The Chicago Cubs sold off most of the pieces of their core at the trade deadline last season, signaling a shift in a new direction. They spent the second half of last season giving opportunities to some of their young talent, including former Cubs prospects and Quad-A players like Patrick Wisdom and Rafael Ortega. They finished the season with a 71-91 record and landed the 7th pick in the upcoming draft. With the Cubs prospects nearing the Majors, it’s time to look at the young talent throughout the system.
This season, however, they’ve finally called up some additional young talent. The emergence of Christopher Morel has been a breath of fresh air for Cubs fans who have seen many of their favorite players move on within the last two years.
Young Talented Bats
The Chicago Cubs have brought up a few different young talented bats throughout the year so far. While most of their opening day lineup consisted of veterans, they’re starting to utilize more young talent.
On opening day, they didn’t start a player under the age of 25. Now, they’re regularly starting a couple of them. On May 17th it was announced that they would be calling up Christopher Morel from AA. Morel hit a pinch-hit home run in his first MLB plate appearance and hasn’t looked back since. In 44 games, he’s batting .272/.342/.483 with a 127 wRC+ and eight home runs.
The only concern so far has been his defense. He ranks in the 2nd percentile with -6 OAA. He’s been better at 2nd base than center field, but either way, he’s been well below average. Morel was ranked just 21st on MLB Pipeline’s top 30 Cubs prospects entering the season, but he has given himself an opportunity to be a key piece of the future in the North Side.
When Seiya Suzuki and Jason Heyward were both down with injuries, it has given an opportunity for Cubs prospect, Nelson Velazquez, to get his first glimpse of the big leagues. The 23-year-old outfielder has hit .303/.378/.515 with a 147 wRC+ in 14 games since getting called up. Velazquez is currently ranked 16th on MLB Pipeline’s organizational farm system ranking and 13th on FanGraphs’ ranking.
It’s a small sample size but Velazquez has appeared comfortable at the major league level. There will be ups and downs for him; it’s a given based on his playstyle. In 34 games with AAA Iowa, Velazquez struck out 36.2% of the time while slugging .415. Velazquez hasn’t established himself as an everyday starter but has gotten more playing time recently.
It remains to be seen what the ChicagoCubs will do with Velazquez once Jason Heyward is activated from the injured list, but he could be an option for a corner outfield or designated hitter spot in the next couple of years.
A Young Talent Breaks Out
Perhaps the biggest bright spot for the Chicago Cubs in 2022 has been the emergence of Nico Hoerner. For the first time in his career, Hoerner is both healthy and a full-time starter. He had played only 112 games in his first three MLB seasons but has already played in 65 this year.
In those 65 games, he has logged 241 plate appearances and has slashed .310/.349/.425 with a 114 wRC+. He’s one of the best contact hitters in the league, striking out just 10.4% of the time and ranking in the top 5 in zone-contact%. On top of that, he’s established himself as one of the premier defensive shortstops in the league.
He ranks first among shortstops with 9 OAA and is tied for third with 8 DRS. His 2.4 fWAR ranks 3rd on the Chicago Cubs and 7th among all shortstops. Despite not being the flashiest player, Hoerner has been one of the best young talents in the league and has cemented himself as the shortstop of the future in Chicago.
So far this season, the biggest problem for the Cubs has been the starting pitching. Both Kyle Hendricks and Marcus Stroman have been disappointing to start the season. Marcus Stroman has thrown just 47.1 innings with a 5.32 ERA and Kyle Hendricks has a 4.80 ERA in 84.1 innings.
However, Justin Steele and Keegan Thompson have both been excellent so far this season. Steele has a 4.13 ERA, 3.43 FIP, 3.73 xFIP, and 4.12 SIERA through 76.1 innings. Since the beginning of June, Steele has made six starts, thrown 36.1 innings, and has a 2.72 ERA, 3.69 FIP, 3.61 xFIP, and 3.87 SIERA. The biggest development for Steele has been his ability to pitch deep into games. Steele has pitched into the 7th innings three times this season, a massive step up for a guy who only threw more than five innings once in his rookie season in 2021.
Keegan Thompson has been nothing short of outstanding since making his debut last season. In 124.2 major league innings, Thompson has a 3.39 ERA and 4.38 FIP. This season, Thompson has a 3.41 ERA, 3.80 FIP, 14.3% K-BB%, and 3.90 SIERA. While most of his best work has been as a reliever, he’s come into his own as a starter recently. After back-to-back clunkers in Baltimore and New York, Thompson has worked 22.1 innings over four starts to the tune of a 2.82 ERA, 2.09 FIP, and 22.8% K-BB%. As a long reliever, Thompson has a 1.38 ERA and 2.96 FIP in 26.0 innings. Thompson may suit the team better as a long reliever in the future, but he’s shown the flexibility to work out of the bullpen and as a starter.
Two guys Chicago is still waiting on are Cubs prospects Caleb Kilian and Adbert Alzolay. Kilian has shown out at AAA Iowa but has struggled in each of his major league starts. Kilian made his MLB debut on June 4th and threw five innings of three-run ball. In his two most recent starts, Kilian has given up 10 earned runs in 6.1 innings while walking 10 batters and striking out three. Kilian needs to find his control before he can be successful at the major league level.
He was walking just 8.7% of hitters in AAA but that rate jumped up to 21.4% in the big leagues. It clearly seems like a confidence issue for Kilian, but once he can get it under control he should be a rotational piece for David Ross and the Cubs.
Adbert Alzolay has yet to make his season debut as he has been rehabbing a lat injury he suffered before Spring Training. In 2020 and 2021, Alzolay had a 4.35 ERA, 4.42 FIP, 3.84 SIERA, and 18.2% K-BB%. It’ll be interesting to see how the Cubs will handle the 27-year-old young talented starter, as he’s shown some potential but hasn’t quite put it together at the major league level. Alzolay is a candidate for the starting rotation in 2023, depending on how he fares in his opportunities this season.
Looking Forward at the Cubs Prospects
The most exciting part of this season for the North Siders has been the rise of many of the Cubs prospects. Morel, Velazquez, and Kilian have all made their debuts this season, and there are more coming.
While he is the highest ranking of the Cubs prospects, Brennan Davis has fallen down to #30 on the MLB Pipeline top 100 list, but he’ll likely make his debut sometime this season. Davis has struggled in AAA this season, playing in just 22 games and hitting .195/.286/.299. However, he’s just 22 years old and is universally regarded as the team’s top prospect.
Most of the rest of the Cubs prospects have ETAs of 2023 or later, but they’ve seen some great performances all across the farm system. Kevin Alcantara has moved into the top 100 in the most recent MLB Pipeline ranking update after posting a 131 wRC+ in A-ball this season. Pete Crow-Armstrong also moved up in the update, now ranking 3rd on the organizational list and 80th on the overall top 100.
The Rising Chicago Cubs Prospects
The Chicago Cubs have done very well in each of their big trades at the deadline last year, as Alcantara, Crow-Armstrong, and Kilian have all shown out in the minors, boosting the evaluation of the Cubs prospects. The Cubs may not have one of the top-ranking farm systems, but they have a lot of mid-tier, hit-or-miss prospects that could speed up the rebuild if they pan out.
With the team loaded with young talent, the Chicago Cubs are moving in the right direction! Let us know your favorite of the Cubs prospects in the comments below!
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