After winning MVP honors at the 2021 SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game and capping his season with four homers in 15 Triple-A games, Brennen Davis figured to join the Cubs at some point in 2022. But instead of realizing his dream of becoming a big leaguer this year, he instead endured several months of pain.
Though Davis' back began bothering him in Spring Training, he was determined to not let discomfort derail him. He batted just .195 with two homers in 22 Triple-A contests during the first month of the season as the pain got worse and his right foot felt completely numb. The Cubs shut him down in early May with an initial diagnosis of a herniated disc that would have ended his year.
When doctors performed surgery on June 2, they discovered that Davis had no structural damage. Instead, a nest of blood vessels was pressing on a nerve and causing his pain. He returned to the diamond in mid-August and is making up for lost time by playing with the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League.
Though his 2022 season didn't play out nearly like he hoped, Davis hopes the adversity will make him better in the long run.
"It's definitely frustrating because you grind all offseason and you make goals for yourself," said Davis, MLB Pipeline's No. 48 ranked prospect. "I have high expectations for myself and I want to be out there helping my team in any way I can.
"So that kind of stunk but it's part of baseball, part of life. It's how you overcome those obstacles that makes you the best version of yourself."
Davis often didn't look like the best version of himself during the regular season, when he hit just .180/.299/.298 with five homers in 53 games at three levels. But he has looked healthy and ready to play in the Majors in the AFL, where he went 5-for-17 with two homers in his first four games while striking out just once in 20 plate appearances.
A second-round pick as an Arizona high schooler in 2018, Davis possesses some of the best all-around ability in the Cubs system. His bat speed, strength and leverage in his 6-foot-4 frame give him well above-average raw power and he makes the most of it by driving the ball in the air to all fields. He has the potential for solid tools across the board and a chance to stick in center field.
The Cubs also have Pete Crow-Armstrong, the best defensive center fielder in the Minors, so Davis may wind up in right field. They're the two best prospects in a farm system that climbed to No. 10 in MLB Pipeline's midseason rankings, up from No. 26 two years earlier.
Davis got to play with Crow-Armstrong and what turned out to be a High-A Midwest League championship club late August before returning to Triple-A, where he teamed with two of the top home run hitters in the Minors in outfielder Alexander Canario and first baseman Matt Mervis. Now in his fifth year in the organization -- "I'm a vet," he said with a smile -- he sees a brighter future ahead for a big league team coming off consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 2013-14.
"I got a chance to spend a week in High-A with some of the guys and we have so much talent there, it's awesome," Davis said. "That's how you make a great organization. You have guys funneling up from the bottom who are going to push the guys at the top. I feel like we're at a great spot and we're going to be really good in a couple of years."
Cubs hitters in the Fall League
Owen Caissie, OF (No. 10): The best of the four prospects acquired from the Padres in the December 2020 Yu Darvish trade, Caissie fits the right-field profile with well above-average raw power and plus arm strength. He batted .254/.349/.402 with 11 homers and 11 steals in 105 games in High-A during his age-19 season.
Matt Mervis, 1B (No. 21): After tightening his left-handed stroke and improving his swing decisions, Mervis hit .309/.379/.605 with 36 homers in 137 games while advancing from High-A to Triple-A. The 2020 nondrafted free agent from Duke led the Minors with 78 extra-base hits, 310 total bases and 119 RBI while also ranking second in doubles (40), third in homers, fifth in slugging and eighth in OPS (.984).
B.J. Murray, 1B/3B: The Cubs drafted Murray in the 15th round out of Florida Atlantic in 2021 because they liked his solid raw power and mature approach at the plate. He batted .286/.410/.429 with eight homers in 95 games between High-A and Double-A.
Cubs pitchers in the Fall League
Bailey Horn, LHP: Horn's velocity has improved since the Cubs moved him to the bullpen after acquiring him from the White Sox for Ryan Tepera in July 2021, and he now operates with a mid-90s fastball and a mid-80s slider. He posted a 2.79 ERA, .204 opponent average and 74 strikeouts in 51 2/3 innings, mostly in Double-A.
Zac Leigh, RHP: Pairing a 93-96 mph fastball with outstanding carry and a low-80s breaking ball with good depth, Leigh has been a revelation since Chicago drafted him in the 16th round out of Texas State in 2021. He logged a 2.86 ERA, .181 opponent average and 53 strikeouts in 34 2/3 innings between High-A and Double-A.
Riley Martin, LHP: Martin led NCAA Division II with 152 strikeouts and 17.4 whiffs per nine innings at Quincy (Ill.) in 2021 before signing for $1,000 as a fifth-year senior in the sixth round. Armed with a low-90s fastball, downer curveball and sweeping slider, he compiled a 3.38 ERA, .188 opponent average and 120 strikeouts in 82 2/3 innings, mostly in High-A.
Sheldon Reed, RHP: Signed as a nondrafted free agent from Clemson in 2020, Reed had a 3.96 ERA with a .196 opponent average and 60 strikeouts in 38 2/3 innings between Single-A and High-A. He works with a 91-94 mph fastball and a pair of average breaking balls, a mid-70s curve and a low-80s slider.