Next Great Cubs Team needs to fill in some blanks
Third in a series
President of baseball operations Jed Hoyer and his staff are trying to build The Next Great Cubs Team. What will that look like? This year's 36-57 squad hasn't been very great, but might deliver a top-5 draft pick.
After the first two parts of this series, maybe the rest is easy to figure out by process of elimination. But here's the top 10 in a ranking of which players have the best chance to be part of the theoretical great Cubs team of the future:
10. Keegan Thompson: One aspect that speaks well for the Cubs' pitching development is Thompson's pitch mix is different from Justin Steele's. Steele, Adbert Alzolay, and to a lesser extent Matt Swarmer, were able to master a slider and show promise in the majors. Thompson doesn't throw a slider very often and in some of his best games, has gone heavy with a four-seam that averages 94 mph. He sticks mostly to a four-seam, cutter and curve, which shows the Cubs can help tailor a plan to a pitcher's strengths.
9. Brennen Davis: After Davis hit 2 home runs and was named MVP of last year's Futures Game, the expectation might have been that Davis would be a full-time Cubs starter by now. But he struggled during his first month at Iowa, then had back surgery and has been out since May 3. Hoyer said surgery showed the injury to be a "best case scenario" and Davis told the Des Moines Register he'll play again this season. Davis, 22, will likely spend next season in Iowa and maybe he can start building momentum again.
8. Justin Steele: While he's had a few blips this season, Friday's start in Philadelphia was impressive. With temperatures in the high 90s, the hitting environment doesn't get much better than it was in this game. But while the Cubs scored 15 runs, Steele was able to execute his soft-contact strategy and get through 5 innings with 1 run allowed. The Mississippi native has a chance to stay in the rotation for 5-10 years and should always be a fan favorite just based on his emotional reaction vs. the Dodgers last season.
7. Free agent position player: If the Cubs plan to spend that rollover money, there will be opportunities this winter. Boston shortstop Xander Bogaerts is a candidate to change teams, while Washington's Josh Bell or Baltimore's Trey Mancini might be a fit at first base. But it seems like Hoyer is focused on building up the farm system first. Just like in 2015-16, the Cubs might wait for the team to get closer to contention before spending big on another free agent.
6. Seiya Suzuki: The Cubs did sign a pair of free agents last winter, Suzuki and pitcher Marcus Stroman. The early returns on Suzuki are still being formulated, but he has shown a nice variety of tools. Suzuki is signed for five years, so it seems logical to write his name in ink for the right field spot. But if things don't pan out for Suzuki or the Cubs right away, a trade is always possible.
5. Pete Crow-Armstrong: Of the Cubs' top prospects, it feels like Crow-Armstrong has the best odds of being a regular at Wrigley. He's 20 years old and adjusted quickly to both levels of Class A after missing most of last season recovering from shoulder surgery. He's showing some power (12 home runs), doubled against top competition in the Futures Game, leads off, has 19 stolen bases and is projected as an elite defensive center fielder. PCA probably starts next season in Double A, so that will be a good test on whether he can reach the majors by 2024. Owen Caissie is another 20-year-old outfielder for South Bend who could take a similar trajectory.
4. Christopher Morel: Few people expected Morel to even reach the majors this season, but he's made things happen since the day he arrived. Heading into Saturday's action, Morel is second among all MLB rookies (behind Suzuki, who is five years older) in OPS. He quickly recovered from a bad stretch of striking out and adjusted well to moving down in the order. Morel's arrival feels a little like Starlin Castro being the first of the championship-contending players. In baseball, fast starts can come to a crashing halt, but Morel has shown nothing but great signs so far.
3. Nico Hoerner: While any number of Cubs could be headed out of town before the Aug. 2 trade deadline, Hoerner seems to have found a home. He's the Cubs leader in Wins Above Average, is hitting .304 and has by far the lowest strikeout rate on the team. Any questions about whether he can play shortstop were answered. Hoerner leads the majors in defensive runs above average. He's not a free agent until 2026, so it makes sense if the 2018 first-round pick doesn't go anywhere for a while.
2. Codi Heuer: True, he won't pitch this season after having Tommy John surgery. But Heuer seems like one of the safest bets to stick with the Cubs long-term because they've had a tough time finding power arms that work. Heuer's four-seam average velocity was 97.6 mph in 2020 with the White Sox, 95.9 mph last season when he played for both teams. The Montana native is 26 and figures to fit any bullpen role the Cubs need beginning next season.
1. Free agent starting pitcher: The signing of Jon Lester was one of the biggest steps to a World Series title. The Cubs need to do that again or develop their own ace. There are some solid free-agent pitchers coming on the market like Joe Musgrove and Carlos Rodon, but it's not clear if the Cubs are ready to make that kind of move yet.
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