Cubs Prospect Notes: Brown Getting Deserved Hype, Horton, Palencia, Herz, Amaya, IFA, More
The minor leagues get back in action today after the obligatory Monday off-day …
- Chicago Cubs pitching prospect Ben Brown is getting a whole lot of attention after back-to-back great starts at Iowa following his early-season promotion to Triple-A. He even got the LEAD mention on this week’s Hot Sheet at Baseball America:
The Scoop: Brown received a promotion to Triple-A on April 29 and has quickly shown he can handle the level. After throwing 5.2 innings with one run allowed in his Iowa debut, Brown followed up with five scoreless innings with two hits allowed and 10 strikeouts in a dominant start against Toledo last week. Brown carved through the Mud Hens lineup with an easy mid-90s fastball, a vicious power curveball and a fine-tuned, mid-80s slider, giving him his first double-digit strikeout game since joining the Cubs organization. Brown is now 3-0, 0.59 in six starts this season with 47 strikeouts and 11 walks in 30.2 innings. He has cemented his status as a steal for the Cubs at last year’s trade deadline and is pushing aggressively for his first big league callup.
- The highlights from that start:
- It goes without saying that the plan will be to develop Brown long-term as a starting pitcher. But at some point this summer, it’s probably going to become a question: are the 2023 Cubs best served by having Brown up in the big league bullpen, WHILE ALSO best serving Brown’s development by exposing him to big league batters in smaller doses? It depends on the situation and the pitcher, but as we saw with Justin Steele a couple years ago, the big league bullpen can absolutely be part of a developmental plan for a starting pitcher.
- Fun anecdote from Marquee on Brown: Jed Hoyer says that, when the Cubs sent Brown out from big league camp, which was never even in question, Brown was almost surprised that he wasn’t making the team. That’s how much he believes he belongs in the big leagues already, and clearly he’s showing it at Double-A and Triple-A this year.
- More on Brown here in a profile at The Athletic. Clearly, Brown – who, again, is already on the 40-man roster – is getting plenty of organizational buzz. I’m surprised he did not make MLB Pipeline’s updated top 100 list this week.
- Meanwhile, Cade Horton will get a chance this week to bounce back from his rough debut at High-A. Mark Gonzales writes at BA that Horton is working on his changeup, which he can break out any time he wants in a game so that he can continue to get more comfortable with it. I suspect the Cubs already believe the fastball and slider are big league caliber pitches (though he will need to keep improving their command), and so the focus – in terms of pitch shape and execution – is probably the changeup.
- One Cubs pitching prospect whom we haven’t heard a ton about this year is Daniel Palencia, whose first five outings at Double-A were a mixed bag (15.1 IP, 5.87 ERA, 27.3% K, 13.6% BB). The 23-year-old righty has a triple-digit fastball and an outstanding slider, but there are questions about whether he has the size to make it as a six-inning starter, and whether that changeup will come along enough to give him a third pitch.
- Interestingly, the Cubs this past week transferred Palencia to the Development List, which means he’s likely back in Arizona working on something. For these guys, sometimes it’s a dedicated focus on a pitch shape or grip, or a major mechanical change. But sometimes it’s about a role change, and given Palencia’s size and fastball (plus multiple other recent role changes in the system, including all of Riley Thompson, Ryan Jensen, and Luke Little moving into relief), it’s natural to wonder whether the Cubs are considering a bullpen conversion. I like the idea of seeing whether Palencia could rocket right up to the big leagues and contribute, but I also don’t want the Cubs to give up on Palencia as a starter any sooner than they have to. Unlike with Brown, who has already shown starting success as high as Triple-A, Palencia hasn’t shown that yet even at Double-A, so you might see a relief move now as more of a true conversion rather than a mere long-term starting development tool. Of note, Palencia is Rule 5 eligible after this season, so the Cubs do have an incentive to see how he could perform as a reliever sooner rather than later. So we’ll see what his role is whenever he returns from the Development List.
- D.J. Herz effectively took Palencia’s spot in the Double-A rotation after he finished ramping up in Arizona, and he’s had a very D.J. Herz-like first two appearances there: 7.1 IP, 3 ER, 3 H, 6 BB, 13 K. Thanks to his crossfire delivery and spotty command – but incredible stuff – Herz is another guy who’ll be talked about as a possible bullpen conversion at some point. But he’s got three pitches, has starter size, is only 22, and makes at bats so uncomfortable for hitters that you’d love to see if he can just tighten up the command enough to go a little deeper and get more swings. Herz is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft after this season, by the way.
- Miguel Amaya is taking just fine to Triple-A Iowa, and getting high marks:
- There was a review of the Cubs’ 2023 IFA class yesterday, if you missed it, and the folks at North Side Bound looked at the classes going all the way back to 2012. It’s crazy to think that Adbert Alzolay was in that particular class 11 years ago, and is only just now fully cementing himself as part of the big league bullpen. The development process can take a longggg time for these guys. Heck, Miguel Amaya was part of the 2015 class and he is getting his first taste of Triple-A. (Also in that class: Christopher Morel.)
- Kohl Franklin (not a guy I’d be converting to the bullpen any time soon), mic’d up: