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Cubs Minor League

Road to Wrigley: Analyzing the Cubs farm system entering 2024

3 months agoLance Brozdowski

Lance Brozdowski is a player development analyst for Marquee Sports Network. Below is Lance’s list of the Top 30 Cubs prospects as the organization kicks off the 2024 season. For more on the Cubs prospects all year long, follow Lance on twitter @lancebroz.

Check out Brozdowski’s 2023 Top 30 Cubs prospect rankings here.

1. Pete Crow-Armstrong, OF
2. Cade Horton, RHP
3. Matt Shaw, 3B
4. Owen Caissie, OF
5. Kevin Alcantara, OF

6. Michael Busch, 1B
7. Moises Ballesteros, C/1B
8. Jordan Wicks, LHP
9. Jefferson Rojas, SS
10. Ben Brown, RHP

11. James Triantos, 2B/3B
12. Alexander Canario, OF
13. Haydn McGeary, 1B
14. Michael Arias, RHP
15. Luis Vazquez, SS

16. Drew Gray, LHP
17. Pablo Aliendo, C
18. Fernando Cruz, SS
19. Brody McCullough, RHP
20. Jaxon Wiggins, RHP

21. Will Sanders, RHP
22. Nazir Mule, RHP
23. Kohl Franklin, RHP
24. Pedro Ramirez, 2B/3B
25. Christian Franklin, OF

26. BJ Murray, 3B/1B
27. Porter Hodge, RHP
28. Josh Rivera, SS
29. Michael Carico, C
30. Cristian Hernandez, SS

The Cubs farm system is loaded. MLB Pipeline has the Cubs with 7 top-100 prospects, the most of any organization in baseball. It’s a byproduct of drafting well.

2021 first-round pick Jordan Wicks posted a 3.00 ERA in the first six starts of his career. Two of the organization’s next three picks in that draft are leading candidates to be 2024 breakout prospects: left-handed pitcher Drew Gray and outfielder Christian Franklin.

In 2022, the organization went with Oklahoma’s Cade Horton. The pick surprised many in the media and wasn’t perceived as a slam dunk by some in the organization (what draft pick is?). Less than two years later, Horton is a Top 3 pitching prospect in all of baseball. They turned second-round southpaw Jackson Ferris into Michael Busch. 15th-rounder Haydn McGeary is a Top 20 prospect in the organization with the loudest exit velocities in the organization.

In 2023, first-round pick Matt Shaw heard his name called in the first round. He has soared through the organization and is poised to debut in 2024 at third base. Many in the org are optimistically awaiting the full-season debuts of two arms from the draft: second-rounder Jaxon Wiggins and fourth-rounder Will Sanders. Ninth-rounder Jonathan Long has been singled out by some in the hitting department as a name to watch this season.

The farm system’s prowess is also a byproduct of international signings. Two of the Cubs Top 10 prospects are from consecutive international signing classes: Moises Ballesteros from Venezuela in 2021 and Jefferson Rojas from the Dominican Republic in 2022. Rojas has a pretty clear case to be a Top 5 prospect in the organization, he’s just so young it feels hasty to rank him as such right now. If Ballesteros sticks behind the plate, he’s ranked too low.

It’s also a byproduct of development. Horton added a changeup and curveball to help against left-handed hitters. Luis Vazquez added multiple miles per hour to his bat speed and turned himself into more than a glove-first middle infielder. Michael Arias converted from a shortstop to pitcher and is now a Top 20 prospect with a 96-mph fastball from a low slot.

And perhaps most importantly, the farm system’s success a byproduct of the people. Craig Breslow has made one of the quickest ascensions to Chief Baseball Officer in the history of the sport. I presume the top line on his resume was what he did to the Cubs pitching development in 3 short years. Few organizations made a bigger leap in pitching “stuff” between 2020 and 2023. Stuff is a combination of a pitch’s movement, velocity and the release it’s coming from to try and predict a pitch’s performance at the major league level. Breslow and others embraced the reams of information available and netted enviable results. He now hands the reins to the new Director of Pitching, Ryan Otero.

Justin Stone, the organization’s Director of Hitting, has remade the hitting infrastructure from the top down. He prioritized technology to improve swings, move fast, and make good swing decisions. The Cubs were an early adopter of Trajekt, a pitching machine that can replicate in-game ball flight better than any other. That device has now been approved for in-game MLB use for the first time this season. Of the two pillar departments, individuals in other organizations believe the hitting side is more differentiated than the Cubs’ pitching side, which is hard to believe given the turnaround in the organization’s ability to develop arms.

With the potential for 6 of the Cubs’ Top 10 prospects to graduate in 2024, the talent within the farm system will inevitably fall off in the eyes of the national prospect media, purely as a byproduct of graduating blue-chip talent. It happened on the South Side a few years ago with the graduation of Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, and Eloy Jimenez. It’s happened to the Braves with the graduation of Austin Riley, Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies. Both of those teams haven’t been able to claw their way back to the top half of organizational ranks since. The Cubs can differentiate themselves by doing so.

The focus will move back to pitching. Graduating Ben Brown, Horton and Wicks leaves the inexperienced-but-exciting Drew Gray and Arias as the organization’s top arms. Generating another Justin Steele-esque arm from beyond the third round will be a necessary feather to have in the org’s cap. The relative youth of Rojas, Triantos and Ballesteros takes some pressure off the hitting department from matching the pitching side as the next few years unfold.

But that is years away. For now, enjoy the talent that will help bolster the Cubs over the next few seasons.

If it all goes according to plan, Horton’s slider will be one of the best pitches in baseball. Crow-Armstrong will have multiple Gold Gloves. Brown will make you forget that his 2022 even happened. Owen Caissie will do his best Kyle Schwarber impression. Shaw will be the savior of third base. Wicks will prove to all the nerds that velocity doesn’t matter.

And a few other names will surprise you. I hope that I’ve captured all those surprises and ranked these 30 prospects in perfect order of their contribution to MLB run production or prevention. If I haven’t, that means that once again we’ve learned development isn’t linear.

But if there’s any certainty in the prospect world, it’s that the ebbs and flows are inevitable. All those responsible for developing these players hope the ebbs outweigh the flows and earn the organization a championship. I know the fans do as well.

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