High-A South Bend Roster Reveals One of Minors' Best Rotations And ... Is that Caissie and Howard's Music?!

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High-A South Bend Roster Reveals One of Minors’ Best Rotations And … Is that Caissie and Howard’s Music?!

Chicago Cubs

The South Bend Cubs will open the 2022 season with the most prospect-loaded minor league rotation the Cubs organization has had in 20 years. Three rotation members – Kohl Franklin, Max Bain, Danny Palencia – touched 99 mph during Spring Training. And the two lefties, Jordan Wicks and D.J. Herz, are the two that were in the winter’s Top Ten Prospect list. Expect some internal competition for who grabs the first promotion to Double-A Tennessee.

Manager Lance Rymel has been promoted from Arizona for the 2022 season to handle this group after helping the 2021 Mesa Solar Sox to the Arizona League championship. Rymel is also being entrusted with the two most aggressive assignments in the system: High-A for prized prospects Owen Caissie and Ed Howard. Both players drew huge praise for their work ethic at the Cubs winter camp and earned a spot with South Bend for a good spring. But this is asking a lot for both players; good seasons will mean they’ve blossomed into top 100 prospects.

South Bend opens their season on Friday night at home against the Quad Cities River Bandits. For our Midwest readers, especially those with young kids like me, I can’t recommend a trip to Four Winds Field enough. Especially with their roster.

Projected Lineup

  1. Yohendrick Pinango, LF, LH
  2. Pablo Aliendo, C, RH
  3. Owen Caissie, RF, LH
  4. Alexander Canario, CF, RH
  5. Matt Mervis, 1B, LH
  6. Ed Howard, SS, RH
  7. Jonathan Sierra, DH, LH
  8. Luis Verdugo, 3B, RH
  9. Fabian Pertuz, 2B, RH

There’s some big raw power on this team, but the open question will be how much shows up in 2022. Pinango and Caissie both have the abilities to turn on a baseball with authority, but often come up to the plate with an opposite gap plate approach. Canario and Mervis will hit their share of home runs, but the question is if they take the next step forward and become two of the top power bats in the system. And even Howard, Sierra and Verdugo offer the promise of power, even if we haven’t seen it much in games yet.

The two University of Arkansas stars, Christian Franklin and Casey Opitz, will eventually join the South Bend roster, but both begin 2022 on the IL. Pablo Aliendo will ably handle the majority of catching duty while Opitz is out; Aliendo broke out in Myrtle Beach last year showing good athleticism and contact skills.

I think the name on this list that shocked me the most was Verdugo, who receives the promotion despite a .524 OPS with Myrtle Beach last year. He’s got a pretty swing and has clearly grown physically in the last year, so perhaps this assignment is an indication that the Cubs believe he’s ready to take a step forward.

Projected Rotation

  1. Kohl Franklin, RH
  2. Jordan Wicks, LH
  3. Max Bain, RH
  4. DJ Herz, LH
  5. Danny Palencia, RH
  6. Chris Clarke, RH

Expect a lot of piggybacking here, with Joe Nahas and Manny Espinoza joining this group. Franklin will be on a strict innings limit after missing the 2021 season, and I believe will be maxed at about three or four innings out of the gate. Bain is stretched out for about the same workload right now. And neither DJ Herz nor Danny Palencia pitched deep into games last season and won’t be asked to do so until Memorial Day (if at all).

I think there’s a better than 50 percent chance that the Cubs 2022 Minor League Pitcher of the Year is one of the guys in this starting rotation. I’ve predicted Jordan Wicks for now, but there is a really good case for any of them.

Projected Bullpen

  • Hunter Bigge, RH
  • Eduarniel Nunez, RH
  • Bailey Reid, RH
  • Didier Vargas, LH
  • Bradford Deppermann, RH
  • Nicholas Padilla, RH
  • Jeremiah Estrada, RH
  • Dalton Stambaugh, RH
  • Jose Albertos, RH
  • Manny Espinoza, RH
  • Joe Nahas, RH

I believe we’re seeing a now-healthy Estrada move to the bullpen in 2022, which I think offers the potential for him to take the step forward as a prospect that we’ve been expecting for years. Estrada was great when healthy last year – showing about 92-94 mph with two good secondaries – but the health has been an issue for years now. Brad Deppermann and Nick Padilla are two other players that had their 2021 seasons marred by injuries but offer some solid potential.

Bigge and Nunez return after up-and-down 2021 seasons with South Bend, but at their best, both excite as potential closer prospects. Reid fits in that category too, with perhaps the best slider in the system, but all three need to throw more strikes this season.

Projected Bench

  • Bradlee Beesley, OF
  • Scott McKeon, IF
  • Jake Washer, C
  • Edmond Americaan, OF
  • Caleb Knight, C

Beesley is one of my favorite players to watch in the system, a player that shows you a little bit of every skill, and a whole lot of grind. I expect he’ll be in the lineup more days than he won’t.

Author: Bryan Smith

Bryan Smith is a Minor League Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @cubprospects.