Chicago Cubs

The Cubs have made significant strides in developing their minor league system.  Now healthy, Pete Crow-Armstrong had an excellent step-up year, and Kevin Alcantara’s addition gave them much-needed athletic depth.  Unfortunately, Brennan Davis missed most of the season with a back issue, and assuming he returns healthy next season; they have three players that could be impact players at the highest level.  There’s still much work left, particularly on the pitching side, but if Cade Horton fully recovers from TJS, he could be a nice piece to build around.

Prospect Quick Shot

  • Top Prospect: Pete Crow-Armstrong
  • Biggest Mover: Matt Mervis
  • Emerging Prospect: Yonathan Perlaza

1. Pete Crow-Armstrong (OF)

  • Highest Level:  High-A ETA: 2024-25 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 50 OF
  • Tools Summary: Solid all-around tools with a ceiling of a 15-15 player

Pete Crow Armstrong was mentioned nearly weekly on our Hot Prospect of the Week podcast in the first part of last season.  He destroyed Low-A showing power and speed while hitting .354.  He struggled upon his promotion to High-A but got more comfortable with the level as the summer progressed.  He was more anxious at the plate, swinging at everything and posting a poor 4.8% walk rate.  Otherwise, he continued to show the speed and power I believe he will bring to the table at the highest level.  I see a full-time regular with a chance to post a 15-15 season and hit .270.  That’s a notch below a star, but he is still a player that should be able to contribute to a fantasy team in a meaningful way.

2. Brennen Davis (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Triple-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 OF
  • Tools Summary: Solid approach and a feel to hit with 20 to 25 home run power potential.

It was an injured-plagued season for Brennen Davis in 2022.  He struggled through the first month of the season with lower back tightness before having surgery to repair a malformed blood vessel cluster that was putting pressure on his spine.  He finally got back on the field in August, played well, and looked healthy.  Assuming health, which has been a concern throughout his career, he brings 20 to 25 home run pop and should be able to steal a handful of bases early in his career.  Long-term, I don’t see stolen bases as a big part of his game.  His solid approach and contact ability should allow him to hit .270 with a .340 OBP.

3. Kevin Alcantara (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2025 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 OF with upside
  • Tools Summary: Toolsy with 30+ home run potential.  His length will give him contact issues, but he has a solid approach with a good feel to hit.

The Cubs did well when they got Kevin Alcantara in a trade for Anthony Rizzo.  It reminded me of the Gleybar Torres for Aroldis Chapman a few years ago.  Torres went on to be an all-star, while still only 19, Alcantara has all-star upside.  He’s 6-foot-6, athletic, and even though there will be holes in his swing, he demonstrates a solid approach and a good feel to hit.  There will also be plenty of power, and his .431and 15 home runs give a glimpse of the level of power he might grow into.  He’s also a good runner, but at his size, you could see the speed decrease as he matures and fills out.

4. Alexander Canario (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Triple-A ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 40 OF
  • Tools Summary: A breakout season where he showed power, speed, and a much better approach at the plate.

Alexander Canario was a highly-touted prospect with the Giants organization three years ago.  He’s toolsy with plus bat speed, with a chance to be a 20-20 performer or even more.  In 2022 the power blossomed as he hit 37 home runs across three levels. He’s improved his approach, which has allowed him to raise his ceiling back to a number three, maybe even a number two outfielder. It’s a lesson in the importance of developing a patient approach and not chasing after everything.

5. Cristian Hernandez (SS)

  • Highest Level:  Complex ETA: 2025-26 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 3B
  • Tools Summary: Plus future power potential with a feel to hit.  He has gotten bigger since he was signed, so there are questions about how much speed he will eventually have.

Hernandez was the Cubs’ big international signee in 2021.  While he showed power and speed in the Dominican Summer League in 2021, he was noticeably bigger when he arrived stateside in 2022.  He was sometimes overwhelmed last season, showing some swing and miss in his game.  However, he played the entire season at 18 years old, and given his feel to hit and understanding of the strike zone, the ceiling for me is still a full-time regular with 20+ home runs and a .270 batting average, and .340 OBP.  Given his current size, a move to third might be in the cards, and the 21 stolen bases he posted in the DSL in 2021 could be his high watermark. 

6. Cade Horton (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  DNP ETA: 2025-26 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 50 SP
  • Tools Summary: Athletic two-way player who will focus on pitching as a professional.  There isn’t a long college history to evaluate his performance, but the Cubs liked the potential and made him their #1 pick.

In last July’s Draft, the Cubs drafted two-way player Cade Horton with their first pick (pick #7).  He spent the 2021 season recovering from Tommy John surgery, so it was a curious pick as Horton only accumulated 52.2 IPs in his college career.  He does have premium stuff but gave up a hit an inning and eight home runs in his sophomore season at Oklahoma.  He’s projected to be a pitcher in professional ball with a ceiling of a number three starter, maybe more if he can develop his change-up and throw more strikes.

7. Matt Mervis (1B)

  • Highest Level:  Triple-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 20 1B
  • Tools Summary: Undrafted free agent with a solid hit tool and power.

Matt Mervis is an excellent story of persistence.  He went undrafted in the 2020 Draft, signing as a free agent later that year.  He spent 2021 in Low-A, where he hit .204 in 69 games. Based on his struggles, the Cubs considered moving him to the bump as he was a two-way player in college.  2022 was a different story.  He started the season in High-A and raked.  Next was Double-A… the same result.  He finished the season up in Triple-A and also looked good.  Did he change anything?  No.  In 2021, he had a BABIP of .236; in 2022, his BABIP jumped to .336.  Even during his struggles, he made good contact with a decent approach and power.  Now, he’s on the doorstep of the Major Leagues with a chance to get regular at-bats.  He doesn’t have star upside, but he could hit .260 with a .330 OBP and 20 home runs.  Pretty good for a kid that wasn’t drafted.

8. Owen Caissie (OF)

  • Highest Level:  High-A ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 OF
  • Tools Summary: Double-plus raw power with enough foot speed to steal double-digit bases annually.  It’s a big swing, so also expect plenty of strikeouts.

Owen Caissie is a big, strong kid that will hit balls very far.  While exit velocities are not readily available in the minor leagues, I did receive some numbers out of spring training, and they were 110+ MPH.  He does have a long swing, so strikeouts will also be part of his game.  In 105 games last season in High-A, he struck out 29% of the time.  Like Kevin Alcantara, there is a feel to hit with an approach that should give him at least 70 points of OBP on his batting average. He’s also a good runner with a chance to steal double-digit bases annually.  So, the ceiling is a full-time regular, likely in a corner outfield slot with 30+ home run pop but with pressure on the batting average.  If you decide to roster him in a Dynasty League, understand the risk and reward in such a player.

9. James Triantos (3B)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2025 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 3B
  • Tools Summary: Solid all-around tools with a ceiling of a full-time regular

Triantos had a solid 2022 campaign where he controlled the strike zone with a bit of speed and power.  I think there is more power in the profile as he only slugged .386 in 113 games in Low-A.  He played the entire season as a 19-year-old and was one of the youngest players at the level.  The upside is a full-time regular with 15+ home run pop and single-digit stolen bases.  That would look better at second base, but the Cubs appear to have moved him full-time to third base.

10. Yohendrick Pinango (OF)

  • Highest Level:  High-A ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 OF
  • Tools Summary: He had an excellent step-up year where the power started to emerge.

Yohendrick Pinango was our emerging prospect last season for the Cubs, with questions about how much power he would eventually have.  After slugging .394 and hitting 13 home runs, that question is starting to be answered.  He’s also a plus runner who makes excellent contact.  The upside is a full-time regular with 12 to 15 home run pop, at least that in stolen bases, with a .270+ batting average. He still remains a sneaky player to add in Dynasty Leagues.

11. Jordan Wicks (LHP)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 50 SP
  • Tools Summary: He’s a fastball-change-up pitcher with solid-average control.

When the Cubs drafted Jordan Wicks with their first pick in the 2021 Draft, they expected the polish lefty to move through the system quickly.  He didn’t disappoint in 2022, finishing up the season in Double-A, where he pitched to a 4.18 ERA, striking out nearly 11 per nine while limiting his walks to 3.5 per nine.  The fastball doesn’t blow batters away but does have a high spin rate, so it plays better than the 92-93 MPH velocity in which it leaves his hand.  His best pitch is his change-up, and it is his primary out-pitch.  He’s at least a number four starter in the big leagues, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he pitches better than that.

12. Yonathan Perlaza (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 60 OF
  • Tools Summary: Added power without sacrificing his contact rate and has a chance to get full-time regular at-bats at the highest level.

Yonathan Perlaza has always been able to hit the ball, but last season he got stronger and started driving the ball better.  It resulted in a .491 SLG and 23 home runs in Double-A.  There’s something here, and for a player that is rarely talked about and already doing it in Double-A, it’s the definition of a sleeper.

13. Ben Brown (LHP)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 75 SP or Reliever with upside
  • Tools Summary: He doesn’t have an over-powering arsenal but has improved steadily since being drafted in 2017

Ben Brown has been slowly working his way through the minor leagues.  He was drafted in the 33rd round in 2017 and missed the 2020 season and most of the 2019 season due to injuries.  Fully healthy with an improved arsenal, he’s pitching well, striking out plenty of batters with solid-average control.  His fastball is a two-seamer variety that sits 92 to 94 MPH.  He complements that with a plus slider and an even better change-up. Despite being in professional ball for six years, he’s still only 22 years old, with the ceiling of a back of the rotation or reliever.  That’s pretty impressive, given the journey that he has followed.

14. Hayden Wesneski (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Majors ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling:  High-Leveraged Reliever
  • Tools Summary: Sinker-slider pitcher that could have success in a bullpen role.

Hayden Wesneski made his Major League debut in a September call-up and pitched well.  He’s a sinker-slider pitcher, but his sinker and four-seamer lack the velocity and explosiveness you like to see in a starting pitcher.  If he’s moved to the bullpen, both pitches will play up, and he could develop into a late-inning high-leveraged pitcher.

15. DJ Herz (LHP)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 SP with upside
  • Tools Summary: Athletic with a plus fastball and a double-plus change-up.  Currently, his control is well below-average

Signed in the eighth round in 2019, DJ Herz is athletic with plenty of arm strength.  His fastball will sit 94 to 95 with good deception that, when matched with his change-up, is leading to a significant strikeout rate.  Control continues to be an issue but is showing improvement.  With his athleticism, I expect the control to continue to improve through repetition.  If you squint, there is a mid-rotation starter lurking here as the arsenal is plenty good to get guys out at the highest level.

16. Luis Devers (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  High-A ETA: 2024-25 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 60 SP with upside
  • Tools Summary: Athletic with an average fastball and a double-plus change-up.  He throws strikes, and if he can increase his velocity, there could be more in the tank.

Luis Devers posted one of the best stat lines in the minor leagues in 2022.  Across Low and High-A, he pitched to a 1.91 ERA striking out over a batter an inning and walking two per nine. He has an average fastball and a below-average slider, but his change-up has been unhittable, leading to his success.  I’ve seen pitchers with this profile in the past get exposed once they get to Double-A. I’ve put his ceiling as a number four starter but with upside as he is throwing harder since the Cubs signed him in 2017.

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