just because they should be more dominant there than they would be at Double-A or Triple-A. Like the Hitter of the Year, it came down to two guys for me. One was Porter Hodge and the other was Cade Horton. However, the tiebreaker for me is that Horton is still a pitcher who has not thrown a lot of innings. Hodge, meanwhile, is going to be a workhorse this year and that’s gonna give him the nod. Horton will probably have his innings limited to between 80 and 100 while Hodge could throw between 120-140 frames.

As for Hodge, he’s going to show up with his slider every night and probably begin the year at South Bend because of a pitching backlog at Tennessee. Porter should dominate the Midwest League and then earn a trip to Tennessee by June where his stuff should play very well.