2022 Results – 68-81, placed ninth in their division in the International League
I like to write things ahead of time. I don’t like to do things at the last minute, or in a rush in order to be the first to put something out. When it comes to affiliate previews, that is usually not an option. I wanted to start writing this look at the Cubs Triple-A affiliate last weekend but there were too many roster moves to clear up between last Saturday and yesterday. There were a lot of pitching decisions that needed to be figured out and injuries also needed to be assessed
So I waited… And waited… And waited…
Heading into the end of spring training, I knew that Caleb Kilian was going to be the anchor of the rotation at Iowa. He was going to be the guy that pitched on opening night and would be first in line to head to Chicago if the Cubs needed a starting pitcher in April or May. After that, I thought Riley Thompson, who looked good in the second half last year at Tennessee after a month-long development list stint, would be the guy to step up next. Nick Neidert would also be another guy whose name I had written in pen and that’s where I had to stop.
Who else would join them in Des Moines?
Last Saturday, Adrian Sampson was optioned to Iowa and thus clarifying Wesneski’s spot in Chicago. After the World Baseball Classic, the Cubs sent Rona‘s Elias down to Iowa. That was not a shock. The surprise, however, was that the Seattle Mariners returned Chris Clarke to the Cubs after they took him in last year’s rule five draft. Clarke spent all of last year at Tennessee where he had his moments, but still needs to work on avoiding the big inning. When he uses his curve and change up and can spot them, he is a ground ball machine – that is something the Cubs need.
Before the end of spring training, this was probably the hardest group to figure because of the multitude of names. I was pretty sure that Brendon Little, and Ben Leeper would return to Iowa from big league camp. They would join Jeremiah Estrada and Manny Rodriguez. Whether Cam Sanders would join them was up in the air until Wednesday and he will be in Iowa along with Nick Burdi and Rowan Wick. As of press time, the full roster had not been released. 5 more names are still unclear as to who made the bullpen. We will update this as the roster becomes finalized at some point today.
But the key thing to remember is this group could turn every game into a five-inning affair. The Cubs pitching development program has seen to it that this is the first of many groups of arms who all throw in the upper 90s. It’s just straight gas arm after arm after arm after arm.
When it comes to the infield, things are a little bit different and we were up in the air about who was going to be at Iowa until just a couple of days ago. So, Iowa’s going to roll with three catchers – Dom Nunez, Bryce, Windham, and Jake Washer. With Luis Torrens heading up to Chicago, that created some more space. The Cubs are tending to stick with guys that can manage staffs and throw out runners, which is Windham’s specialty. Washer has a pretty powerful bat and is not afraid to use it.
Going around the horn, Matt Mervis, and Jared Young will be doing first base and DH duties well but the main question here is how long is Mervis down for to start the year. It looks like Jake Slaughter has earned a spot at Iowa to play alongside Sergio Alcantara, for now, while Christopher Morel and David Bote are also slated to be in the Iowa infield along with Levi Jordan. It’s going to be difficult to find those guys consistent at bats. Some of them might start the year in Arizona as injury replacements instead.
As for the outfield, it might be, along with Tennessee, the deepest group of players in the system. Brennen Davis, Darius Hill, and Mike Tauchman will probably see most of the playing time. That makes me wonder how they’re going to work in Yonathan Perlaza and Nelson Velasquez. It’s almost an embarrassment of riches how good that outfield is going to be. They all can’t all play all the time.
Outlook for 2023
Overall, this team is only going to be as good as its starting pitching. It is really going to come down to whether Killian, Thompson, Sampson, Elias, and Neidert can shut down opposing hitters.
When the Iowa Cubs played in the Pacific Coast League, most games were high scoring affairs because of the altitude. Now that the Cubs are in the International League, the game is a lot more evenhanded and that should benefit the I-Cubs, the bullpen, and their development to get these players ready for Chicago.
It is going to be fun to see who comes up from Iowa and when. The question of “if” does not apply anymore.
We shall see who makes the Cubs call them up.
Relievers Ryan Borucki, Anthony Kay, Nick Burdi, and Vinny Nittoli all made the opening day roster in the bullpen.
The following players were placed on the development list – Jake Washer, Levi Jordan, Curtis Taylor, and Eric Stout.