The 2023 South Bend Cubs Roster: The Jaguar Aims To Defend High-A South Bend's Championship

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The 2023 South Bend Cubs Roster: The Jaguar Aims To Defend High-A South Bend’s Championship

Chicago Cubs

The High-A South Bend Cubs released their preliminary 31-man roster on Tuesday morning, as they will begin their title defense on the road against Quad Cities on Friday.

While not quite as prospect-loaded as the other three rosters out of the gate, there’s still a lot of intrigue here. All eyes will be on Kevin Alcántara all season, as he looks to take the next step forward and become a no-doubt top 30 prospect in baseball. The Cubs are anxious to see what he’ll do in a more hitter-friendly environment than he was offered in Myrtle Beach, and everyone is hoping a breakout is upon us.

Don’t sleep on this pitching staff either. Franklin, Little and Birdsell all offer high 90s fastballs and at least one plus breaking ball. (Absent is led a favorite of mine in Porter Hodge. The righty broke out last year by losing weight, gaining strength and spinning the best breaking ball combination in the system. Perhaps he’s getting a Tennessee assignment.)

The Cubs will be helmed again by Lance Rymel, considered by many in the organization to be a big league manager-in-training. Clayton Mortensen has received a bump up from Low-A to work with a lot of familiar arms, while hitting coach Dan Puente and bench coach D’Angelo Jimenez return to their 2022 roles.

(On a personal note: I highly recommend any in the Chicago area plan a little trip out to South Bend and Four Winds Field, particularly if you have little ones at home.)

Let’s look at the whole roster:

Projected Lineup

  1. Kevin Alcántara, RHH, CF
  2. Kevin Made, RHH, SS/3B
  3. Yohendrick Pinango, LHH, LF/RF
  4. Haydn McGeary, RHH, 1B
  5. Jacob Wetzel, LHH, RF
  6. Juan Mora, RHH, 2B
  7. Ethan Hearn, LHH, C/DH
  8. Fabian Pertuz, RHH, SS/3B
  9. Casey Opitz, SH, C/DH

Made and Pinango return to South Bend, and will look to bounce back after second half slumps last season. I noticed a thicker Made in my visit to Arizona last month, and anxiously anticipate how that will play on the diamond. I want to believe that bad BABIP luck was most responsible for Pinango’s troubles in the final two months last year, and believe that he does have the blend of plate approach and swing to be this team’s best player out of the gate this year.

McGeary is one that Cubs fans are highly anticipating, a guy that dominated in college ball at small Colorado Mesa and followed it up with a good cup of coffee in South Bend last year. How ready his power is for wood bats is a fair, open question. I’ve sung my praises of Juan Mora and Ethan Hearn in this space before, and have my eye on them as sleepers to really help this club. Pertuz looked good in a short World Baseball Classic stint, and Opitz is a guy that pitchers in this system insist is a future big leaguer.

Projected Rotation

  1. Kohl Franklin, RH
  2. Luke Little, LH
  3. Richard Gallardo, RH
  4. Brandon Birdsell, RH
  5. Connor Noland, RH

Franklin returns with the long-anticipated slider, and we are hoping there’s a real post-hype sleeper case to be made for him. I want to see far more competitive strikes this year, as last year felt like either wildness or balls down the middle too often. Luke Little will look to prove that he has the stamina to make it as a starting pitcher, because what he does have is an attack plan that’s too good for A-ball hitters.

Birdsell notably skips the Low-A level in getting the assignment here, but it’s a move that I expected after a long and accomplished college career. Expect the Cubs to build him up slowly; his assigned piggyback reliever will handle more innings out of the gate. Gallardo needs to take a step forward in 2023, particularly needing to show he can miss more A-ball bats. Noland, the Cubs ninth-round pick, has a fairly generic pitch mix that the Cubs think can improve under their tutelage.

Projected Piggyback Relievers

  • Carlos Guzman, RH
  • Joe Nahas, RH
  • Sam Thoresen, RH
  • Didier Vargas, LH

I wanted to give this its own section, because it seems clear the Cubs will be slowly ramping up the pitchers at this level to start the year.

Guzman was just acquired for Zach McKinstry, he’s a converted pitcher that had a really nice second half in the Midwest League last year. Looked like a standard low 90s and four-pitch mix when I looked at his tape, but the arm action is quite clean and I think the Cubs see something to suggest the slider can take a step forward.

Nahas has been a warrior for this organization, jumping to whatever spot is needed and always filling in quite admirably. He’s also slowly gotten better in each season, and will look to build out a more defined role by dominating early in the season. Didier Vargas is probably the closest to jumping out of this group, as I heard his velocity is up 2-3 mph already, and he always had nice feel of a curveball-changeup secondary mix.

Projected Short-Inning Relievers

  • Frankie Scalzo Jr, RHP
  • Chase Watkins, LHP
  • Sheldon Reed, RHP
  • Adam Laskey, LHP
  • Jarod Wright, RHP
  • Tyler Santana, RHP
  • Brad Deppermann, RHP

These are some names that pitching coach Clayton Mortensen has a lot of familarity with, and he’ll be looking to guide a few of them to a breakout. Sheldon Reed should have the best season here, given that he received extra development time in the Arizona Fall League last year. Scalzo probably has the best raw stuff of the group, where Watkins seemed to be turning a corner as the Myrtle Beach season went on last year.

Laskey and Santana are two guys who might also operate out of piggyback roles.

Projected Bench

  • David Avitia, RH, C
  • Josue Huma, SH, IF
  • Scott McKeon, RH, IF
  • Liam Spence, RH, UT
  • D.J. Artis, LH, OF
  • Bradlee Beesley, RH, OF

Artis and Beesley will definitely split time with Wetzel in the outfield, and the Cubs will wait for one of them to go out and win that job. This is a make-or-break season for all the back-up infielders, who have struggled to prove they belong at a higher role (McKeon has done some good things in AAA call-ups). Avitia is a new name to the organization; starting in High-A in the third catcher role means they like his leadership skills.

Author: Bryan Smith

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