It will be discussed more at length upon his official departure and upon the Cubs trying to fill his job(s), but this article about (former) Cubs AGM and VP of Pitching Craig Breslow includes a tidbit you’ll want to see in a Cubs Prospect Notes context: “In 2023, Cubs minor-league pitchers (accounting for all full-season levels) were tops in average fastball velocity and second in ‘stuff’ metrics.”
Read that again and really absorb it. The Chicago Cubs, by pitch quality, had the first or second best set of pitching prospects in all of baseball. Now we know that’s not everything, but I gotta tell you, after decades of the Cubs being nowhere close to that kind of grouping, it’s pretty dang compelling to think about them now having a pipeline of pitching that could be arriving year after year in the big leagues.
… if they can keep doing it, of course, which is where we get back to the part where they’ll have to figure out how to replace the guy most associated with that success, Breslow.
Other prospect items for you today …
Starting with something a little wild from the Arizona Fall League: James Triantos, who has been moving around this fall, got a taste of shortstop:
It was only for the very end of the game, and I don’t know that it’s actually in the mix for positions where the Cubs want him to get work. But I also imagine that part of this whole AFL enterprise for Triantos, in addition to some make-up at bats and in addition to the actual defensive work at spots he hasn’t played much, is the combination of those two things: how does Triantos feel about his game when he’s moving all around defensively? Remember, that is itself a skill DISTINCT from the actual performance defensively or offensively. Not everyone can stay in rhythm at the plate or on defense if they aren’t more or less at a consistent defensive home. Maybe that sounds like an excuse, but it’s just the reality. Some guys have that (or can develop it quickly), and some guys struggle with it.
Also, if I am being honest with myself, I have to admit: moving Triantos all around this fall – second, third, short, left, center – is probably also about creating some scouting tape for teams that might be interested in talking trade this offseason. Which, I get, I get, I get. I just kinda hate the idea of moving a guy when he seems on the cusp of really breaking out.
I don’t just mean Triantos’s all-world AFL performance, either. I also mean his regular season, where, at age-20 in High-A, he not only performed uniquely well, he improved dramatically on his batted ball metrics. As catalogued by Baseball America, Triantos was one of the biggest 2023 exit velocity gainers year-to-year. To be fair, he advanced from something like well-below-average to more like average, but (1) Triantos’s bat-to-ball skills and plate disciplined, combined with average exit velo numbers, would be really solid!; and (2) he was a smaller 20-year-old who almost certainly has more physical development ahead of him.
So, anyway, that is all to say: I understand the reasons why Triantos is probably among the prospects who’ll get asked about this offseason, and I understand the reasons why the Cubs would have to consider those entreaties. I just think he could be in line for a significant breakout in 2024, and *IF* the Cubs consider moving him – even in a deal for a guy I love – I just hope he is valued appropriately.
Also in that exit velocity piece: Luis Vazquez and Pablo Aliendo were among the biggest 90th percentile exit velocity gainers (which you love to see during years where their offensive production took a step forward), and Owen Caissie was among the biggest average exit velocity gainers, and his 93.3(!!!) average exit velocity was the largest of anyone in the charted group.
Heck, there were just SEVEN qualified big leaguers with a higher average exit velocity than Caissie, a 20/21-year-old in Double-A. Those seven: Aaron Judge, Ronald Acuña Jr., Shohei Ohtani, Matt Olson, J.D. Martinez, Matt Chapman, and Yandy Diaz, with those latter three being at 93.4 mph, only fractionally higher than Caissie.
That, in turn, is why Caissie’s outrageously high HR/FB ratio is probably legit, and got mentioned in this MLB Pipeline piece on the one stat that stood out for each farm system:
Back to AFL fun, as Kevin Alcántara not only homered again, he did it with one of the most laid back swings you’ll ever see for a huge homer, AND one of the most casually awesome bat flips:
Baseball America with ten standouts from the 2023 draft class, including Cubs corner infielder Brian Kalmer:
We’ve discussed Kalmer many times before, and wondered if he was the next Matt Mervis/Haydn McGeary to go from later-round college masher to rocket ship up the farm ladder. We’ll see next year.
We know the Cubs have continued to improve on the pitching side in the farm system, but it’s still nice to see them registering well in pure pitch quality even at Triple-A, where they did not necessarily have their best pitching prospects for the full season:
Cubs: 25% HR/flyball
Owen Caissie, OF (No. 3/MLB No. 64)
Acquired in the 2020 Yu Darvish trade with the Padres, Caissie may be the best power prospect in the Minors, producing exceptional velocities and performance for a 20-year-old. The sixth-youngest regular in the Double-A Southern League, he had the best rate of homers to flyballs in the circuit while ranking in the top five in 12 significant offensive categories, including third in on-base percentage (.398), slugging (.519) and OPS (.917), fourth in homers (22) and fifth in batting (.289).
It really is: