CINCINNATI -- When Javier Assad made his big league debut for the Cubs in August, his former Double-A Tennessee teammates were monitoring his outing in the Smokies Stadium clubhouse. For four innings, the rookie held the playoff-bound Cardinals scoreless.
"We're all sitting in the locker room," Cubs prospect Jordan Wicks said, "cheering with every pitch, watching him pitch. It was a really cool moment."
On Tuesday night, Assad wrapped up his first taste of the Majors with 5 1/3 shutout innings in a 3-2 loss to the Reds. The righty was barely on the radar at the start of this season but has since pitched his way onto the in-house list for the 2023 rotation depth chart.
Assad earned the call to the Majors with a standout performance, posting a 2.66 ERA across Double-A and Triple-A this season prior to his Cubs debut on Aug. 23. In nine MLB appearances, the righty showed off six pitches and a jump in velocity compared to a year ago, ending with a 3.11 ERA.
“He's always had pitch ability,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “He wasn't on the radar very much to start the season. And when the velocity up-ticked -- he was in there 94-95 [mph] today -- I mean, when you're getting those 94s consistently for him, he's just really tough to hit.”
Assad believes he can be an example to other pitchers in the system that the big leagues are not as far away as they seem at times.
“Baseball is the same anywhere you are,” Assad said via team translator Will Nadal. “Obviously, this is a different level, but I think that I can show them that with hard work and determination, anything is possible.”
Hayden Wesneski, Caleb Kilian and Assad are three prospects who reached the Majors this season and will return as rotation candidates next year. With an Assad-like rise in mind, let's take a look at six pitchers from MLB Pipeline's Top 30 Cubs prospects list to monitor for the rotation picture next year.
Coming soon: RHP Ben Brown (No. 7), LHP Jordan Wicks (No. 5)
Brown and Wicks were two of the prospects selected for a minicamp at Wrigley Field this past weekend. It was a chance for the players to experience the ballpark, talk to Ross and his coaches and to begin formulating plans for the offseason.
"We definitely go out on the field and imagine being out there,” Wicks said. “Who knows how far away it is?”
When the Cubs used their first-round pick in '21 on Wicks, the club did so believing he could be a fast riser in the farm system. This year between High-A and Double-A, the 23-year-old lefty with solid command, a plus changeup and a developing curve had a 3.80 ERA with 121 strikeouts and 28 walks in 94 2/3 innings. Wicks ended his year with a 2.57 ERA in his last six outings.
Brown, 23, was acquired from the Phillies ahead of this year's Trade Deadline in exchange for veteran reliever David Robertson. Brown posted a 3.38 ERA with 149 strikeouts and 36 walks between stops with High-A Jersey Shore (Phillies) and Double-A Tennessee (Cubs). He is a no-brainer to be added to the 40-man roster this winter due to Rule 5 Draft eligibility.
On the radar: RHP Luis Devers (No. 26)
The 22-year-old Devers was one of the farm system's steadiest arms this year. That was important for the right-hander, as he is on Chicago's long list of Rule 5 Draft-eligible players this offseason.
Across Single-A and High-A this season, Devers turned in a 1.91 ERA in 26 appearances (22 starts), racking up 122 strikeouts against 26 walks in 117 2/3 innings. Once promoted to High-A South Bend, he logged a 1.05 ERA in 51 1/3 innings.
It might be aggressive to think a pitcher who topped out at High-A in '22 might rise all the way to the Majors by '23. The following season is probably more realistic, but if the Cubs add Devers to their 40-man roster this winter, that gives him an edge for consideration if a need arises.
Down the line: LHP DJ Herz (No. 13), RHP Porter Hodge (No. 22), RHP Daniel Palencia (No. 19)
The 21-year-old Herz, the Cubs' Minor League pitcher of the year in 2021, soared through High-A this year (2.26 ERA in 17 starts) but encountered some struggles in Double-A (8.24 ERA in nine starts). Reaching the Majors in '23 is probably not realistic, barring a dominant run up the ladder.
Neither the 21-year-old Hodge (13th-round pick in the 2019 Draft) nor the 22-year-old Palencia (acquired from the A's for reliever Andrew Chafin in '21) pitched above High-A this year. Hodge had a 2.63 ERA with 141 strikeouts in 109 1/3 innings at two levels, while Palencia fanned 98 in 75 1/3 innings with a 3.94 ERA at High-A.