Brennen & Mash: Triple-A Iowa Cubs Roster a Fun Mix of Top Prospects and MLB-Adjacent Vets

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Brennen & Mash: Triple-A Iowa Cubs Roster a Fun Mix of Top Prospects and MLB-Adjacent Vets

Chicago Cubs

The Iowa Cubs released their 28-person preliminary roster today, ahead of tonight’s Opening Day against the Columbus Clippers.

For prospect nerds, the most fun part of Iowa’s team out of the gate are the names sure to sit in the middle of the lineup: Brennen Davis and Matt Mervis. Both players have a chance to reach Wrigley some time between May and September, but the front office wants both players to make their case undeniable on the field first.

Caleb Kilian leads a rotation that offers solid depth to the big league team, with four of the five projected starters having previous big league experience. Kilian seems well-sorted to improve upon last year’s jump to 5 walks per nine innings, having identified some issues in his lower half that were throwing off his mechanics. Adrian Sampson and Roenis Elías both narrowly missed out on opportunities to make the big league roster and will be anxiously looking to pitch their way back to Chicago.

The team’s strength will likely be a bullpen that’s basically top-to-bottom in potential MLB contributors. Jeremiah Estrada is a favorite of a lot of Cubs fans with his exploding fastball, but will have to prove he can regain his 2022 form with his slider. Cam Sanders starred in Spring Training with an improved slider and high 90s velocity, and might be the first arm up. Had Anthony Kay still been on the 40-man roster in camp, I’m quite sure he would have broken with the big league team out of the chute.

The 2023 I-Cubs will again be managed by the accomplished Marty Pevey, with familiar names Ron Villone and John Mallee serving as pitching and hitting coach. Remember, the AAA level this year will feature robot umpires calling balls and strikes, and will have the Hawkeye cameras installed in each stadium (supplying us with Statcast data!).

Projected Lineup

  1. Darius Hill, LHH, LF/CF
  2. Christopher Morel, RHH, 3B/UT
  3. Matt Mervis, LHH, 1B/DH
  4. Brennen Davis, OF, RH
  5. Nelson Velázquez, RHH, OF
  6. Yonathan Perlaza, SH, OF/DH
  7. Jake Slaughter, RHH, 3B/UT
  8. Dom Nuñez, C, LH
  9. Sergio Alcántara, SH, SS

Morel and Velázquez are the two closest to the Major Leagues here, with an injury and a good start all that separates them from a return to Wrigley. Both players need to find a way to strike out less in 2023, with both unexpectedly struggling against big league fastballs down the stretch last year.

I wasn’t sure that Jake Slaughter would find a way onto the Opening Day roster of this team, but have heard his camp performance was undeniable. He particularly impressed me with his defense at third base, and I think he could emerge as an option at the hot corner if no one in the big leagues grabs that job by the horns. Will 2023 be the season that Darius Hill can break through? He seemed bigger to me in person, and just a little more slugging threat will be all that anyone needs to see.

It’s a good sign that Dom Nuñez and Yonathan Perlaza are on the roster, as AZ Phil had indicated they suffered late camp injuries. Perlaza opted to re-sign with the organization and forego minor league free agency, and would be a big league option if his breakout continues, too.

Projected Rotation

  1. Adrian Sampson, RH
  2. Nick Neidert, RH
  3. Caleb Kilian, RH
  4. Roenis Elías, LH
  5. Riley Thompson, RH

It should absolutely be read into that Riley Thompson won a job here, with the right-hander coming to camp in great shape after a hard winter of work with the folks at Cressey Sports Performance. The addition of a slider really helped Thompson in the second half, but word is the pitch is even better now, and I think he’s a good fit for the sinker that he is also bringing into the mix this year. Just stay healthy and in the strike zone.

You probably know that Elías already became a favorite of mine with his work in LIDOM this winter, and I’m glad the Cubs will let him build on that (and his WBC performance) by letting him get work as a starting pitcher in 2023. He’s a guy who pitches best in big moments, so I do worry if the AAA level will see a drop in urgency, but he is also probably pitching for his MLB future this year. Expect lots of different arm angles, pitching motions, and usage patterns from outing to outing.

Projected Bullpen

  • Rowan Wick, RH
  • Anthony Kay, LH
  • Jeremiah Estrada, RH
  • Tyler Duffey, RH
  • Ryan Borucki, LH
  • Brendon Little, LH
  • Cam Sanders, RH
  • Nick Burdi, RH
  • Vinny Nittoli, RH
  • Manuel Rodríguez, RH

Would it surprise you if any one of these guys pitched in Chicago this year? Truly, any of them could wind up contributing. That’s a good sign, and not something that has always been true in my time covering the system.

While the big league team is starting the year with no southpaws, the group here does leave some hope that the role could be filled in time. Kay is my favorite of the group with his new sweeper, the same pitch that helped give Stout’s career some new life in 2022. And it’s worth mentioning that Borucki was probably the very final cut from the MLB roster (and probably has an opt out of his minor league deal before too long here).

It will be interesting which right-hander here rises to the top. Wick needs to pitch at the top end of his stuff range more often to re-establish his value; I’m still a bit surprised that no team was willing to at least claim him on waivers. Rodríguez is in a similar boat, as he just hasn’t quite pitched with the same raw stuff since 2021.

This does leave a gap for one of the new guys to squeeze in here. Nick Burdi has incredible raw stuff, but he hasn’t pitched very much the last few years. Vinny Nittoli offers them a slider-first reliever, and he’s one to watch if he can continue his domination from last summer. Tyler Duffey was a tough cut that will have an opt-out in his contract at some point.

(Note that Ben Leeper also was set to make this team, but I’ve heard he suffered an injury that will keep him sidelined indefinitely. More on that when it’s appropriate.)

Projected Bench

  • Bryce Windham, C, LH
  • David Bote, IF, RH
  • Jared Young, IF/OF, LH
  • Mike Tauchman, OF, LH

Excited that Windham earned the promotion to Triple-A after his first big league Spring Training. I think his contact-first approach is likely to have more success at the backwards-pitching AAA level than the stuff-forward Double-A one.

Bote, Young and Tauchman are three guys with varying levels of big league experience that are surely anxious to get back. Will be interesting to see how much playing time they receive, as their at-bats will come in lieu of younger prospects.

Development List

  • Jake Washer, C
  • Levi Jordan, IF
  • Curtis Taylor, RHP
  • Eric Stout, LHP

Four guys that just missed the Triple-A roster, but guys the Cubs aren’t ready to cut out of the organization. I’m on the record as being a big fan of what Levi Jordan brings to the table, a steady defender with unexpected pop in his bat. Washer broke out last year but at an age very advanced for the level he was playing in; 2023 will offer some insight on what part of that was translatable. Taylor is probably the truest use of the Development List, as the Cubs didn’t get a full look at him due to WBC participation.

Author: Bryan Smith

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