In just about three weeks, the Cubs’ four fall season affiliates will play for the first time since September of 2019. The CI team will be previewing each of the individual affiliates during that first week of the season, but there are some big-picture items to look at when it comes to the system as a whole this year. A lot of that has to do with what’s going on at the major league level.
As you are surely aware, the Cubs have very few position players signed beyond the end of the 2021 season. If extensions cannot be reached with several of those players, does the organization have a group of prospects who will be ready to step in and help on day one in 2022?
As of right now, no.
Because of their previous volume-based approach to drafting pitchers, most of the Cubs’ top position-player prospects were acquired over the past three years and are on track to be ready in the second half of 2022 or the beginning of 2023. By then there will be a giant wave of talent in Ed Howard, Cole Roederer, and possibly recent international free agent coup Cristian Hernandez.
Outside of Nico Hoerner and Alfonso Rivas, the Cubs are going to have to go elsewhere for everyday help if needed in the near future. P.J. Higgins could support Willson Contreras in a pinch, but we’ve see how the Cubs like to have a veteran backup at catcher.
A lot would have to go right in 2021 for prospects Andy Weber and Chris Morel to be ready to face MLB pitching on a regular basis. Those two may not be far off from helping at some point in 2022 and the same could be true for Chase Strumpf, though 2023 might be a better starting point.
Jason Heyward, Ian Happ, and Joc Pederson could all technically return if the Cubs pick up Pederson’s option, so there isn’t a pressing need there just yet. That’s good because while top prospect Brennen Davis might be close to being ready at the end of this season, he should even be more so in the middle of next year. Davis only has 68 career games in the minors with just 234 career at-bats, but he did gain invaluable experience at the alternate site last summer.
When it comes to pitching, Cub fans should probably feel pretty good finally about what’s coming in the next two years. The way things are set up right now, the team should be able to lean on several young arms without rushing their development or relying too heavily on them.
Kyle Hendricks is signed for next year and the Cubs have an option on Jake Arrieta for $10 million. Trevor Williams, who is arbitration-eligible, will be in the final year of his contract in 2022. Williams is looking pretty sharp this year and really seems to like being a Cub. Adbert Alzolay looked really sharp in his second start and will have his innings managed closely, but he figures to be a part of the rotation for a while to come.
Corey Abbott, Tyson Miller, and Keegan Thompson are all on the 40-man roster and could make a spot start or two this year if needed. Most eyes are going to be focused on how Brailyn Márquez looks this year. The 6-foot-5 lefty wasn’t ready to throw during big league camp, but should be in Tennessee as he works on commanding his changeup and slider to better complement his 100+ mph fastball.
It is weird watching a game on TV that you covered live. But this moment is when Brailyn Marquez Finally figured out he didn’t have to use a slider to get strikeouts all the time. pic.twitter.com/FBTTWvOLz0
— Duke Leto Atreides🐾 (@RealCubsAnalyst) November 9, 2019
As for the bullpen, Michael Rucker and his new slider/cutter could debut this year, as could lefty reliever Burl Caraway. Who knows, maybe Ethan Roberts and his elite spin can cut through Double-A in the first half. We’re just going to have to wait and see on that. With Justin Steele‘s recent stellar debut, you have to feel good about what and who is coming up the pipeline for pitching.
Even given the Cubs’ notorious caution and futility when it comes to developing pitching, they are going to have a whole lot of pitchers knocking on the door soon. In addition to those mentioned above, a group that includes Riley Thompson, Jack Patterson, Ryan Jensen, Cam Sanders, and Chris Clarke could all tear it up. Richard Gallardo is just 19 years old but could be a dude. Kohl Franklin could prove he’s as good as everybody thinks.
There’s even the possibility — gasp — that some unheralded young hurlers jump up from obscurity this season after having been sidelined for 18 months. This year should be the most exciting season in the Cubs system since 2014 or 2015 and that development could carry over to Chicago over the next two or three years.