Cubs Prospect Notes: AFL Performances, Under-the-Radar Prospects, Nwogu, Perlaza, Devers, Brown, More

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Cubs Prospect Notes: AFL Performances, Under-the-Radar Prospects, Nwogu, Perlaza, Devers, Brown, More

Chicago Cubs

The Arizona Fall League kicked off yesterday, and although three of the Cubs’ pitching prospects got into the Mesa Solar Sox game last night, it didn’t go perfectly. Riley Martin got a fly out from the one batter he faced, but he was trying to clean up the inning for Zac Leigh, who’d gone single, single, strikeout, fly out, double, walk. Bailey Horn appeared earlier in the game, and threw 1.1 scoreless, but allowed two walks and a hit (two strikeouts).

Take all that for what it’s worth: just an update on the performances, not an evaluation of anything. Even at the end of the AFL season, it’s going to be a little hard to make much hay from the stat lines. You’d love to hear some scouting reports, and there are definitely some players for whom a huge performance would be more notable than others (for example, I’d really love to see Brennen Davis have a big AFL in the results department).

But if you are at all like me, you still want to know how the Cubs’ prospects are doing, so I’ll be checking in on the games like this. I’ll note performances. I’ll try to keep the context – this is mostly about simply getting the experience – in mind.

Other Cubs prospect notes, including not one but TWO ‘under-the-radar’ prospect articles …

  • The first is from The Athletic, where Sahadev Sharma explores six position player prospects who aren’t necessarily considered among the top tier in the system, but who put together strikingly strong minor league seasons. They are guys that add to the quality depth in the system, even if they aren’t going to show up on any top 100 lists. All six discussed by Sharma posted a 120 wRC+ or better this year, but don’t get a lot of hype: South Bend infielder B.J. Murray, Tennessee infielder Jake Slaughter, South Bend outfielder Jordan Nwogu, Tennessee infielder Chase Strumpf, Myrtle Beach outfielder Ezequiel Pagan, and Tennessee outfielder Yonathan Perlaza.
  • Sharma’s piece has a deeper look at each of the six prospects, and it’s good reading. For example, look at the discussion of Nwogu, who really exploded in the second half of the season:

Deep into July, Nwogu had a strikeout rate pushing 30 percent and middling overall numbers. A third-round pick out of the University of Michigan in 2020, VP of scouting Dan Kantrovitz’s first with the team, Nwogu was looking like a player who could stall out in the minors due to holes in his swing. But then a torrid second half — nearly a 170 wRC+ over the final two months of the season — has him firmly back on the prospect map. His strikeouts dropped below 20 percent during that time and he slugged an impressive .627.

“Jordan’s second half is who we think he is as a player,” Stone said. “His biggest issue is timing and he needs to settle in and really play every day to have good timing. He had a hard time staying on the field in portions of last year and at the beginning of this year. He is so strong that it affords him productive mishits, so he can get a ball off the handle and still hit it 90 miles an hour. You know, break a bat and get that single. But when he does square it up, he hits the ball in the top 10 of our organization in terms of exit velocity.”

Stone called Nwogu a superior athlete and put him in a category with Murray as far as players who still don’t fully realize how good they can be. With the results, their confidence in themselves has grown significantly this season, which has put them in a position to become big-league players at some point in the not-too-distant future.

  • Meanwhile, Trevor Hooth wrote at Prospects Live about 33 prospects who aren’t big names nationally, but who caught his eye this year for various reasons. Four Cubs prospects come in for discussion: righty Daniel Palencia, righty Luis Devers, outfielder Yonathan Perlaza, and righty Richard Gallardo. Great insights on all four, and a very recommended read.
  • In particular, let me highlight a bit on Devers, who we know was a dominant performer this year for the Cubs (likely minor league pitcher of the year), but whose scouting reports have never really matched the results he was getting. I didn’t realize how cautious you’d have to be about buying in fully to lower-level pitching performance built on a great changeup, specifically:

This is one of those changeups that people might eventually debate if it’s a screwball or not. It has that much movement. If Hidalgo has a plus changeup, Devers has a 70-grade changeup. There’s also a fastball that gets up to the mid-90s with a tight breaking curveball. The changeup is the main offering, though. He uses it early, and he uses it often. Devers will not stop using it, nor should he. Outside of the pure stuff, he messes up timing during his delivery, too. His command was excellent this year, but the whiffs went down once he got out of Low-A. So while there’s a lot of potential here, there’s still room to grow. He might eventually be a leverage reliever relying on his big changeup. Relying on a changeup as much as he does can be a tough road as the hitters get better. I mentioned the whiffs dropping after being promoted, that can be why. The only pitcher that comes to mind immediately that used a changeup as a primary pitch is Jovani Moran from the Twins. He also has a mid-90s fastball so the stuff comps pretty well, though Moran is a lefty and Devers is a righty. Success can happen, Moran gets tons of whiffs with his changeup. There just might be a learning curve for Devers as the hitters get more advanced.

  • The good news is that Devers, 22, still has some physical projection remaining, and we did see the fastball ticking up this year. But it kinda sounds like he’s going to need a better breaking pitch if he’s going to continue starting up to Double-A and Triple-A.
  • It’s fun that Perlaza, 23, shows up on both lists after it seemed like he kept putting up numbers this year without getting any discussion outside of Cubs prospect nerd circles. Some of that because he’d never popped before, and some of it is because he has a corner outfield profile and the bat really has to hit. But Perlaza was a big-time bonus baby in international free agency, and he actually started to break out last year at High-A. This season at Double-A was just an extension. And Cubs Director of Hitting Justin Stone told Sharma that it was after instructs in the COVID year that Perlaza came to the organization asking for more guidance on how he could get better, not just in his swing but in how he puts in the work. Then the next two years he hit.
  • The big question on Perlaza, who was at Wrigley Field this past weekend for the prospect development camp, is whether the Cubs add him to the 40-man roster to avoid minor league free agency and to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft. They could theoretically just re-sign him to a new minor league deal, but (1) he could always explore his options in free agency before signing, and (2) he would thereafter still be Rule 5 eligible. (Seems like, though, if he were going to be selected in the Rule 5, a team would just sign him to a big league deal before December – then he’s on the 40-man and fully optionable, rather than restricted by Rule 5 procedures.)
  • The Tribune has a profile on pitching prospect Ben Brown, soon to be on the 40-man roster, and acquired at the Trade Deadline from the Phillies for David Robertson. The risk on Brown was that he had only just started to show signs of breaking out at High-A, post-Tommy John surgery, and not every organization would want to use a 40-man spot on a guy like that. I get why the Phillies made the trade. But I also get why the Cubs targeted Brown, and how they may have gotten a steal.
  • One of the things I liked best about the profile? When Brown wound up having to get Tommy John surgery and rehab anyway, he decided to use it as an opportunity to also revamp everything he did with his diet and his training. There was also a mental skills component to losing most of the 2019 season to the surgery, then losing 2020 to the pandemic, then getting very little game action in 2021. Great read on Brown, who has a live fastball, decent curveball, and decent slider, but who will be working hard on his changeup and breaking pitches this offseason to be better equipped to handle lefties.
  • Brown, 23, ultimately threw 31.0 innings over 7 starts in the Cubs org, all after a post-trade promotion to Double-A, posting a 4.06 ERA, 3.36 FIP, 32.1% K rate, and 9.5% BB rate. It’s likely he heads back to Tennessee to open the 2023 season in their rotation, with a midseason promotion to Iowa the hoped-for trajectory if the pitch mix is improved and playing. From there, a late-season big league debut – one of those guys who gets a little initial exposure in the bullpen? – is not out of the question. Pretty rapid ascent for a guy who threw most of his innings this season in High-A.


Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.