Cubs get Top 100 prospect Busch, reliever Almonte in trade with Dodgers

January 13th, 2024

CHICAGO -- was still a member of the Dodgers on Thursday morning. By Friday night, the highly touted prospect was wearing a Cubs jersey, walking out to blaring music and high-fiving kids in the front row from a stage at Cubs Convention.

For the fans who packed into the opening ceremonies -- a crowd so substantial that it overflowed out of the main hall and into the outer corridor -- it may just have been an introduction to the Cubs’ 2024 first baseman. That is already the way Chicago is viewing its new acquisition.

“He's ready for the big leagues, and so he's going to get a shot,” manager Craig Counsell said. “There's no question about it. He's done everything you could possibly do in Minor League Baseball. He's ready for a Major League shot.”

The Cubs landed Busch (ranked No. 44 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 list) and righty reliever  from the Dodgers in Thursday’s deal. Chicago sent pitching prospect Jackson Ferris and outfield prospect Zyhir Hope to Los Angeles to complete the trade.

Cubs receive: 3B Michael Busch (Dodgers' No. 2), RHP Yency Almonte
Dodgers receive: LHP Jackson Ferris (Cubs' No. 8), OF Zyhir Hope

In Busch, Chicago lands an intriguing left-handed power bat who checked in as the Dodgers’ No. 2 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, and got his first taste of the Majors last year. The 29-year-old Almonte is a veteran of six MLB seasons and gives the Cubs a piece to add to a bullpen in need of reinforcements.

Pipeline described Busch as “one of the best all-around offensive prospects” in the 2019 Draft class, which saw the Dodgers pick him 31st overall in the first round. There were questions about where the prospect would find a home on the diamond, and he has bounced around the infield in his Minor League career.

The Dodgers also did not have a clear path to MLB playing time for the prospect.

“When you have a future Hall of Famer at DH and at first and at second, it doesn't leave a lot of playing time for other people,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said. “And hopefully that's something we can benefit from.”

As things stand at the MLB level for the Cubs, there is room for upgrades at both infield corners and at-bats potentially available in the designated hitter slot. Busch, 26, has Minor League options, but he will head into Spring Training with a real chance to make the Opening Day roster.

In 98 games for Triple-A Oklahoma City last season, Busch hit .323 with 27 homers, 26 doubles and 90 RBIs. His .618 slugging percentage ranked fourth among all qualified Minor League batters, while his 1.049 OPS ranked seventh.

Busch also showed strong plate discipline, posting an 18.8% strikeout rate to go along with a 13.9% walk rate. He has a career .919 OPS in the Minors.

The question the Dodgers were trying to answer was figuring out where Busch best fits positionally. He has spent most of his Minor League career at second base, but he shifted mostly to third in 2023. Given the makeup of Chicago’s roster, Hoyer sees first base as the path to at-bats.

“I think first base is obviously a natural spot for him,” Hoyer said. “He's played there a lot, but certainly his versatility is also attractive. Obviously in the Minor Leagues, he's performed incredibly well. He's going to hit right-handed pitching -- I have no question about that.”

Almonte should help a Cubs bullpen that collectively hit a wall down the stretch in 2023 and required more depth for the coming campaign. The 29-year-old right-hander avoided arbitration with the Dodgers in November, agreeing to a $1.9 million contract for ‘24.

In 196 career games in the Majors with the Rockies and Dodgers, Almonte has a 4.51 ERA. After spinning a 1.02 ERA in 33 games in 2022, the righty had a 5.06 ERA in  49 games last year, racking up 49 strikeouts and 24 walks in 48 innings. Almonte sits around 95-96 mph with his fastball (sinker and four-seamer), but his arsenal was led by a sweeper (50.1% usage) in 2023.

In order to acquire such a highly touted hitter in Busch, the Cubs had to part ways with Ferris, who was ranked as Chicago’s No. 8 prospect. Ferris, who turns 20 on Monday, was a second-round pick out of IMG Academy in the 2022 MLB Draft and had a solid pro debut with Single-A Myrtle Beach last year (3.38 ERA with 77 strikeouts in 56 innings).

Hope, who will turn 19 years old on Jan. 19, was an 11th-round pick by the Cubs in last summer’s Draft. He played 11 games in the Arizona Complex League last year, bouncing between all three outfield spots while posting a .962 OPS.

“It was hard to give up two good young players,” Hoyer said. “But I felt like we were getting six years of service of a guy like Michael Busch. It felt like it wasn't a Deadline transaction, where you're getting a rental or a year-and-a-half of control. And that made that transaction easier for us.”