'Thrilled' Hoyer sees flashes of 2014 Cubs in '22 club

August 25th, 2022

CHICAGO -- Cade Horton sat in the Cubs' dugout on Thursday morning, wearing a new blue cap and Chicago's home white jersey, looking out at the old ballpark he hopes to pitch in someday. The pitching prospect was asked for his initial reaction to seeing Wrigley Field.

"I can feel the history," Horton said. "The ivy's awesome. It's unreal."

The first pick of the franchise's 2022 Draft class added that he hoped to witness a Cubs win in his first trip to the North Side. The Cardinals spoiled that aspect of an otherwise memorable day, dealing Chicago an 8-3 loss to wrap up this five-game, four-day series.

The defeat ended a streak of six consecutive series victories (including a one-game stop in Baltimore) for the rebuilding Cubs. Chicago has gone 12-8 in that span and 20-14 since a nine-game losing streak in July.

A strong finish would hurt the Cubs' position in the 2023 MLB Draft, but Jed Hoyer, the team's president of baseball operations, shrugged off that notion in a chat with media Thursday morning. In his view, a strong finish could also help set up a busy, aggressive offseason.

"I'm thrilled that we're playing this way," Hoyer said. "There were a lot of parts of the season that were really frustrating. We felt all along that we knew this was probably a tough needle to thread.

"We knew a lot of things had to go really well to compete against where [the Cardinals] and the Brewers were this year. I think we said that. But we felt, as we were struggling, 'We're much better than this.'"

Hoyer did not dismiss the idea that this second half could wind up having a similar feel as 2014.

That summer, as Chicago was at the tail end of its last rebuild, the Cubs went 42-60 before posting a 31-29 finish over their final 60 games. That encouraging run over the final two months that -- combined with the pile of prospect talent emerging -- helped convince the Cubs to aggressively dip into free agency to supplement the '15 squad.

"The last couple of months were impressive," Hoyer said. "And it definitely gave us confidence that what we were building on top of was starting to be real. And we had young players there. And I'd love to feel that way again."

During 2015, as the Cubs were in the midst of a 97-win campaign, they picked ninth in the Draft due to the 89-loss showing the previous year. They grabbed Ian Happ, who made his first All-Star team this year and churned out his 32nd and 33rd doubles of the season in Thursday's loss.

Horton (picked No. 7 overall in June) was the highest Draft pick the Cubs had since 2015. He currently slots in at No. 4 on MLB Pipeline's Top 30 Cubs Prospects list. Lefty Jackson Ferris -- also at Wrigley Field on Thursday -- was picked in the second round and is No. 8 on the list.

MLB Pipeline's updated organizational rankings peg the Cubs at No. 10 in baseball. They were as low as 26th as recently as 2020. It marks the Cubs' first time in the Top 10 since 2015. And while Chicago's three Top 100 prospects are outfielders (Pete Crow-Armstrong, Brennen Davis and Kevin Alcantara), the system is rich in pitching prospects, as well.

"We're a lot deeper farm system-wise than we have been in the past," Hoyer said.

Back in 2014, much of the impact prospect talent was either in the Majors already or closer to being big league ready than the current crop of farmhands. But the up-and-coming talent is there and the players who have graduated to the Cubs have helped shore up this turbulent season.

With Thursday's loss, the Cubs are 31-31 going back to June 17.

Shortstop Nico Hoerner has looked like a player to build around (and potentially engage with in extension talks over the winter). Starters Justin Steele and Keegan Thompson have solidified rotation spots. Rookies like Seiya Suzuki, Christopher Morel, Brandon Hughes and Nelson Velázquez have impressed.

"When we talk daily," Cubs manager David Ross said earlier this week, "I think we're all on the same page. Nobody feels -- I don't think there's players, staff, support staff, front office staff -- I don't think anybody feels like we're very far away, just from the conversations.

"I know winning's important. Winning's always important. Getting a look at guys is important. But it's pretty obvious. ... Guys stand out when they belong here. Nico Hoerner has stood out. We'll just continue to play this thing out, see how we finish."