5 Cubs prospects to look out for ahead of 2023

Matt Mervis could vie for first base in Chicago, while all eyes are on Brennen Davis' health

October 22nd, 2022

This story was excerpted from Jordan Bastian’s Cubs Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Welcome back to the Cubs Beat newsletter. This week, we’ll take a look back at some of the standout stories in the Minor League season in 2022, plus some things to keep an eye on with the ’23 campaign in mind.

3 players who forced their way onto the radar in 2022
With apologies to the likes of reliever Jeremiah Estrada (40.4 percent strikeout rate in the Minors before joining the Cubs), or starters like Javier Assad (2.66 ERA in the Minors and 3.11 ERA in the Majors) and Hayden Wesneski (2.18 ERA in six MLB games), not to mention a few others, we’re going to focus on a trio of players yet to reach The Show.

RHP Luis Devers
The Cubs named the 22-year-old Devers their Minor League Pitcher of the Year after the right-hander went 13-3 with a 1.91 ERA in 26 appearances this season between Single-A Myrtle Beach and High-A South Bend. Devers piled up 122 strikeouts against 26 walks in 117 2/3 innings, posting a 21.1 percent strikeout-minus-walk rate in the process. The righty’s showing included a 2.58 ERA in Single-A (66 1/3 innings) and a 1.05 ERA in High-A (51 1/3 innings).

OF Darius Hill
Hill climbed from Double-A Tennessee to Triple-A Iowa this season and just kept hitting. The 25-year-old outfielder not only led Cubs farmhands in hits (166), but was tied with Cleveland’s Will Brennan for the most hits in all of the Minors. His .314 average led Cubs Minor Leaguers (minimum 200 at-bats) and was tied for first in all Minor League Baseball (minimum 500 at-bats). Hill ended with a 13.4 percent strikeout rate, plus nine homers, 36 doubles, five triples, 53 RBIs and 82 runs.

1B Matt Mervis
After posting a .677 OPS in 2021, it’s fair to say that expectations were not sky-high for Mervis when the ’22 season arrived. The first baseman changed that in a hurry, piecing together one of the stories of the season in the Minor Leagues. Mervis hit .309/.379/.605 as he ascended three levels, launching 36 homers, collecting 40 doubles and leading the Minors with 119 RBIs. His walk rate and strikeout rate improved at each level from High-A to Double-A to Triple-A, and he has continued to perform in the Arizona Fall League. Mervis could be in the mix for the Cubs’ first-base job in Spring Training.

2 possible breakout players to watch in 2023

LHP Riley Martin
A few arms jump to mind here (DJ Herz, Bailey Horn, Luke Little and Daniel Palencia, among them), but let’s look at a pitcher who has stayed outside the spotlight. The Cubs have quietly been developing a multi-inning relief weapon in the 24-year-old Martin, who was a sixth-round pick in the 2021 Draft. Martin was a strikeout artist in 2021 at Quincy University (17.4 K/9) and has continued to rack up punchouts at a prolific rate. This season between Single-A and High-A, the lefty had 120 strikeouts against 43 walks in 82 2/3 innings (31 appearances) with a 3.38 ERA. Martin is currently getting more work with Mesa in the Arizona Fall League.

OF Yonathan Perlaza
Along with OF Jordan Nwogu and some others, Perlaza was one of the Cubs’ more under-the-radar standout performers at the plate in the second half of the Minor League season. In that span with Double-A Tennessee, the 23-year-old Perlaza turned in a 1.007 OPS with 14 homers, 20 doubles and a 16.2 percent walk rate.

1 big question for next season

Will Brennen Davis stay healthy and impact the Major League team?
Depending on what moves the Cubs make this winter, there could be a job opening in center field next spring. The thought going into 2022 was that Davis, the highly touted prospect, would be poised to claim such a spot by now. A back injury and midseason surgery limited the 22-year-old to 53 games in ’22, following a breakout ’21 tour that included being the MVP of the All-Star Futures Game.

Expecting Davis to be a contender for the Cubs’ Opening Day roster seems unrealistic, given his setbacks this year. That said, with a clean bill of health and a return to his prior production, there is certainly an opening for Davis to impact the MLB team in ’23.

“He's probably not as strong as he usually is,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said at the end of the season. “He wasn't able to fully get back to that after the back surgery. But I have no doubt he'll work hard … and he'll be able to get back to his normal strength. We're excited to have him this spring. I think he's shown real resilience so far.”