Cubs Minor League OF Depth Impacting Their Rebuild

Pete Crow-Armstrong, Chicago Cubs Spring Training, March 10, 2022. Photo credit Vince Schmidt, @AZ108365 on Instagram, and @AZ108365 on Twitter

Cubs #1 overall prospect OF Brennen Davis sustained a back injury this spring which led to him having surgery on June 2nd, otherwise, he’d likely already be up with the big club. Reportedly, the surgery went very well and Davis is expected to return to playing AAA games in late August barring setbacks. Even without the Cubs getting a major league look at Davis this season, the organization’s upside and depth at the position are impressive and already impacting their rebuild.

Breakout performances from 20-year-olds Pete Crow-Armstrong and Owen Caissie, both now at High-A South Bend, are causing Cubs President Jed Hoyer to shield his eyes when staring into the future of the Cubs outfield. Crow-Armstrong vaulted himself into the top 50 prospect conversation with a torrid .354/.443/.557 start in Single-A Myrtle Beach before a May 31st promotion. After a brief adjustment period to the new level, Crow-Armstrong has picked up right where he left off, slashing .347/.365/.612 in his last 11 games (52 PA) as of July 10th. PCA has tremendous speed and elite instincts in CF making him a lock to be above average at the position at the major league level with a good chance at winning some Gold Glove awards.

Caissie isn’t as defensively gifted, but his bat is equally loud. The Cubs challenged him by starting him out in High-A as a 19-year-old (Caissie just turned 20 on July 8th) after just 22 games in Low-A the year prior. He understandably struggled in April, but since May 1st Caissie is hitting .305/.383/.472 with 7 HRs with a 23.8% K-rate and a 9.9% walk rate. Caissie could probably handle LF in the majors, but with the existence of so many other more defensively talented OF prospects in the system, DH/1B seems a more likely landing spot for him down the road.

While Davis may be ready sometime in 2023, Nelson Velázquez is already playing in Wrigley. Nelson may be stocky, but he has the range and arm to play all three OF positions. The question with him is his ability to make consistent contact. When Velázquez does make solid contact, his game power is REAL, but his K-rate has remained consistently between 35% and 37% between AA, AAA, and MLB this year. He draws his fair amount of walks so approach/patience doesn’t seem to be the problem. Instead, he seems to struggle to identify and hit non-mistake breaking balls. He’ll need more time in AAA to develop into someone who can be a major league regular, but at just 23 he has time left to do that. Even right now, it’s not hard to envision him sticking as a 4th OFer on a major league team.

Much like Velázquez, uber-toolsy 22-year-old Alexander Canario has struggled with too many strikeouts but has tremendous game power. He also possesses the ability to play all three OF positions and has an even better arm. Canario has dropped his K-rate from 35% in High-A to 28% in AA, and it’s continued to drop even lower (22%) over the last 3 weeks. The problem is he’s stopped hitting during this time frame. The hope is that his lack of production lately is simply due to his working on this adjustment and that his typical loud contact will return to its previous level once he gets more comfortable and consistent with the changes he’s making. If he does succeed at keeping the Ks down and his powerful bat-to-ball skills become consistent once again, look out. The Cubs will have themselves another above MLB average starting outfielder.

After Canario, the list continues. 6’6″ 20-year-old Kevin Alcántara might be the best of the bunch by the time he’s ready, at least offensively. Alcántara has been referred to as a “monster” more than once on the backfields of the Cubs complex in Mesa, AZ. He currently plays CF, but as he fills out will likely wind up in a corner. However, he’ll also likely wind up with prodigious power numbers. With above-average tools across the board (except for maybe the hit tool), Alcántara’s ceiling is considerable. Due to his lanky physique and long levers, he may take a little longer to develop than fellow 20-year-olds Crow-Armstrong and Caissie, but the wait should be worth it.

Yet another 20-year-old is South Bend’s Yohendrick Pinango. Coming into this season, the Cubs challenged Pinango to hit for more power. So far he’s delivered, reaching double-digit HR (11) for the first time in his career with just under half a season left to go. Yohendrick lacks the athleticism and ceiling of the others mentioned previously in this article but has a good shot to wind up a 2nd division starter once his development is complete.

Uber-athletic 2020 3rd rounder Jordan Nwogu is older than his counterparts at 23, but is yet another emerging talent who is hitting .283/.394/.462 in 132 PAs since mid-May. 2018 2nd rounder Cole Roederer is getting re-established after missing most of last year following ligament replacement surgery on his elbow. The power has yet to return, but he’s currently slashing .295/.391/.359 as a 22-year-old in AA. Both players have the profile to develop into major league contributors. Add in 24-year-old breakout Darius Hill, who has posted a .328/.379/.485 slash between AA and AAA this season, and that’s 10 OF prospects with a high likelihood of playing in the major leagues and many with All-Star upside.

With Seiya Suzuki on a 5-year deal, rookie Christopher Morel currently roaming CF and their pipeline of outfielders overflowing, the Cubs are in a position to trade away newly named All-Star Ian Happ and further restock a farm system that could be ranked in the top 5 by season’s end. Not only that, but with so much depth, the Cubs can afford to include some of these prospects in trades for established major league talent when the opportunity arises. And with the Cubs basically assured of having a really good OF in place for around $20 million per year over the next several seasons, they can comfortably spend big money to fill holes elsewhere on their roster.

Look for the Cubs to sign one of the big four free agent SS and at least one really good starting pitcher this off-season in part due to the success they’ve had compiling and developing this strong group of OF prospects.

I've been analyzing the Cubs minor league system for over 30 years and commenting on it since 2003. When I'm not doing that, I'm trying to be the best dad I can be for my 2 daughters and acting in TV shows and commercials in Los Angeles.


  1. How would you rate Alcantara’s progress compared to Eloy Jimenez’ at the same point? Will Alcantara have the ability to put up the same power numbers, but as a better fielder? Not that being a better fielder is a high bar, but hopefully he is athletic enough to have good defense and not be as injury prone.

    • Thanks, Paul.

      The one thing the Cubs system was lacking was depth in high upside pitching. They have a few prospects that might fit that description, but after the 2022 draft, they have a lot more. With prospects, especially pitching prospects, if you want one to succeed at the big league level, you often need to have 3-4 of them out of which one will emerge. I believe the Cubs are now in position to do that if upside starting pitching, OF (where they have depth to produce 2-3 eventually all-stars and 4-5 starting caliber players), back end of the rotation starters and relievers. The idea, of course, is to build a steady pipeline of all types of players. They’ve got a ways to go there. They’ll have to prove themselves continually in order to do that, but the last 2 years of drafting and development have been really strong.

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