Evaluating the Cubs System Before an Epic Trade Deadline: an Interview with Jim Callis

Jim Callis, Senior Writer for MLB.com

[Brennen Davis] is a guy who’s got potential 20/20, 30/30 [home runs and steals in a season] upside as a center fielder.

Jim Callis on Cubs prospect Brennen Davis

A special thanks to Jim Callis, Senior Writer for MLB.com for joining

After the MLB Draft and before the most impactful trade deadline in organization history, the Chicago Cubs farm system was in flux. Talent was trickling up through the lower minors, Brennen Davis was showing off on the national stage, most of the upper level prospects were working their way back from injury, and Cubs fans were encouraged by recent talent brought in from 2021 MLB Draft. As the trade deadline storm approached, the Cubs organization was still viewed as a “bottom third” (21-30 ranked) farm system. While that ranking has been seriously adjusted since, it’s a good reminder that there were encouraging notes from prior to any significant trades. Jim Callis of MLB.com stopped by to discuss the Cubs system before the deadline.


Brennen Davis

No player in the Cubs system has surged quite like Brennen Davis. As of this writing, Davis is off to a .267/.383/.515 start as a 21-year-old at AA. Since July 6th, he’s produced at an eye-popping .292/.414/.639 (1.053 OPS!) line with only a 24.1 K% and a 183 wRC+. Brennen Davis is a superstar and the national media is taking serious note. According to Jim Callis, “I think he’s been on top of our prospects list for a while and I think he’s one of the better outfield prospects in the game. I think the tools are pretty obvious, and the production has been there pretty much since day one. I think he was more advanced as a hitter, than the Cubs even realized when they signed him a couple of years [in 2018]”. While Davis has more development, Callis noted that ultimately the most critical part of the young outfielder’s progression is likely just getting more playing time. “[It’s] just a matter of being healthy. He had the finger injuries in ’19. Then he didn’t get to play last year, he got hit in the head in spring training so they started kind of slow, and it’s crazy, he was drafted in 2018 draft. I think, as we’re recording this, he has played 114 games in pro ball just because of the circumstances. But I still think this is a guy who’s got potential 20/20, 30/30 [home runs and steals in a season] upside as a center fielder” Callis said.

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Jordan Wicks

The Cubs brought in “the complete package” in Jordan Wicks according to Cubs VP of Scouting, Dan Kantrovitz. While it was a surprise selection to some, the national reports on Wicks back-up the premise that the Cubs landed an excellent prospect. “I thought Wicks was a great fit for the Cubs and it was kind of nice that he fell to him 21. I thought he was gonna kind of go into mid teens [in the draft]. He was the best left handed pitcher in the draft, certainly on the college side” Callis said. “Consensus was that he has the best changeup in the draft. Wicks is 6’3″, 220lbs, low 90s with good spin rates on his fastball to give it riding action. He improved his slider this year. It’s his third pitch. It’s kind of average. [He] throws strikes, competes well, and mixes his pitches well. I once got a comp to Reid Detmers, who’s a Illinois High School product who was number 10 pick in last year’s draft out of Louisville, but with the changeup rather than the curveball as his dominant pitch. I really liked him a lot. I think he can move quick and I think getting a guy like that with 21st pick which I think was a little unexpected was just great fit for the Cubs who have had trouble developing pitching”


The Arizona Complex League

The Yu Darvish trade had a massive impact on the perceived direction of the big-league club. After winning the division during the COVID-19 season of 2020, the Cubs made the decision to sell-high on the NL Cy Young runner-up. The decision to move Darvish was already shocking, but the return brought out significant vitriol from Cubs fans. As the dust settled, Yu Darvish and Victor Caratini brought back Zach Davies and “four teenage prospects”, hardly the expected return for an ace. These trades always require a long-view to properly evaluate, but less than a year later, the younger prospects in the deal are performing at a high level. Jim Callis notes that two of the players, Reginald Preciado and Owen Caissie in particular, are making waves. “Preciado is 6’4″ and could hit for power and average from both sides of the plate. In the long run, (I haven’t seen if they’ve been playing him at third or playing at short) he’s athletic and can give you a solid defender at third. If he doesn’t stay in the dirt, he can play right field, but I think the bat is gonna profile. It’s a really high upside” Callis said. “Caissie is the same thing. He’s got some of the best power in last year’s draft. [He has a] strong arm. I think it kind of fits that classic rightfield profile. Both these guys have high ceilings, so if you’re the Cubs I think you’re really pleased they got off the to [hot] starts.” Callis said.


The Cubs are definitely a system on the rise now, but even before the trade deadline, the 2021 minor league season provided encouraging signs. It won’t be long before players in the upper minors begin to make their Wrigley debuts. It’s a very good time to start diving into the Cubs minor league prospects.

Want to hear more insights into the 2021 Cubs draft picks? Or hear Jim’s thoughts on DJ Herz, Yohendrick Pinango, and others? The full interview is available soon


Chicago Cubs Sign James Triantos as They Begin to Wrap Up Draft Class

The Chicago Cubs have signed second-round pick, James Triantos, according to multiple reports. James’ family confirmed the signing on social media. In addition to the high school infielder, the organization has also come to terms with two more high school players in Dominic Hamel and Christian Olivo according to multiple reports.

UPDATE: the deal is worth $2.1 million according to Jim Callis


The Cubs, under VP of Scouting Dan Kantrovitz, “kept the accelerator down” selecting Triantos who required a significant bonus to sign away from a UNC commitment. There were some within the organization that viewed Triantos as a first-round caliber player. Many fans craved high-upside prep talent in the lead up to this draft. In Triantos and Drew Gray, the Cubs filled that need right away. Triantos may have some of the best bat-to-ball skills in the organization.

Player Reports

James Triantos

Ivy Futures Report: James Triantos (SS, Madison HS) sported impressive batted-ball data. His contact rate of 94% contact rate topped prep players in the showcase circuit last year with a similar max EV as Will Taylor, Harry Ford, and Colson Montgomery. Traintos has quite an arm and has good run times. He hails from Cubs area scout (and 2020 Stan Zielinski Scout of the Year) Billy Swoope’s territory. I also don’t think it would surprise me to hear the Cubs very interested in Triantos with an early selection. From my latest mock: “If there’s one player who could be this year’s Nick Yorke (who was a surprise mid-first round selection), I’ll say it is James Triantos.”


Dominic Hambley, RHP

Report: Hambley showcases premier stuff on the mound and was viewed as difficult to sign away from his commitment to Oregon State. Hambley’s fastball operates in the low 90s with strong life. The Cubs are also encouraged by his high-spin slider. He will throw a changeup as a third pitch. Look to the Cubs to begin to develop him in the offseason at instructs.

Christian Olivo, SS

Report: Christian Olivo is an impressive defensive shortstop from Puerto Rico. As a 17-year-old in the MLB Draft League, Olivo showed solid bat-to-ball skills and hope that as an extremely young prospect he can grow into a solid offensive player. Olivo will take some time and will require a commitment with the Cubs’ High Performance and Performance Science department, but should make for an exciting follow in the future.


Wrap up

When the Triantos signing becomes official, it will complete the Cubs bonus pool round selections (the first 10-rounds). The signing of Dominic Hambley fulfills the “$200k bullet” that Chicago Cubs VP Dan Kantrovitz spoke about firing in his recent interview with .

Cubs Introduce the Next Wave of Draft Prospects

Chicago Cubs first-round pick, Jordan Wicks, was introduced to the media today, July 15th. He will be joined by fellow high-upside draft prospects in signing with the organization, lefthander Drew Gray (third-round) and centerfielder Christian Franklin (fourth-round). Today marks the first time the next wave of prospects will officially enter the system.

The Cubs, under VP of Scouting Dan Kantrovitz, were opportunistic in selecting Wicks who was one of “nine or ten guys” on their draft board that they were hopeful would slide to their selection at 21st overall in the draft. Once it became clear he may be available, the team jumped at the opportunity to draft a player who Kantrovitz described as “the complete package.

Drew Gray and Christian Franklin are two players who Cubs’ officials describe as premier athletes. In an interview between Dan Kantrovitz and , Kantrovitz described Gray as “dripping with projection” and featured multiple pitches that excite the Cubs’ scouts, including a “snapdragon breaker” (his curveball). Cubs officials feel that Franklin is a plus centerfielder, which is rare to find at that stage in the draft. Each of these players is considered a “high-variance” player (one that has a wide range of outcomes). It will be up to the Cubs’ performance science and high performance departments to help these players reach the higher end of that range. Gray was scouted by area scout, Tom Clark and Franklin was scouted by area scout, Ty Nichols.

Signing bonuses of all three players are unlikely to be announced at this time. However Wicks’ bonus is expected to near the 21st overall bonus slot figure of $3,132,300. Drew Gray confirmed his signing via his Instagram. According to Carlos Callazo, Franklin signed for $425,000 ($39,500 under slot of $464,500).

One note, unless confirmed publicly or by a team-source, I won’t be speculating or reporting a player’s specific signing bonus. Bloggers exist as sort of fan/journalistic hybrid. I greatly enjoy what I do and I’m passionate about it. I love to tell stories and inform if I can, but I also want to be mindful that even speculating that a player has signed and attaching a signing bonus could jeopardize a player’s eligibility in case the deal falls apart. I crave information like many do, but I hope you understand.

Notes from the Press Conference

UPDATE: more than the three original players officially signed their contracts.

Player Reports

Jordan Wicks

Ivy Futures Report: Lefthander who pounds the strike zone. Top college lefty in the class with a low 90s fastball (has a fourseam and 2-seam with 2400 rpm spin) and a plus-plus changeup. There’s solid separation in velocity between the two pitches (~8-10 mph difference) and he “kills spin” by throwing the changeup at less than 1600 rpm. His feel for spin with a breaking ball lags behind with a spin rate close to 2400 rpm. Looks the part of a quick mover in the minors. A team with a good pitch development team should be able to get at least an average breaking ball from Wicks.

Drew Gray

Ivy Futures Report: A two-way player in high school, Drew Gray was announced by the Cubs as a pitcher. He’s showcased elite spin metrics on his fastball and curveball. He boasts elite extension and his fastball has a flat angle at the top of the zone, which is an in vogue metric that helps get swings an misses. As a recent convert to pitching there isn’t a lot of wear and tear on the arm.

Christian Franklin

Ivy Futures Report: Franklin will show plus raw power. He could be a plus CF at the next level. The offensive bar for a plus CF in the majors is low. If Franklin is drafted by an organization with a strong hitting infrastructure, he could be a stud. However, his biggest risk is the significant swing and miss (28.4 K% for the season). Some scouts see a fourth-OF profile, but with the potential for so much more. He’s a dynamic athlete and a fan-favorite for Arkansas.

News and Notes

Several more Draft picks are in the process of signing or have signed officially.

Chicago Cubs Select James Triantos in Second Round of MLB Draft

With the 56th pick in the 2021 MLB Draft, the Chicago Cubs selected James Triantos, 3B, Madison HS.

Ivy Futures Report: James Triantos (SS, Madison HS) sported impressive batted-ball data. His contact rate of 94% contact rate topped prep players in the showcase circuit last year with a similar max EV as Will Taylor, Harry Ford, and Colson Montgomery. Traintos has quite an arm and has good run times. He hails from Cubs area scout (and 2020 Stan Zielinski Scout of the Year) Billy Swoope’s territory. I also don’t think it would surprise me to hear the Cubs very interested in Triantos with an early selection. From my latest mock: “If there’s one player who could be this year’s Nick Yorke (who was a surprise mid-first round selection), I’ll say it is James Triantos.”


Triantos reclassified to the 2021 ranks from 2022, where he was one of the better two-way prospects in that class. As a pitcher, he has a solid four pitch mix, primarily led by a FB in the low-90’s and an advanced CB in the high-70’s with great shape. He has a SL and a CH to boot in the low-80’s. Low-effort delivery, as well. As a bat, where most expect him to end up, he has a good feel for the barrel and shows off some sneaky pop for a guy who is 6’0″, 185. Hit 2 bombs at WWBA, including the longest of the tournament at 424 feet.

Prospects Live

Originally part of the Class of 2022, Triantos reclassified to join the 2021 Draft class, leading to scouts flocking to Virginia to check him out as he gained traction as a serious pop-up prospect. A two-way standout at James Madison High School, his future as a professional lies in his ability in the batter’s box, and he had so much helium that it looked possible he’d be the first player at Madison to get taken in the first few rounds since Jay Franklin was a first-round pick in 1971.

There are some polarizing opinions about Triantos and his upside, with scouts who like him really believing in the bat. Some see a future plus hitter with a feel for the barrel and good bat speed. There’s some surprising power given he’s not the biggest guy in the world, though he’s very physical. Detractors feel he can get stuck with a predetermined approach from the right side of the plate and can guess wrong.

Even fans of Triantos feel he won’t be a shortstop at the next level. He has the arm for the left side of the infield, with those who dream seeing a little Alex Bregman or fellow Virginia high school product David Wright, albeit a bit less athletic. The University of North Carolina recruit gets high marks for his baseball IQ and work ethic, another reason why he could hear his name called in the top five rounds.

MLB Pipeline

Chicago Cubs MLB Draft Day 2

Second Round

James Triantos, 3B, Madison (HS)

Report: A late addition to my board has been James Triantos, a SS (and RHP) out of Madison HS in Virginia. Triantos (SS, Madison HS) deserves some more publicity. His contact rate of 94% contact rate topped prep players in the showcase circuit last year with a similar max EV as Will Taylor, Harry Ford, and Colson Montgomery. Traintos has quite an arm and has good run times. He hails from Cubs area scout (and 2020 Stan Zielinski Scout of the Year) Billy Swoope’s territory. I also don’t think it would surprise me to hear the Cubs very interested in Triantos with an early selection. From my latest mock: “If there’s one player who could be this year’s Nick Yorke (who was a surprise mid-first round selection), I’ll say it is James Triantos.”

Read more about the selection here.


Third Round

Drew Gray, LHP, IMG Academy (HS)

Report: Gray was announced by the Cubs as a pitcher, but on the MLB tracker as an OF. He is likely a LHP at the next level where he’s showcased elite spin metrics on his fastball. As a recent convert to pitching there isn’t a lot of wear and tear on the arm.

Fourth Round

Christian Franklin, OF, Arkansas

Report: Franklin will show plus raw power. He has the ability to stick in CF at least early in his career. The bar for an above average CF in the majors is low. If Franklin is drafted by an organization with a strong hitting infrastructure, he could be a stud. However, his biggest risk is the significant swing and miss (28.4 K% for the season). Some scouts see a fourth-OF profile. He’s a dynamic athlete and a fan-favorite for Arkansas.

Fifth Round

Liam Spence, SS, Tennessee

Report: A senior sign and a contact bat. Spence is already 23 years old so he should offer some savings since the Cubs have gone aggressive in this draft with impact talent in earlier rounds. Don’t let that discourage you on Spence. He’s a very talented player who had over 50 games in a row of getting on base for Tennessee this past season (fact courtesy of Nathanael Rutherford @Mr_Rutherford on Twitter).


Sixth Round

Riley Martin, LHP, Quincy University

Report: The senior signs continue for the Cubs with Martin who carved up Division II hitters to the tune of a 3.55 ERA with 17.39 K/9 (!). On May 7th he threw a 7 inning, 3 hit, 1 run, 4 walk, 19 K outing.

Seventh Round

Parker Chavers, OF, Coastal Carolina

Report: Another senior sign, but a high upside selection. Chavers could have gone in the 2020 draft, but clearly indicated a number teams weren’t willing to reach. His 2021, was a small step back in terms of productions, but he represents strong value in his upside.

Eighth Round

Casey Opitz, C, Arkansas

Report: The senior signs continue with @PitchingNinja favorite, Casey Opitz. Optiz is believed to be one of the few college catchers to call his own games and he has a strong arm behind the plate. I wouldn’t count on the bat producing big numbers, but he’s a steady and reliable back-up catcher which is immensely valuable to develop.

Ninth Round

Chase Watkins, LHP, Oregon State

Report: If you throw left-handed, the Cubs appear to have you on a list. Watkins is a “deep cut” and likely a pure scouting move. He is a 6’4″ lefty who only pitched in relief (4.88 ERA, 38 Ks in 31 innings) sporting an upper 80s/low 90s fastball. His primary secondary appears to be a curveball. The big question is starter vs reliever. His high in innings this season was three.


Tenth Round

Peter Matt, OF, Duke

Report: Peter Matt, owner of two first names, stealer of hearts (possibly but I can’t verify) is another senior sign (23 years old) out of Duke. His power exploded this past season easily setting his career high at 15 in 2021.

Here is a great article about Matt

Day 2 Wrap-up

The second day of the draft built upon the first perfectly. Today had everything, upside high school talent, toolsy players, small school selections, and shocking picks (Christian Franklin). I’ll have a wrap up of Day three of the Draft (likely won’t be live-blogging) and follow me on Twitter @IvyFutures.

If you get a chance, check out the more in depth breakdown of James Triantos, the Cubs second round pick.

Chicago Cubs Select Jordan Wicks in First Round of MLB Draft

With the 21st pick in the 2021 MLB Draft, the Chicago Cubs selected Jordan Wicks, LHP, Kansas State University. Wildly regarded as the top college lefty, Chicago Cubs VP of Scouting, Dan Kantrovitz said Wicks ranked “within the top 10 of their internal draft board”. Fans of fast-moving players would also be excited to know that the Cubs feel he is an advanced arm. “Next year it’ll be sort of up to him to determine where he’s placed out of spring training. But with a repertoire as advanced as his, he’ll probably have some options.” Kantrovitz said.

Ivy Futures Report: Lefthander who pounds the strike zone. Top college lefty in the class with a low 90s fastball (has a fourseam and 2-seam with 2400 rpm spin) and a plus-plus changeup. There’s solid separation in velocity between the two pitches (~8-10 mph difference) and he “kills spin” by throwing the changeup at less than 1600 rpm. His feel for spin with a breaking ball lags behind with a spin rate close to 2400 rpm. Looks the part of a quick mover in the minors. A team with a good pitch development team should be able to get at least an average breaking ball from Wicks.

Metrically, Wicks stands out for his low-spin changeup and 2400 rpm sinker (a pitch the Cubs prioritize). From a biomechanical standpoint, ProPlayAI gives an incredible breakdown.


National Reports

Kansas State has never had a first-round pick or a pitcher selected in the top three rounds, but that’s on the verge of changing. Wicks is clearly the top left-hander available in the 2021 Draft and has a longer track record of success than most of this year’s college pitchers. He won the Big 12 Conference freshman of the year award in 2019, allowed one run in four starts during the truncated 2020 season before posting a 0.52 ERA with 52 strikeouts in 34 2/3 innings between two summer leagues, then set school records for single-season (118) and career (230) strikeouts this spring. 

Wicks has the best changeup in the Draft, a low-80s weapon with tumble and depth that he sells with deceptive arm speed, earning plus-plus grades from some evaluators. He sets it up with a fastball that has added about 5 mph since high school, now sitting at 90-93 mph and hitting 95 with high spin rates that give it riding action. He has improved his low-80s slider to the point where it’s now a solid offering, and he also can morph it into a harder cutter and mix in an upper-70s curveball. 

Wicks works with little effort, easily repeating his delivery and pounding the strike zone while working both sides of the plate. In addition to his stuff and command, he earns praise for his competitiveness and inventiveness on the mound. One scout likened him to Reid Detmers, the No. 10 overall choice in 2020 by the Angels, with a changeup rather than a curveball as his dominant pitch.

MLB Pipeline

Jordan Wicks may just be the 2021 version of Bryce Jarvis. It might just be the best changeup in the class. Coming from the left side, Wicks has a 3/4 arm slot that pumps 89-92, touching 94. The changeup seems to hit a brick wall in front of the plate, tumbling heavy arm-side. He flashes a cutter-ish slider and curveball that have both shown good spin rates, though still developing consistent shape. There’s a good bit of deception in Wicks’ stuff and guys really struggle to square him up. Most believe he’s the best lefty in the class, and he’s just about as polished as they come. He may not have top of the rotation upside, but with Wicks you’re selecting the floor of a Low-3/High-4 rotation arm that should move quickly to the big leagues. He’s almost certainly going to be a first round pick in July

Prospects Live

Prospect Report: Cam Sanders

The 2018 draftee has top 10 prospect upside and is showcasing electric stuff this season

Cam Sanders via Rich Biesterfeld (@Biest22)

How acquired: MLB Draft, 12th Round, 2018

The Cubs’ 2018 draft is shaping up to be one of the most dynamic in the last two decades. Sanders had mid-90s velocity and a big curveball coming out of LSU in the 12th round. Most prospect publications thought he had high-leverage reliever upside if everything clicked, but that his control could hold him back. In fact, Sanders was most notable for being the son of former major leaguer, Scott Sanders. Cam Sanders debuted with 16 2/3 innings across the AZL and at Eugene in 2018 before a strong season in 2019 (2.94 ERA in 21 outings [20 starts] with 84 Ks in 101 innings) for then Low-A South Bend. Sanders used his time during the pandemic to his benefit. Cam Sanders garnered incredible feedback after his 2021 spring camp success. Cubs contacts were impressed with Sanders‘ improved command and ability to maintain velocity to the fifth inning (reminder this was spring camp so it was the equivalent to spring training for the major league squad).


Mechanics and Control

Sanders starts his motion with a quick step-back before initiating his throwing motion. His windup is abbreviated and similar to his throws from the stretch albeit without the rock back initiation. He appears to gather himself well at the top of his motion. Sanders features a longer arm stroke, but one that appears to hide the ball through the arm path well. He does have a habit of falling off to the first base side (though that leads to some impressive K-struts). His mechanics showcase an athletic, fluid delivery.

Though the control has taken a significant step forward, it still can come and go. Some of this should be put within the context that this is the first professional ball Sanders has played in 18 months. His control averages out to be solid, but can flash above-average at times. His command is still a work in progress, but like his control, can also flash above-average. There are innings where Sanders can put multiple pitches where he wants them in or out of the strike zone. When he does that, hitters can do little with them.


Pitching Arsenal

4-seam Fastball: Sanders had velocity in 2019, but it fluctuated in the 91-97 mph range. So far this season, Sanders was 96-98 mph in his first outing and 93-96 mph in his second. His third saw him hit 98 mph, but few other reports on his velocity are out there from that start. This pitch plays well up in the zone, but he’s still able to dot it on the outer half of the plate. I feel like this pitch is average right now, but needs to be better commanded. It has the potential for much more, especially when it can play of well-located curveballs.

Curveball: Sanders features a big breaking ball in his curveball. There is some impressive vertical movement where the pitch appears to start up around a hitters shoulders before dropping into the zone. This is a knee buckler at it’s best and still produces whiffs. It can be difficult to control due to it’s movement, but appears to be an above-average offering

Slider: The slider offers good movement with tight vertical break and a bit of horizontal movement off the plate to righties. This is also Sanders’ most inconsistent pitch right now. At times it will flash plus and other pitches it acts as a waste pitch. With more repetitions, the slider has the potential to be a true plus offering, playing off both his four-seam and 2-seam fastball.

2-seam fastball: The 2-seamer is where I get truly excited about Sanders’ potential. His 2-seam has excellent movement into righties and when he throws it in the top of the zone, it can absolutely eat up batters. Elevated 2-seam fastballs is a strategy employed by the Cubs at the major league level with great success. His 2-seam is a plus pitch when commanded up in the zone. Down and away it’s more above-average, but the fact that he is able to do both gives it a plus grade from me.

Changeup: I only saw a handful of changeups. But when Sanders threw them, they had good depth and solid fade away from lefties and into righties. It’d say this pitch is right now an above-average offering, but I do think it could play better down the line.


Future Projection

Cam Sanders is on the rise. In my 2018 draft review, Sanders was majorly slept on. His report read “A guy who may surprise likely in the pen. He keeps making adjustments (that curve could be something special) as he climbs the ladder.”. Sanders is far outpacing those projections. He is showcasing 5 pitches and flashes enough command to dominate AA hitters at times. Sanders has frontline starter potential. That’s an overused term as there are very few starters in the major leagues with that level of consistent performance. His command (and as always health) will be crucial as he continues to navigate advanced AA lineups, but if it comes together consistently this summer, Cam Sanders is an arm that should be ranked comfortably within the Cubs top prospects.

Minor League Game of the Week: Opening Night


After 595 days of sporadic reports from the Alternate Site and reaching out to individual players and Cubs contacts, fans can finally see the progress that minor league players have made. In addition to regular content such as prospect reports, podcast interviews, and draft content, I’ll be writing about a game of the week.

I am so impressed with the young talent at Myrtle Beach that I had to make it the inaugural Game of the Week.

Game 1 lineup courtesy of Myrtle Beach Pelicans

Prospects to Watch

Ed Howard:
Game results: 4 AB with 1 hit (single to left field); 1 Ks; sparkling defense
The Cubs are incredibly impressed with Ed Howard this spring. He came into camp in great shape while showing off his plus defense at shortstop. That defense continued to shine in his first professional game. Howard has easy lateral range and soft hands. By the fourth inning, it became clear that when the ball was hit to Howard, you felt the play would be made. It’s the minor leagues and errors will happen. They aren’t the best way to measure defense in the minor leagues. groundskeeping is inconsistent, among other developmental issues. But Howard’s defense is already very steady.

At the plate, Ed Howard did not look overmatched. He was calmand showed strong bat speed. Though he only was able to amass one hit, (a single; see below), Howard consistently put the bat on the ball against advance pitching. John Doxakis is a nearly 23 year old pitcher selected in the second round of the 2019 draft by the Rays, a team known for developing pitching. The other pitchers that Howard faced were Brigden, Theriot, and White (25, 24, and 22 years old respectively). Make no mistake, Howard will be challenged at Myrtle Beach. He’ll continue to face advanced pitching and will have moments he struggles, however he has the skills to succeed despite adversity. He’ll even have games where the strikeouts pileup, but I could not be more excited about Ed Howard at the present.

Jordan Nwogu:
Game results: 3 AB with 0 hits (double to right field); 2 Ks, 1 HBP
Nwogu has an insane amount of potential as a future power/speed threat, but it’s a definite work in progress. He appeared overmatched early against Doxakis. That continued throughout the game. Once it clicks for Nwogu, he could shoot through the system, but there may be some more Ks to his game early in the season.

Yeison Santana:
Game results: 4 AB with 1 hit (double on a fly ball); 3 Ks
Santana is another young infielder on the MB roster. He is the only member of the prospects brought over in the Yu Darvish trade who actually logged professional games before this season. Santana looked pretty solid with good defense at 2B and a couple competitive at-bats. In two other at-bats he was largely outpaced by advanced pitching. Santana was raved about from Cubs officials for his bat-to-ball skills.


Yohendrick Pinango:
Game results: 4 AB with 1 hit (single to left field)
Cubs officials rave about the bat speed and his bat-to-ball skills. Pinango put that praise on display all game as he constantly slashed the ball to the opposite field. Pinango begins the season as one of the youngest players in full-season ball (he turns 19 on May 7th), but his contact ability is impressive. Like many of the young members of this roster, Pinango faced off against advanced pitching. There will be struggles this season, but the potential is immense.
Game results: 4 AB with 1 hit (single to left field)

Pablo Aliendo:
Game results: 4 AB with 1 hit (double to right field); 2 Ks
With Ethan Hearn on the roster, Pablo (don’t call him “Paul”) Aliendo was a relative surprise starter at catcher in game 1. Aliendo got some shoutouts for his progress in spring camp and earned his spot at Myrtle Beach. Overall, Aliendo looked solid behind the plate and had an equally solid day at the plate (as a hitter). I would still imagine Hearn gets the majority of the run at catcher for the Pelicans (with time at DH and 1B possible), but here’s hoping Aliendo takes the opportunity and runs with it.

News and Notes

  • It is incredible to have minor league baseball back!
  • The next Game of the Week will head to South Bend as we enter the House of Bain. Max Bain is, perhaps, the most fascinating man in the entire Cubs system. He gets the nod on Thursday for the South Bend Cubs alongside positional prospects, Chase Strumpf and Cole Roederer
  • A slimmed down Jose Albertos looked solid on the mound in yesterday’s game. He had a significant case of the yips, but never lost the stuff. He only allowed one walk and it was a competitive plate appearance. Here’s hoping Albertos can progress as a reliever. He’s still only 22.
  • Luis Verdugo is the third of the “Young Myrtle Beach Infield Prospect Triumvirate”. He had a fairly unremarkable day with an 0/4 with 2Ks at the plate.
  • Yes, Ed Howard is a special player. A recent Cubs contact noted that Howard showed off some of the best defense they had ever seen. It’s hard not to be impressed with the overall package of tools. He’s 19 years old. Remarkable.

The State of the Cubs Organization

Max Bain in Spring Camp by Rich Biesterfeld (@Biest22)

As the Chicago Cubs enter the 2021 minor league season, there are some within the organization who feel that this is a transformative year. If you haven’t read this incredible piece by Patrick Mooney and Sahadev Sharma, you definitely should (subscription to The Athletic required and encouraged). I reached out to a few Cubs contacts and provided summarized sentiments about a few players. I’ll try to avoid duplicating from their article, but as you can imagine, Cubs executives are excited about many of the same players.

Cubs Top Prospect Rankings Updates

Based on feedback from scouts, executives, and notes from around the game, I’ve updated the prospect rankings. Check them out below.

Spring Pitching Successes

If you’ve been skeptical of the Cubs’ ability to produce pitching, you aren’t alone. It’s hard to justify significant faith in an organization that touts Duane Underwood Jr.’s 36 1/3 innings as its crowing achievement in homegrown talent, however there is real belief within the Cubs system that the infrastructure in place (led by Craig Breslow) has allowed numerous pitchers to take significant steps forward.


Richard Gallardo opened eyes this spring. There was a lot of hoopla when he reportedly touched 96 mph, but he’s sitting in the 92-96 mph range. Gallardo was a divisive prospect. His stature as the top international free agent pitcher in 2018 suggested a higher ceiling, but Gallardo looked to be a back-end starter, albeit one with a surprisingly high floor. His control and command where unusually advanced as he reached short-season Eugene at the age of 17. He is primarily a fastball/breaking ball pitcher now, but look for the Cubs to continue to add to his repertoire this summer.

The relievers in the Cubs system don’t get the credit they deserve, but multiple bullpen arms took steps forward during the shutdown. Brandon Hughes was an outfielder in the Cubs system before he converted to pitcher. He spent considerable time during the shutdown smoothing out his mechanics, which unlocked extra velocity. Hughes routinely sits mid 90s now. That velocity will definitely play from the left side. Speaking of velocity gains form the left side, Cubs officials are similarly impressed with Bryan Hudson. Hudson came out firing in instructional league play this past fall and continued his strong showing this spring. Hudson will begin the season at AA Tennessee and is one call away from a debut at Wrigley if he’s clicking this summer. He will be joined in the Tennessee pen by Ethan Roberts. When Roberts was drafted in the next wave-defining 2018 draft, the Cubs were intrigued by his pitch metrics and characteristics. Roberts continued that success with a strong showing in the 2019 season. His high-spin offerings allowed his pitches to play far above the high 80s to low 90s velocity. Roberts worked hard to add velocity. This spring he sat in the mid 90s in live outings, while continuing to carry his strong pitch characteristics. Roberts to a name to definitely have on your radars as the calendar turns to August and September. Joe Nahas, Eury Ramos, and Chris Kachmar also received shoutouts from Cubs officials.

Max Bain in Spring Camp
Photo by Rich Biesterfeld (@biest22)

I’ve written about Max Bain and Cam Sanders, but if you aren’t buying in yet, you should. There’s still time to hop on the bandwagon. Both pitchers had Cubs execs floored with their stuff in live outings this spring. Sanders in particular was able to hold both velocity and stuff till the 5th inning. Sanders was always known for plus stuff and struggling command, but he showed some encouraging trends with his velocity tickling up and control/command taking a step forward. Bain is one of the most incredible stories in the system, but he’s making a name for himself strictly for his time on the mound. Bain will sit 96-99 mph with a plus slider/cutter. He also throws a curveball. He was able to hold velocity for multiple innings this spring. There are some in the Cubs system that believe both pitchers have the potential to be top 10 prospects this season.


Hitters on the Rise

Make no mistake, Ed Howard may receive praise – perhaps even doubly so as a hometown player-, but that adulation is well deserved. The Cubs are huge believers in Ed Howard’s ability. According to some within the organization, Howard is the most naturally gifted defender they’ve ever seen, which will serve him well as he climbs the system. There is immense value to an organization to have a prospect who scouts feel is a no-doubt shortstop at the big-league level. However that defense will only do so much for his future projection. The Cubs are also excited about the progress he’s made with his swing and believe that he can hold his own in an aggressive assignment to Class A Myrtle Beach.

Cole Roederer via Clinton Cole (@cdcole55)

Cole Roederer could certainly make a case he is the most overlooked prospect in the system. The former UCLA commit and second-round draftee had his share of ups and downs in 2019, but he came into Spring Camp on a mission. Roederer showcased different swing paths and and even better ability to drive the ball to all-fields. When Roederer got his first taste of full-season ball two years ago, he fit the definition of a pull-happy slugger. Now he’s able to face off with high velocity offerings and use his naturally beautiful swing to a greater advantage. Roederer received Andrew Benintendi coming out of high-school and he looks to be in a great position to meet those loft expectations.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Ethan Hearn. The young catcher drafted in 2019 has taken considerable strides in the last year. Much of that can be attributed to his work with Justin Steele during the shutdown and in the offseason. Hearn impressed Cubs officials with both his improved hitting mechanics and his commitment to the pitching staff. High school catchers are always a riskier demographic in the draft, but Hearn is proving to be well worth the investment.

Yeison Santana and Luis Verdugo will no-doubt be overlooked playing on the same infield as Ed Howard, but Cubs officials feel each of these young players can stand on their own. Both Santana and Verdugo performed well in spring camp and I was told not to discount them. The Cubs are loaded with up-the-middle prospects (many capable of playing shortstop). The organization had a lot of choices as to who would break camp with a full-season team. Santana and Verdugo earned their assignment.


Teams to Watch

Early in the season I’ll be tuning in to watch the Myrtle Beach Pelicans and South Bend Cubs. The now Low-A and High-A affiliates have a ton of talent that I cannot wait to see take the field. Ivy Futures Interviews guests DJ Herz and Ethan Hearn are now battery mates for Myrtle Beach. Ed Howard, Santana, and Verdugo, make up a dynamic infield for the Pelicans. Yohendrick Pinango is another player the Cubs are believers in as they enter 2021. The young prospect should patrol the outfield in Myrtle Beach. South Bend is comprised of prospects who may not spend much time in High-A. Ryan Jensen, Chase Strumpf, Burl Carraway, and Max Bain could each see themselves play their way to Tennessee. Early in the season, the lower levels of an emerging Cubs system will be must-watch.

The Inevitable Injury Bug

I try not to discuss player injuries until they are announced (unless a player specifically would like to address it). There are a few notable absences to these rosters. Most of the players that were expected to make a full-season assignment and weren’t on the roster are dealing with “soft tissue injuries”, which are viewed as quite minor. There are a small number of players who developed more serious arm injuries, which should be announced soon. I hope you’ll join me in wishing the players a speedy recovery. In a season where most players will be on the field in almost two years, 2021 will likely be injury laden. Hopefully the Cubs players, in particular, can avoid the IL.


Fortune Favors the Bold: 2021 Cubs MiLB Predictions

Ethan Hearn and Cole Roederer in instructs by Rich Biesterfeld (@biest22)

MiLB Predictions for 2021

The 2021 minor league season is going to be a whirlwind. With no minor league games for 595 days, there is no precedent for how players will respond to such a significant lapse in playing time. Right or wrong, let’s throw out some bold and some not-so-bold predictions about the Cubs 2021 minor league season.

  1. The A-ball Breakouts
    Ethan Hearn (Myrtle Beach) and Cole Roederer have already received praise for their adjustments in spring camp. DJ Herz (Myrtle Beach) is sitting with low-to-mid 90s velocity with a really sharp curveball. Max Bain (South Bend) may be the most interesting guy in the entire system; we’ll get to him in a bit. And Chase Strumpf (likely South Bend) showed off during a seriously impressive instructional league. Breakouts abound in Myrtle Beach and South Bend. The Low-A and High-A teams have the most prospect breakouts in this prediction. It should be an electric year in the lower levels of the Cubs system.
  2. Brailyn Marquez makes two starts for the Cubs and finishes the season in the Major League bullpen
    Lefties that throw over 100 mph and who have a legitimate shot at starting are rare. Getting all of Brailyn Marquez’s long levers takes a considerable amount of maintenance. The Cubs have made a concerted effort to work with Marquez to keep his upper and lower body in sync. Last season saw the pitching development staff spend the majority of 2020 working to get Marquez’s mechanics in line. While that hard work did culminate in his debut on the last day of the season, it was clear that Marquez had additional work to do before he was ready to take on a significant role in the big leagues. That work is already continuing this spring. Marquez is slated to begin the season in AA Tennessee, where he’s one call away. With the inning limits across baseball this season, getting the young lefty a couple starts before finishing the season in the pen would allow the Cubs to have a better idea for what Marquez’s role would be in the future.
  3. The pitching steps up
    Even when accounting for increased injury risk, pitching may just have a distinct advantage in 2021. You’d be hard pressed to justify that the organization whose 36 ⅓ homegrown innings from Duane Underwood Jr. are the most since the Theo Epstein era began, deserve the confidence in their minor league pitching infrastructure. However, the work that the pitch design team has done to prepare pitchers is exciting. Numerous pitchers are entering this season with five distinct pitches (a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, curveball, changeup, and slider or cutter). Many relievers are entering the season with three or more pitches. Combined with the fact that hitters have barely seen live pitching in a year and a half, I’ll go out on a limb and say that the pitching in the system takes a significant step forward this season.
  4. Max Bain has the best season of the 2019 pitchers
    [Author’s edit: I had Michael McAvene here and that was fun, but let’s go real bold] OK this one is fairly bold. In a draft with Ryan Jensen, Michael McAvene, Chris Clarke, Josh Burgmann, and DJ Herz, I’ll say that Max Bain has the best season of any pitchers brought in from 2019. That’s not a knock on any of the pitchers noted (and I already said I think Herz is a breakout performer), but Cubs contacts describe Bain as “legit”. The stuff that Bain has been bringing in spring camp is the talk of camp (right along with Cam Sanders; see below). Bain is upper 90s with the fastball and his secondaries are flashing plus, including a cutter with seam-shifted wake. Max Bain is an amazing story, but there are some within the Cubs organization that believe he could be a top 10 prospect in the system. Oh my goodness. I’ll buy in and say the breakout is legit.
  5. Cam Sanders has the best season of the 2018 pitchers
    [Author’s edit: This is another addition as well. We’re all sleeping on Cam Sanders.] I’ve gone on record saying the 2018 draft could define the next Cubs wave. That draft features standouts like Kohl Franklin and Riley Thompson. In the 12th round, the Cubs nabbed Cam Sanders, a righthander out of LSU. Here’s my quote on Sanders in the 2018 draft review, “A guy who may surprise likely in the pen. He keeps making adjustments (that curve could be something special) as he climbs the ladder.” I have no problem admitting I am wrong and let me tell you that I have been majorly sleeping on Cam Sanders. In spring camp he’s been sitting upper 90s (touched 100 mph) and holding velocity and stuff for 5 innings. The Cubs are extremely high on him and I heard similar comments to Max Bain in that he could be a top 10 prospect in the system this year. Sanders will start the season at AA and a strong season could see he him on the cusp of a Top 100 overall prospect list and a call away from Wrigley.
  6. Ed Howard plays the majority of the season at Low-A and is a Top 5 Prospect in his league
    Howard is a dynamic player and one of the best selections the Cubs have made in the first round in years. The track record of top prep shortstop in a draft class is excellent and an organization can’t have too many of them. Howard came to the Cubs with an excellent projection to be an above-average major league shortstop, some emerging pop in his bat, and (like many prep players) a need for some minor swing changes. Those changes appear to be taking place and Howard is already showing off excellent bat speed in games. It doesn’t hurt that Howard was a top prospect, which gives a bit of a boost in rankings.
  7. Kohl Franklin is NOT a MLB Pipeline Top 100 prospect by the end of the season
    Blasphemy! I know it sounds pessimistic, but I don’t believe it will be for a lack of success on Franklin’s part. In fact, I believe Kohl Franklin will have an excellent season. The velocity is progressing into the upper 90s, his changeup is already above-average with plus potential, and his curveball is improving as another future above-average pitch. Franklin has the makings of “at least a mid-rotation starter” and should come out firing this season for High A South Bend. Why then, does he not get the nod at the end of the season? MLB Pipeline – among other prospect ranking publications- is notorious for heavily factoring in draft or signing pedigree. Eventually talent and success weigh out in rankings, but there’s a delay. as you examine the MLB Pipeline Top 100 list, the latter 50 names are a mix of high bonus signings and selections. While that’s partially due to those players having a high talent potential and, thus, requiring higher bonuses, there’s still significant selection bias. Franklin will be on the cusp and I believe he will have a very successful season, but come December, Cubs Minor League Twitter will bring out the virtual pitchforks because Kohl Franklin got robbed.
  8. The Cubs finish with five Top 100 prospects by MLB Pipeline and have the 14th overall farm system
    Let’s go even further and name the prospects in the system who make the Top 100: Brennen Davis, Brailyn Marquez, Miguel Amaya, Ed Howard, and… a player acquired this season. Bringing in a Top 100 prospect in a trade is no longer a forgone conclusion, but I believe it will happen for two reasons. First, an unfortunate prediction is the Cubs will make significant trades this summer and second, teams that are currently on the up-and-up include both the Mariners and Royals. Both Seattle and Kansas City employ old-school executives not afraid to make big trades when the time is right. If they stay in the race, don’t be surprised to see Jerry DiPoto and Dayton Moore take a swing, especially if the player has another year of team control.

What are your bold predictions for the 2021 Cubs MiLB season?