The 2021 Iowa Cubs limped to a 51-78 record, including eight straight losses to end the season. About half of the roster wound up in Chicago down the stretch as David Ross oversaw the most players ever used during an MLB season, so Marty Pevey had to make do with his own high turnover rate.
The outlook has done a 180 heading into this season, with Iowa slated to have some of the organization’s top prospects on the opening day roster. Several of those players could help the big league club at some point this year, with Brennen Davis leading the way.
C – P.J. Higgins, Erick Castillo
1B – Jared Young
2B – Levi Jordan, Andy Weber
SS – Dixon Machado, Ildemaro Vargas
3B – Trent Giambrone, Robel Garcia
OF – Davis, Donnie Dewees, Greg Deichmann, Narciso Crook
DH – Nelson Maldonado
SP – Cory Abbott, Matt Swarmer, Javier Assad, Cam Sanders, Caleb Kilian
RP – Ben Leeper, Ethan Roberts, Locke St. John, Stephen Gonsalves, Bryan Hudson, Cayne Ueckert
*Subject to change depending on the big league club’s needs.
The clear strength of this team is going to be the bullpen. With Leeper, Roberts, and Ueckert getting a lot of work with the big league club in spring training, all the Cubs have to do to win a game is just have a lead come the 7th inning.
Not that winning is the ultimate goal for Pevey and the I-Cubs, or any affiliate in this or other systems. Their main objective is to get players ready for Chicago.
Here’s what some players need to do:
Davis just needs experience. He has risen pretty quickly through the Cubs system, but still has only 584 career at-bats in the minors and needs to face more advanced pitching. It took him about a month to adapt last year at Tennessee before destroying the Southern League and the Futures Game in July, after which he got off to a hot start at Triple-A.
We’ve seen him play almost every day this spring and he’s offered glimpses of what he can do at the plate and in the field. He actually looks like he’s put on more muscle from last year and doesn’t seem to have lost any of his athleticism. Look for a June or July callup.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) March 19, 2022
Leeper joined the organization in 2020 as an undrafted free agent and tore through two levels of the farm system last year, dominating at both Tennessee and Iowa. He will have to be added to the 40-man when the time comes, but the only thing really holding him back right now is that he’s not left-handed. If the Cubs are in need of a right-handed reliever this spring, he should be the first call in late April or early May.
— Greg Huss (@OutOfTheVines) June 30, 2021
Ueckert, a former college teammate of the legendary Jeff Passantino, annihilated hitters at South Bend and Tennessee last summer by displaying an upper 90s fastball and a nice slider. Don’t expect to see Ueckert until later in the year as he works on a third pitch, whatever that might be.
Abbott had his worst as a pro last year and he was quite prone to the longball, though he also led the system in strikeouts. He did make a spot start in Chicago and will forever be known as the last Cubs pitcher to hit in a game. Abbott finished the season well in August and September, putting up a 2.20 ERA with 32 strikeouts in 28.2 innings over his last five starts.
Cory Abbott missed bats all day for the @IowaCubs.
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) May 30, 2021
Dewees has been close to the majors in the past but missed all of 2021 with a knee injury. He’s back now, making nice plays in the outfield in spring training and displaying a pretty good bat that can spray the ball around the outfield. Whether he’s going to hit for a high enough average or show off regular power remains to be seen, and that’s probably what the Cubs are looking for.
Young and Maldonado both tore it up at Tennessee last year playing first base and DH. Young, who hits left-handed, showed that his poor 2019 season at Tennessee was an outlier and he has already gone yard in spring training. He’s going to be very close to making it at some point this year if he can get off to a good start.
The same is true for Maldonado, who missed the last month of the season after showing he was one of the best pure hitters in the system. The universal DH pretty much kicks down the door and provides a path for both players to reach the majors.
Jared Young – Chicago Cubs (1)* pic.twitter.com/w4Xlk5j1Vz
— MLB HR Videos (@MLBHRVideos) March 19, 2022
Iowa’s season begins on April 5 and it’s still unclear where a lot of guys are going to end up. It’s even less clear which how several of the pitchers will be split up between the rotation and bullpen. We could see Sanders at Iowa or he could head back to Tennessee depending upon the roster crunch. Weber should be in Iowa based on talent alone, but he could likewise end up back at Double-A.
Most of this roster will depend upon who the Cubs are going to keep as insurance for the major league squad and who they’re trying to develop for the long run.