Things are not looking too bright for the Cubs’ minor league system. After years of trading away minor league talent for odds and ends to support a core that won a World Series back in 2016, the Cubs are lacking in talent at their upper levels. The Cubs have basically pulled their minor league players out of competitive off-season training to further complicate things. There is also a disturbing absence of top-rated prospects at all levels.
Triple-A Iowa (12-23)
Move along. Nothing to see here.
Seriously, the void in talent created by those trades has now “bubbled up” to the Triple-A level. At an average age of 28.7, the Iowa Cubs are the oldest team in minor league baseball. With the need for fresh arms and fresh legs at the major league level, expect to see many of these players in a Cub uniform. Just don’t expect too much, for too long.
Take your pick. Of the 19 position players older than the team average age, only Andrew Romine is hitting over .250. Lefties Kyle Ryan and Adam Morgan the only pitcher over the team average age with an ERA under 3.00.
Player to watch: Cory Abbott, RHP
The 25-year old got a brief, two-game, call-up to the majors a few weeks ago. Abbott did fairly well, allowing an earned run and striking out two in 3.1 innings. The former second round pick in 2017 has had less success with the I-Cubs. Sporting a whopping 6.03 ERA and 1.532 WHIP, Abbott needs to do a better job to get another shot in the majors.
Double-A Tennessee (11-24)
If there has been a team that has been most negatively affected by Cubs’ management decisions, it is the Smokies.
Potential stalwarts of the pitching staff in Brailyn Marquez, Riley Thompson, and Jack Patterson are currently on the Developmental List or injured. Top 50 prospects Miguel Amaya, Alfonso Rivas, and Andy Weber are on the injured list. On top of that, top prospects Brennen Davis, Christopher Morel, and Chase Strumpf are all off to sluggish starts.
Biggest Surprise: Darius Hill, OF
Selected by the Cubs in the 20th round of the 2019 draft, the 23-year old snuck into the midseason Top 50 prospects that year. Ending 2019 with a .272/.316/.359/.675 slash line in 52 games with three teams, Hill seemed to get lost in the shuffle. While 2020 was a lost season, Hill began 2021 with Low-A Myrtle Beach. After batting .375 in 7 games for the Pelicans, Hill was moved up to Tennessee to fill a need. Since then, Hill hasn’t stopped hitting. With an improved line of .325/.368/.402/.786, Hill is currently bottled-up with the plethora of older players at Triple-A.
Biggest Disappointment: Pitching, Hitting
Meanwhile, with all the lost talent in the pitching staff, there isn’t a pitcher that has registered at least 1 start that has a victory. Therefore, the Smokies staff is second to last in ERA while giving up the third most walks. In addition, run support is spotty. Tennessee is dead-last in home runs and third from the bottom in runs scored.
Player to Watch: Carlos Sepulveda, INF
Recently signed after being released by the Dodgers, Sepulveda was a Rule 5 selection from the Cubs by LA. Two years ago, Sepulveda suffered a major shoulder injury requiring surgery. Before that, Sepulveda had been a contact-hitting machine while playing Gold Glove defense at second base. At only 24-years old, Sepulveda still has time to make an impact if he can regain his hitting stroke.
High-A South Bend (18-19)
Consistency has been the biggest issue with the SB-Cubs, as they moved up in class from 2019. While serving as a launching point for some of the Cubs’ top prospects (Brennen Davis, Chase Strumpf), South Bend has not taken advantage of their experience. Considering they have one of the oldest rosters in the Midwest League, the production just hasn’t been there. In addition, the Cubs have also suffered their share of injuries.
Biggest Surprise: Delvin Zinn, INF/OF
The catalyst of the South Bend Cubs, the 24-year old was leading the Midwest League in stolen bases until just recently. Moreover, Zinn had played four positions before taking over for the injured Luis Vazquez at shortstop. But to move up the chain, Zinn will have to improve on his .241/.311/.319/.630 batting line.
While both Jensen and Carraway sport major league fastballs, both are struggling to start the year. Beginning the year at High-a was supposed to be a warm-up for higher levels. Instead, Jensen has a 6.04 ERA and 1.209 WHIP, while Carraway is at 4.15 and 1.538.
Player to Watch: Yonathan Perlaza, OF
Although Perlaza seems like one of those players that have been around forever, the Venezuelan is only 22-years old. Making a permanent move to the outfield, the switch-hitter is finally starting to figure things out at the plate. In 31 games, Perlaza is batting .265/.346/.425/.771 with 3 home runs and 17 RBI.
Low-A Myrtle Beach (17-20)
Likewise, to their farm system siblings, the Pelicans are suffering from a lack of preparation, injuries, and poor performance. Myrtle Beach is the third youngest team in Low-A East with 12 players rated in the Cubs’ Top 50 prospects. Injuries and lack of production have limited Ethan Hearn, Ed Howard, Kevin Made, Yeison Santana, and Luis Verdugo.
Biggest Surprise: Pablo Aliendo, C
Lost behind a slew of high-profile young catchers (including Hearn), the 20-year old would bide his time at third base, shortstop, and DH before getting his chance behind the dish. Aliendo hasn’t disappointed, hitting .292/.370/.393/.763 while nailing 24% of all base runners.
Biggest Disappointment: Jordan Nwogu, OF
A four year starter in college, the 22-year old was expected to blow through this level and be fast-tracked through the system. Instead, Nwogu is batting only .136 in 17 games and playing poorly on defense.
The left-handed batters had the reputation of being highly athletic contact hitters, but there was little more than statistical evidence to back that up. Now that both have moved more into the spotlight, neither has disappointed. The 20-year old Pagan has shown great speed while hitting .333/.406/.444/.851. At 19-years old, Pinango has been improving week by week. Now with his average up to .270/.329/.387/.716, Pinango also has 2 home runs, 8 doubles, and 14 RBI.
Born and raised on Chicago's Northwest side, Tom is entering his tenth year covering the Cubs minor league system, writing for prestigious sites such as Chicago Cubs Online, Locked On Cubs, and Cubs Den. Over that period, Tom has published interviews with top prospects such as Aramis Ademan, Miguel Amaya, Willson Contreras, Jeimer Candelario, Dylan Cease, Ian Happ, Eloy Jimenez, Cole Roederer, and Gleyber Torres.
Known as "Tom U" across the internet, Tom also has a close working relationship with the front offices of all four of the Cubs' full season minor league teams. A frequent guest of the South Bend Cubs on WSBT radio, Tom has also written monthly articles for the South Bend Cubs' stadium program.