Kevin Alcantara – Picture by Todd Johnson
With the draft complete, and the trade deadline over, it becomes that time of the year where I rank position groups. This is not to be confused with the off-season series where I break down each group individually, but this is just ranking the 10 groups in terms of their strength and their depth. Here are last year’s rankings and now it’s time to get going on this year’s.
Tip of the Day – The system is deep. Just because a group comes in at number 8, 9, or 10 doesn’t mean it’s bad, it just means it doesn’t have as much depth as the other positions. There are good players in every grouping, just some position groups are filled with more talent than others
10. Left-Handed Relievers – An organization can never have enough left-handed pitchers. And in terms of relievers, the Cubs do not have very many. I mentioned it about a year ago at this time as they were getting ready to lose a lot via MiLB free agency, the Cubs just did not go out and recoup those losses. Two guys they went out and acquired actually turned up injured in Jack Aldrich and Luis Aquino. We’ll see what they do this winter to address the shortage. At the top, it’s pretty good with a Luke Little and Bailey Horn, but Brendon Little probably walks this winter.
9. Second Base – I thought that by now some of the shortstops would move over and play second base, but that hasn’t happened. Currently, James Triantos is the highest ranked second baseman followed by Chase Strumpf. That’s a big drop off between the top 15 Prospect and one in the 30s.. Then again, the Cubs can’t have all the shortstops continue to play shortstop over the next two years. I expect them to move over as soon as next year. Matt Shaw, Cristian Hernandez, and Josh Rivera could all slide here or third base.
8. Third Base – The position of third base went under developed for many years because the Cubs had a guy named Kris Bryant. As a result, they didn’t draft guys to play the position. Instead, they moved guys over there from shortstop. Now that Bryant’s gone, the Cubs are slowly beginning to address the position. BJ Murray would probably be the top player in this grouping. Brian Kalmer and Drew Bowser were taken in this year’s draft and should be interesting to follow over the next year. Again, Rivera and Shaw could both most definitely play here as well as second base. They will be mentioned three times today.
7. A few years ago, right-handed relief pitchers were ranked as high as #2. It was unique to see someone who could throw 95. Now everybody does and it’s getting hard for some of these guys to really set themselves apart from the rest of the corps. We haven’t really seen anybody move from level to level level with dominance. Yes, Carlos Guzman has gone from South Bend, to Tennessee to Iowa to Tennessee and pitched well, but he did not really dominate like Jeremiah Estrada did in 2022. That’s what this group needs.
6. The Cubs really need to target left-handed starting pitchers in the draft more. They say you don’t draft for need, but sometimes you do. The clubs only took Ethan Flanigan this year and I am excited to see him pitch at some point in 2024. But the Cubs current group of left-handed starters has fallen in the rankings, because they just have not dominated and DJ Herz was also traded. While Jordan Wicks was promoted and Gray and Ferris have flashed at times, it just does not have the depth of the other groups. Marino Santy has been the big surprise of the group as he continues to improve at Myrtle Beach. This is still a young group so the Cubs could end up putting two to three of these guys in the rotation at some point in the next two or three years. 2024 is gonna be a fun year to watch every single one of these players, especially for me with South Bend playing in my backyard.
5. The top half of the rankings kicks off with catchers. I almost put them at the Four spot because I really like this group of players. They are quite different. A year from now, things could even be more different. Pablo Aliendo has had a transformative year as he added some muscle and developed more power. Bryce Windham has been a hit machine at Iowa and this group is ranked here mainly because of their defense. The two guys who could change things next year our fifth round pick Michael Carico, and new backstop Frank Hernandez. I think Frank is going to take to catching like a fish to water. 2023 saw him debut as a catcher in the Arizona Complex League and it’s going very well, especially at the plate.
4. First Base has gotten very strong very quickly. With Hayden McGeary and Felix Stevens, breaking out this year, this position is pretty solid. Reivaj Garcia has learned how to play there at Myrtle Beach while hitting over .300 and Anderson Suriel has made the transition seamlessly from the outfield in Mesa. The Cubs added basically two first baseman in the power hitting Jonathon Long and Brian Kalmer in the draft. They should be fun to watch as they are known for their dingers.
3. This was a tough call. Two of the Cubs top five prospects are right-handed starting pitchers Cade Horton and Ben Brown. But after that, there’s a little bit of a drop off, but there’s still a lot of depth with Kohl Franklin. Branden Birdsell, Michael Arias, Luis Devers Brody, McCullough, and Luis Rujano. Add new draft picks Jackson Wiggins and Will Sanders and this is a pretty solid group in terms of depth. Once you get into AA, the number of high-end right hand starters thins quite a bit. That’s where the Cubs have to step it up for this position group to move up. They are very close to being number two.
2. Shortstops – In this year’s draft, the Cubs went out and selected two outstanding shortstops in Matt Shaw and Josh Rivera. Couple them with seventh round Yahil Melendez and 2023 IFAs Derniche Valdez and Angel Cepeda, along with the top 2024 IFA in Fernando Cruz, the Cubs are going to have a ton of short stops flooding into the system in the next year. I didn’t even count Ramon Eriandys who is doing well for the DSL Blue team. Jefferson, Rojas and Cristian Hernandez will be at high-A next summer and it’s looking like the Cubs are getting all the shortstops again. And there’s not one thing wrong with that.
1. This could be the outfielders last year at the top of the throne. With some of the guys in Chicago signed up for three more years, there’s not really a lot of places for them to go. So only a few of them will make it all the way to Wrigley. Pete Crow-Armstrong makes this group number one. But there’s a lot of other guys with him from Kevin Alcantara to Owen Caissie to Alexander Canario. We’ve even seen the rebirth of Cole Roederer and hopefully we can see a rebirth of Brennen Davis at some point in 2024. The Cubs did not go outfield heavy in the draft as they only took Brett Bateman and Zyhir Hope. This winter the Cubs could use that outfield depth to go out and get some help for the big league club.
These rankings are pretty fluid. There’s not very much difference between 10 and 4 for me. Some groups could move up quite a bit in just a couple of years, depending upon who slides over to play there. We could see a lot of breakouts next year. I don’t think we’re going to see guys skip levels to start the year, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see some of the players from the Dominican begin next year at Myrtle Beach in June instead of in Mesa. We shall see!