Cubs minor league notes: Movement among top prospects
As the Cubs continue their West Coast trip, the organization had plenty of minor league news this week.
Here’s a rundown of some of the top storylines from down on the farm, including some notable movement for some of the top prospects in the system:
The Cubs’ 2020 1st round pick made his season debut Tuesday night for the Advanced Class-A South Bend Cubs.
The 16th overall pick three summers ago, Howard is a local product from Mount Carmel High School. He played in 80 games in 2021 during his first professional season but was limited to only 23 contests last year after suffering a major hip injury in May that required surgery.
Tuesday marked his return to game action and he collected 3 hits and scored a run.
In total, the 21-year-old shortstop is hitting .229/.287/.315 (.602 OPS) in his minor league career with 5 homers, 42 RBI and 10 stolen bases.
Howard ranks as the Cubs’ No. 14 prospect on Lance Brozdowski’s 2023 preseason rankings.
Another young shortstop made his full-season debut Tuesday as well.
18-year-old infielder Jefferson Rojas was assigned to Class-A Myrtle Beach this week and will serve as one of the youngest players in the league.
The Cubs inked the teenager to a deal during the 2022 international signing period.
In the Dominican Summer League last year, Rojas hit .303 with a .391 OBP and .797 OPS in 45 games. He also stole 15 bases in 17 attempts and had almost as many walks (16) as strikeouts (18).
Rojas ranks as the No. 26 prospect on Brozdowski’s list.
Continuing along with the return train, 2022 Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year Luis Devers made his season debut with South Bend Tuesday.
🚨TRANSACTION #2🚨— South Bend Cubs (@SBCubs) June 6, 2023
2022 Midwest League Champion and @Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year, Luis Devers, has been assigned to the #SBCubs.
Devers will start tonight's game on the mound against Lansing. 💪🔥 pic.twitter.com/X6xYmHEh09
The 23-year-old right-hander began the year on the 60-day IL with a shoulder injury.
He had a breakout campaign in the Cubs system last season, going 13-3 with a sparkling 1.91 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 122 strikeouts in 117.2 innings between Myrtle Beach and South Bend.
Brozdowski ranked him 30th on the 2023 preseason prospect rankings.
Tuesday was also a day for promotions, with right-handed pitcher Ryan Jensen earning the call up to Triple-A Iowa.
📍St Paul, MN📍— Alex Cohen (@voiceofcohen2) June 6, 2023
Six-game road trip for the @IowaCubs starts tonight against @StPaulSaints from CHS Field.
RHP Ryan Jensen has been promoted to AAA.
He’ll wear #15 and is available for the I-Cubs tonight.
First pitch at 7:07 PM on @IowasHope and @ballylivenow. pic.twitter.com/CAtvPDL9M0
The Cubs selected Jensen in the 1st round (27th overall) in 2019 and added the 25-year-old to the 40-man roster over the offseason.
He has spent his entire minor league career as a starter until the organization moved him to the bullpen in early May. Jensen initially struggled in the new role but has not allowed an earned run over his last 4 outings and has 7 strikeouts against 2 walks in 6 innings.
Jensen came in at No. 21 on Brozdowski’s rankings and could possibly earn a call-up to Chicago later this year if he continues to pitch well in Iowa.
Speaking of potential bullpen additions, Daniel Palencia is one step away from helping out the Chicago relief corps.
The Cubs recently moved the 23-year-old right-hander to the bullpen after he spent almost his entire career as a starter. Palencia started this season in the Double-A Tennessee rotation but has spent the last couple weeks pitching in the Triple-A bullpen.
As a reliever, Palencia sports a 1.80 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 4 strikeouts in 5 innings.
“We had discussed [moving him to the bullpen] for a while,” Jed Hoyer told reporters in Anaheim Tuesday evening. “He’s up to 102 mph. We kept him as a starter for a long time because he carries his velocity for a long time.
“Ultimately having weapons like that in the bullpen is really valuable. We brought him up, simplified his mix a little bit. We put him in Iowa and hopefully that will continue to work. I’d love to see him here at some point if he keeps working hard.”
The Cubs initially acquired Palencia from the Oakland A’s in the Andrew Chafin trade in July 2021. He ranks No. 9 on Brozdowski’s preseason prospect list.
The I-Cubs released the veteran reliever over the weekend, according to the league transaction page.
The Cubs initially signed Duffey to a minor-league deal in January and he spent Spring Training competing for a spot in the big league bullpen.
Duffey had a solid career with the Minnesota Twins, racking up 73 holds and 6 saves. He was particularly lights out from 2019-21, when he posted a 2.69 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 10.9 K/9 (174 whiffs in 144 innings).
He was 4-0 with a 4.43 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 18 games for Iowa this season.