Despite the apparent improvement in the farm system over the last 18+ months, there are still plenty of Cubs fans irked at the lack of major spending at the big league level. Jed Hoyer and the front office have focused on rebuilding around a group of young prospects, rather than throw high-dollar contracts at players this year – although it appears as if 2023 will be a very different story.
Sure, this Cubs team could have been more competitive had Hoyer elected to take a big swing in free agency last winter, but you don’t want a declining player on a bad contract when your next core is ready to thrive. You want that money available when the time is right to keep that window open longer later than you otherwise would.
In essence, I understand the process. Even if it feels like a slow and painful one. If the Cubs are going to turn the page on this re-tooling quickly, there are some questions that need answering and issues that require attention. Some are seemingly ‘good’ problems to have, while others, well, not so much. Let’s start by tackling the elephant in the room when it comes to the organization and pitching development.
Last offseason, the Cubs brought in Carter Hawkins as GM as someone who excelled in developing young pitchers in Cleveland. Clearly a need for the North Siders, Hoyer and Hawkins wasted no time, drafting multiple pitchers in the 2022 MLB Draft, selecting nine arms in their first 10 picks.
Developing these pitchers is absolutely vital for the organization’s success moving forward. Jordan Wicks and DJ Herz have both been promoted to Double-A Tennessee this year which in itself is fantastic to see. Caleb Kilian, who was acquired via trade in 2021, is one good sharpening of his command away from beginning what many think will become a successful big league career. However, the development of Cade Horton and Jackson Ferris is now especially critical as the Cubs look to be trending toward becoming a team with waves of prospects ready yearly.
You can’t talk about developing pitchers without mentioning the emergence of Keegan Thompson and Justin Steele. Steele, who was drafted by the Cubs in 2014, has really put things together this year and looks like a rotation staple for years to come. Meanwhile, Thompson continues to roll, as well. The right-hander carries a 3.36 ERA in 99 innings of work this year after the Cubs picked him up in the third round out of Auburn back in 2017.
So it’s not all a history of poor development, but nevertheless, Hawkins steps into that department with a good track record and an understanding that quality pitching must be developed from within moving forward.
Chicago Cubs: Moving on to the “good” problem to have
If you haven’t noticed, the future of the Cubs outfield is extremely crowded. At least heading into 2023, Seiya Suzuki and Ian Happ have two spots locked down, likely in right and left field, respectively.
The question that’s going to need answering soon is: what will the Cubs do when some of their young outfield prospects are ready to begin their big league careers?
At a glance, the Cubs have Brennen Davis, Pete Crow-Armstrong, Kevin Alcantara, Owen Caissie and Alexander Canario all playing extremely well in the minors and gradually working their way up. So what happens? Eventually you’re going to run into a problem where guys get blocked from being promoted in find themselves stuck in Iowa for a while. What do you do if Pete Crow-Armstrong is slashing .300/.400/.500 in Triple-A Iowa with incredible defense but you have Canario, Davis and Suzuki manning everyday outfield spots? Use him as a bench bat?
Clearly, having too many good prospects isn’t something you complain about, but as you look toward the future, it does become somewhat problematic. In my eyes at least, the best way to fix this problem is ultimately to trade players for MLB-ready talent. Of course, this also assumes all these guys wind up panning out, which, in baseball, is a big ‘if’.
Clearly, we are a ways off from deciding who stays and who goes as most of these top prospects are a decent amount of time away from being ready for big league action, but it will become apparent as time goes on that some of the players the organization are currently high on are going to have to become expendable in a “buy at the trade deadline” or offseason scenario.
Looking at MLB Pipeline at the Cubs top 30 prospects, you will see that four of the top 10 are outfielders:
- Brennen Davis, MLB ETA 2022
- Pete Crow-Armstrong, MLB ETA 2024
- Kevin Alcantara, MLB ETA 2024
- Owen Caissie, MLB ETA 2024
Not included on this list, of course, is Canario, who just brought home Southern League Player of the Month honors for the month of July. This is a guy who is really starting to break out, which makes you question: should Suzuki, Davis and Canario become the three starting outfielders in Chicago’s near future; given that they are closest to MLB readiness, what happens if PCA, Alcantara and Caissie continue to climb the ranks? We also haven’t even discussed Happ’s potential future as a Chicago Cub yet should he receive an extension either.
It’s always a delicate balancing act – but Hoyer and Hawkins have done a sold job early on in their time together in assembling a collection of young players who look like they’re more than capable of impacting the team’s long-term outlook.