We are rapidly approaching the home stretch of the 2022 minor league regular season, though the schedules run longer than they used to. The two Single-A teams wrap up their action on September 11 while Tennessee and Iowa polish off their regularly scheduled programming on September 18 and September 28, respectively.
With around a month of games remaining, I have my eyes glued to MiLB.TV hoping to see some especially fun things before I turn to “analyzing the season” mode. Here are the 10 storylines I’ll be tracking.
1. Draftees assigned to teams
The Cubs are among several teams in baseball that have leaned into their complex site when it comes to their new draftees. Because of the later draft and the absence of a short-season rookie league team, the front office seems to prefer holding guys back in Arizona during their draft season, getting them in the pitch/hit labs, and allowing the new professionals to grow accustomed to their lives as ballplayers.
That makes it all the more exciting when one of the newly drafted players makes an appearance in full-season ball. We have already seen Christopher Paciolla, Haydn McGeary, Andy Gariolla, and Brandon Birdsell assigned to the ACL Cubs, so keep an eye on the older few (McGeary, Gariolla, Birdsell) to make appearances in Myrtle Beach or South Bend this year.
2. Relievers to Chicago
By my count, I’ve got nine I-Cubs relievers that I wouldn’t be shocked to see in Chicago by year’s end. Let’s fit them into categories.
Simply a damn good player: Ben Leeper
This doesn’t include two starting pitchers that could be used in their current role or converted to the bullpen just for the remainder of the 2022 season in Chicago — Javier Assad and Hayden Wesneski.
3. Brennen Davis’s return
Davis got back to live action this week down in Mesa for the ACL Cubs. We don’t know for sure how long his rehab down there will last, but I’m sure the Cubs would love to get him a few more ABs in Des Moines to wrap up the season. If I’m a betting man, I think we also see Davis back in Arizona again this fall for the AFL.
4. Pitcher of the Year award
This award appears to be Luis Devers’ to lose at this point, but all it will take is a couple clunker games for the other solid performers in this system to take the crown.
Devers: 103 IP, 1.92 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, .205 AVG, 26.3 K%, 5.1 BB%
Porter Hodge: 93.1 IP, 2.70 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, .199 AVG, 30.4 K%, 12.6 BB%
Walker Powell: 87.2 IP, 2.98 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, .201 AVG, 23.8 K%, 5.2 BB%
Tyler Santana: 98.2 IP, 2.28 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, .212 AVG, 23.4 K%, 7.58 BB%
5. Matt Mervis wrapping up breakout season
The system’s hitter of the year isn’t up for debate. Barring an 0-for-the-month stretch, Mervis will take home the award. As you watch the breakout star of the system over the next few weeks, just know you are experiencing the best performance in the system this year and one of the best minor league seasons since Kris Bryant was around.
6. Hitters getting cups of coffee
We already dug into the pitchers that might get a taste of Chicago before the year comes to a close, and that’s mostly because there aren’t many bats that will get the call to the bigs (Darius Hill might be the only exception).
Instead, it’s very likely we see some last-minute movement throughout the system as players are challenged at the next level up. It’s basically a preview of where they will begin the 2023 season, so this cup of coffee allows players to see better pitching, struggle for a bit, and then learn and improve upon those struggles in the offseason.
Some hitters that have a shot at getting that cup of coffee include:
Kevin Alcántara to High-A South Bend
Ezequiel Pagan to High-A South Bend
Pablo Aliendo to Double-A Tennessee
Luis Verdugo to Double-A Tennessee
Yohendrick Piñango to Double-A Tennessee
Owen Caissie to Double-A Tennessee
Chase Strumpf to Triple-A Iowa
Jake Slaughter to Triple-A Iowa
Alexander Canario to Triple-A Iowa
Yonathan Perlaza to Triple-A Iowa
7. Arizona Fall League announcements
I teased it earlier with Davis, who would lead what would be the most star-studded group of Cubs prospects to head off to the Arizona Fall League in years. News will break before the regular season wraps up, but here is a (non-exhaustive) list of potential options for the top prospect league.
8. Nice, round stat thresholds
I mentioned it before, but fans and players love seeing stats hit those fairly arbitrary round numbers. That could be 30 homers, a sub-3.00 ERA, 25 stolen bases, etc. There are a few guys in the system that are oh so close to meeting those random thresholds we have created.
.300 Batting Average – Pete Crow-Armstrong (.302), Mervis (.302), Jake Slaughter (.288)
30 Home Runs – Alexander Canario (29), Mervis (24)
100 RBI – Mervis (94)
20 HR/30 SB Season – Jake Slaughter (18/30)
1.00 WHIP – Devers (0.92), Powell (0.95)
150 Strikeouts – Hodge (123), DJ Herz (119)
9. Guys earning their 40-man roster spot
We know that this year’s Rule 5 Draft decisions are as difficult as any other year in recent memory thanks to the absence of the draft a year ago. The Cubs have over 70 eligible players in addition to the minor league free agents who are all vying for the opportunity to be added to the 40-man roster. Among the guys most likely that you should look out for…
10. Cristian Hernández’s debut
I know fans have been shouting for Hernández to make his full-season debut in Myrtle Beach since opening day, but that was never really an option. In fact, I’d be more surprised than not to see the teenage phenom make it up to Myrtle at all this year. But we can hold out hope.
If the Top 100-ranked shortstop does get the call to wrap up the season, every eyeball should be on the Pelicans’ broadcasts on a nightly basis to see him in action!