Wicks flashes ace potential in 2022 debut

2 years ago

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Wicks starts 2022 off on the right foot (April 14)
Having to wait a week before making his 2022 debut didn’t negatively impact Jordan Wicks. The No. 5 Cubs prospect took the mound for High-A South Bend and had everything working, tossing 3 2/3 scoreless innings against Fort Wayne.

Working around an error in the first inning, Wicks struck out three in the frame and added two more before departing after 63 pitches, 40 for strikes. The 22-year-old scattered three hits and walked one in the longest outing of his professional career.

The Cubs used the 21st overall pick last year to select Wicks, who tossed 92 1/3 innings in his final collegiate season at Kansas State. The Arkansas native was limited to just seven frames across four starts with South Bend after turning pro. — Michael Avallone

Caissie keeps impressing; Byrd walks it off (April 2) 
One of the things the Cubs love about outfielder Owen Caissie, — the Cubs’ No. 8 prospect per MLB Pipeline — is the 19-year-old’s advanced offensive approach. The kid has certainly looked comfortable in his taste of Major League spring games. In Saturday’s 5-4 Cactus League win over the Angels, Caissie went 2-for-2, giving him five hits in nine at-bats with the Cubs this spring. 

In the ninth, though, it was another Cubs farmhand who had his feel-good moment. First baseman Grayson Byrd — a 24th-round pick by the Cubs in the 2019 MLB Draft — launched a three-run walk-off homer. — Jordan Bastian

Canario hits late homer for Cubs (April 1)
Split-squad games during Spring Training are a prime chance for prospects to get playing time. On Friday, Alexander Canario was among the players from MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 Cubs Prospects list to make the trip to Maryvale, Ariz., to face the Brewers. Canario made the most of a late-game opportunity.

In the ninth inning of the Cubs’ 5-3 loss to Milwaukee, the 21-year-old Canario launched a solo homer off 22-year-old righty Justin Bullock. Heading into this season, Canario is ranked No. 18 on the Cubs’ prospects list after coming to Chicago from the Giants in last summer’s blockbuster Kris Bryant trade. — Jordan Bastian

Davis leads latest wave of prospect performances (March 28)
Outfielder Brennen Davis made a strong impression on the Major League staff while he was in big league camp with the Cubs this spring. The team’s No. 1 prospect isn’t done yet.

In a 4-2 Cactus League win over the Reds on Monday night, Davis returned from Minor League camp and launched a towering two-run homer to put the Cubs ahead in the eighth inning at Goodyear Ballpark. The blast, off Cincinnati righty Dauri Moreta, sailed high over center field and landed to the right of the batter’s eye. It marked the second homer with the Cubs this spring for the 22-year-old Davis, who in addition to being the Cubs’ top prospect is also the No. 15-ranked prospect in all of baseball, per MLB Pipeline.

Davis was not the only Top 30 Cubs prospect to impact Monday’s game, either. Outfielder Alexander Canario (No. 18) — acquired from the Giants in the Kris Bryant trade last July — was in the starting lineup and delivered an RBI single in the second inning. Infielder Reginald Preciado (No. 11) entered the game late and contributed a single.

“It’s an exciting time,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “You see the joy on their face when they get big league hits in big league Spring Training games. That just makes us all happy and makes us engage in the game even more, because it’s exciting players out there that love the game of baseball. And you can tell they’re taking advantage of the opportunity.” — Jordan Bastian

Crow-Armstrong, Howard come up big for Cubs (March 27)
Cubs manager David Ross was recently raving about how prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong can “float” in center field. The young outfielder did just that in the top of the seventh inning on Sunday, when he ran down a diving fly ball off the bat of Kansas City’s Vinnie Pasquantino and made a sliding catch to steal a potential hit.

In the bottom of the seventh inning, Crow-Armstrong (No. 6 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 Cubs Prospects list) drew a two-out walk that helped ignite a seven-run outpouring. As it happened, Cubs shortstop prospect Ed Howard (No. 14) — Crow-Armstrong’s roommate in Arizona — brought his friend in with a two-run single.

Crow-Armstrong, a first-round pick by the Mets in the 2020 MLB Draft, was acquired by the Cubs at the Trade Deadline last summer in the blockbuster deal that shipped Javier Báez to New York. Howard was the Cubs’ top pick in the same Draft, in which he was taken three spots ahead of Crow-Armstrong. — Jordan Bastian

Ueckert, Caissie shine vs. Padres (March 26)
A pair of top prospects squared off in the seventh inning on Saturday, when reliever Cayne Ueckert (No. 29 on the Cubs’ Top 30 Prospects list per MLB Pipeline) faced shortstop Jackson Merrill (No. 6 in the Padres’ rankings) during a 2-2 Cactus League tie between Chicago and San Diego. Ueckert, who is in camp as a non-roster invitee for the Cubs, won the battle against the 18-year-old Merrill, finishing off the 2021 first-round Draft pick with a high fastball for a swinging strikeout.

Ueckert racked up three strikeouts in the appearance, giving him four punchouts in two scoreless innings so far this spring.

The Cubs also brought highly-touted outfielder Owen Caissie (No. 8) to Peoria, Ariz., for Saturday’s game against the team that traded him to the North Siders as part of the Yu Darvish deal in Dec. 2020. Caissie, 19, entered the game as a substitute in right field and went 1-for-2 with a double down the left-field line in the sixth inning. Caissie has three hits in seven Cactus League at-bats with the Major League club. — Jordan Bastian

Davis ‘looks the part,’ moves to Minor League camp (March 25)
At the outset of Spring Training, Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer made it clear that top prospect Brennen Davis‘ focus remained on his development and not cracking the Opening Day roster. The next step in that process officially arrived on March 25, when Chicago reassigned the highly-touted outfielder to Minor League camp in the latest wave of roster reductions.

“He’s made a really good impression,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “He got a lot of at-bats. It’s hard to judge guys off just such short Spring Training, but you can tell he’s just starting to fill out that body. He looks the part. He had a great season last year. Continue to build on that, and, hopefully, we see him really soon.

“I think it’s a guy that’s one of those future pieces that you see. You’ve kind of watched him develop, and he put in a lot of hard work this offseason. He looks strong, fit and moved well in the outfield. Great guy. The experience he got this spring was great for him and us.” — Jordan Bastian

Davis, ranked by MLB Pipeline as baseball’s No. 15 overall prospect in addition to No. 1 in the Cubs’ organization, launched a home run March 19 vs. San Diego for his only hit to this point in Cactus League play. Last season, the 22-year-old outfielder hit .260 with 19 homers and an .869 OPS in 100 games across three Minor League levels. Davis posted a .933 OPS in 16 games with Triple-A Iowa, where he is expected to begin this season.

“Continuing to grow in the Minor Leagues is the focus,” Hoyer said when camp opened. “His day is going to come. And it’s going to be really exciting.”

The roster trimming on March 25 also included optioning lefty Brailyn Marquez (No. 10) to Double-A Tennessee, and reassigning infielder Chase Strumpf (No. 26) and righty Ben Leeper (No. 28). — Jordan Bastian

Triantos strikes twice in first MLB spring game (March 24)
The Cubs brought James Triantos (No. 3 on the club’s MLB Pipeline Top 30 prospects list) to a road game against the Angels and the young infielder immediately showed off his offensive maturity.

In both the fifth and seventh innings, the 19-year-old connected for a single up the middle — the second knocking in a run for the Cubs. That two-hit performance came in what was his first career Spring Training game with the Major League team.

Triantos, who was selected in the second round of the 2021 MLB Draft, had a standout showing in his pro debut at the Rookie-level Arizona Complex League. In 25 games, he posted a .327 average with six homers, 14 extra-base hits and a .970 OPS. — Jordan Bastian

Top prospect Davis day to day after HBP (March 22)
Cubs No. 1 prospect
Brennen Davis, who left Monday’s game against the Reds after being hit on the right knee by a pitch from Reds righty Graham Ashcraft, remains day to day. X-rays on the outfielder’s knee were negative, Cubs manager David Ross said.

The manager added that Davis is less sore than he expected to be one day after being hit by the pitch.

In the second inning, Davis was struck on the inside of the knee by a pitch and crouched in discomfort after taking a few steps out of the batter’s box. It’s uncertain when he will return to action.

Davis hit .260/.375/.494 with 19 homers, 25 doubles and 53 RBIs in 99 games across three levels in 2021. The outfielder posted an .841 OPS in 76 games at Double-A Tennessee and then a .933 OPS in 15 games at Triple-A Iowa. He was also named the All-Star Futures Game MVP last year after belting two home runs in the annual prospect showcase. — Jesse Sanchez

Espinoza laughs off scary comebacker by Suzuki (March 21)
When live batting practice concluded for the Cubs on Monday morning, slugger Seiya Suzuki headed over to prospect Anderson Espinoza and gave the young pitcher a hug. That moment stemmed from a scary moment during one of their battles only a few minutes earlier.

After watching a few pitches from the 24-year-old Espinoza, Suzuki lined an offering back up the middle in the pitcher’s direction. Word around Field 1 at the Cubs’ complex was that the line drive had an exit velocity of 112 mph. Fortunately, Espinoza got his glove on the ball before it bounced off his right side. Suzuki (signed to a five-year, $85 million deal on Friday) jumped in the air, put a hand on his head in concern and walked to the mound. The pitcher immediately motioned that he was OK, smiling and laughing off the incident.

Espinoza joined Chicago’s system last year, when the Cubs acquired the right-hander from the Padres in exchange for outfielder Jake Marisnick ahead of the Trade Deadline. Espinoza had a 4.19 ERA with 80 strikeouts against 32 walks in 58 innings between High-A and Double-A in 2021. In three outings for Double-A Tennessee with the Cubs, the righty posted a 1.35 ERA with 16 strikeouts and eight walks in 13 1/3 innings. — Jordan Bastian

Davis blasts first spring homer (March 19)
The young fan with the glove on his left hand and a bucket hat atop his head might want to hang on to that baseball he plucked from the grassy berm on Saturday afternoon at Sloan Park. That ball was bruised by the bat of Brennen Davis.

In the fourth inning of Chicago’s Cactus League tilt with the Padres, Davis sent a first-pitch fastball from San Diego’s Javy Guerra sailing out to right field. The opposite-field shot carried out for Davis’ first home run of Spring Training. The three-run blast plated Sergio Alcántara and Alfonso Rivas (No. 23), who also homered in the game. — Jordan Bastian

Prospects aplenty in Cubs’ spring home opener (March 17)
The lineup that manager David Ross assembled for his Cactus League home opener against the White Sox on Thursday was a glimpse of the future. Pipeline’s No. 1 Cubs prospect, outfielder Brennen Davis was slotted into the third spot. Outfielder Pete Crow-Armstrong (No. 6) hit fifth. Before the end of the 4-3 loss, Jordan Wicks (No. 5), Ed Howard (No. 14) and Owen Caissie (No. 8) made appearances.

“The uniqueness of this camp is a lot of those guys have been here and are ready to go,” Ross said. “Probably, before the guys who were at home working out. It’s nice to get the guys I’ve been watching for a couple weeks now on the backfields, get these guys out there in front of the fans. Watch them play. Watch the skillset. I know the fans have heard a lot about a lot of the prospects coming, especially lately, not being able to talk a lot about the big league players. So it’ll be fun for us all.”

Davis drew a walk and flew out to left in his Cactus League debut. Wicks logged two innings out of the bullpen, working fast and showing off his impressive changeup. The lefty struck out three, walked one and allowed one run on two hits. Crow-Armstrong, Howard and Caissie went a combined 0-for-5, but got their first taste of the big league spring environment. — Jordan Bastian

Minor Leagues ‘the focus’ for top prospect Davis (March 14)
The Cubs are potentially in the market for more outfield reinforcements, but the chances of top prospect Brennen Davis making the Opening Day roster appear slim. Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said at the outset of Spring Training that Davis’ development remains the priority.

“He’s got a super-bright future,” Hoyer said. “He also has a lot fewer Minor League at-bats than people probably might imagine. So, continuing to grow in the Minor Leagues is the focus. His day is going to come. And it’s going to be really exciting.”

To Hoyer’s point, the 22-year-old Davis has logged fewer than 700 plate appearances since being picked in the second round of the 2018 MLB Draft. Last season, Davis soared up the system, but had just 15 games (69 PAs) at Triple-A, where he posted a .933 OPS. That is where MLB Pipeline’s No. 1 Cubs prospect projects to open this season, with the chance to find his way to Wrigley Field before the end of the summer.

“He’s in an awesome place,” said Hoyer, who noted that Davis spent the offseason training at the team’s Arizona complex. “You talk to him, you look at him, you watch him, and it’s fun to watch. Guys take off like that. He’s got a world of talent and I’m excited he was able to be here all winter working out and kind of be a little bit of a mentor to some of those young guys.” — Jordan Bastian

Davis displays ridiculous power during live BP (March 8)
Cubs fans are starting to dream about Brennen Davis launching home runs in Wrigley Field. On Field 6 at the team’s Arizona complex on Tuesday, the Cubs’ top prospect put that power potential on display.

In a live batting practice session against right-hander Kevin McCarthy — a veteran of five MLB seasons who joined Chicago on a Minor League contract — Davis sent a pitch sailing out to center field. The ball flew far over the batter’s eye as the 22-year-old Davis strolled out of the box and off the diamond to await his next turn to hit.

Davis, who is ranked No. 1 on Pipeline’s Top 30 Cubs prospects list and No. 15 on Pipeline’s Top 100 list for all of the Majors, hit .260/.375/.494 with 19 homers, 25 doubles and 53 RBIs in 99 games across three levels in 2021. The outfielder posted an .841 OPS in 76 games at Double-A Tennessee and then a .933 OPS in 15 games at Triple-A Iowa. He was also named the All-Star Futures Game MVP last year after belting two home runs in the annual prospect showcase. — Jordan Bastian

Herz using Minors camp to bolster pitch mix (March 7)
If the goal last year for Cubs pitching prospect DJ Herz was to gain command of his developing pitches, this season will be defined by finding the best combination for an increasingly devastating arsenal.

“Things are working really well,” said Casey Jacobson, the Cubs’ coordinator of pitching development. “Now, it’s, ‘OK, I’ve stabilized my new weapons. How can I deploy them and get more guys out?’ And hopefully he’ll build on the success he had last year.”

On Field 5 at Chicago’s Minor League complex Monday, the 21-year-old Herz (No. 9 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 Cubs prospects list) put his repertoire on display. Facing James Triantos (No. 3), the lefty started his one-inning live session with a curveball for a called strikeout.

The curveball is still a work in progress for Herz, whose changeup has been the signature secondary pitch to his fastball. He began utilizing a new grip in 2020 and the pitch helped him rack up 131 strikeouts against 44 walks with a 3.31 ERA in 81 2/3 innings between two Class A affiliates in ’21.

“We had him in the lab a couple times,” Jacobson said, “introduced a new changeup grip and, really, he took ownership of it really fast. The early results were pretty much there. I think that we had two that we tried. The first one was just OK. The second one, it was like, ‘That’s the one.'” — Jordan Bastian

A long time coming for Franklin (March 5)
A considerable crowd of Cubs prospects gathered behind a backstop on the Minor League side of the team’s complex on Saturday morning. They were there to watch right-hander Kohl Franklin, who logged one inning in a live batting practice session for the first time in over a year.

“It’s just like a sigh of relief basically, honestly,” said Franklin, who is the Cubs’ No. 12 prospect per MLB Pipeline. “All the work I put in the past year to get to where I am today, it’s just like a blessing to be here and I’m just super thankful to be back. It was a grind to get back. But I’m super happy where I am.”

Franklin, 22, faced three batters and said his fastball was clocked between 97-99 mph. The righty injured his left oblique prior to Spring Training last year, costing him the entire 2021 campaign. He last pitched in Minor League games in ’19, when Franklin had a 2.36 ERA with 52 strikeouts against 19 walks in 42 innings between 11 starts with two Class A affiliates.

Meet the promising slugger the Cubs got for Darvish (March 5)
It was December 2020 and the Cubs had just completed the blockbuster trade that sent Yu Darvish to San Diego. Yes, Owen Caissie‘s baseball life changed — just not in that specific moment. The kid still had work to do in the cage. Story > — Jordan Bastian

Howard ready to show what his swing can do (March 4)
The Cubs’ main message to Ed Howard for this season is simple: Trust his swing. The statistics may not have been pretty in Howard’s first professional season, but that did not mean an overhaul was necessary for the shortstop prospect.

“Coming out of the [2020] Draft, everybody spent time — in the media, scouts — talking about his swing, and we’re not,” said Justin Stone, the Cubs’ director of hitting. “We’re very comfortable with where he is. He’s put in a lot of good work. So to move away from mechanics and get more into what’s really going to allow him to be successful, and that’s just timing, as well as continuing to see professional pitching.”

The 20-year-old Howard — ranked No. 14 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 prospects list for the club after being picked 16th overall in the 2020 Draft — had his senior season in high school wiped away by the pandemic in ’20. When he debuted in the Cubs’ system, Howard was more than two years younger than the average Low-A player during his ’21 tour with Myrtle Beach. The shortstop hit .225/.277/.315 with 98 strikeouts against 18 walks in 326 plate appearances in 80 games.

While Stone cited timing as Howard’s main focus in the batter’s box right now, the shortstop did not want to delve into the details of the offensive adjustments he has been making.

“I’m kind of focused on the future, and I’m ready,” Howard said. “I don’t want to talk about it. I’ll just show you. I’ll go out there and play.” — Jordan Bastian

Young sluggers at minicamp ready to rake (Feb. 26)
A smile crept across Owen Caissie‘s face at the mention of the Arizona Complex League lineup that the Cubs were able to roll out last summer.

“We all raked,” Caissie said on Saturday morning.

Caissie (No. 8 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 Cubs prospects list) is among the prospects currently taking part in the Cubs’ minicamp at the team’s Arizona complex, along with a few others who “raked” in Rookie ball last season. The 6-foot-4 outfielder hit .349 with a 1.074 OPS in 32 games in the ACL before earning a promotion to Low-A Myrtle Beach in ’21.

That trio of prospects, each player 19 years old heading into this season, helped the ACL Cubs post a .287 average with an .838 OPS as a team in ’21. That was well above the league average of .252 with a .745 OPS.

“It’s very exciting,” said Jared Banner, the Cubs’ vice president of player development. “That’s what we’re working towards — that it all culminates on the field with performance. A lot of these guys have responded really well to the challenges we put in front of them. The sky’s the limit.” — Jordan Bastian