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Cubs prospect report from alternate site

@JimCallisMLB
October 7, 2020

With alternative training sites having ended, MLB Pipeline is recapping the development highlights for the prospects involved for each organization. Top position prospect: Brennen Davis, OF (No. 2 on Cubs Top 30) Davis is the most exciting position player in the Cubs' system, a former basketball star turned potential 30-30

With alternative training sites having ended, MLB Pipeline is recapping the development highlights for the prospects involved for each organization.

Top position prospect: Brennen Davis, OF (No. 2 on Cubs Top 30)

Davis is the most exciting position player in the Cubs' system, a former basketball star turned potential 30-30 center fielder. But because he injured his right index finger twice last year, the 2018 second-round choice hadn't accumulated many at-bats (234) or had to deal with many struggles during his first two pro seasons.

That changed at Chicago's alternative training site in South Bend, Ind., home of its low Class A affiliate. Davis, MLB's No. 72 overall prospect, hasn't played above that level, so most of the pitchers in Cubs camp were more experienced than him. After he had initial success, they adapted and it took him a while to figure out how to counterattack.

"It was a great opportunity for Brennen," Chicago farm director Matt Dorey said. "In the middle part of camp, our advanced pitchers knew his weaknesses and had the ability to exploit them. He had a two-week run where he was getting beat up. For the first time in his career, he faced adversity. That's exactly where growth happens.

"It was tough for Brennen to process it at first, but he was able to take a step back and make adjustments. We were proud of his ability to reassess where he was and utilize data and video. He got punched in the face and responded very well. He made some mechanical tweaks because he got defensive and was pushing his swing a little bit, starting to chase a little bit. He got back to his swing and approach and was making more contact and better decisions."

Top pitching prospect: Brailyn Marquez, LHP (No. 1)

When the coronavirus pandemic shut down Spring Training, Marquez returned home to the Dominican Republic. He didn't have access to the team's academy, so he had to manage his own throwing program as well as the demands of being a father for the first time. When MLB's No. 63 overall prospect returned to the United States, Chicago made sure to bring him back slowly.

For Marquez, the beginning of the alternative site was more like an extension of Spring Training and Summer Camp. Then came a shift to the bullpen to see if he might help the Cubs as a reliever. Despite having just five starts of experience as high as Class A Advanced, the 21-year-old debuted in the Majors on the final day of the regular season, striking out Jose Abreu on a 99-mph fastball while allowing five runs in two-thirds of an inning.

"Brailyn had to work through some normal early-season stuff," Dorey said. "He worked on his delivery and getting the shape of his pitches back, and then his velocity started to come back. Once he got in midseason form, we started using him as a reliever in case the big league club needed him.

"He had never really done that before, so we were challenging him outside of his comfort zone. He really took to it. He made some changes to his body and his delivery. With his pitches, he focused on his changeup and made some really good progress with it. He earned the opportunity to go to the big leagues as a reliever, but he'll be a starter going forward."

Youngest prospect: Davis

At 20, Davis was the youngest player in Schaumburg. In addition to getting roughly 150 at-bats against more advanced pitchers, he also refined his batting-cage routine and worked with strength and conditioning coaches to continue to add muscle to his 6-foot-4 frame.

2020 Draft picks

The top relief prospect in the 2020 Draft, left-hander Burl Carraway (No. 10) signed for $1.05 million in the second round and probably won't spend much time in the Minors. He can blow hitters away with a 93-98 mph fastball with riding action and a downer curveball, both of which play up thanks to their high spin rates and the extension he gets with his high three-quarters delivery.

The Cubs had a small group of hitters at their alternative sites, which somewhat limited development opportunities for young pitchers. Nevertheless, they were pleased with their initial look at Carraway.

"Burl has a special, special arm," Dorey said. "We brought him in to get him acclimated and to surround him with a professional environment. He has the ability to move relatively quickly through our Minor League system and we wanted him to be around some veteran pitchers. It was an opportunity to learn from them and jump-start his development as a professional.

"We focused on his delivery, strength and conditioning, pitch design and usage, pitch efficiency and consistent carry on his fastball. His stuff is really nasty. He messed around with a slider, so we took a look at that too. He also likes his changeup but doesn't use it much."

Pleasant developments

The Cubs have promoted top catching prospect Miguel Amaya (No. 3) aggressively and he spent last season in high Class A at age 20. The alternative site allowed him to focus on development without the pressure of game action. Amaya, who is No. 91 on MLB's Top 100 Prospects list, learned from veteran catchers Jose Lobaton and P.J. Higgins while working on his game-calling and communication with pitchers. Dorey said Amaya's receiving metrics improved across the board, and he continued to show advanced prowess at the plate.

After losing right-hander Michael Rucker to the Orioles in the Rule 5 Draft last December, Chicago got him back right before Spring Training shut down. He had some success as a starter early in his pro career before becoming a full-time reliever in 2019, and his stuff continues to tick up in shorter stints. In Schaumburg, his fastball sat at 95-96 mph, his curveball added some more power and he added a cutter.

Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly MLB Pipeline Podcast.