Five Potential Cubs Prospect Breakouts for the 2023 Season

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Five Potential Cubs Prospect Breakouts for the 2023 Season

Chicago Cubs

Prospect breakouts, big or small, really are my favorite thing in professional baseball. I highlighted 12 from 2022 on Twitter the other day — with links to pieces I wrote during the year here at BN — and it really got my juices flowing on who might be those guys in 2023. I kind of wrote this with my gut-feel prospect list from November, but that was a list of guys that I think took unnoticed steps forward in 2022. The guys below I think will take the most meaningful steps of their prospect development in 2023.

Five names to consider …

RHP Kenyi Perez

When I returned from Spring Training last year, I made a point to note that I’d seen Perez throw “one good slider.” It was that pitch that became the talk of the 2022 ACL pitching staff, with one minor league veteran in Arizona on rehab telling me that Perez would someday by a big league closer on the back of it.

Early season success for Perez faded fast once hitters began to swing less and allow him to pitch himself into trouble. The Cubs hope is that as Perez adds more weight and learns more about the proper cues in his pitching motion, that feel for better command will come naturally. He should win a Myrtle Beach rotation job in Spring Training, and I think he could be on prospect lists next offseason.

1B/OF/DH Felix Stevens

The Cubs have been slow and deliberate with Stevens’ development, despite the fact that he signed out of Cuba at a slightly older age than most International Free Agents. He’s 23 now as he prepares for a season in South Bend, which doesn’t leave time for a lot of wiggle room; succeed now or risk becoming an afterthought in minor league roster construction.

The good news is that Stevens has the right tool for a breakout this season (as he trades the cavernous left field wall in Myrtle Beach for a more manageable one in Indiana): big power. Stevens can hit the ball about as hard as anyone on the farm — his HR/FB% of 20% was tied for sixth and ahead even of Matt Mervis — but still needs to find the power more often to be a net-positive player. If he can lower the 46 GB% and raise the 38.5% Pull% in 2023, he’s going to get himself firmly on the radar with an outside chance to lead the system in bombs.

RHP Max Bain

Prepare to see a different Bain in 2023. The end of Bain’s 2022 season came in the Arizona backfields, with Bain thriving at Instructs after a stint on the Developmental List overhauled his delivery. The new motion will be simpler and taller, with the hope that it will help improve his control without sacrificing a lick of velocity. An offseason to prepare for relief work should also allow for better game-planning in the proper usage of his secondaries. Bain’s slider really improved in 2022, and I maintain that the changeup is a good offering.

A breakout that sees Max reach Iowa and force difficult Rule 5 conversations is not out of question.

RHP Brody McCullough

A guy that keeps coming up in conversations, both with those inside and outside of the organization. The Cubs will usually have one pitcher in the middle-to-late rounds break out as a reliever, and McCullough is the guy brought up most as that potential arm.

I’ve heard some optimism that McCullough’s velocity is on the rise, which combined with a bit of deception from a slightly herky-jerky delivery should give him a good base to start from. The slider is his best off speed offering, but there’s plenty of comfort with secondaries for the Cubs pitching coaches to go to work on. I expect every grip will be played with, every pitch will see some element of re-design, and I think we could see 2023 end in Double-A.

2B/3B Chase Strumpf

When Strumpf made contact in 2022, against fastballs, breakers and changeups alike, good things happened. A good offseason of strength development, and a focus on elevating the ball more consistently led to a huge breakout in the power department. But just as Strumpf’s hottest stretch of the season was reaching its apex, he was hit in the hand by a pitch and never rediscovered those highs.

I expect an offseason focused on more contact — perhaps more willingness to swing early in at-bats — will see Strumpf get over the final hurdle. I also wonder if the robot pitching machine that will be in Des Moines this year will help Strumpf’s breaking ball recognition. I think he has some MLB success in 2023 and ends up firmly in the mix for a 2024 Opening Day roster spot.

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Author: Bryan Smith

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