Early Primer on Which Cubs Affiliate(s) Will Be Most Exciting in First Half

Now that the organizational breakdown posts are complete and new prospect lists are dropping each week, it’s time to start looking ahead to how the Cubs’ minor league system is going to shape up this year. While we’ve got a while before we start doing full-on affiliate previews, it’s not too early to start thinking about which players will be assigned to which affiliate.

Marquee Network will be broadcasting a selection of minor league games, which means greater access to the farm system than ever before. Of course, that may also mean figuring out how to best divide your attention between the various teams. Condensed versions of the games will no doubt help, but you may want to know which affiliate will be the most exciting in 2020.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the team that wins the most, though winning doesn’t hurt. Instead, you’ll likely want to focus on which team has the best collection of talent and features the names you’ve seen popping up in those top 100 rankings with increased frequency. Below is a quick look at which prospects figure to break camp with which teams at this early juncture.

Iowa
Top Prospects: Cory Abbott, Tyson Miller, Zack Short, Keegan Thompson, Robel Garcia

Admittedly, the Triple-A level is hardly as exciting as some of the other affiliates year in and year out. The I-Cubs roster is typically filled with MiLB veterans, DFA candidates, and players that give us prospect fatigue. But this Iowa team stands out because it should be stocked with names that could make a serious contribution in Chicago over the next couple of years.

Abbott, Miller, and Thompson each have potential as back-of-the-rotation starters and make spot starts at Wrigley Field by mid-season. By 2021, you could be watching one or more of them toeing the rubber every fifth day. Short and Garcia offer positional versatility and pop, so both could play an important role for a Cubs team that lacked bench depth a season ago.

If you want a sneak peak at what the future of Chicago might look like, set your eyes on the Iowa Cubs roster in 2020.

Tennessee Smokies
Top prospects: Miguel Amaya, Brailyn Marquez, Erich Uelmen, Justin Steele, Aramis Ademan, Jack Patterson

The Smokies’ claim to being the top affiliate to watch this spring comes mainly from the performance of Marquez on the mound and Amaya behind the plate. It won’t hurt that Uelmen, Steele, and Patterson will also be trying to move up to Iowa.

Double-A is where you’ll usually find the highest concentration of raw talent and it’s frequently the level at which the men get separated from the boys. If a player shows he can dominate here, his chances of getting to Chicago increase dramatically.

Myrtle Beach
Top Prospects: Brennen Davis, Chase Strumpf, Ryan Jensen, Michael McAvene, Riley Thompson, Andy Weber

You would be hard pressed to find an affiliate with more firepower than the Myrtle Beach Pelicans in 2020. Potential middle of the order bats? Davis and Strumpf say hello. Flamethrowing 2019 draft picks? Jensen and McAvene are at your service. Underrated studs ready to break out? Thompson and Weber will be doing their thing behind the scenes.

With the Pelicans playing in a park that is not very conducive to offensive numbers, it might just be the pitchers that show out to begin the year. That means plenty of strikeouts for the big three leading the starting rotation. But the Myrtle Beach argument for being the affiliate to watch this year really comes down to the upside of the prospects taking the field.

Being able to watch six of the top 15 prospects in the system all suiting up for the same squad is something you just won’t want to miss.

South Bend
Top prospects: Kohl Franklin, Pedro Martinez, Edmond Americaan, Yovanny Cruz, Chris Clarke, Josh Burgmann, (maybe) Richard Gallardo

Adjusting to 140-game season and playing in frigid temperatures early on isn’t exactly a picnic. The first two months in the Midwest League are quite a challenge for many players, but they’re also when we see a lot of prospects break out. Most eyes are going to be on Franklin, the 2018 6th round pick who already flashes two plus offspeed pitches.

Franklin will be joined on the mound by the 20-year-old Cruz, who flashed a bit in 2018 before being sidelined for most of 2019. Showing up to Eugene in late August of last season throwing upper 90’s heat showed what Cruz can do when healthy. Don’t sleep on 2019 draft picks Clarke and Burgmann, who we’ve already mentioned as potential breakout candidates.

The one guy I want to see at South Bend is Gallardo, who’s only 18 and might not arrive until May after spending time in extended spring training. If he’s up at any point in the first half, he could be the player to watch every time he pitches.

No matter which affiliate you plan to watch most closely in the first half, you really can’t go wrong. That’s the first time we’ve been able to say that in quite a while and it’s a good feeling.

Greg Huss contributed to this post.

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