Chicago Cubs: A get-to-know-you of the minor league affiliates
Chicago Cubs Minors: The calm before the storm
The final squad we will touch on are the boys in Double-A. The Tennessee Smokies also happen to be loaded with talent, and some of that is much closer to the big leagues than fans realize. A couple of outfield prospects who have been shaping their way to go along with a couple of impressive infielders and a slew of promising arms will help this team next year.
Nelson Velazquez, who is only 22 years old, is a five-year product after falling into the fifth round of the 2017 MLB Draft. Since he joined the Cubs organization, Velazquez has been an above-average offensive producer and coming into his own with the leather.
He hit .290 in 34 games after making the jump last season from High-A and produced a 156 wRC+ to go along with eight home runs and 27 RBI. Velazquez also managed to cut down on his strikeouts by over eight percent, which is something to cheer about next season.
The other Nelson, Nelson Maldonado, is a few years older. However, he is also still one to watch. As a 19th round selection in the 2019 MLB Draft, Maldonado has just two full professional seasons under his belt. However, he has risen to special heights in that time and should be good for Triple-A Iowa to begin the 2022 campaign.
Last season he posted a 134 wRC+ and just an 18 percent strikeout rate after a lost season the year before. Maldonado also doubled his run production and saw his ISO improve from .098 in 2019 to .164 in 2021. Someone in the first base conversation to watch for sure.
Regarding the infield, it remains that Chase Strumpf and Cam Balego are the two to watch. Strumpf has been at the heart of many trade talks as far as prospects go, and maybe now, with the addition of Nick Madrigal this past year, he will be the odd man out.
Balego, meanwhile, improved significantly from 2019 to 2021. His .220 average doesn’t necessarily show it, but his wRC+ moved from 77 to 116, and his slugging jumped off the page from .188 to .420, which is significant.
To sum it up, this team will more than likely have additions to the major league team in the coming years, as it will be interesting to see how the talent progresses. So my suggestion is simple: if you’re sick of what you think of as subpar talent at the big league level, jump aboard any minor league teams. I promise you will not be disappointed.