One glance at the Estimated Time of Arrival column here provides a lens into the Cubs’ timeline, or at least their next big wave of hitters. It’s a promising group, and bah gawd it better be, given the club’s firesale focused on these teenage, back-to-the-future lottery tickets. I’m not calling the front office yellow, but we all saw them flee from the fight in 2021 like Marty McFly after the time jump, and the rewards for doing so look bountiful at the moment. 

But it’s not all about a half-decade from now. To their credit, the club has a middle infield combo ready to roll in the superhero team of Punch and Judy. I’m not sure which is Nick Madrigal and which is Nico Hoerner, but I do think the club would be thrilled to get ten total home runs from the pair, which could combine with 3B Patrick Wisdom, 1B Frank Schwindel and C Willson Contreras to create a passable big league infield. Add that to outfielders Ian Happ, Rafael Ortega, Jason Heyward and (eventually) Brennen Davis and the team looks like a rebuilder. 

Sorry, I meant to say “contender” there, I think, or something more than rebuilder because you really can squint and see the start of something above the Mendoza line here. It takes a lot of wishful thinking to see much more than that, but they do have an interesting group at the top level, at least on the position-player side, and their minor league system is the deepest of the six I’ve ranked so far, so as the team’s most famous fan might say, they’ve got that going for them. 

 

Format: Position Player | Age on 4/1/2022 | Highest level played | ETA

1. OF Brennen Davis | 22 | AAA | 2022

Davis splashed onto the national scene when he hit two home runs and won the MVP of this summer’s Futures Game, but he’d been a prospect dreamboat long before then, adding muscle after being drafted in the 2nd round as a spindly kid who could’ve played D1 basketball. Today he appears to be built from rebar. His raw power is creeping up into the 70 range, and he accesses that pop in game thanks to a quiet approach that’s helping him hone his pitch selection skills. The 2nd half of 2021 was the best version of Davis we’ve seen, capped by a 15-game stretch at AAA during which he slashed .268/.397/.536 with 4 HR and a 16.2 / 22.1% BB/K rate. His timeline comes down to how focused the Cubs are on manipulating his years of team control. I suspect he’ll make a strong case to join the club as soon as possible during spring training. And who knows? A new Competitive Bargaining Agreement might cut down on some of the prospect fuckery that is so prevalent in today’s game. Probably not a smart bet, but if anyone in power is serious about improving the game, this is among the most glaring issues.

 

2. OF Kevin Alcantara | 19 | CPX | 2025

Something of a meta-human at 6’6” 188 lbs and still growing, Alcantara came into his own in 2021, slashing .345/.423/.588 combined in the Florida and Arizona complex leagues despite being about two years younger than the average player there. He’s a five-tool player with the defensive chops to stick in centerfield. The phrase “sky is the limit” exists to describe players like Kevin Alcantara.

 

3. SS Cristian Hernandez | 18 | DSL | 2025

Hernandez swiped 21 bags in just 47 games, and while that’s no big deal in the DSL, it matters a bit to me because this kid is 6’2” and 175 lbs and just growing into his power. I didn’t think of him as a stolen base threat long term because I figured he’d slow down, and maybe he will, but I was encouraged to see that he sees himself as a runner. In the majors, that’s kind of all it takes to steal some bags: just paying attention and learning that aspect of the game across time. In the box, Hernandez generates easy loft from a natural uppercut and makes that swing work for him by being selective. He posted a 39/30 K/BB rate along with a .398 OBP in his first stretch as a Cub. I think he could be had for an aggressive trade offer this off-season, but that window could slam shut early in 2022 when Hernandez debuts stateside.

 

4. SS Reginald Preciado | 18 | CPX | 2025

Preciado, Alcantara and Crow-Armstrong are the big prizes from the core firesale. If these three can actualize at the big league level, the Ricketts family will get great return on their monopoly game of buying up the north side of the city. Huzzah. Back on the field, Preciado does everything right and has been a key player on international teams since he was a kid. Well, a younger kid leading Panama to tournament heights they hadn’t seen and signing for a record $1.3 million out of that country. He’s 6’4” now and a switch hitter who’s silky smooth from the left side. Kind of a Freddie Freeman look, and I wouldn’t be shocked if his 99th percentile outcome is pretty close to that. Nor would I be surprised to see him get close to that. He might not be a shortstop long term, but nobody’s going to care if he keeps hitting like he did in 35 games on the complex: .333/.383/.511 with 3 HR and 7 SB.

 

5. OF Pete Crow-Armstrong | 20 | A | 2025

The Mets traded Crow-Armstrong for a couple months of Javy Baez, which isn’t great for Mets fans but worked out better than the Cubs could have imagined. Maybe the Mets felt he was found money, having lucked into a top ten talent in the 2020 draft at the 19th overall pick. His approach isn’t geared for power at the moment, but he’s got the natural ability to make adjustments, and you can’t do much better than his brief, full-season debut in A ball, when he slashed .417/.563/.500 across *checks notes* six games.

 

6. SS James Triantos | 19 | CPX | 2025

If anyone’s a little too low on the list, it’s James Triantos and his double-plus hit tool. The club’s second round pick this year, Triantos has a good shot to remain up the middle on defense and has an ideal build at 6’1” 195 lbs for continued development in the power department, where he has already been a huge success, slashing .327/.376/.594 with 6 HR and 3 SB in 25 games on the complex. Good chance he’ll be at the top of my board when my pick comes around at the back of the first round in the Razz 30 Supplemental Draft this winter.

 

7. LHP Brailyn Marquez | 23 | MLB | 2020

2021 was unkind to Marquez. Oh baby it looked like he had what we need last year but now I gotta say he looks more like just a friend thanks to a shoulder strain that kept him on the shelf all season. When he’s right, he brings easy gas and can hold his velocity deep into his starts thanks to that calm delivery. I’ve seen him hit 102 mph in the sixth inning and follow that up with a high-80’s changeup that made the hitter spin out of the box he was so revved up and early. If that version of Marquez returns, he’s among the few minor league arms with ace upside. More likely he winds up at the back of a bullpen. Guys who throw that hard that young then wreck their shoulder are not great bets for dynasty baseball. But again, this was a guy so dominant that the Cubs brought him up in 2020 despite Marquez only throwing five games at High-A and nothing above that level.

 

8. SS Ed Howard | 20 | A | 2025

If anyone’s a little high on this list, it’s Ed Howard and his double-plus glove. Without that and his first-round pedigree, he’d be a non-entity in the fantasy game coming off his abysmal debut season: 80 games in A ball slashing .225/.277/.315 with 4 HR and 7 SB. The 16th overall pick in the 2020 draft, Howard is big for a no-doubt middle infielder, but that’s about all he has going for him so far. He’ll have to learn how to hit, which is not what you want from your first-round pick in a dynasty Supp draft.

 

9. OF Owen Caissie | 19 | A | 2025

Came over along with Preciado in the Yu Darvish trade. Seems to have a lot of believers within the fantasy industry, and I can see why. He’s a patient 6’4” 190 pound lefty bat with plus power who demonstrated good strike zone judgement in walking at an 18.6 percent rate across two levels. I tend to be leery of guys who walk and strike out a lot in the lower levels because that kind of extreme patience is hard to pull off against elite pitchers, so I’m likely to be a little down on the mighty Caissie relative to other rankers. He’s a nice piece for OBP leagues regardless of how his contact skills materialize in the short term. For the year, Caissie slashed .302/.434/.489 with 7 HR in 54 games. Can’t complain about that.

 

10. OF Nelson Velazquez | 23 | AA | 2022

A lot of names could go here. Most lists will have first-rounder LHP Jordan Wicks or OF Alexander Canario or RHP Caleb Kilian or C Miguel Amaya or rising lefty DJ Herz or 3B Christopher Morel, but OF Nelson Velazquez gets the nod for today. He brings plus athleticism at 6’ 190 lbs and put up a tasty 20 HR 17 SB season across two levels last year, culminating in his best stretch as a pro: 34 games in AA slashing .290/.358/.581 with 8 HR and 5 SB despite being 2.5 years younger than the average player. He’s also playing in the Arizona Fall League this year, and while I don’t care that he has four hits in nine at bats there, his assignment to the league suggests he’ll get some opportunities in spring training.

Thanks for reading!

I’m @theprospectitch on Twitter.

  1. junior56 says:
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    Hi Itch
    Thanks for the list Itch. Seems like the Cubs (Hoyer) has done a good job of giving himself a lot of flexibility for his rebuild. For now the Cubs are back to being the “Loveable Losers”we will see where they are 3 years from now.

    Do you think Rafael Ortega will have a starting gig in 2022?

    • The Itch

      The Itch says:
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      Hi, junior56!

      I hope so, on all fronts. Would like to see how Ortega can do w a full season.

  2. lloydcole says:
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    Thanks for these overviews. As always, grateful for all of the hard work that you do to form your *own* impression and not just follow the echo chamber. You’ve quickly become my favorite prospect writer!

    • The Itch

      The Itch says:
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      Thank you kindly, lloydcole!!

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