The Cubs Game You Want Recapped: Owen Caissie and Jordan Wicks Star In A Big Win For Double-A Tennessee

Social Navigation

The Cubs Game You Want Recapped: Owen Caissie and Jordan Wicks Star In A Big Win For Double-A Tennessee

Chicago Cubs

It’s nice, when the Major League squad has a clunker, for the farm system to step up and provide some positivity; it’s even nicer when a prospect-heavy Double-A squad plays their best game of the season on one of those nights. The Double-A Tennessee Smokies did that last night in a 12-1 drubbing of the Birmingham Barons, leaving us us lots of optimism to reflect back on.

I’d say this season’s most important story on the Cubs farm is how four players have emerged as guys that could make reasonable Top 100 cases: Cade Horton, Ben Brown, Owen Caissie, and Jordan Wicks. So not only was it great that Tennessee played an all-around good game last night, but that the latter two players mentioned above were the stars of the night.

Let’s start with Caissie, who entered the game mired in a mini-slump, having hit just .154 in the eight preceding games. After an RBI groundout in the third, Caissie came up again in the fifth following a Luis Vazquez home run (more on that later). And he absolutely unloaded, proving that low-90s is not enough fastball to beat him up-and-in:

Goodness. In the next inning, back at the dish, Caissie had a great plate appearance. Facing a right-handed pitcher with a plus changeup, Caissie showed really good pitch recognition on a couple good ones, working the count full. It bought him an opportunity to see a fastball in the zone, and the 20-year-old didn’t miss, hitting his ninth home run of the season and second of the evening:

This goes to show why Caissie is such a good prospect: he hits the ball harder than everyone else. I’m not exaggerating, a recent piece at The Athletic reports that Caissie has been measured in the 99th percentile in that category. This allows him to still hit a home run when he inside-outs a ball and slices it to left; not a lot of minor league players clear the fence with that kind of contact.

The evening raised Caissie’s season batting line to .281/.365/.563, and again, I have to mention the context. While Tennessee’s stadium is hitter-friendly, it’s still a league where offense is way down due to a pre-tacked ball that MLB is experimenting with only at this level. Caissie’s .927 OPS is 224 points above league average, and this is a league where he’s one of the youngest players; he has just five plate appearances against pitchers younger than him in 2023. The once-promised power has arrived, and Caissie seems an easy-to-peg prospect at this point: it’s an All-Star bat if the strikeouts don’t sink him.

Let’s move to the mound, where Jordan Wicks checked a very important box: he completed his first professional six-inning start. It was really the lone nitpick you could log about Wicks in the last year, and it wasn’t even really his fault, the Cubs just chose to stop him after 70-something pitches the majority of the time.

Let’s first just reflect back on Wicks’ last 23 starts, which date back to June 11 last year: 96 IP, 73 H, 2.91 ERA, 28 BB, 120 K, 12 HR-A. He’s been even better than that lately, with a 1.80 ERA in his last seven starts. Last night’s outing was a bit unconventional for him, getting 10 of his 18 outs on the ground (and “just” four by strikeout). The bad Barons squad was just rolling over changeups and curveballs, keeping B.J. Murray and Luis Vazquez very busy on the left side of the diamond.

Though he did strikeout one notable player you might be familiar with:

While I think the Cubs were comfortable with the idea of using 2023 as a final slow developmental year for Wicks, he’s undeniably forcing the issue. I think you simply have to promote him to Iowa at this point, and start to get a look at how the stuff plays with a ball more similar to what he’d use at Wrigley. I don’t anticipate it impacting Wicks quite as much as others, as his game is more focused on deception (both mechanically and using velocity differences) than spin and filth. But you can only know with the data that Iowa would offer.

In the macro sense, there’s a fun competition building as we look towards 2024: who among Hayden Wesneski, Ben Brown, and Wicks will assert themselves in the driver’s seat of a rotation spot. There theoretically could be room for all three (if Stroman and Smyly opt out, and if the option on Hendricks is declined), but I have a hard time believing the Cubs will go that route. I think it will probably be one spot given to a young arm, and the fight is on for who will claim it. Don’t count Wicks out.

A few quick hits on some other prospect-relevant happenings in Kodak last night:

  • We mentioned the Luis Vazquez homer, and to be honest, it might be the most impressive one of the evening when you consider position and the relevant skill involved. There aren’t a lot of plus-defensive shortstops in the world that can backspin an opposite field home run quite like this:
  • Because when I say “plus defensive,” in Luis’ case you really mean it. Check out how he quickly erased the leadoff walk that Luke Little allowed in the seventh:
  • Quick check on Luke Little as a reliever: 11.1 IP, 3 H, 1.59 ERA, 8 BB, 18 K. Headed towards finishing the year in Iowa with a locked-up 40-man spot.
  • Pablo Aliendo copied Vazquez’ night at the plate with both a double and an opposite-field home run of himself. He’s just now starting to exit small sample size territory, and the news continues to be great on his offensive step forward: .271/.351/.588 in 99 plate appearances. I actually found the double to be the more impressive of the hits, just because it takes some some real skill and bat speed to pull a ball this far up and in:
  • Pete Crow-Armstrong didn’t play in this one, as he’s working back from some minor injury that kept him out of a few games last series. It’s really the only way this one could have been more fun. (The Tribune previously reported that PCA was dealing with a skin infection, so maybe that’s still an issue, but it’s possible it was just planned rest.)
  • Thoughts with Bradlee Beesley, who exited the game in the middle innings after being hit in the head area. He appeared okay enough to not have me too worried about long-term implications, but you still just hate to see it happen to a guy playing so well. His .961 OPS this season is really opening some playing time doors, already a guy who managers want in their lineup because of his all-out style and professionalism.
  • And by the way, this one actually mattered for the Smokies. They’re just a half-game up on Chattanooga in the race for the first half title in the Southern League, which guarantees you a playoff spot.

Author: Bryan Smith

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