No matter how you view it, this has been one interesting summer in Chicago. Between the big trades and a couple of long losing streaks that have them spiraling to one of the worst records in the league, the Cubs find themselves in need of a new foundation of players to build their next contender. Jed Hoyer is going to need to sign new players and trade for others, but he’s also got an improving group of prospects who will eventually work their way through the system.
While some might prefer more immediate results, this piece will focus specifically on prospects at various positions who could be ready in 2022 or ’23. That means we will not include Michael Hermosillo, who could be part of the Cubs any day now, or any other Quad-A type players currently at Iowa.
Miguel Amaya is the one and only catching prospect who could be ready within the next two years. A small problem with that is that he has missed most of 2021 due to a forearm strain that has delayed his progress. He had an on-base percentage of over .400 prior to being shelved, but he was only hitting .215 with one home run in 23 games.
Everybody raves about his ability to handle pitchers and manage the game from behind the plate, so it’s the bat that will determine whether he’s going to be an everyday guy. If he can get healthy this fall and stay injury-free next season, some of those concerns can be addressed.
This one is all Alfonso Rivas. He’s a little smaller than you’d expect at just 6-feet even, but he has a beautiful left-handed stroke with an excellent plate approach and has shown a little bit more power than expected at Triple-A. After missing the first month of the season and spending much of June adjusting, he’s pretty much been tearing the cover off the ball most of the summer.
With Frank Schwindel currently holding down first in Chicago, odds are Rivas will be “working on his defense” until early next year.
Rivas lines a base hit into your living room off Cubs legend Eddie Butler. pic.twitter.com/dSlXaHpN5J
— Brad (@ballskwok) August 15, 2021
Chase Strumpf has been playing a lot of third base this summer after playing mainly on the middle infield in college and at the lower levels of the minors in 2019. His bat deserted him for six weeks following a promotion from High-A South Bend to Double-A Tennessee and, though he flashed occasional power, it raised serious questions about whether he will be major league ready anytime soon. Things look much better in August as he’s hitting close to .300 with an OBP of almost .400 over the last three weeks.
He’s going to have to continue that while displaying more pop, but the good sign is he is walking more and striking out less than he was his first two months.
Chase Strumpf is now hitting over .300 this month with an OBP close to .400. He is really heating up with his power. In addition, he is walking more and striking out less pic.twitter.com/IeuUkM6PGR
— Todd ⚾️🐻🦌 (@CubsCentral08) August 15, 2021
Everybody’s looking at Brennen Davis as the savior of the farm system, but the newly minted top-20 prospect only had 58 games of MiLB experience prior to this year and will probably stay in Tennessee the rest of their season. He could head to Iowa for Triple-A’s extra two weeks of play or he might also participate in the Arizona Fall League in October and November, though there would not be much to gain from that latter experience. Davis should begin next year in Iowa at the ripe old age of 22 and could be ready at any point in 2022. The question is, whose spot is he going to take?
The plus power is real, y’all 💪 pic.twitter.com/q0VXPzaiIP
— Prospects Live (@ProspectsLive) July 11, 2021
Nelson Velazquez has been on a tear most of the summer and currently leads the organization in home runs with 17 between South Bend and Tennessee. The strikeout rate might be a concern and it may take him a while to learn to lay off of stuff away and out of the zone. Then again, he may never completely mature in that regard. Velazquez is also an excellent defender blessed with a rocket of a right arm and he’s shown that he can play all three outfield positions. He will be 23 to start next season.
Darius Hill, yet another Smokies regular, has also shown the ability to get on base by any means necessary. The 2019 20th round pick out of West Virginia is probably one of the biggest position player surprises for the Cubs this year, taking the system by storm first at Myrtle Beach and then again in Tennessee. He broke his hand a couple weeks ago and is out for the year but should begin 2022 at Iowa. He is a throwback leadoff hitter we would have seen in the 1970s, the type of contact-oriented slapper Hoyer seems to be looking for.
Darius Hill is all hustle, all the time pic.twitter.com/CMAOzfAD6N
— TheBullpen🐾 (@RealCubsAnalyst) June 2, 2021
The recently acquired Alexander Canario would be the final outfielder to add to this list. He’s still a little bit raw, but he’s also extremely gifted. He can play all three outfield spots, he’s got a great arm, and he can hit for average as well as power. He just needs some seasoning and he’s only 21, so there’s no need to rush him.
Our power was out for two hours tonight. Good thing Alexander Canario kept his power going. pic.twitter.com/9PRALFuH2S
— Todd ⚾️🐻🦌 (@CubsCentral08) August 12, 2021
Nelson Maldonado is all over this position, assuming it returns to the NL on a permanent basis next season. I have been quietly screaming about why he is still in Tennessee after destroying that league for the past 10 weeks or so. With a 130 wRC+ this year, he looks to be ready for the next challenge. Though he has played some games at first base and a few in the outfield, he’s been the DH more often than not. He has the best bat-to-ball skills in the system and could easily hit 20 home runs as a pro.
Jared Young looks to be reborn after adding some lean muscle during the pandemic and he destroyed Double-A in June and July hitting .326 with a 152 wRC+ to earn a promotion. If he maintains that power stroke moving forward, he’s another possibility for DH duties.
Chris Morel is blessed with all the talent in the world. He has incredible bat speed, a great arm, and the ability to play five or six positions, but he has struggled at Double-A this year. He’s probably going to start there again in ’22, but it should pay off for him in the long run.
While Keegan Thompson and Justin Steele are getting their chances this fall to audition for the 2022 rotation, the Cubs have several other up-and-coming pitchers who should be ready over the next two summers. Some of them have to get healthy and others have to be given a chance. Caleb Kilian and Dakota Chalmers are two recently acquired players who have flashed quite a bit at Double-A this summer. Not only do they have excellent stuff, but they also have some pitchability and could help as early as next summer.
Cam Sanders has some of the best stuff of any starting pitcher in the system, it’s just a matter of him harnessing it and keeping things simple. He appears to be streamlining some things and the slider he added in the offseason can be a real weapon when it’s sharp.
Cam Sanders is ready for another challenge, y'all. pic.twitter.com/VKNx5U91bo
— Itsacon (@thats_so_cub) August 11, 2021
Two other guys who could be on the Cubs’ radar the next two years are Max Bain and Ryan Jensen, both of whom have completely overhauled how they pitched from back in May. Jensen still has his two- and four-seam fastballs, but those are now complemented by a curve and a changeup instead of just a slider. Bain has added an MLB-level change that took him about a year to be confident throwing in games and says his slider is still probably 6-8 months from being at that same level.
Jensen was the Cubs’ Pitcher of the Month in July and Bain has not allowed a run this month since coming off the development list, where he spent 10 days adjusting his delivery to go full-time from the stretch.
Max Bain has been throwing his fastball 94 all night and his changeup was coming in somewhere around 84 to 86. The change has been his best pitch as he struck out five through six scoreless innings on 73 pitches, 47 for strikes. pic.twitter.com/rh7GVLyl9V
— Todd ⚾️🐻🦌 (@CubsCentral08) August 12, 2021
I am interested to see what the Cubs do with top draft pick Jordan Wicks, who could move quickly through the system based upon his college experience and advanced changeup. Anybody with offspeed like Wicks is probably not going to spend a lot of time in the lower part of the organization, so he should be at Double-A fairly quickly.
Then there are the familiar names like Brailyn Márquez, Kohl Franklin, Jack Patterson, and Riley Thompson. They could all be up by next year or might have been up already, but first they all need to get and stay healthy.
The Cubs’ inability to produce pitching appears to be a thing of the past. Half of the MLB bullpen is made up of homegrown pitchers and the Cubs should have three of their own guys in the rotation in the final few weeks of the season. When it comes to relievers next year and beyond, the Cubs are going to have plenty to choose from.
Scott Effross is a guy who might be available. His sidearm delivery makes him an attractive candidate because it gives guys such a different look than the current crop of arms throwing in the upper 90s. Effross is a likely candidate to get added to the 40-man roster this winter or he will become a free agent.
Ben Leeper is a power reliever who could break camp with the Cubs in the spring and be part of the ‘pen for the next six seasons. Ethan Roberts still needs some seasoning at Triple-A after dominating in Tennessee and Cayne Ueckert is a guy I just love who is blessed with some upper-90s heat and a tight slider to back it up.
I would have loved to include Owen Caissie, Reginald Preciado, Pete Crow-Armstrong, and Kevin Alcantara in this list, but they are all just another year removed barring an incredible leap forward. That’s a lot of depth for Hoyer to work with one way or another.
Of course, not a single one of these players is a lead-pipe lock and their inclusion here is because there’s a chance they could make their way. Getting to Chicago is one thing, but it’s best to remember that the final step in development takes place at that highest level. How players adapt to the speed and skill in MLB will determine whether they will be a part of the core.