The Rundown: A Look at Cubs’ Top Prospects, Márquez Rejoins Team, Rizzo Chose Winning Over Rebuilding, Teams Spend Record $3.265B in Free Agency

“Once there was a silly old ram, thought he’d punch a hole in a dam. No one could make that ram scram, he kept buttin’ that dam.”High Hopes, Frank Sinatra

In the last two columns, I have gone over hitters that should make the squad and pitchers I expect to head to Chicago for Opening Day. Today I’ll take a look at the minor league and bubble players, but before you get too excited, I’m not this site’s minor league expert. Cubs Insider has brilliant contributors to cover Chicago’s prospects in Greg Huss and Todd Johnson, and I encourage you to check out their work.

That said, I do have a theory about the Cubs’ ever-improving minor league pitching. I believe the front office is fully convinced that the progress of Caleb Kilian, DJ Herz, and Jordan Wicks has accelerated rapidly enough that they purposefully shied away from what became a very expensive open market for top starters. In fact, I believe all three could be rotation fixtures before the end of the 2023 season.

That’s something exciting to look forward to and it’s probably the reason Jed Hoyer and Carter Hawkins doled out so many one-year contracts. Those guys are placeholders and could be midseason trade assets if each pitches well enough this year. Though I am not as qualified as my peers here, I thought I’d give you my top 10 prospects heading into the 2022 season (I also expect Hoyer and Hawkins to add a few more in trade any day now).

  1. Brennen Davis – The ball explodes off his bat when he barrels it. He is going to be a treasure to watch for the rest of this decade.
  2. Pete Crow-Armstrong – No prospect has grown on me more than PCA. He’s a lot stronger than I thought, climbs the outfield wall like Spider-Man, and I heard the Cubs are hoping to add 10-15 pounds to his frame to get him a little more power. He’s a 70-grade runner and could be the team’s first bona fide leadoff batter since Dexter Fowler.
  3. Cristian Hernandez – He’s recently snuck into a few top 100 MLB prospect lists and should rise rapidly. He barrels almost everything and so far, rarely strikes out. He also has a high baseball IQ, and though everybody loves Ed Howard, I like Hernandez more and hope he stays at shortstop. A Hernandez-Nick Madrgal middle infield is going to be awfully fun to watch.
  4. Wicks – He reminds me of a young Jon Lester. I rarely hear scouts talking about Wicks as a top-of-rotation guy, but his major league-ready changeup helps his fastball, which gets a lot of deception its own, play up. I expect him to explode this season in much the way Reid Detmers of the Angels did last year. Wicks is going to be special.
  5. Kevin Alcantara – This kid could be better than Davis when all is said and done. I’d like to see him relax that leg kick and keep his long arms in a little more to reduce the swing-and-miss, and if he does, he’s going to be a monster at the plate. Fun fact: Alcantara’s average exit velocity is 104 mph and he’s maxed out at 107. That there is only a three mph difference in the two means he smashes the hell out of just about everything he gets the bat on.
  6. Kilian – There’s a lot of helium here because Kilian tossed six perfect innings in the AFL championship game, but that was no fluke, especially in a league known much more for its hitters. Kilian added strength and made a few adjustments during his layoff and showed increased velocity in the fall league, topping out at 98 mph after usually ranging from 90-95 with his four-seam fastball in college. The addition of a spike curve makes him a potential No. 2 starter.
  7. Owen Caissie – The young outfielder is going to be another fast riser in Chicago’s system and national scouts are starting to take notice. Sure he needs reps, but if you watch him hit, he looks like he doesn’t need that many. He’s got some potential power with his strong, 6-foot-4 frame and incredible bat speed, and Caissie still has some room to add strength, too.
  8. Alexander Canario – He has the best bat speed among the Cubs’ top prospects with well above-average raw power. In fact, his swing reminds me a lot of Sammy Sosa without the home run hop. He strikes out far too much because, like Sosa when he was young, Canario is a little too over-aggressive. If he can temper that, he’s going to be a stud.
  9. Herz – He shouldn’t be ninth, and I could easily move him up 4-5 slots but I just like the other guys a little better. He keeps adding speed to his fastball, has an ever-improving slider, and the changeup and curve are on the come. Personally, I like to slot a guy with a four-pitch arsenal as my No. 3 starter, which is the only reason I ranked Wicks and Kilian higher. Herz could end up being the best of all three.
  10. James Triantos – Another shortstop I like more than Howard, and in fact, I’d be willing to move Triantos to third base if it means keeping Hernandez at shortstop.

I know fans miss Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Javier Báez, but a core of Davis, Crow-Armstrong, Alcantara, Triantos, and Caissie is going to be a helluva lot of fun to watch, and the young pitching will make it that much better. Guys on the 40-man roster who I expect to contribute this year include Scott Effross, Brailyn Márquez, Alexander Vizcaino, Ethan Roberts, and Nelson Velazquez.

The thing about the Cubs farm system, and I know it’s still rated in the bottom half of baseball, is that all of these kids are of similar age and overall grade. As they improve, I expect the Cubs to move into the top third of MLB by midseason and potentially No. 1 overall by this time next year. Things look a little dreary for the parent club right now, but the future is incredibly bright.

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

Shohei Ohtani is a joy to watch on the mound or at the plate. I wasn’t as high on him as everybody else and I was stupendously wrong.

Climbing the Ladder

“I’ve seen you around for a long, long time…I remembered you when you drank my wine.”Why Can’t We Be Friends? by Eric Burdon & War

Two words: Donnie Dewees – The career minor leaguer had a great day at the plate yesterday going 2-for-2 with a triple, a single, and a run scored. Reliever Eric Yardley pitched two dominant innings with four strikeouts.

Spring Training News & Notes

The hot stove season has been one surprise after another, with the biggest being Bryant to the Rockies, Trevor Story to the Red Sox, Max Scherzer to the Mets, Baez to the Tigers, Kyle Schwarber to the Phillies, and Seiya Suzuki to the Cubs. But nothing tops Carlos Correa signing with the Twins.

Pirates prospect Oneil Cruz hit a mammoth home run in Grapefruit League action yesterday.

MLB teams spent a record $3.265 billion in free agency this year (subscription to ESPN+ required).

A letter from MLB to the Yankees regarding illegal sign-stealing is about to be made public.

The agent for late pitcher Tyler Skaggs urged his client to pitch in pain for a few years leading up to his death, text records show.

Rays pitcher Shane Baz will miss the beginning of the season after undergoing elbow surgery.

The league’s balanced schedule is likely to boost ratings and revenues starting in 2023.

The Dodgers’ desire to avoid what is now known as “the Cohen tax” kept them from re-signing closer Kenley Jansen. Teams who dare to venture more than $60 million beyond the first tax line have to pay an 80 percent tax rate. The Dodgers, a second-time payor, would’ve faced a 90 percent surtax.

Extra Innings

Ben Joyce of the University of Tennessee threw a 104 mph fastball over the weekend. Yikes.

They Said It

  • “I wanted to stay there. But I’ve made money in this game. I want to win. That’s definitely something that was important to me.” – Rizzo
  • “I’m really excited for the opportunity to contribute in any way possible for the team. It doesn’t matter what position they need me. If they need me as a starter or a reliever — any way that I can contribute again on the big-league team — that’s what I’m looking to do.” – Márquez
  • “Let’s give [Márquez] a chance to establish himself as a professional player. I know there’s a lot of hype about him coming back. He got that little bit of a taste in 2020 and saw the things he needed to work on, and then had some adversity last year. So let’s just give him the freedom to develop how he needs to develop and not put any labels on him.” – Ross

Tuesday Walk-Up Song

Ah! Leah! by Donnie Iris – I know I don’t know everything about music, but color me shocked that I did not know Iris worked with Wild Cherry and The Jaggerz.

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