Cubs: Recently acquired prospects face a critical year of development

(Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)
(Photo by David Berding/Getty Images) /
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Chicago Cubs / Kris Bryant / Anthony Rizzo
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Few would-be baseball dynasties end as abruptly as the Chicago Cubs‘ did last season. Over the span of a few weeks, Team Hoyer dispatched most of the remaining cursebreakers to the four winds, including Kris Bryant (Giants), Anthony Rizzo (Yankees), and Javier Baez (Mets).  Craig Kimbrel stop-and-goed his way down the Ryan to 35th and the prior winter, Yu Darvish packed his bags for San Diego. These trades brought back a bevy of young players, mostly prospects.

Here we’ll focus on the five prospects the Cubs received in that wave of hyperactivity in the late summer of 2021 who rank among the Cubs top 20 on both Keith Law’s and Fangraphs’ lists of Cubs prospects. Since Law’s rankings are behind a paywall I’ll only repeat the Fangraphs ranking here, but readers of even modest diligence can probably find Law’s rankings anyway. Since this post is about prospects, we won’t be covering the return in the Kimbrel trade (Cody Heuer and Nick Madrigal) because those guys have exceeded their rookie eligibility. But don’t forget about them; that was an excellent trade for the Cubs.

Much depends on the rapid and successful advancement of these prospects. Developing the players discussed here will help test the skills of the Cubs’ new player development operation, as well as helping to determine how fast the Cubs can emerge from the playoff wilderness.

Kevin Alcantara (from the Padres), CF, Fangraphs #2

What he’s done: Show some power. While Alcantara hasn’t hit homers in quantity yet, he stung the ball to the tune of a .272 ISO in his first 107 plate appearances for the Arizona Cubs last year. Fangraphs rates his power ceiling at 60, which is scoutese for “pretty darn good.”

What he needs to do: Show some contact. Hoyer sought young power bats during last year’s fire sale, and those inevitably come with a lot of swing and miss. (The young guys who hit for power and make good contact aren’t going to be available in trades.) Alcantara struck out at a 26.1 percent clip in Arizona. That’s not terrible, but he’ll need to shave that rate if he’s going to be a productive major leaguer. Still only 19, Alcantara has some time to figure it out, but the Cubs hope he won’t take too much of it.

It’s too bad that: 2020 happened (yeah, d’ya think?). Alcantara was probably hurt more than most by the COVID-induced suspension of minor league play. That would have been his age-17 season, and because he’s already shown an ability to develop rapidly, that lost season represents a big missed opportunity. Keith Law notes approvingly that Alcantara used 2020 to gain “significant muscle,” unlike the rest of us, who merely gained significant bulk.