Welcome back to the Cubs Beat newsletter. This week, we’ll take a look back at some of the standout stories in the Minor League season in ’22, plus some things to keep an eye on with the ’23 campaign in mind.
3 players who forced their way onto the radar in 2022
With apologies to the likes of reliever Jeremiah Estrada (40.4 percent strikeout rate in the Minors before joining the Cubs), or starters like Javier Assad (2.66 ERA in the Minors and 3.11 ERA in the Majors) and Hayden Wesneski (2.18 ERA in six MLB games), not to mention a few others, we’re going to focus on a trio of players yet to reach The Show.
RHP Luis Devers
The Cubs named the 22-year-old Devers their Minor League Pitcher of the Year after the right-hander went 13-3 with a 1.91 ERA in 26 appearances this season between Single-A Myrtle Beach and High-A South Bend. Devers piled up 122 strikeouts against 26 walks in 117 2/3 innings, posting a 21.1 percent strikeout-minus-walk rate in the process. The righty’s showing included a 2.58 ERA in Single-A (66 1/3 innings) and a 1.05 ERA in High-A (51 1/3 innings).
OF Darius Hill
Hill climbed from Double-A Tennessee to Triple-A Iowa this season and just kept hitting. The 25-year-old outfielder not only led Cubs farmhands in hits (166), but was tied with Cleveland’s Will Brennan for the most hits in all of the Minors. His .314 average led Cubs Minor Leaguers (minimum 200 at-bats) and was tied for first in all Minor League Baseball (minimum 500 at-bats). Hill ended with a 13.4 percent strikeout rate, plus nine homers, 36 doubles, five triples, 53 RBIs and 82 runs.
1B Matt Mervis
After posting a .677 OPS in 2021, it’s fair to say that expectations were not sky-high for Mervis when the ’22 season arrived. The first baseman changed that in a hurry, piecing together one of the stories of the season in the Minor Leagues. Mervis hit .309/.379/.605 as he ascended three levels, launching 36 homers, collecting 40 doubles and leading the Minors with 119 RBIs. His walk rate and strikeout rate improved at each level from High-A to Double-A to Triple-A, and he has continued to perform in the Arizona Fall League. Mervis could be in the mix for the Cubs’ first-base job in Spring Training.
2 possible breakout players to watch in 2023
LHP Riley Martin
A few arms jump to mind here (DJ Herz, Bailey Horn, Luke Little and Daniel Palencia, among them), but let’s look at a pitcher who has stayed outside the spotlight. The Cubs have quietly been developing a multi-inning relief weapon in the 24-year-old Martin, who was a sixth-round pick in the 2021 Draft. Martin was a strikeout artist in 2021 at Quincy University (17.4 K/9) and has continued to rack up punchouts at a prolific rate. This season between Single-A and High-A, the lefty had 120 strikeouts against 43 walks in 82 2/3 innings (31 appearances) with a 3.38 ERA. Martin is currently getting more work with Mesa in the Arizona Fall League.
OF Yonathan Perlaza
Along with OF Jordan Nwogu and some others, Perlaza was one of the Cubs’ more under-the-radar standout performers at the plate in the second half of the Minor League season. In that span with Double-A Tennessee, the 23-year-old Perlaza turned in a 1.007 OPS with 14 homers, 20 doubles and a 16.2 percent walk rate.
1 big question for next season
Will Brennen Davis stay healthy and impact the Major League team?
Depending on what moves the Cubs make this winter, there could be a job opening in center field next spring. The thought going into 2022 was that highly touted prospect Brennen Davis would be poised to claim such a spot by now. A back injury and midseason surgery limited the 22-year-old to 53 games in ’22, following a breakout ’21 tour that included being the MVP of the All-Star Futures Game.
Expecting Davis to be a contender for the Cubs’ Opening Day roster seems unrealistic, given his setbacks this year. That said, with a clean bill of health and a return to his prior production, there is certainly an opening for Davis to impact the MLB team in ’23.
“He's probably not as strong as he usually is,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said at the end of the season. “He wasn't able to fully get back to that after the back surgery. But I have no doubt he'll work hard … and he'll be able to get back to his normal strength. We're excited to have him this spring. I think he's shown real resilience so far.”
Darius Hill led the Cubs’ Minor League system with 166 hits in 2022. Who was the last Cubs prospect to have at least that many hits in a single Minor League season?
A.) Kris Bryant
B.) Eloy Jiménez
C.) DJ LeMahieu
D.) Willson Contreras
AS THE CROW-ARMSTRONG FLIES
Acquired from the Mets in the Javier Báez trade in 2021, outfielder Pete Crow-Armstrong enjoyed a standout showing in his first full season in the Cubs’ system. His all-around performance and potential paved the way for an All-Star Futures Game nod, plus a rise to the No. 1 spot on Pipeline’s Top 30 Cubs prospects list.
Offensively, the 20-year-old Crow-Armstrong hit .312 with 16 homers, 20 doubles, 10 triples, 61 RBIs, 32 stolen bases, 89 runs and an .896 OPS between Single-A Myrtle Beach and High-A South Bend. He also made a list of brilliant defensive plays in center field. South Bend manager Lance Rymel was asked for his favorite.
“Oh my God, he had so many. So many,” Rymel said. “That one in Beloit, probably. On the turf, sliding up against the fence. That was a big series, too. He's pretty special out there.”
That one in Beloit came in the third inning of a 2-1 win on July 2 for South Bend, which went on to win the Midwest League championship. Beloit’s Nasim Nunez crushed a pitch to deep left-center. Crow-Armstrong was shaded toward the right-center gap, but made the all-out sprint across center, ending with a sliding catch on the warning track.
Crow-Amstrong's catch route.
“He hit that ball well. And the ball flies in Beloit a little bit,” Crow-Armstrong said. “So off the bat, no, I didn't think I had it. I think the ball hit a point in the air where it kind of slowed down a little bit, and that's when I knew I had it. I just peaked at the wall a couple times and I just went for it. I went for it like I go for a lot of balls in BP.
“I've made those catches before and I'm going to make a whole lot more.”
“Man, it's exciting. You can sit here and talk about whatever rankings you want to. We don't pay attention to that one bit. It's a lot of fun to sit on the bench and watch these guys go out there and compete and do what they do. You get to sit there and watch a guy like [Ryan] Jensen, watch a guy like DJ [Herz], and that's only naming a few of the guys. You see the breakout season from a guy like Porter Hodge and [Luis] Devers. It’s a lot of fun to be around, because we look at it as challenging each other. We see a guy go out there and throw five shutout and we're like, 'I want to do that.' And so it's really just an iron-sharpens-iron type of atmosphere. And we're excited.” -- Prospect Jordan Wicks, on the pitching coming through the Cubs' system
After a two-year pause, Cubs Convention is returning this winter. The event will be held from Jan. 13-15 at the Sheraton Grand Chicago, providing Cubs fans with autograph opportunities, plus panel sessions, activities for kids and more. Information on Cubs Convention, including hotel packages, can be found at cubs.com/convention. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Cubs Charities.
C.) DJ LeMahieu
LeMahieu churned out 174 hits in the Cubs’ system in 2010 for High-A Daytona, hitting at a .314 clip in the process. That was the last Chicago farmhand to top Darius Hill’s 166 hits this season across Double-A and Triple-A combined. Bryant had 160 hits in his standout 2014 Minor League campaign.
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