Out of all the positions in the system, left-handed starting pitching is probably the thinnest. At the same time, that’s where you’ll find some of the Cubs’ top talent and we could be looking at the best aspect of the system on a pound-for-pound basis. There are arguably three top-10 prospects in this collection and there’s a fourth who could be there by the end of next summer.
As we’ve been doing throughout this series (see end of post for more), let’s take a look at how southpaw starters will be deployed throughout the minors in 2022.
Brailyn Márquez probably won’t begin the year as a starter, but should work himself into that role by July. The Cubs are going to manage his workload after he did not pitch at all in ’21 outside of some bullpen sessions. It’s still unclear where Márquez will ply his trade next summer. He could begin the year in Tennessee and work his way to Iowa, or the Cubs could have him start at Triple-A and work his way to Chicago depending on what happens with the big league club.
One wildcard to throw in the mix is Jack Patterson, who missed all of last year after undergoing Tommy John surgery. That followed the pandemic shutdown, so we’re talking about a long layoff from competitive pitching. He could be put right back in the rotation or he could end up in the bullpen to build innings. After his magical 2019 season, it’s hard to see him going back to the ‘pen as anything other than short-term necessity.
Loved this pitch from Jack Patterson’s final outing with South Bend. It’s an 89 mph slider that was preceded by a 95 mph fastball. Cubs Pitcher of June – amazing value in round 32 of 2018 Draft. Real pitching prospect.
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) July 8, 2019
This level is a little tricky. The original plan for Scott Kobos last year was to work as a starter, but he was dominated as a reliever after getting a late start due to COVID. Moving him back to the rotation changes the mix a little bit at Tennessee, but he might wind up beginning the year in Iowa if he remains in a relief role. Bailey Horn, who was acquired from the White Sox last summer, is in a similar situation.
Is there an opening for him to compete at either South Bend or Tennessee? He did not really react too well in a relief role last year, but assigning him to High-A as a starter would put three lefties in the rotation. What he’s improved on over the winter will probably determine what his role is going to be in 2022 and where.
As alluded to above, South Bend is going to be the place to see some excellent southpaw action. DJ Herz and Jordan Wicks are both slated to begin the year with the Cubs’ High-A affiliate and should provide a devastating 1-2 punch each week. How long those guys remain in South Bend obviously remains to be seen, but a June promotion to Tennessee for both players is somewhat expected at this point.
Cubs first rounder Jordan Wicks looking awfully comfortable in his first start here. Nice changeup away on a full count for the strikeout. pic.twitter.com/9hYiiooJqr
— Trevor Hooth (@HoothTrevor) December 20, 2021
The other big arm that could be a top 10 Prospect by the end of the season is 2021 third-round pick Drew Gray, originally from Belleville, Illinois. The long lefty got in a couple of games in the Arizona Complex League at the end of the year and just dominated. A two-way star in high school, Gray is probably going to focuse on pitching in the pros.
Viral sensation Luke Little did not get to pitch very much in 2021 after being part of the Cubs’ abbreviated draft class in 2020. He showed up late in the year and looked pretty good, throwing in the mid-90s and pitching well enough to likely earn a spot in Myrtle Beach’s rotation this spring. The key is that he continues to gain strength and remain healthy this winter.
— Prospects Worldwide (@ProspectsWorldW) September 18, 2021
Joel Machado only pitched two games last year but flashed enough to make some heads turn before he was shut down for the year. Despite being signed back in 2018 as an international free agent, he is still only 19 years old and has plenty of time to develop. I’m wondering if the Cubs are going to put him in the ‘pen in order to keep him healthy before they stretch him back out.
My breakout pitcher for 2022 is Carlos Garcia, a 19-year-old international free agent the Cubs signed out of Cuba late last spring. He shoved in the second half in the Dominican with a 1.67 ERA over 43 innings that included not allowing a run in all of September. Armed with a mid-90s fastball and a plus curve, Garcia can get by with just pitches for a couple of levels before the Cubs start working in a new pitch.
I am hoping that he comes to Mesa, does well on spring training, and possibly ends up on Myrtle Beach’s roster. The most likely career route is probably working at extended spring training and then showing up in Myrtle Beach in June.
Carlos Garcia Cubs
Middle low 90s FB
— TheBullpen🐾 (@RealCubsAnalyst) December 12, 2021
The only other major lefty of note is Luis Rodriguez, who had an outstanding 2021 as a long man in Mesa and a reliever in Myrtle Beach. Your guesses on his role and eventual assignment are as good as mine, but figure on either Myrtle or South Bend at this point.
Here are the first eight breakdowns. We will conclude this series next week with lots and lots of toolsy outfielders.