Cubs prospect notes: Brennen Davis, Caleb Kilian, Brailyn Marquez
The Cubs injected some youth into the big-league roster earlier this week but the organization’s top prospects remain in the minor leagues.
While Christopher Morel and Brandon Hughes had memorable debuts, Caleb Kilian continues to dominate in Triple-A and Brennen Davis and Brailyn Marquez are working their way back to the diamond.
Here are updates on the trio of Cubs prospects:
The right-handed pitcher ranked 9th on Lance Brozdowski’s Top 25 prospects ranking prior to the 2022 season.
Kilian got the start for Iowa Thursday, turning in another gem. He did not allow an earned run in 5.2 innings, striking out 8 and allowing 6 hits and a walk.
He also threw 80 pitches, representing his longest outing in terms of innings and pitch count.
On the season, Kilian is 2-0 with a 1.31 ERA and 1.22 WHIP with 40 strikeouts in 34.1 innings.
“He threw really well today, which is nice,” Jed Hoyer said. “Today was sort of the longest we’ve let him go. He pitched in the Fall League until the very end, so we took it slow with him in Spring Training and even into the season. We tried to lessen his workload a little bit.
“He’s been getting better and better with each start. We’re really excited about him. I can’t speak to timetables, but certainly we’re well aware of the success he’s having.”
The Cubs just got Marcus Stroman back from the IL and the veteran started Thursday’s game against Arizona, throwing 5 innings.
With his return, the starting rotation now looks the way Hoyer and David Ross were planning all along: Stroman, Kyle Hendricks, Justin Steele, Drew Smyly and Wade Miley.
So at the moment, the Cubs don’t necessarily need Kilian in the majors. But this is the first time all season the five starters have all been healthy at once, so it certainly is not a bad thing to have depth in the form of a top prospect dominating in Triple-A.
Plus, the Cubs have a tough schedule coming up with 9 games in 7 days in a couple weeks, including doubleheaders on May 30 and June 4.
But Hoyer isn’t ready to commit to anything just yet.
“He’s in Triple-A, he’s getting a lot of guys out,” the Cubs president of baseball operations said. “I mean, he’s certainly putting himself in position for [a call-up], yeah.”
The 22-year-old outfielder is the Cubs’ consensus top prospect but he has endured a tough 2022 campaign on and off the field.
Davis has been out of action since May 3 with a back injury and is currently on the IL in Triple-A.
In 22 games before landing on the shelf, Davis was hitting .195 with a .286 on-base percentage and .299 slugging percentage. He was also striking out 34% of the time (31 whiffs in 91 plate appearances).
Davis spent the 2020 season at the Cubs’ alternate site and soaked up all he could without minor league action. Last year, he made the most of his time on the field with an .869 OPS at three different levels, including success at Triple-A Iowa to end the year.
“Obviously last year, he played so well,” Hoyer said. “I thought his work this winter was awesome. For him to come out and struggle a little bit and then have the injury, he’ll be fine. He’s gonna come back and be really strong.
“This might be a good challenge for him to overcome. Certainly not what anyone expected given the work in the winter and what he did in Iowa last year, but that’s baseball. I have no doubt that he’s gonna come back stronger for this and he’ll probably have a really good middle of the summer there.”
As the season began, there were legitimate questions about how soon the Cubs might promote Davis to the majors. But between the injury and his struggles on the field, it’s clear the Cubs are going to continue to practice patience with the No. 16 prospect in the game (per Baseball America).
However, Hoyer actually sees a silver lining to the speed bumps Davis has endured this season.
“I also think part of our game is struggling and learning how to get out of those slumps while still playing,” Hoyer said. “…Sometimes you’re gonna look up at the scoreboard and your batting average is gonna be bad and you’re gonna have to realize you can’t get it back in three swings; you have to grind through it for a couple of weeks.”
And if he’s going to struggle and find his way out of it, the Cubs would prefer that happen in the minor leagues while he’s still developing and growing as a player.
Davis’ predecessors — which included Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Javy Báez — didn’t have to face much adversity in Triple-A and the lower levels.
“With the last group that we brought up here, one of the challenges is those guys never did struggle in the minors,” Hoyer said. “They kinda breezed their way through the minor leagues.
“No one ever really does that in the big leagues. You’re gonna face some real challenges up here and I personally think that it’s better to face some of that adversity in the minors than dealing with it up here with all [the media] around.”
The left-handed pitcher came in at No. 21 on Brozdowski’s rankings prior to the season.
Marquez, 23, has pitched in just 1 competitive game since 2019 and that was his MLB debut on Sept. 27 against the White Sox.
He missed all of 2021 after a bout of COVID-19 to start the year and then a shoulder issue that cropped up as he tried to build back up to game shape.
Marquez still hasn’t seen game action this season as the Cubs are exercising caution with the flame-throwing southpaw. He had COVID again this spring, delaying his arrival to camp.
He will be on an innings limit this year, so the Cubs are ensuring he is fully healthy and in shape before putting him against minor-league competition.
“Not sure on games,” Hoyer said. “He’s throwing. We’re trying to get him off the mound and get him to pitching in games. That’s not imminent right now.”