Cubs Prospect Notes: Cam Sanders the Reliever, Raynel Espinal the Cub, Jordan Nwogu the Power Hitter, and More

Escaped Chicago for a few days in Newport, Rhode Island, so I’ve spent the morning playing catch up on the latest happenings around the Cubs farm system. Here are some of the interesting bits I found…

  • The Cubs made the right decision having Cam Sanders spend a stint on the Development List as they transitioned him from starting to relief pitcher for the rest of the 2022 season. Sanders made his relief debut yesterday, throwing two scoreless innings against St. Paul, allowing just an infield hit and striking out two batters. Should he continue to have success in this role, I’d expect the Cubs to give him a shot in September in Chicago as they debate internally whether to keep him on the 40-man roster over the winter.
  • Sanders has a fantastic arm, but control issues and the lack of a standout secondary have always stopped him from having complete success as a starter. He was about 95-97 out of the bullpen, and I won’t be shocked if that even ticks up in outings to follow. But my biggest question has been how a relief role might alter his pitch mix, as that balance has never felt completely correct. Yesterday, the Cubs opted to have Sanders go with two-thirds fastballs and one-third sliders against an all-RHH St. Paul lineup, and that worked just fine. I suspect the changeup and slow curve haven’t been retired, but they will be less important in shorter stints. Here’s the video of Sanders start, as St. Paul made yesterday’s game free on YouTube:
  • I watched two Raynel Espinal starts this morning, as I wanted to think through why the Cubs targeted him as their return for Dixon Machado (though I’m sure the list of available players the Giants were offering was pretty small). Espinal is a lanky 6-foot-3, almost reminiscent of later career Juan Cruz, with a tall-and-fall delivery and wrist wrap arm action. He throws 90+% fastballs and sliders, but will mix a fringy changeup. Espinal struggled against left-handed hitters, as that usage profile would suggest.
  • Two things have me curious as potential Espinal enhancements. One, as a natural supinator, the Cubs might try to show Espinal a whirlyball slider grip, as his current offering is a more stock variety slider. Second, Espinal gets noticeably lower with his release point out of the stretch versus the wind-up, and I wonder if lowering that release height could be in play. It’s unlikely the Cubs have uncovered a future Major League contributor here, but if they can show him the development infrastructure to have him re-sign on a minor league contract for 2023, they’ve improved on what Machado was offering them on an expiring contract.
  • Pete Crow-Armstrong barely played during South Bend’s last series, but it doesn’t sound too significant. Between the Futures Game and a few ticky-tack injuries, PCA will end up about 20 games short of a full season, and that makes me wonder if the Cubs might ask him to play in the Arizona Fall League to fill in the gap. He’s at the perfect advancement level for that league, and I think his play there would help determine a proper development path for 2023.
  • It was great to see Koen Moreno make his full-season debut last week, and while it didn’t go great, the fact that he’ll be able to get 30+ innings under his belt the rest of the season is a win. Moreno gets a lot of praise inside the organization for his weight room work, as he transitions from multi-sport athlete into full-time pitcher. He pitches now in the low 90s, although there were rumors that he’s capable of bigger numbers in non-competitive bullpen sessions. I tweeted a bit on Moreno’s unique delivery, but I liked the flash of his best curveball and the comfort he shows throwing changeups. He’ll be able to pick up a slider in time, I have no doubt, which only serves to suggest that he’s still a project. But an intriguing one.
  • Stray Erich Uelmen note that I wanted to throw in here, but will talk about in detail another time: of 503 right-handed pitchers to throw 50 pitches in 2022, Uelmen has the 21st-lowest release height, and one of the five lowest of someone who isn’t a pure sidearmer/submariner. The Cubs are going to work with Uelmen for the rest of the 2022 season to help leverage that unique release point into increased success, but a lot of that will depend on commanding pitches into different quadrants of the zone repeatedly.
  • Jordan Nwogu homered yesterday in South Bend’s comeback win, his fourth in the last nine games. This is noteworthy because he had four in his first 49 games before that. Tapping into his power consistently is the necessary next step for Nwogu moving up a tier as a prospect, and so it’s really going to bear watching over the final two months here. It’s pretty weird to me that Nwogu has a higher OPS than fellow outfielders Yohendrick Pinango or Owen Caissie, because it just hasn’t felt that way, but he’s avoided prolonged slumps all season. In his last 35: .260/.362/.496, and his stock is currently trending up.
  • Some quick short-season hits, as it’s not something I’ve discussed much in these parts: had a source give a good review of Kenyi Perez, who has been the most consistent rotation member of the ever-changing ACL pitching staff. Perez is walking more than a batter an inning, but he’s also impressed at times, with the source saying that he projects Perez as a triple-digit guy out of the bullpen some day … It bears watching that Pedro Ramirez just keeps succeeding, now up to .308/.357/.470 in 32 games. I’m always wary of short-season guys whose value is built mostly on the strength of a good BABIP, but Ramirez is well-built and tapping into enough power to be interesting … Good catch by Todd of Northside Bound to see the Cubs gave right-handed pitcher Kevin Valdez the rare late July bump from the DSL to the ACL after a successful seven weeks in the Dominican.
  • written by

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

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