The 2022 Cubs system is in a place it’s not been in during my lifetime. It has ten high ceiling teenaged prospects while also having several quality prospects at the upper levels, but only one or two of them have a high ceiling depending on who you ask. At the same time, it’s very deep. Keep an eye on the Cubs. Most currently have their system ranked 15th to 23rd overall, but that could change rapidly. With only one surefire Top 100 prospect right now, they could have 3-5 by the time we update our rankings midseason.
Speaking of rankings, these are structured a little differently than I’m used to, and I like it. Normally, I value the upside of a prospect more than his proximity to the majors, but the Prospects1500 tiering system has forced me to think about this differently and more evenly value the likelihood of a player’s major league success alongside his potential for greatness. So this list isn’t how I would normally rank a top 50, and it’s been a fun thought process.
Here is the Prospects1500 tier system explained.
Tier 1: Players with high expectations of both making the majors and playing at an All-Star level for a number of years
Tier 2: Players with an above-average expectation of making the majors and being a solid contributor
Tier 3: Players with an average expectation of making the majors and being a solid contributor
Tier 4: Players who have the potential of making the majors, or have a high likelihood of making the majors but providing minimal impact
Tier 5: Players of interest, worth keeping an eye on, who have an outside chance of making their team’s 40-man roster
Levels listed for each player are the highest levels player reached in 2021
1. Brennen Davis, OF, 22, AAA
Davis is a consensus top 20 overall prospect after his breakout 2021 season. He dominated at times in both AA and AAA while being just 21 years old. Though concerns remain about an above-average K% and mediocre batting average, Davis’ ability to adjust and develop quickly combined with his athleticism and power to all fields give evaluators confidence he’ll be a productive, and perhaps all-star level, major leaguer for years to come. He has the ability to play an above-average CF, but has more than enough arm if he has to move to RF.
No update on the fan in left field, but Brennen Davis did in fact hit his second home run of the night.
The Chicago Cubs’ No. 1 prospect is now 2-for-2 with two home runs in his Triple-A debut. pic.twitter.com/HBblFMQfLB
— Iowa Cubs (@IowaCubs) September 15, 2021
2. Cristian Hernandez, SS, 18, Rookie (DSL)
Hernandez received a $3 million signing bonus and was a top 3 IFA signing in the 2020 class. He has the smooth actions, footwork and athleticism to be an above-average defensive SS while possessing the tools at the plate to hit for average and power. Cristian is poised to make his stateside debut as an 18-year-old after posting an .822 OPS at the DSL level last season. He’s a long way away from the majors, but the sky is the limit for Hernandez.
3. Kevin Alcantara, OF, 19, Rookie (ACL)
Acquired in exchange for Anthony Rizzo, Alcantara obliterated rookie ball pitchers last season with a slash of .345/.423/.588. Currently a lanky 6’6″, Alcantara possesses crazy raw power that has yet to be fully realized. Some scouts see him sticking in CF with the athleticism to eventually be above average, but what makes him so exciting is his ceiling at the plate. As he increases his wrist and forearm strength, his bat control could take a leap forward. If it does, look out. His raw power will become game power.
4. Owen Caissie, OF, 19, Low-A
Caissie’s exit velocities are among the top 20 in all of minor league baseball, and he combines that with advanced pitch selection which enhances his likelihood of succeeding at the upper levels. Owen lacks the athleticism of the prospects listed above, but his combo of power and strike zone control bodes well for his future. With his work ethic, he should be able to stay in a corner OF spot, but 1B and DH remain options.
5. James Triantos, 2B/3B, 18, Rookie (ACL)
Taken in the 2nd round (56th overall), Triantos emerged as the steal of the 2021 MLB Draft for the Cubs. His hit tool is his best attribute. Despite a powerful and sometimes violent swing, Triantos has an amazing ability to get the barrelhead on time exactly where he wants it. He should also hit for average or better power. The downside of having such excellent contact ability is that you sometimes fail to wait for a pitch you can drive. To fully realize his potential, Triantos will have to improve his pitch selection as he moves up the ladder. Despite being drafted as a SS, his most likely position is 2B.
6. Reginald Preciado, 3B, 18, Rookie (ACL)
At 6’4″, 185 lbs., Reggie Preciado could be a monster. He slashed .333/.383/.511 in his pro debut last year. Still refining his swing and growing into his power, Preciado’s ceiling is enormous, but his pitch selection and recognition are his biggest weaknesses. With the elimination of short season leagues last year, the jump in the quality of pitching between rookie ball and Low-A has never been greater. We will learn a lot about Reggie in 2022 as he faces more advanced arms. While he currently possesses the ability to stick at SS, many scouts see him moving to 3B.
7. Caleb Kilian, RHP, 24, AA
An 8th round pick in 2019, Kilian had a breakout season in the Giants organization seeing a jump in velocity into the mid-90s and an improved cutter to go along with already plus command. Acquired along with Alexander Canario at the trade deadline in the Kris Bryant trade, Kilian’s velocity dipped upon joining the Cubs, but it slowly returned and while pitching in the Arizona Fall League, he perfected the knuckle curve the Cubs have been teaching a lot of their prospects. Kilian’s AFL performance was eye-opening, culminating with 6 perfect innings in the championship game. Best case scenario, Kilian slides into the Cubs rotation in the 2nd half of this season.
Six. Perfect. Innings.
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) November 21, 2021
8. DJ Herz, LHP, 21, High-A
Herz was named the 2021 Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year striking out over 40% of batters faced which is almost unheard of. He has an extreme cross-body delivery that has most scouts thinking he’ll wind up a high leverage reliever with an outside chance of being the next Josh Hader especially if he improves his control. He saw his FB velocity jump into the mid-90s at points this season with projection remaining. But the biggest leap forward came from his change-up which went from nascent to dominant almost out of nowhere. DJ will remain a starter for now, but look for a switch to the pen as he nears the big leagues.
9. Pete Crow-Armstrong, CF, 19, Low-A
Prior to coming to the Cubs in the Javier Baez trade, PCA had injured his non-throwing shoulder just 6 games into his 2021 season. The word is he’ll be fully ready to go come spring, but after essentially missing 2 full seasons (when paired with the 2020 Covid shutdown), questions remain about his performance level once he returns. However, there are no questions about his ability to play an elite CF.
10. Jordan Wicks, LHP, 22, High-A
Wicks was not expected to be there when the Cubs took him 21st overall in the 1st round last summer. He doesn’t have an over-powering FB (91-93), but his plus change-up and future plus command will help it play up. Next to Kilian, he’s considered the safest bet to join a future Cubs rotation, perhaps as early as 2023.
11. Brailyn Marquez, LHP, 22, DNP (made MLB debut in 2020)
Marquez missed all of 2021, first recovering from Covid and then with a shoulder strain. Shoulder injuries are scary, and his days as a starter are likely over as a result. The latest reports are that Brailyn is 100% and maintains his 98-101 mph FB. The Cubs will bring him along slowly this season with the hopes of him coming out of the pen at some point. Ideally, he’ll be able to be a multi-inning reliever/piggyback starter in the future. Brailyn following 5 innings from RHP Adbert Alzolay with 2-3 innings of his own could make for a dominant duo.
12. Nelson Velazquez, OF, 23, AA
Velazquez spent the lost 2020 season reworking his swing.
A lot has changed. Nelson’s obvious increased muscle mass allows for less load to create equal/more power. Contact point up. Flatter bat path. pic.twitter.com/GsZswpe6Lt
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) November 3, 2021
It took a while, but 2021 was a breakout year for Nelson earning a mid-season promotion from High-A to AA where he dominated slashing .290/.358/.591 in 134 PAs. When you add power while cutting your K% by 8 points, you know you’re doing something right. But that was nothing compared to what he did during the Arizona Fall League where he hit .385/.480/.712 and won the league’s MVP award. Can he produce against more savvy, veteran pitching? We’ll find out in AAA this year.
13. Ryan Jensen, RHP, 24, AA
Jensen, the Cubs 2019 1st round pick, is another prospect whom the Cubs taught the knuckle curve, and it resulted in a GB% well over 50% and more than a K per inning. Ryan has mid-to upper 90s FB velocity but needs to improve his command. Most scouts see him eventually coming out of the pen.
14. Ed Howard, SS, 19, Low-A
After being drafted out of high school in the 1st round in 2020, Howard sat the rest of the summer during the shutdown. When he was placed at Low-A Myrtle Beach instead of rookie ball, it was no surprise that he struggled at the plate. His stellar defense at SS didn’t waiver, and he finished the season strong hitting .316/.359/.453 over his final 104 PAs. Still, many questions remain about his hit tool, pitch selection and game power moving forward.
15. Kevin Made, SS, 19, Low-A
Made (pronounced Mah-Day) is yet another lithe, teenage SS prospect in the Cubs organization. Like Howard, his defense is ahead of his bat. And like Howard, he finished the year strong hitting .317/.336/.462 over his last 149 PAs. However, he walked only twice over that span. Pitch selection will be key to his development.
16. Ben Leeper, RHP, 24, AAA
Leeper was signed as an undrafted free agent following the truncated 5 round 2020 draft, however he very likely would’ve been selected in the 6th round. Ben had a huge jump in stuff in his final college season before the Covid shutdown, and that carried over into his pro debut as he dominated both AA and AAA. With an upper 90s riding FB and a plus slider, Leeper has late-inning reliever written all over him and should see the bigs this year.
17. Alexander Canario, OF, 21, High-A
Bat speed, bat speed, and more bat speed. Canario’s powerful swing has been (unfairly) compared to Gary Sheffield’s, and he’d produced well up until this year. He’s certainly a twitchy, all-out hitter (much like the next prospect on this list). He’s a solidly average OF who will have little problem staying there, but it’s his bat that will have to carry him. Improved selectivity at the plate could lead to a bounceback season.
One prospect that will definitely have my attention in 2021 is OF Alexander Canario.
Coming off of labrum surgery, but posted 170 wRC+ with an OPS of 1.000 across AZL and short szn A ball in 2019. Some S/M to his game, but prolific power potential. Max EV in ‘19? 117mph #Giants pic.twitter.com/aPFfYpCVjB
— Ian Smith (@FlaSmitty) March 29, 2021
18. Christopher Morel, 3B/OF, 22, AAA
Morel’s numbers don’t jump out to you, but his athleticism on the field and base paths sure does. Morel’s strong arm and versatility are his main assets. He also generates crazy bat speed, but his pitch selection and bat control are what’s holding him back. Already in AAA at age 22, he’s still got time, but he hasn’t shown much development in those areas yet.
19. Drew Gray, LHP, 18, ACL (Rookie)
Drafted in the 3rd round last summer, Gray is a projectable lefty who blew away rookie league hitters in limited action. As an 18-year-old, Gray had his FB up to the mid-90s and flashes a plus curve. Drew is the highest HS pitcher drafted by the Cubs since 2012 and part of a trend that started with a philosophical change in 2018 resulting in the Cubs selecting more prep arms with upside. In 2018, it was Kohl Franklin, 2019 DJ Herz and Tyler Schlaffer, 2020 Luke Little and finally Gray in 2021. We’ve already seen success developing Franklin and Herz, and Gray could be the best of the bunch.
20. Alexander Vizcaino, RHP, 24, High-A
When he’s right, Vizcaino possesses a dominant upper 90s FB, a plus change-up and solid slider, but arm soreness caused him to miss the 1st half last year. By the time he arrived from the Yankees as the 2nd piece in the Anthony Rizzo deal, he’d yet to regain consistency with his pitches and struggled in High-A. If he regains his form, he could move quickly as a reliever as he’s already on the 40-man roster.
21. Miguel Amaya, C, 22, AA
Amaya injured his throwing elbow 23 games into the 2021 season which resulted in TJS in November. His plate discipline, hit tool, and average power along with plus defense and leadership behind the plate vaulted Amaya into top 100 prospect status. He will miss most, if not all, of 2022. The question remains how he’ll respond after missing so much time.
22. Anderson Espinoza, RHP, 23, AA
Espinoza is an intriguing story. Once a top pitching prospect in the Red Sox organization, injuries kept him out of baseball for 3 years followed by the lost 2020 season. Results were mixed as he made his return last year, but the Cubs are raving about his future as a starter and solid across the board stuff. I’ll believe it when I see it, but if you believe the Cubs FO, Espinoza should see some major league starts this year.
23. Yohendrick Pinango, OF, 19, High-A
Pinango has hit well at every level making it all the way to High-A as a 19-year-old, but the power is lacking. That’s not unusual for a prospect so young, and his hit tool and pitch selection are highly rated with a very low K%. But as Yohendrick moves up and faces more advanced pitching, he’ll need to get the ball in the air and hit for more power to earn pitchers’ respect. Despite still being a teenager, he appears to have maxed out most of his physical projection, so any gain in power will have to come from adjustments to his approach and swing.
24. Kohl Franklin, RHP, 22, Low-A
Kohl was poised for a breakout campaign until injuries derailed in the 2021 season. He already had one of the best change-ups in the system but had added noticeable velocity and an improved curveball throughout 2019. He’s reportedly ready to go, but come April, it will have been 2 1/2 years since he last took the mound in a competitive environment. If he returns to form, Franklin will be much higher on the mid-season rankings as he has a strong starter’s profile.
25. Daniel Palencia, RHP, 21, Low-A
Palencia came over from the A’s in return for fan-favorite Andrew Chafin at the July deadline. His upper-90s FB is for real, but he struggled to put it all together in August. September was another story. 14.2 IP, 8 H, 5 BB, 20 K with a 1.23 ERA opened the eye of prospect evaluators.
— Myrtle Beach Pelicans (@Pelicanbaseball) October 7, 2021
26. Burl Carraway, LHP, 22, AA
Carraway is strictly a reliever, and in his pro debut in High-A he was very difficult to hit sporting a 34.7% K rate and a .126 BAA. The problem? He also walked a ton of guys. A ton. He didn’t exhibit such wildness while at Dallas Baptist University, so there’s hope he can return to form. If he does, he could see the majors in 2023 (or sooner).
27. Zachary Leigh, RHP, 24, High-A
Zach shocked Cubs fans when, after being drafted in the 16th round as a 5th year college senior, he came in blazing a mid-to-upper 90s FB in his High-A debut. The 6’0″, 170 lbs. righty is purely a reliever, but with that velocity and a highly deceptive delivery, he’s got late inning upside.
28. Alfonso Rivas, 1B/OF, 25, MLB
29. Greg Deichmann, OF, 26, MLB
30. Christian Franklin, OF, 22, Low-A
31. Jordan Nwogu, OF, 22, Low-A
32. Cory Abbott, RHP, 26, MLB
33. Ethan Roberts, RHP, 24, AAA
34. Chase Strumpf, 2B/3B, 24, AA
35. Cole Roederer, OF, 22, High-A
36. Manuel Rodriguez, RHP, 25, MLB
37. Max Bain, RHP, 24, High-A
38. Cayne Ueckert, RHP, 25, AA
Franklin and Nwogu have the most upside in this tier with a high likelihood of becoming tier 3 prospects this season…..Strumpf and Roederer are a pair of 2nd rounders returning from injury…..Roberts and Ueckert had breakout seasons in ’21 and project as middle relievers.
39. Andy Weber, SS, 24, AA
40. Riley Thompson, RHP, 25, DNP (Low-A in 2019)
41. Brandon Hughes, LHP, 26, AA
42. Casey Opitz, C, 23, Low-A
43. Tyler Schlaffer, RHP, 20, Low-A
44. Pablo Aliendo, C, 20 High-A
45. Ismael Mena, CF, 19, ACL (Rookie)
46. Richard Gallardo, RHP, 20, Low-A
47. Luke Little, LHP, 21, ACL (Rookie)
48. Luis Devers, RHP, 21, Low-A
49. Pedro Ramirez, 2B/SS, 17, DSL
50. Moises Ballesteros, C, 18, DSL
I had fun with this tier. As a group of prospects to watch, many of these players boast good upside and youth. Hughes is an interesting story as a former OF who only started pitching full time in 2019 and is already knocking on Wrigley’s door…..Schlaffer has thrown just 60.1 professional innings with mediocre production but could rise quickly if his season goes as expected…..Little gained notoriety when he threw 103 mph prior to the 2020 draft…..If uber-athletic CF Mena is a late bloomer, the Cubs will add yet another high ceiling teenager to an already long list…..And Ramirez dominated the Dominican Summer League as one of its youngest players last season.
Cam Sanders, Brendon Little, Scott Kobos, Eury Ramos, Chris Clarke,
Michael McAvene, Jack Patterson
Yonathan Perlaza, Nelson Maldonado, Bryce Ball, Luis Verdugo
Koen Moreno, Yeison Santana, Ronnier Quintero, Dominic Hambley