Standout Cubs prospects from the '21 season

October 19th, 2021

CHICAGO -- When it came to the Cubs' farm system this past season, outfielder Brennen Davis stole the spotlight. He soared up the organizational ladder, put on a show in the All-Star Futures Game and is now very much on the big league radar.

"In a lot of ways, Brennen, he kind of shot past our expectations for this year," Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said recently. "He sort of burst on the national stage with his Futures Game performance and kind of never looked back. He's a really exciting part of our future."

Davis, who moved into the No. 1 spot in MLB Pipeline's Top 30 Cubs prospects list this year, is just one among plenty of storylines to emerge this year from Chicago's overhauled farm.

The Cubs picked collegiate lefty Jordan Wicks in the first round of the 2021 MLB Draft, and he could be a quick climber. Youngsters like James Triantos (second round, '21 Draft) and Owen Caissie (acquired from the Padres in the Yu Darvish trade in December) tore through the Arizona Complex League. Right-handed reliever Ben Leeper, who went undrafted in '20, reached Triple-A and posted a 1.29 ERA on the year.

By the end of the season, the Cubs' Top 30 list was given a facelift after the Draft, a series of blockbuster trades and intriguing international signings. With all of that in mind, here is a glance at some other developments around the Cubs' affiliates:

Three players who forced their way onto the radar in 2021

LHP DJ Herz (No. 13)
The 20-year-old lefty (an eighth-round pick in '19) made six starts in his first pro season, but lost his '20 season due to the pandemic like so many others. Herz returned just fine this year, averaging an outstanding 14.4 strikeouts per nine innings in 81 2/3 innings between Low-A Myrtle Beach and High-A South Bend in '21. The lefty had 131 strikeouts against 44 walks with a 3.31 ERA in 20 starts overall, whiffing 40.4 percent of the batters he faced.

SS Reginald Preciado (No. 8)
Like the No. 9-ranked Caissie, Preciado came to the Cubs as part of the Darvish deal with San Diego. They both excelled in the Arizona Complex League, with Caissie (1.074 OPS in 32 games) earning a promotion to Low-A Myrtle Beach. Preciado, 18, slashed .333/.383/.511 in 34 games in his first pro tour with the Cubs.

OF Nelson Velazquez (No. 29)
A fifth-round pick by the Cubs in 2017, the 22-year-old Velazquez continued to improve his power this season. He put up a .496 slugging percentage, following showings of .441 in '19 and .380 in '18. In 103 games this season for High-A South Bend and Double-A Tennessee, Velazquez hit .270 with 20 homers, 45 extra-base hits, 73 RBIs and an .829 OPS.

Two possible breakout players to watch in 2022

SS Cristian Hernandez (No. 3)
While Hernandez is an obvious choice for a '22 breakout, he will have pressure on him as a highly touted prospect who has been compared to a young Manny Machado. The shortstop will turn 18 in December and will make his U.S. debut in '22. In 47 games in the Dominican Summer League this year, he slashed .285/.398/.424 with 11 extra-base hits, 21 steals, 22 RBIs, 30 walks, 38 runs scored and 39 strikeouts.

OF Pete Crow-Armstrong (No. 5)
The Mets picked Crow-Armstrong with the 19th overall pick in the 2020 Draft, and shipped him to the Cubs at the Deadline in the trade involving Javier Báez. Crow-Armstrong, 19, hit .417 in six games at Low-A St. Lucie before his season ended due to a torn labrum in his right (non-throwing) shoulder. All eyes will be on PCA in '22, when he makes his Cubs debut as a top prospect heralded for his elite defensive skills.

One big question for next season

Will Brailyn Márquez impact the Major League team?
A series of health setbacks, including a left shoulder issue, cost the 22-year-old Márquez the '21 season. Next year, the hard-throwing prospect (No. 2 now, following Davis' climb to the top spot) will have innings limitations, but he could push to break back into the big leagues as a "pitching weapon," as Hoyer phrased it.

"Right now, he's healthy and throwing and ready to go," Hoyer said at the end of the season. "Hopefully he's healthy and ready to go this spring and he can be a shot in the arm for us, for sure."