The weight of the changes in the minor leagues in 2021 was most visible this week, as the remnants of short-season baseball began their under-the-radar season at Spring Training complexes across Arizona and Florida. The Cubs, who had three short-season affiliates in 2019, are down to just one in 2021: the “rookie” level ACL (Arizona Complex League) Cubs. Previously, the Cubs had two rookie league teams and a short-season Low-A team (a level that has been eliminated).
The ACL Cubs began their season on Monday with a 7-4 win and followed it up with a 6-3 victory on Tuesday night. Over at The Cub Reporter, Arizona Phil shared the full, 48-person roster. Among the many differences this year: no maximum in roster size, so manager Lance Rymel will have to balance lots and lots of personnel.
While there’s intrigue up and down the roster, it’s no secret who will draw the most attention from the ACL Cubs roster: the three rostered prospects who were acquired for Yu Darvish that had previously never played a game of professional baseball. Infielder Reggie Preciado, corner outfielder Owen Caissie, and center fielder Ismael Mena will have their collective performances analyzed as much as any short-season assignees I can remember. For what it’s worth, I’d heard Caissie was sensational during Extended Spring Training in Arizona, and Preciado sure got off to a nice start on Opening Day:
Reggie Preciado’s first professional hit.
Reggie Preciado’s first professional home run.
(🎥: Reggie Preciado’s IG) pic.twitter.com/LSvkqkEGRO
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) June 29, 2021
Let’s do what we can to break down this roster.
- Ezequiel Pagan, LF, LHH
- Reggie Preciado, SS, SH
- Rafael Morel, 3B, RHH
- Owen Caissie, RF, LHH
- Felix Stevens, DH, RHH
- Ronnier Quintero, C, LHH
- Ismael Mena, CF, RHH
- Shendrik Apostel, 1B, RHH
- Juan Mora, 2B, RHH
Other names getting playing time: Miguel Fabrizio, Malcolm Quintero, Widimer Joaquin, Miguel Pabon, Manny Collier, Yovanny Cuevas.
This will be highly variable, so let’s discuss some different variations we’ll see. Jose Lopez, who received a $1.5 million signing bonus in 2018, will likely eventually supplant Pagan in left field at times. Top 15 prospect Kevin Made, who made an ever-so-brief stateside debut with Myrtle Beach (before quickly ending up on the IL), is likely to eventually continue his season here. I’d expect him at shortstop more days than not, with Preciado shifting to third base and Rafael Morel moving to second.
Among the players intriguing the Cubs this season will be catcher Ronnier Quintero, who received a hefty $2.9 million bonus in 2019, thanks to a pretty-and-powerful left-handed swing. Quintero’s offense is said to be well ahead of his defense, so the Cubs will just want to get him reps managing a professional pitching staff for the first time.
While Quintero and Caissie are both plus raw power guys, I think the battle for the most power on the team also extends to two more players: Felix Stevens and Shendrik Apostel. Stevens, a 21-year-old signed out of Cuba in 2019, will split time between right field, first base and DH. Apostel was acquired this spring from the Pirates for Duane Underwood Jr, and has Major League bloodlines adding to his intrigue.
(By the way, if you’re wondering about 2021 bonus baby Cristian Hernandez, it appears he’s going to make his professional debut in the Dominican Complex League this summer. Hernandez recently posted two home runs he hit during Extended Spring Training there, and I think it no surprise the Cubs are taking things slow given the extra challenges presented by Covid in 2021.)
Projected “Starters”: Porter Hodge, Luis Devers, Koen Moreno, Tyler Schlaffer, Joel Machado (LH)
Currently visiting: Chris Clarke, Josh Burgmann, Luke Little (LH), Ben Rodriguez
Lots to touch on here, but we’ll start with the guys visiting. Clarke looks close to a rehab return after an unknown injury delayed his season, but I believe is preparing as a starting pitcher. He has one of the better curveballs in the organization and should be able to handle an assignment to High-A South Bend when he finishes his stint in Arizona. Much of the same could be said about 2019 fifth-round pick Josh Burgmann, who we last saw with a 22/3 strikeout-to-walk ratio with the Eugene Emeralds in 2019.
The Cubs stayed conservative with 2020 fourth rounder flamethrower Luke Little this spring, keeping him in Arizona for Extended Spring Training as they work on refining the secondary arsenal. I expect Little to pitch a few games here but to ultimately finish his season with Low-A Myrtle Beach. And Ben Rodriguez was ticketed for the Pelicans before a spring shoulder injury delayed his season. I’ve heard he’ll begin throwing in July, so hopefully he’ll have an opportunity to hit the Arizona mound before the end of the season.
As for the rotation, this is my best guess, though I think it will remain very fluid all summer. Koen Moreno is probably your headliner, the 2020 above-slot fifth-round pick with a really intriguing foundation. The Cubs have been working to add muscle and refinement with Moreno, and I’ll tell you, talking to members of the scouting department have me very intrigued with Moreno’s upside. The Cubs also have significant investment in Venezuelan southpaw Joel Machado, who is an absolute brick house now after signing with the Cubs as a mid-80s throwing projectable guy.
Local guy Tyler Schlaffer (from Homewood-Flossmoor) impressed during Extended Spring Training and Utah high school product Porter Hodge had some good moments on Monday before running out of gas in the third. On Tuesday, the ACL Cubs went with 21-year-old Luis Devers out of the gate, Devers was the best pitcher on the DSL Cubs in 2019. I wouldn’t be shocked if we also see Luis A. Rodriguez in a starting role at some point, he was the star pitcher in the 2018 DSL.