The names haven’t changed, but the perception around the Cubs' farm system has since mid-August, following the trade deadline.
“We're getting deeper and better,” Cubs VP of player personnel Matt Dorey said recently on the Cubs Talk Podcast. “So I'm sure that the publications are recognizing that.”
There’s still a lot to prove with an organization that has had its share of bumps in player development over the last decade.
But some of the talent in the system, including younger prospects acquired in trades over the last year-plus, seems to be opening eyes.
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The Cubs are 15th in Baseball America’s 2022 farm system rankings — up from 24th in the magazine’s midseason rankings released last August.
It’s a remarkable jump because they’re considering the same players in the Cubs’ ranking as last August. So, what’s the difference?
A promise of better health in some cases, and just as likely is the performances of some prospects as evaluators got their eyes on them late last season.
“Internally, we've always known we've been really young and talented,” Dorey said. “It was just a matter of getting real opportunity and runway for these players to go out and perform.”
That includes teenagers James Triantos (2021 second-round pick), Kevin Alcantara (acquired in the deadline deal for Anthony Rizzo) and Owen Caissie (acquired in the Yu Darvish trade). Each hit well in the Arizona Complex League last summer.
In fact, Caissie — whom Baseball America billed as the best power bat in the Cubs system — was promoted to low-A at the end of August.
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Then there’s guys like Caleb Kilian and Nelson Velazquez, who are closer to the big leagues and ended last season with strong performances in the Arizona Fall League.
Kilian, who came over from the Giants in the Kris Bryant trade, threw six perfect innings in the AFL championship game. Velazquez was named the AFL MVP.
And speaking of guys acquired at the deadline, Pete Crow-Armstrong is set to return to the diamond this year after a lost 2021 season due to injury.
Crow-Armstrong, a 2020 first-round pick acquired in the Javy Báez trade, played only six games last year before undergoing season-ending surgery on his non-throwing shoulder. He’s “full go” and out of rehab mode, Dorey said.
Likewise, touted pitching prospects Kohl Franklin and Riley Thompson have been released by the medical staff for baseball activity, Dorey said. Both missed all of 2021 due to injury — as did top pitching prospect Brailyn Márquez, who made his MLB debut in the 2020 regular season finale.
Catcher Miguel Amaya, who’s been among the Cubs’ premier prospects in recent years, had an injury setback last season and underwent Tommy John surgery in November.
On top of it all, every prospect lost the entire 2020 minor league season, which was canceled due to COVID-19.
“Obviously, we had a bunch of injuries last year that really set some of our ‘better prospects’ back,” Dorey said.
“I think a lot of this would have happened sooner if a big subset of those players that missed significant time in 2020, in ‘21, would have had a full minor league season because they were all kind of on the brink of taking off.”
That makes 2022 an especially big season for prospects like DJ Herz and Ryan Jensen, power arms who have progressed up the system’s ladder — where the Cubs have had trouble maintaining success with pitching prospects over the last decade.
And how the younger prospects fare in 2022 as they make the jump to full-season ball in Single-A will be a big test.
But there’s no question the system has improved. It’s 16th in The Athletic’s Keith Law's 2022 preseason ranking, a jump from 26th last spring.
Baseball Prospectus was almost shocking in its evaluation, ranking the Cubs seventh.
Not to mention there’s other intriguing prospects, like consensus No. 1 Brennen Davis, starter and 2021 first-round pick Jordan Wicks, and infielders Cristian Hernandez, Ed Howard and Reggie Preciado.
Said Dorey: “Not only do I think these new rankings represent the depth and quality of our system, but I think you're going to see as we add to the group that missed last year, there's going to be even more momentum and excitement around our group.”