PCA: Cubs prospects can't wait to reach Majors

October 12th, 2023

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.

CHICAGO -- One reason the Cubs believe they are set up well for multiple seasons of contention is the fact that the Minor League system is as healthy as it has been in a long time.

The past few years of aggressive trades and stockpiling prospects via the MLB Draft and international market, plus organizational changes to player development strategy and operations, has given the farm a facelift. The latest MLB Pipeline rankings had the Cubs’ system fourth overall in baseball.

“There are a lot of guys waiting to get up here,” said center fielder , the Cubs’ No. 1 prospect and No. 12 prospect on Pipeline’s Top 100 list. “They’re chomping at the bit, which is promising. Guys want to be up here, and that's a great place to start for an organization.”

Here’s a look at a few of the storylines in the Cubs’ farm system this past season:

3 players who forced their way onto the radar this year
OF Owen Caissie, No. 3 prospect, No. 64 overall: Not only did the 21-year-old Caissie deliver the best offensive season in the Cubs’ system, but Pipeline expert Jim Callis also declared the young outfielder “the best power prospect on the Top 100” in light of his breakout showing in ‘23. Caissie’s 144 wRC+ this year led qualified hitters in Chicago’s system and ranked fourth overall among all hitters at the Double-A level.

In 120 games at Double-A Tennessee, Caissie hit .289/.398/.519 with 22 homers, 31 doubles, 84 RBIs and 76 walks. He struck out 164 times but made the most of his elite exit velocities. Acquired from San Diego in the Yu Darvish trade prior to ‘21, Caissie could be knocking on the Majors’ door at some point in ‘24.

RHP Cade Horton, No. 2 prospect, No. 29 overall: After being picked in the first round of the ‘22 Draft, Horton’s first professional season was nothing short of spectacular. In 21 starts, the 22-year-old righty had a 2.65 ERA with 117 strikeouts and 27 walks in 88 1/3 innings across Single-A, High-A and Double-A. In eight outings (including two playoff starts) with Tennessee, Horton had a 1.22 ERA with 42 punchouts and 15 walks in 37 innings.

LHP , No. 25 prospect: The 6-foot-8 Little (picked in the fourth round of the 2020 Draft) made a successful move to the bullpen that fast-tracked him from High-A to the Majors in ‘23. In the Minors, the lefty had a 2.12 ERA with 105 strikeouts in 63 2/3 innings across three levels. With the Cubs down the stretch, Little posted a 0.00 ERA with 12 strikeouts and four walks in 6 2/3 innings (seven appearances).

2 possible breakout players to watch in 2024
RHP Ben Brown, No. 5 prospect, No. 86 overall: This is not exactly a bold pick, considering that Brown was in the midst of a breakout season in ‘23. But, some second-half issues, coupled with a late-season injury that cost the righty time, hindered and ultimately stalled what looked like an inevitable rise to the Major Leagues.

So, the 24-year-old Brown -- acquired in a trade with the Phillies in ‘22 -- will try to hit the reset button next year with the goal of staying healthy and reaching the big leagues. In ‘23, he appeared in 26 games between Double-A and Triple-A. In his first 13 games, Brown had a 2.71 ERA with 93 strikeouts and 31 walks in 63 innings. In his next 13 outings, he logged a 7.58 ERA with 37 strikeouts and 26 walks in 29 2/3 innings.

SS Matt Shaw, No. 6 prospect, No. 96 overall: Again, it’s not really going out on a limb here to predict big things from the Cubs’ first-round pick in the ‘23 Draft, but it will be really fun to see what Shaw is capable of doing over a full season. Chicago was already impressed enough to aggressively move him up the ladder to Double-A by season’s end.

In 38 games between the Arizona Complex League (rookie level), High-A South Bend and Double-A Tennessee, the 21-year-old Shaw hit .357/.400/.618 with eight homers, nine doubles, four triples, 28 RBIs, 15 steals and 27 runs scored. That came after he hit .341 (1.142 OPS) in 62 games for Maryland, leading up to being picked 13th overall by the Cubs.

1 big question for next season

Can the farm system provide better relief options for the MLB bullpen?

Chicago’s relief corps did get some help from the farm this season -- most notably, righty Daniel Palencia and Little -- but it was not to the extent expected. The arms at Triple-A and Double-A did not impact the Cubs as much as needed, especially as injuries took a toll at the big league level down the stretch. Beyond adding experienced options for the ‘24 group, the Cubs need to count on their system to fill in the gaps, or to have a few more pieces emerge as legitimate, trusted bullpen arms.