Let’s Talk About Some Cubs Prospects Who Seem to Have Boosted Their Status This Year

It feels time to start believing in Chicago Cubs prospect breakouts, doesn’t it?

While I think April is important to let play out and calibrate contexts in minor league baseball, May is the time to start pairing the numbers and the eye test and allow the hype to flow. The Cubs’ farm system has its share of positives and negatives to report this season, but I think generally speaking, you like that all four affiliates have played competitive baseball with tons of players looking improved from 2022. Though I’m not quite ready to start revising my prospect list, there are five players that I know would fall now into a different tier than I had them in March.


The sticky ball in the Southern League in Double-A is going to cast doubts on that level right and left, but I’m willing to dig my heels in and say Ben Brown should legitimately begin drawing Top 100 prospect consideration from national outlets (though I don’t expect he will). Brown’s Triple-A debut last week, which also offers us some data on his pitches, offered further proof that he’s a force to be reckoned with.

Brown is now throwing four pitches: the four seamer and curve that led him to success last season, as well as a revised slider and new changeup. What interests me, however, is whether that curve will be as dominant in the big leagues as it has been up to this point. It’s just not a type of pitch that guys see very often at the Major League level — it’s funny, ex-Cubs prospect Alex Lange probably throws the most similar comparison — and I wonder how that will mess with hitters’ minds.

Brown, who is already on the 40-man roster, is either the Cubs’ seventh or eighth starter right now, depending on how ready Javier Assad and Kyle Hendricks are for the particular day they’re needed, but I think it’s becoming a lock that he’ll pitch at Wrigley this season. It would be very helpful to the Cubs offseason plans if they felt like one of Brown or Jordan Wicks could step into a 2024 rotation spot, and both guys are doing well to make that argument right now.


In 19 of the innings that Kohl Franklin has pitched in this season, he’s allowed zero earned runs. In one inning, the fourth of his start against Great Lakes on April 23, he allowed six. So while Kohl’s headline ERA of 2.79 suggests a step forward, those tuning into Franklin this year will correctly see it has been even more of a leap. (The inning before his blow-up in Michigan was the best single inning I’ve ever seen him pitch, in fact!)

The big explanation that I see, and it was on display in his last start on Friday, is an explosion in his secondary usage. Franklin is throwing fewer fastballs than I ever remember (I’d bet real money that Friday was the fewest of any start he’s had) — despite the fact that he’s been 95-97 mph pretty consistently — and embracing his changeup, curveball and new slider. It’s a lot for High-A hitters to deal with, particularly right-handed hitters, who are now dealing with his best pitch (the change) more than they ever have before.

There’s still an efficiency issue to improve upon, where Kohl can try to be too perfect, particularly with runners on base. And I’d expect the Cubs will continue to look to play with the shape of his four seamer, which can be flatter than its velocity suggests. But nitpicking aside, we’re talking about one plus/sometimes-plus-plus offering and three above-average ones. He’s rising fast.

This would also be a sensible place to discuss Jackson Ferris, who brilliantly made his professional debut on Friday with three one-hit innings. Ferris’ mere assignment to full-season ball in early-May is affirmation of the success pitching coaches were seeing behind the scenes at Extended Spring Training, and his first outing left plenty of bread crumbs on what has them so optimistic. I was most excited to see a sweeping slider that raises Ferris’ floor as a lefty killer, though the star offering from the outing was the life his fastball was generating, and the swings underneath it that were induced. I have no doubt that Ferris will go through bouts where he loses feel and we’ll have command questions, but I think he’s a top 10 prospect in the system for years to come now.


Because the Cubs were balancing catcher starts at Tennessee early in the season, and because Miguel Amaya starts were a particular priority, Aliendo has fewer plate appearances than most Cubs prospects at this point in the season. And so I want to still be cautious with how effusive I get here, as sample size issues are still in play. But I also want to say: my past evaluations on Pablo Aliendo were incorrect. I simply didn’t think he’d be able to add the kind of muscle to his frame that he did this offseason.

It was apparent on my first day at Spring Training, and it’s carried over into the games. Aliendo’s strength I think has meant two extremely important things: 1) his bat speed seems a bit faster, or at least, he’s getting to the ball faster and 2) his fly balls are flying farther. And that’s enough for me to take a guy who has lived in the 51-55 range of my prospect lists and bump him up 30 spots.

Behind the plate, Aliendo shows very good fundamentals and moves around athletically. His arm strength is a tick below average and throwing out baserunners has never been a strength. But he’s a very happy and joyful leader handling a very advanced pitching staff, and succeeding against opposing pitchers that are basically 2.5 years older than him.

This is a potentially really meaningful breakout for the organization, so we’ll be watching this close in the months to come.


If you missed it, I dove deep into McGeary and his story last week. As a prospect, he’s still a pretty difficult one to assess, given the positional limitations and still-unknown heights of his power potential. But I also don’t want to overthink it: this is a guy that has walked into pro ball and proven he deserves a regular spot in Double-A in his first full pro season. That’s rare enough to deserve ranking respect.

McGeary’s hit tool is the one that I find most impressive, as he swings at the right pitches and drives them to the right places. Teams will develop a better scouting report on how to beat him — see the three strikeouts yesterday — but after talking to him, I have confidence he’ll have equal thoughtfulness in how to adjust back. This is a ranking that could end up in the top 15 or could stay in that honorable mention range. It’s going to demand a full sample of performance against Double-A offspeed pitches.


Last year, Vázquez showed just a hint of how some newfound strength could manifest itself in the power department. And yet, he was still very much a net-negative offensive player, continuing the narrative that he was the all-glove, no-bat shortstop that we’ve seen dozens of times before (shouts to my guy Elliot Soto, still grinding in the Twins organization).

But this year, we’re starting to see a path for Vázquez crossing over into enough-of-a-threat territory to lend a Major League projection. I don’t want to overstate my opinion on these 22 games: I don’t think this is a .553 slugging guy moving forward. However, he’s good enough defensively to be valuable at any wRC+ that approaches league average, and I think I can imagine that world now.

Vázquez is eligible for minor league free agency at the end of the season, so the Cubs need to be ironclad in their projection of him before this season ends and decisions need to be made. The line between depth option worthy of a roster spot and replacement level is pretty thin for upper level shortstops, so it’ll be interesting to see on which side the Cubs ultimately feel he’ll fall.

Honorable Mention of guys that have definitely boosted, but I haven’t quite figured out into which higher tier it lands them: Moises Ballesteros, Miguel Pabón, Brody McCullough, Brad Beesley, Sam Thoresen, Brandon Birdsell, Chris Kachmar, Carlos Guzman, Jake Slaughter, Bailey Horn.

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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