Last year’s edition of this breakdown, I wrote, “Brailyn Marquez would be No. 1 if this list was based purely on raw talent.” It looks pretty prophetic after the year he put up for both Eugene and South Bend. He is of the Cubs’ top five prospects and is easily the top left-hander in the system..
As we profiled last summer, Marquez was hitting 95-97 mph regularly in the Northwest League and flashed a wipeout slider/curve that just devastated left-handed hitters. He will be only 20 years old for this next season and could be in the running for a spot at Myrtle Beach, which would be amazing considering his age
What stood out most about Marquez’s performance last summer was that he increased his innings per month. He struggled to get into the 4th inning early in the year and was pitching in to the 6th by the end. His strikeout totals were solid and he could be the opening day in either South Bend or Myrtle Beach.
Justin Steele had a remarkable 2018 season that led to him being named the Cubs’ MiLB comeback player of the year as he returned a lot faster than anyone thought he would. After having Tommy John surgery in August 2017, Steele was pitching games by July 2018 in Arizona and touched 95 all summer, working regularly into the 5th inning. He is now on the 40-man roster and should open the season in Tennessee, where he made a few starts last season.
As for the rest of the system, it’s difficult to evaluate from year to year because there’s a lot of fluctuation. For example, Bryan Hudson struggled to begin the year at Myrtle Beach and then put together a brilliant July with a 1.27 ERA. Ready to go, right? Then he came out in August and a 7+ ERA and proved the axiom that development is not linear. I still remain hopeful he can figure it out this year as he will likely be back at Myrtle Beach.
Manny Rondon could move into more of a starting role this year after being outstanding in a mixed role for Myrtle Beach. He was brilliant in the Arizona Fall League until his final appearance, when he got shelled. He could really bloom with a more set role at Tennessee.
Brendon Little’s curveball is not a true swing-and-miss pitch, although it does have that capability. Its beauty lies in the fact that hitters struggle to square it up. Improving his fastball command and velocity to in 2019 is the real key. What most people tend to forget is that Little really needs experience. Even though he is a first round pick, he only pitched for two years in college. Be patient with him and see what he’s done this offseason, as he is a tireless worker.
The Cubs do have a lot of young lefties coming who could surprise this year. One guy I really like is Faustino Carrera, who pitched for Eugene last summer. He put up a 1.63 second-half ERA and was one of the most efficient arms in the system, often going deep in the games without throwing 100 pitches. It’s not uncommon for him to get 70-80 pitches in and work into the 7th inning.
A second sleeper to watch out for is Didier Vargas. He had an up-and-down season at Mesa, but was really strong in August and in the playoffs for Cubs 1 in Mesa. Like Carrera, Vargas will be 20 this year and will probably be in Eugene
Andres Bonalde has coming off of Tommy John surgery and could really excel if he continues to fill out his 6-foot-6 frame. But the guy everyone was talking about in the Dominican last year was Misael Garcia, who is just 18 and still growing. He’s gone from a mid-to-upper 80’s fastball to a low-mid 90’s in just a year. I’m excited to see what he does this year, hopefully in Mesa.
What I like about this group is that it’s not just a bunch of soft-tossing southpaws. Yes, there are a couple, but several of these guys have serious velocity. This next season could reveal some more hope for the Cubs to make legitimate strides in developing big-league pitching.