Transition is challenging. The Chicago Cubs are in the midst a significant shift; that part is obvious. However, uniquely what is not as obvious is the journey and the path the Cubs are foreseeably taking into the new generation of players.
Systems in baseball frequently feel like they are looked at as elite or just kind of “meh.” Of course, the in-between exists, but since baseball is such an unpredictable game, especially in the lower levels, it can be challenging to gauge what a team’s prospects will do year to year. The Cubs, until recently, were seen at the bottom of the scale until midway through last season.
Now, heading into 2022, depending on who you ask, you may argue that they’ve moved from the bottom of the barrel to close to a top 10 squad, and they did it in less than a day. But, now, the new crop of pitching is starting to come into their own, which may be trouble for the rest of the league.
Chicago Cubs: Play with fire and you might get burned
A couple of days ago Bryan Smith, who is a writer over at Bleacher Nation and covers the minors in incredible fashion head to toe, shared a noteworthy nugget about the heat in the minors:
First off, this is insane. Secondly, this is incredible. According to Smith, the Cubs have four starting pitching prospects who’ve hit some serious velocity points throughout spring training. The Cubs have primarily been known as ultimate strategists when it came to pitching. The only proper flamethrower I’ve known in recent years is Aroldis Chapman. Because of this, there is palpable excitement for what their future holds.
Kohl Franklin and Max Bain happen to be two of my favorite guys in the system. Franklin is only 22, while Bain is 24. Franklin’s top two rated pitches are his curveball and above-velocity changeup. He made his debut when he was just 18 years old and has risen rapidly through the system. The righty spent most of his second season at Low-A and has also found the most success.
Bain spent his entire first year at High-A and did show some bright spots, including a friendly 26.7 percent strikeout rate. He brings a fastball, slider, and curve combination, producing a filthy mix of heat and off-speed.
Riley Thompson, meanwhile, has been primarily my favorite arm in the system for a while. He is only a couple of years in and falls on the back end of prospect age at 25 years old, yet he has put together two impressive seasons and could be in line for promotion this season if he doesn’t already start at Double-A this season.
That leaves Daniel Palencia. Despite his considerable velocity, the young righty came from Oakland and has run mainly under the radar for a while. He finished with a 3.67 ERA in seven starts for the Cubs at Class-A and now is looking to continue the upward trend toward the next level. He just turned 22 years old and thus gives the Cubs even more young firepower.
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The Cubs are turning into a fun team and a fun system. If you’ve never been one to follow the minors or what goes on in various systems, now would be an excellent time. There is exceptional talent here that exists, and it will continue in future development. Let us hope the next rotation is already set, and we aren’t aware because the depth exists at each level. Or instead, let us enjoy what we have without worry.