Cubs Prospect Notes: Big Promotions, Big Returns, Horton, Triantos, Herz, Little, PCA, More

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Cubs Prospect Notes: Big Promotions, Big Returns, Horton, Triantos, Herz, Little, PCA, More

Chicago Cubs

A number of Cubs prospect notes for you today as the new week of games begins …

  • The big promotion news from the weekend is that 2022 top draft pick Cade Horton has been promoted to High-A South Bend after dominating in his brief debut at Myrtle Beach:
  • It was clear from the jump that Horton was too good for Low-A hitters, even if his opening assignment there made plenty of sense. This is a guy who barely pitched at all in college. Nevertheless, High-A should represent a more appropriate developmental challenge, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Horton stick there the rest of the year.
  • Meanwhile, joining Horton in South Bend is infielder James Triantos, who finally got his assignment after recovering from knee surgery in Spring Training. I am extremely eager to see how Triantos progresses offensively outside of Myrtle Beach, and whether there is improved scouting reports on how he looks at third and/or second base. There’s still an exceptional bat there, but to stay in that upper tier of Cubs prospect lists, he’ll need to show that the power is coming along and that the glove can play at either or both of those spots. Triantos, 20, was the Cubs’ second round pick in 2021, and hit .272/.335/.386/102 wRC+ last year in his full-season debut at Low-A Myrtle Beach.
  • Big lefty Luke Little also got a promotion this weekend, showing immediately at Double-A why the Cubs decided to go ahead and move him into the bullpen:
  • Because Little had never quite gotten to the point where he was going 4+ innings consistently, I always wondered if there were questions about how his stuff and/or his mechanics held up over longer outings. Moving Little to the bullpen and promoting him to Double-A seemed like an acknowledgement that starting may not be in his long-term future, but impactful relief could be in his near-term future. You don’t want to waste too many minor league bullets from an arm like that if he could rise rapidly. Little, 22, is Rule 5 eligible after this season, so it’s not at all out of the question that he could just keep on climbing this season.
  • Joining Little at Double-A Tennessee this week is fellow lefty – and fellow borderline starter/reliever – DJ Herz, who had been ramping up in Arizona. Herz, 22, got the bump to Double-A late last year after dominating in High-A, but found that more experienced batters simply wouldn’t extend their zone nearly as much. That led to a dramatic drop in his strikeout rate and an equally dramatic rise in his (already dicey) walk rate. The stuff is very, very good, especially coming out of his crossfire delivery. Hopefully the command is a little tightened up this year.
  • I presume Herz will slide into the Tennessee rotation, where a spot was vacated last week by Ben Brown’s jump to Triple-A. I wonder how much longer Jordan Wicks will be in that Tennessee rotation – his last outing was another hitless affair, and you start to think about wanting to see him at Iowa with the big league baseball, rather than continuing at Double-A with the pre-tacked version. I think you probably want to know how the stuff plays at Triple-A sometime this year, and probably well in advance of a possible emergency big league call-up in the second half (working against Wicks in that regard is the fact that he’s not Rule 5 eligible until after 2024, so he wouldn’t HAVE to be put on the 40-man sometime this year; working in his favor, though, is he might just be a quality 8th/9th starting option already if necessary).
  • FanGraphs wrote up a very specific update on the Cubs’ farm system, looking at any top 100 prospects and also guys whose arrival in the big leagues could be “imminent.” It’s an interesting look at a number of guys (a big rise for Ben Brown and a big fall for Brennen Davis are both unsurprising), but I suspect the Pete Crow-Armstrong re-evaluation will jump out most, as he’s been dropped from a 60 FV to 55:

Since then, at High- and Double-A, a much more aggressive approach has been exposed, with PCA running a 4% walk rate for the last year or so. As an amateur, Crow-Armstrong’s swing resembled that of Blake Rutherford. It was bottom-hand-driven and geared in the extreme for low-ball contact. The revamped swing he showed once he was healthy post-trade from New York was more top-hand driven and direct to the top of the strike zone. While his current swing is definitely better than the one from high school, it still leaves Crow-Armstrong vulnerable at the top of the zone. Most all of his balls in play so far in 2023 have been on pitches down and in, and he doesn’t cover the upper and outer thirds very well. This, in concert with a higher rate of chase, is likely to dilute Crow-Armstrong’s offensive production. Aspects of his report read like Cristian Pache‘s and Drew Waters‘ scouting reports did at one point, as they both performed on the surface despite clear underlying issues. His Gold Glove-caliber defense and the power he generates on contact will have to carry his profile.

  • While I’d concede that the very low walk rate could be a concern on its own, when it’s paired with a low strikeout rate (in the league where they’re using the pre-tacked balls and strikeouts have otherwise exploded) and a still very solid showing of power, it concerns me a lot less. I’m not itching to fight FanGraphs on the 60/55 distinction, but I am not sure I’ve seen or heard anything from PCA’s first go at Double-A that would make me drop his prospect stock.
  • This is entirely a “scouting the stat line” situation, because I was unfamiliar with Angel Gonzalez coming into this year other than having seen his name mentioned as one of the many intriguing relief-only arms of the last couple years. But the 20-year-old relief prospect is definitely on my radar now after his first 9.1 innings at Myrtle Beach this year: 9 hits, 5 BB, 3 ER, and 19(!) strikeouts. My rule of thumb on relief-only prospects at Double-A and below is that they have to put up obscene numbers to stay on the radar, since they are already streamlining their stuff and shortening their outings against very inexperienced batters (most really good pitching prospects stay starters at least up to Double-A). So far, that’s what Gonzalez has done in the early going.
  • Some dispatches from Arizona Phil that are worth checking out:

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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.