If you’re here, I hope you’ve already had a chance to read our top 10 prospects in the Cubs system, as well as the guys ranked 11-25. Today begins our look into the depth of the system, and this is where you’ll begin to see how things have evolved in the last few years: eleven pitchers below have touched 97 mph (and, in some cases, higher) before. For years we’ve been wanting any pitcher from the Cubs farm system, and now the depth of the organization is suddenly in hard-throwing pitchers (many of whom seem like Major League bullpen pieces).
A reminder that I decided to keep anyone with big league experience off the list this year, the ages listed are their 2022 season age, and the affiliate listed is where I expect they’ll get started in 2022. Thanks for reading! (Honorable mentions to come soon …. )
26. Alexander Vizcaino, P, 25, Tennessee (Stats). Acquired: Trade, July 2021.
On stuff alone, this is a top 10-14 prospect in the system, and it will not be a surprise if it ultimately turns out he should have been ranked there. We’re talking about easy mid 90s velocity, touching 98, a really good changeup with fade, a slider that made leaps and bounds improvements in 2021, and I believe he’s even messing with a curveball now. There’s some good nuance in there too, with life on both fastballs, the ability to go right-on-right with the changeup, the confidence to throw the breaking balls whenever they’re called. Vizcaino is a slight build without the projection to grow much, but pitches with the swagger and confidence of a big league All-Star. I’d like to see him pitch a little more aggressively into the zone later in counts, as he runs into traps of nibbling, especially when ahead in the count. He’s here in the rankings because I think with the age and the 40-man roster spot, we’re running pretty close to a move to relief … and I’d actually consider giving him a legitimate try-out in that role in big league camp, despite the limited recent experience.
27. Yohendrick Pinango, LF/RF, 20, Rehab / South Bend (Stats). Acquired: IFA, 2018.
Built like an NFL safety, Pinango is a bowling ball with some of the best bat control in the system. The key will be turning that physicality into power production, which you could see on some beautiful home runs to right field this year, but Myrtle Beach is a hard place to showcase pop. I think to get there, he’s going to need to rework the swing a good deal, his swing now reminds me of a backhand slice in tennis with a lot of the energy going sideways and not direct to get his weight behind the ball. The hand-eye coordination is ridiculously good, and so he should be able to absorb changes well, but my ranking remains cautious until we see it.
28. Tyler Schlaffer, SP, 21, South Bend (Stats). Acquired: 9th round, 2019.
The Homewood-Flossmoor grad impressed the Cubs by coming back in 2021 in phenomenal shape, then used his time in Extended Spring Training well, and then allowed two runs or less in eight of his 12 regular season starts. A short right-hander without a ton of remaining projection, Schlaffer has clean mechanics and works with plenty of good tempo. His changeup is his best pitch, showing late sink, and he even showed the ability to manipulate a second variation of it. The fastball gets up to about 94 right now, it shows good life at the top of the zone, but can flatten underneath that (leading to a few too many home runs allowed with Myrtle Beach). The breaking ball development is the key, he’ll show a good shape but the key will be adding bite in the two years to come.
29. Burl Carraway, RP, 23, Tennessee (Stats). Acquired: 2nd round, 2020.
What an amazing job by Burl and the Cubs to not let a couple bad outings in May derail using 2021 as a developmental season. Carraway was great talking about that time on The Bain Campaign, not hiding from it, determined to learn something mentally and fix something mechanically. It’s worth pointing out that the diminutive southpaw had a 1.37 ERA and 33.8 K% in his final 14 appearances, and all season hitters struggled to dial up both Burl’s mid 90s fastball and his straight up-and-down curveball, largely due to the deception found in his herky-jerky delivery. The news is that Carraway was throwing some really fun sliders during Instructs, which would be a really helpful offering to throw at left-handed hitters especially.
30. Ethan Roberts, RP, 24, Iowa (Stats). Acquired: 4th round, 2018.
I wrote about Roberts in November, and he’s someone we’ll talk about in Chicago when the injuries inevitably hit the bullpen. Credit to Roberts for earning that 40-man spot by adding nearly three miles per hour to his average fastball, which comes with serious cutting movement. The remaining potential is getting that slider from above-average to firmly plus, which would help get the strikeouts to a high enough rate. I think one of the big reasons the Cubs protected him from the Rule 5 Draft is because the smart teams — the ones hungry for pitchers that succeed in unique ways — love Roberts’ combination of low release, high spin and plus command.
31. Luke Little, P, 21, Myrtle Beach (Stats). Acquired: 4th round, 2020.
An absolute hoss of a southpaw that threw a heavy 94-98 mph fastball in a short stint of a 2021 season. That pitch, which we know has seen triple digits in the past, is the foundation that gives Little a high floor with relief potential down the line. The Cubs are keeping that in their back pocket, and will continue to slowly develop Little as a starting pitcher. That work is two-fold: 1) getting Little into the right physical shape to have starter’s endurance and 2) refining the changeup and improving consistency with the slider.
32. Drew Gray, SP, 19, Arizona (Stats). Acquired: 3rd round, 2021.
A really good athlete that the Cubs have tons of confidence is going to throw hard when he gets further down the road with their High Performance team. The off-field work is going to trump the on-field work for a couple years in terms of importance, and we could easily look up in two years and see Gray as the best pitching prospect in the system.
33. Cayne Ueckert, RP, 26, Iowa (Stats). Acquired: 27th round, 2019.
I think I got 3-4 DMs during Spring Training from other Cubs prospects that literally had just one word: “Ueckert.” He was the talk of camp, a guy that showed up with 98 mph darts and a closer mentality to match. Ethan Roberts told me that he learned a lot about using his hips from watching Ueckert pitch, Ben Leeper raved about Ueckert’s lack of fear out there. It’s a lot of in-zone fastballs at 95-98, and the hitter’s swings tell you that they aren’t comfortable with it. I’d personally grade the slider more towards average, while some sources are more optimistic that it’s above that. And a stat I need to share: with runners on base in 2021, Ueckert allowed a .079/.146/.158 batting line and 36.6 K%. Lulz.
34. Zac Leigh, RP, 24, Tennessee (Stats). Acquired: 16th round, 2021.
A fantastic job by the Cubs scouting department to find Leigh, a five-year pitcher at Texas State University with a 5.03 ERA as a super-senior, and identifying him as a guy on the brink of a velocity jump. And, sure enough: Leigh was up to 98 mph at the end of the year with one of the shorter arm actions in the organization. The slider is solid, he throws a changeup to left-handed hitters, and Leigh pitches with no fear on the mound. This is helium like you read about, and I would not be shocked if he continues to follow the Ben Leeper path, finishing the year in Triple-A and on the brink of the Majors.
35. Cole Roederer, CF, 22, South Bend / Tennessee (Stats). Acquired: 2nd round, 2018.
Roederer was forced into Tommy John surgery before things really got going in 2021, which was such a bummer for someone that seemed primed for a breakout season. He continued to show plus defensive skills and a good plate approach prior to the injury, but the injury happened before we saw how the strength he added in 2020 would impact his game. The question with Roederer continues to be if the frame will allow for Major League power. I’ve heard Roederer will DH a lot in the early part of the season as he clears the final hurdles of his injury, but the expectation is the injury shouldn’t impact his ability to be a plus in center moving forward. Big season ahead.
36. Riley Thompson, SP, 25, Tennessee (Stats). Acquired: 11th round, 2018.
Another injury victim, as Thompson missed the 2021 season with a shoulder injury that did not require surgery. Now 25 years old fresh off two lost seasons, 2022 is so big for Thompson to get 60-100 innings and show that he’s still a viable starting pitcher prospect. It’s an ideal body type for that role, and when Thompson developed a plus changeup in 2019, there was a lot of optimism that he was on his way. The key in 2022, beyond health, is the curveball finding its way back to above-average or better.
37. Bryce Ball, 1B/DH, 23, Tennessee (Stats). Acquired: Trade, July 2021.
Ball’s season was spent half with Atlanta’s High-A team and half with Chicago’s High-A team, but wow was he consistent.
Rome: 54 G, 24 R, 19 XBH, 40 BB, 27.6 K%, .206 AVG, .351 OBP
South Bend: 53 G, 24 R, 17 XBH, 40 BB, 27.6 K%, .207 AVG, .351 OBP
A gigantic human being that doesn’t have to try very hard to access plus power, Ball does a really nice job clearing his hips in a slight uppercut swing. The patience is the best in the organization, though I expect we’ll see at least some drop in walk rate as he gets up the ladder and finds less pitchers intimidated by what he looks like standing in the batter’s box. Ball surely has his eye on two big rules decisions: the league wide adoption of the DH and the potential change to how drastically teams can employ the shift. Ball would be one to benefit from no one in short right field, though the Cubs will also surely be hoping they can get him to get the ball in the air a little less often after seeing the GB% spike to 47 in 2021.
38. Yonathan Perlaza, LF, 23, Tennessee (Stats). Acquired: IFA, 2015.
Deserves so much credit for his weight room work, maximizing a small frame and adding a power element to his game. The muscle allows Perlaza to still hit balls at big exit velocities even when caught a bit on his front side, the result of using his front foot as a timing mechanism. His upper and lower body do have a tendency to get out of sync, but his hand-eye coordination is good enough to make mid-swing adjustments and keep the strikeout rate down. It’s a pure below-average left field profile for me, so the bat really has to work, and I worry if size will be a limiting factor there.
39. Luis Devers, SP, 22, Myrtle Beach / South Bend (Stats). Acquired: IFA, 2017.
The results in short-season ball demand attention, as Devers was the Cubs best DSL pitcher in 2018-2019 and their best ACL pitcher in 2021. A short cup of coffee in Myrtle Beach allows us to build a scouting report. Devers has a nice 6-foot-3 frame with serious upper body projection remaining. His best two pitches are a sinker and changeup that both have good and similar vertical movement. The four seamer and curveball don’t offer the same intrigue, and Devers could use something to change hitters’ eye levels with. Devers needs to get into velocity training to escape the high 80s, and I’d look to see what he could do with a cutter.
40. Parker Chavers, OF, 23, South Bend (Stats). Acquired: 7th round, 2021.
Came up as a sleeper prospect after his performance at Instructs in fall (even though, yes, he was too advanced for that type of environment). Once the swing gets going, it’s one of the sweeter ones in the system, long in the zone with a pretty finish. The problem is in the pre-swing: a complicated load both with his leg kick and with his hands. Look for the Cubs to quiet those, but in the end, the question will be if Chavers can hit for enough power to make it in the upper levels.
41. Ismael Mena, OF, 19, Myrtle Beach (Stats). Acquired: Trade, Dec 2020.
The biggest project of the Yu Darvish prospects, Mena didn’t have a great 2021 season by the numbers, but I did have some people preaching patience to me given the skillset. Remember how I described Kevin Made’s swing yesterday? Sticking the butt out and forcing the hands to do all the work? Mena is the same way as a left-handed swing, but can’t match Made’s hand-eye coordination, so there’s more swing-and-miss and more choppers. If the swing rehaul continues to have Mena’s body working together, the strength and bat speed would open up a great deal of ceiling. Someone who will almost surely be 20 spots higher or lower next year.
42. Cam Sanders, P, 25, Iowa (Stats). Acquired: 12th round, 2018.
The list of positives are really long. Easy velocity up to the high 90s, solid movement on a two seamer, good fade on a changeup that matches the sinker and absolute Major Major League swagger. The breaking balls aren’t bad but need some work, the curveball was thrown a little harder in 2021 but is still an early count pitch, and I feel like he should explore a new slider grip (it’s close). But the bugaboo in 2021 was the home run rate, which to me is a result of a fastball that flattens when the intended spot is missed. It makes me wonder if it would be possible to lower Sanders release height, which would potentially increase the margin for error on some of those belt-high four seamers. Don’t be shocked if a smart team sees some of this stuff as low-hanging fruit and plucks Sanders in the we-still-think-it’s-happening 2021 Rule 5 Draft.
43. Danis Correa, RP, 22, Tennessee (Stats). Acquired: IFA, 2016.
One of my personal favorites to watch in the system, and if I was in some bottom-feeding team’s front office, I’d hold a meeting about selecting him in the Rule 5 Draft. Correa has the system’s fastest arm, running it up 95-99 mph despite a small frame without much muscle development. The curveball is further ahead than the slider, but the latter is near 90 mph and I saw enough to want to keep monitoring it. I also am fascinated that Correa struck out 50% of the left-handed hitters he faced this year. I can’t really explain it, but that certainly says something about how the stuff plays.
44. Richard Gallardo, SP, 20, South Bend (Stats). Acquired: IFA, 2018.
Was lacking in electricity last year, but that doesn’t mean he’ll never find any. Deserves credit for the workload he was able to take on, and made a lot of progress getting the changeup to be a meaningful part of his repertoire. Gallardo has put on a ton of weight since joining the Cubs, worked hard this offseason at ensuring that it’s good weight, so he’s a sleeper candidate for a velocity jump. There’s comfort with the curveball, but it’s more of an early count pitch, I think we’ll want to see a slider added eventually.
45. Brendon Little, RP, 25, Rehab / Iowa (Stats). Acquired: 1st round, 2017.
What a fun story Little was this year, coming to camp with plenty of extra muscle, with a (kind of) new plus slider, and finding a home as a 5-6 out reliever. But the ending of the 2021 story was a sad one, as Little suffered a stress fracture in his elbow one game into his stint in the Arizona Fall League. A 40-man roster spot was likely headed his way before the injury, but here’s to hoping it’s a minor setback into a major comeback.
46. Adan Sanchez, C, 17, DSL Cubs. Acquired: IFA, 2022.
As previously mentioned, my personal favorite of the Cubs recent IFA signees. There’s a physicality already present that’s rare for an amateur, and he has a chance to be a catcher with power and a plus throwing arm. I don’t have to tell you the risk here, and the ETA is so far away we can’t have any confidence behind a specific ranking. This is my best dart board toss.
47. Chris Clarke, SP, 24, Tennessee (Stats). Acquired: 4th round, 2019.
When I started asking players around the Cubs facilities who came into mini-camp in phenomenal shape, Clarke was the most common answer. And sure enough, Greg Zumach unearthed that Clarke is pitching with another 22 (!) pounds of weight this year. It remains to be seen if that will be accompanied with a jump in stuff, as Clarke simply needs more swing and miss to be a serious big league prospect. The slider seems closest to me to being that pitch, it just needs a little more vertical or horizontal movement to get to plus.
48. Koen Moreno, SP, 20, Myrtle Beach. Acquired: 5th round, 2020.
The 2021 season never really got going as a result of an elbow injury that didn’t require surgery. This did give Moreno an opportunity to live in the weight room and convert his body from cross-country runner to pitcher. He looks different than 18 months ago, without question. On the mound, I don’t have information that’s really different from last year. Obviously he’s a really good and natural athlete that translates that to the mound, and the Cubs have had plenty of time to work with him about what his arsenal should look like. I wouldn’t bet on the Myrtle Beach assignment being an Opening Day one, but if he could get 60 innings and be healthy at the end of the season to participate in Instructs, everyone would be happy.
49. Yovanny Cruz, P, 22, Rehab / Myrtle Beach (Stats). Acquired: IFA, 2016.
One of a few Cubs pitching prospects that needed Tommy John surgery in 2021, and I know they all leaned on each other to hit those rehab milestones together. I’m ranking Cruz the highest of those based on past potential, but we can’t really know how things will look when he’s back on a mound. Cruz was getting into the high 90s when the injury occurred, the result of putting on a lot of weight, especially the lower body variety that once helped Brailyn Marquez see his own velocity jump. The key is how quickly Cruz can see the return of any sort of feel, as he didn’t have long pitching with that body before entering the year off.
50. Brandon Hughes, RP, 26, Iowa (Stats). Acquired: 16th round, 2017.
Sweepers are the pitch of the moment on Pitch Twitter — and plenty insist it’s true inside the game as well — and Hughes has the truest sweeper sliders in the system. It’s a purely horizontal pitch, and it plays against both left-handed and right-handed hitters. Hughes has been a fantastic story converting from the outfield, having a chance to build his body to be more pitching-focused in 2020, and showing pretty good feel for someone without a long track record on the mound. I would not be shocked if he’s getting consistent outs at Wrigley in 2022.