Cubs pitching prospects putting themselves on the map as possible Chicago rotation options
The starting rotation has been the Cubs’ strength this season.
But with more than half a season remaining and as Jameson Taillon (6.90 ERA) continues to struggle, the team knows they will more than likely need to lean on their starting depth throughout the organization at some point.
Hayden Wesneski and Javier Assad are already in the major league bullpen and Adrian Sampson is working his way back from a right knee injury. But the Cubs also have a pair of top pitching prospects that could enter into the equation in the near future.
Jordan Wicks was promoted to Triple-A Iowa this week while Ben Brown has been missing bats all season at the highest level of the Cubs system. Brown came in at 4th and Wicks landed at 5th on Lance Brozdowski’s preseason Cubs prospect rankings.
Wicks was the Cubs’ 1st round pick (21st overall) in 2021 out of Kansas State University. He came out of college as a polished left-handed arm that was projected to stick in the rotation and he’s proven that over his two years in the Cubs farm system.
The organization started Wicks out slowly with 4 outings for Advanced Class-A South Bend in late 2021. He began 2022 in the same spot before a promotion to Double-A Tennessee.
Wicks started out the 2023 campaign in Double-A and after 13 starts, the Cubs are ready to see him against the best competition the minors have to offer.
In 13 starts this year, Wicks is 4-0 with a 3.39 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 69 strikeouts against only 19 walks in 58.1 innings.
“Some serious consistency out of Jordan,” Cubs GM Carter Hawkins said Wednesday. “He’s a guy that obviously we really liked in the Draft. He had about 20 starts in High-A and then about 20 starts now in Double-A and has performed at a really good clip at both of those levels.
“Continues to throw strikes, mixes pitches really well, has a plus changeup. A guy that really competes on the mound and pitches really smart. So we felt like he was really ready for the challenge of Triple-A and excited about his ability to get there and start being a major league option for us here at some point.”
The Cubs have been aggressive with Wicks since he was drafted, but they’ve still afforded him 20-plus starts at each level to get acclimated.
They may follow the same path in Triple-A, though Wicks is now just one call away from Chicago should a need arise in the rotation.
Either way, he is shaping up to potentially make an impact in the big-league rotation at some point in 2024.
Brown, meanwhile, has enjoyed a big year in the Cubs system.
The 23-year-old right-hander was acquired from the Phillies last season in the David Robertson trade. After posting an 0.45 ERA in his first 4 outings with Double-A Tennessee to start this year, the Cubs bumped him up to Iowa.
Brown has had some ups and downs in Triple-A, highlighted by his outing on June 14 where he tossed 6 shutout innings and struck out 11 batters. But he was tagged for 6 runs in 0.2 innings his last time out (June 25) and overall has a 4.95 ERA and 1.56 WHIP in Triple-A.
“He needs to continue to show consistency at the Triple-A level,” Hawkins said. “He’s got great stuff, but his ability to command that stuff is going to be what separates him. And he’s working on that every day.”
Brown, who ranked No. 76 on MLB Pipeline’s most recent list, is still missing bats at an incredible clip with 13.4 K/9 throughout the minors this season.
Will he be ready to impact the Cubs’ big-league rotation at some point soon?
“That ready question is always really, really tough,” Hawkins said. “It’s like, what does it mean to be ready? I mean, does he have the stuff to get major leaguers out? Absolutely. Is he on the 40-man roster? Yeah. Is he starting in Triple-A? Yeah.
“Like, put all those things together and yeah, that guy’s an option in the big leagues. Now, we want to make sure we’re making decisions that are good for Ben’s long-term development and those types of things. But we’re also trying to win games at the major-league level. And I think we’d be remiss to say that he’s not a guy that comes up in conversations and will continue to.”
Elsewhere around the Cubs farm system, Pete Crow-Armstrong could be on his way to join Wicks and Brown in Triple-A in the near future.
Fellow top prospect Alexander Canario was bumped up to High-A South Bend this week as he continues his rehab from a pair of major injuries (shoulder, ankle):
Canario played 7 games at the Cubs’ Rookie League affiliate on a rehab assignment, hitting a homer and posting a 1.042 OPS in that time.
He was in South Bend’s lineup Wednesday night, batting 3rd and playing left field.
Canario mashed 37 homers with 97 RBI and 23 stolen bases last season before getting injured playing winter ball.