Outfield Leads Way as Position Group Rankings Show Changing Depth in Cubs System

In about six weeks, Cubs Insider will start a series breaking down each position group in the Cubs’ system. Those weekly installments will give you a little insight into the depth, or lack thereof, the Cubs have in the farm system and may foreshadow Jed Hoyer’s offseason targets.

Today, it’s all about teeing everything up with a much more general ranking of the strength and depth of those positions. The Cubs have made a lot of moves to enhance both of those factors and it’s totally changed the makeup of the minors heading into 2022, so we’re seeing some shifts in the groups laid out below.

This year’s ranking also includes a new group. Since it looks like the designated hitter will be coming to the NL on a permanent basis, DH prospects get their first look here and will also have their own breakdown post this winter.

11. Second Base – This position should change greatly over the next two years because some of the shortstops are going to have to move as they advance. We could end up seeing Ed Howard or James Triantos playing second in due time and even Kevin Made could move to the right side.

10. Third Base – See above. We could see Triantos and/or Reggie Preciado man the hot corner next year in Myrtle Beach. Christopher Morel looks like he has moved on from third base to play all over the diamond, which has weakened this position.

9. First Base – After years of neglect, the Cubs have actually gone out and acquired first basemen over the past couple of years. They even picked up Bryce Ball, who has an amazing plate approach and the potential to hit a lot of home runs if he can just learn to hit a two-strike curveball.

8. Catchers – The Cubs still have Miguel Amaya in the fold, but he missed most of 2021 with a forearm issue that did not require surgery and his future has gotten a little cloudier. There are some interesting names in the lower part of the system, among which Casey Opitz might be best suited for the majors due to his stand-out defensive skills.

7. DH – This category is all about Nelson Maldonado right now. Mainly an outfielder and DH in college, Maldonado was a key component of South Bend’s title run in 2019 and he demolished at Double-A Tennessee in his three months there this summer before an injury shut him down for the season. I would not be surprised to see him in Chicago at some point in 2022.

6. Left-Handed Relievers – The Cubs have a number of lefty relievers poised to do well in 2022. Brandon Hughes will be at Triple-A Iowa to start next year, along with Bryan Hudson, Scott Kobos, and Brendon Little. Burl Carraway looks like he’s working on a slider at fall instructs and he should be a Double-A Tennessee to start next season. He could move quickly if he can get his command figured out.

5. Right-Handed Starters – This was the strength of the system a couple years ago, but that progress has ground to a halt as injuries have gotten in the way. Cory Abbott, Ryan Jensen, and Caleb Kilian might be the closest thing to starters the Cubs have going. Kohl Franklin, Riley Thompson, and Michael McAvene regaining their form would change the dynamics of this ranking a lot.

4. Right-Handed RelieversBen Leeper, Ethan Roberts, and Cayne Ueckert headline a large group that should be ready to help in Chicago next summer. There might be even more coming down the road in Jeremiah Estrada, Danis Correa, and Gabriel Jaramillo. We’re talking about a mix of nasty breaking stuff and high velocity, exactly what Jed Hoyer is looking for. One name to pop for 2022 is Zac Leigh, last year’s 15th round pick out of Texas State. He was hitting 96-98 for South Bend at the end of the year after he put on 10 pounds of muscle in Mesa.

3. Left-Handed Starters – Even though Brailyn Márquez and Jack Patterson did not pitch this last year, the southpaw starters took a huge jump in large part due to MiLB Pitcher of the Year DJ Herz and the drafting of Jordan Wicks and Drew Gray. You could even add Luke Little to a mix of high ceiling lefties that could have an impact for a long time to come.

2. Shortstops – The Cubs have a lot of young shortstops coming up through the system and they will attract a lot of attention at both South Bend and Myrtle Beach next year. Which one becomes “King of the Mountain” is still up in the air, but it’s going be fun to find out between Howard, Made, Triantos, Reginald Preciado, and Cristian Hernandez. Keep an eye on Luis Vazquez over the next six weeks in the Arizona Fall League because he’s the best defender out of all of them.

1. Outfield – It doesn’t hurt to have the number one prospect in the system be an outfielder. It also doesn’t hurt to have Morel move to the outfield to join Velasquez and the recently converted Yonathan Perlaza. The Cubs then went out and acquired Pete Crow-Armstrong, Alexander Canario, and Kevin Alcantara. Add in Owen Caissie, Darius Hill, Jordan Nwogu, and Cole Roederer and you have some serious depth. The only problem is that you can only play three of them at a time.

The Cubs should continue to add to that depth next season with two top-50 draft picks along with three international free agents ranked in Baseball America’s top 35 ($). That include Alexis Hernandez, the younger brother of Cristian, so the shortstop group could get even stronger.

Remembers to stick with us throughout the winter as we take deep dives into each of these groups one at a time.

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