Bright future on display at Cubs Convention

Fan gathering highlights top prospects in up-and-coming farm system

January 15th, 2023

CHICAGO -- More than a dozen players made their way to the main stage at Cubs Convention on Saturday evening, drawing cheers as music blared through the ballroom. This was the product of the past two years on display.

The group waving to Cubs fans was a considerable cast of highly touted prospects -- players obtained via core-dismantling trades, the MLB Draft and other avenues. They are the names defined by hype and buzz with the hope of stardom to come.

"The amount of talent that we have now in our system is unreal," Cubs outfield prospect Brennen Davis told the audience. "It's really comforting to see where we're at and where we're going."

Davis has not been in the organization all that long -- the 2021 All-Star Futures Game MVP was a second-round pick by the Cubs in the '18 Draft -- but he cited his first-hand view of the turnover down on the farm. Over the past few years, Chicago has overhauled its Minor League infrastructure and injected a wave of talent with the long view in mind.

And while the 2023 season will be about getting the Cubs back into the contention conversation at the MLB level, the story taking place just below the big leagues will also be critical. After all, the diehard fans like those who flocked to Cubs Convention are not just going to forget that favorites like Javier Báez, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo were traded, or that Willson Contreras and Kyle Schwarber are wearing new uniforms.

On Saturday morning, the Ricketts family panel made its return to Cubs Convention, allowing Tom Ricketts (chairman) and Laura Ricketts (board of directors) to interact directly with fans. The message delivered was that things are going to start turning after two years of rebuilding.

"I think it's kind of an inflection point for us," Tom Ricketts said. "We had a couple years that were tougher than we would've liked. But I think we're set up well for this year and I think people should be excited."

Ricketts added that the efforts to improve the farm system -- a process that really began transactionally with the Yu Darvish deal ahead of the 2021 season -- is "how you build a base" and "how you build sustainable success."

MLB Pipeline recently ranked the Cubs as the fourth most-improved farm system of '22, during which the organization checked in at 10th in the midseason farm rankings. At the moment, the Cubs have three farmhands (Pete Crow-Armstrong, No. 30; Davis, No. 48; and Kevin Alcántara, No. 86) in Pipeline's Top 100 prospects list.

Typically, the Cubs will have a Minor League-related panel as part of the convention programming, but the team increased the spotlight this year. Roughly half of Chicago's Top 30 list was in attendance, taking part in panels, autograph sessions and other events throughout the weekend.

Slugging outfielder Owen Caissie (part of the Darvish trade) remarked that he saw Cubs legend Fergie Jenkins -- a fellow Canadian -- but did not want to bother him.

"I'll meet him down the road," Caissie said confidently.

First-round pick Jordan Wicks told the crowd that one of his favorite players as a kid was lefty Jon Lester. The fans roared. Lester, after all, helped end that 108-year World Series drought for the Cubs.

"That intensity that he showed inspired me," Wicks said.

First-base prospect Matt Mervis -- one of the best stories of the '22 Minor League season with his breakout 36-homer showing -- spoke about the value of mingling with the Major Leaguers over dinner on Friday night.

"We're going to be teammates -- hopefully in a couple months," Mervis said. "But it's a lot easier to play alongside guys if you know them and have a personal relationship with them."

Crow-Armstrong (acquired from the Mets for Báez) mentioned meeting Cubs greats Andre Dawson and Kerry Wood.

"It's nice to see the history," Crow-Armstrong said. "It's nice to see who I'm coming after and the names that I'm living out, that we're living out. The tradition we get to carry on."

The Cubs strengthened their Major League roster with the likes of shortstop Dansby Swanson, outfielder Cody Bellinger and starter Jameson Taillon, among others, this offseason. But there will be a path to the big leagues for plenty of prospects.

Davis could crack the outfield in '23 after an injury-marred campaign last year. Mervis will have a chance to compete for an Opening Day job this spring. Pitchers like Javier Assad and Hayden Wesneski will be vying for rotation spots at some point. A host of young arms will also be jockeying for position in the bullpen.

Taillon has already seen some of the potential in his pre-spring workouts at the Cubs' complex in Arizona.

"I've been super impressed with the Minor League group they have down there," Taillon said. "You see all these Minor League guys lifting heavy and getting after it, and it's kind of inspired me to get in there and get after it with them."

The environment like Cubs Convention is not unlike the superlatives surrounding a prospect. There is a lot of optimism and hope and hype before any games have actually taken place. The true test for the Cubs, and the more accurate reading on the results of the franchise's two-year reset, is still coming.

"I think that those two years have been, really, time well spent," Ricketts said.