Prospect Stock Watch – Quiet Buzz Building This Winter

I know this is hard to believe, but minor league spring training is just around the corner. Regardless of the MLB labor situation, the minor leagues are going to go ahead full steam in 2022. Only those players who are on the 40-man roster — like Ethan Roberts and Nelson Velazquez — will not be playing until the labor deal is settled.

With those things in mind, today’s Prospect Stock Watch features a short list of players who’ve been quietly going about their business this winter. Some of these are players you may already know, possibly because they have been mentioned here before, but they’re still generating a little buzz behind the scenes. Some are already popping up on prospect lists.

Reliever Zac Leigh made a few appearances for South Bend, but the Cubs saw a massive amount of improvement from him in a short amount of time as he bought into the weight training and nutrition programs. He took a 94 mph heater to 98 as he put on almost 10 pounds of muscle within six weeks of signing. Leigh also bought into being a high leverage reliever after starting most of his career at Texas State.

FanGraphs placed him at No. 21 on their top 49 Cubs prospect list last month based on just 3.2 professional innings. I would suggest you go all-in on this kid. He’s not the same as Ben Leeper, but Leigh could move through the system next summer in a similar fashion.

Jordan Nwogu has always been a physical specimen and it was only a matter of time before he started to put everything together. He was outstanding in the second half of 2021 for at Myrtle Beach, hitting .285 with a .378 on base percentage over July and August. Nwogu understands the science of hitting and what all needs to happen for him to be successful, so his attitude and approach should carry over to 2022.

Tyler Santana is an undrafted free agent who signed with the Cubs last summer and he is buying into their development programs. Santana hadn’t previously gotten into analytics, but he spent the latter part of August and all of September picking Max Bain‘s brain about how advanced data can help him improve. While Sixth round pick Riley Martin went through a bit of an adjustment from D2 to Low-A, he’s got an incredible work ethic and intense desire that he’s brought into weight training and throwing program this offseason.

Draft picks Parker Chavers and Christian Franklin are going to be exciting to watch next year at Myrtle Beach. Both are incredibly talented athletes that can probably play all three positions in the outfield and could even be five-tool players if they put the pieces together. The biggest issue is probably just staying healthy, which Franklin has done for the most part.

Chavers missed all of 2020 and struggled a bit to start the year when he returned in 2021, then turned it around to hit .318 at Coastal Carolina this spring. He got only 17 pro at-bats after signing, but he’s someone I’ve been hearing a lot of chatter about behind the scenes.

Two other guys you might want to pencil in for now until they get to A-ball are righty Oliver Roque (0.85 ERA in 31.2 IP) and lefty Zhiorman Imbriano (3.15 xFIP). Both pitched really well in the Dominican last summer and are sort of tweeners when it comes to starting or relieving because of their age and experience. You should watch for them when they come north to Mesa this June.

The Cubs’ strategy in international free agency lately has been to go big at the top and then rack up on the $10,000 signings that don’t count against the pool. We’ll see if that continues this year, but what could mess up the process they could lose $500,000 in IFA money if they sign a player who turned down a qualifying offer. Someone like, say, Carlos Correa.

Forfeiting that much of their pool might eliminate 5-10 high-level players, but you can still find potential impact for $50-100,000 and hope to hit the lottery. We’ll see how that plays out later. In the meantime, expect to see shortstops Alexis Hernandez and Jefferson Rojas sign on January 15, along with the big bat of Adan Sanchez from Panama.

All international signees began their career in the Dominican last year due to COVID and that is often the case with such young prospects anyway. Sanchez may be advanced enough to begin his career stateside, so that’s something to keep an eye on.

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