Cubs Insider’s 2023 Top 79 Cubs Prospects List (60-41)

We’re back with another installment of Cubs Insider’s top 79 Cubs prospects, this time with a look at players 60-41 in the system. The theme of this segment seems to be pitchers, whether it’s relievers on the cusp of the big leagues, those with something to prove after injuries, or guys who haven’t made it up to affiliated ball yet. We will look at some young middle infielders with loads of potential and a long way to go and others who could be role players at the MLB level.

And hey, one or two of these prospects could end up being everyday big leaguers if they hit their respective ceilings. Catch up on the first segment of our list here and be on the lookout for the top 40 in the coming days.

#60. Yovanny Cruz, SP

Age: 23   Bats: R   Throws: R
Height: 6-0     Weight: 180
International Signing: 2016
Expected 2023 Level: High-A; Double-A

It’s been a run of bad luck for Cruz, who missed the 2020 season due to the COVID shutdown and then lost ’21 to Tommy John surgery. He was able to return to the mound in August of 2022 and pitched 13.2 innings. When healthy, he can hit triple digits with the fastball and also mixes in an upper-80s slider that shows a ton of potential. I still hold out slight hope he can be an MLB starter, but I think he ultimately lands in the bullpen. Getting a full season in 2023 will tell us a lot about Cruz’s future.

#59. Brailyn Márquez, RP

Age: 24   Bats: L   Throws: L
Height: 6-4     Weight: 185
International Signing: 2015
Expected 2023 Level: Triple-A

Here’s another player who hasn’t been able to catch a break. Once regarded as the top pitching prospect in the system, multiple arm injuries and COVID issues have derailed his promising career and limited Márquez to just 2/3 of an inning since 2020. I still dream on his 100 mph velocity from the left side, but I just really want to see him healthy for the 2023 season more than anything.

#58. Zac Leigh, RP

Age: 25   Bats: R   Throws: R
Height: 6-0     Weight: 170
Drafted: 2021 (16th Rd)
Expected 2023 Level: Double-A; Triple-A

Leigh had a stellar season in 2022 and was rewarded with a trip to the Arizona Fall League. He features a mid-90s fastball and a wipeout slider that gets a lot of swings and misses. He hasn’t faced top-level talent yet, so starting the year in Double-A Tennessee should be a good test for him. If he continues to develop his command and consistency, he is another guy to keep an eye on as a future bullpen arm in Chicago.

#57. Brendon Little, RP

Age: 26   Bats: L   Throws: L
Height: 6-2     Weight: 195
Drafted: 2017 (1st Rd)
Expected 2023 Level: Triple-A; MLB

The former first-round pick made his major league debut this past season and was roughed up in 2/3 of an inning. He will look to build on that experience while competing for a bullpen spot as a non-roster invitee in spring training. He has a high-90s fastball that he matches with an above-average slider to attack hitters. During an interview on the Bar-B-Cast, Pete Crow-Armstrong described Little as, “One of the best pitchers I’ve ever seen in my life” after facing him in live BP this spring. Little could play an important role as a depth piece for the big league bullpen.

#56. Reggie Preciado, SS

Age: 19   Bats: Throws: R
Height: 6-4     Weight: 185
Trade: 2020 (Yu Darvish, Victor Caratini)
Expected 2023 Level: Low-A

Preciado is another guy I had trouble placing on this list. His stock plummeted after a disastrous 2022 season in which he started off slow, injured his knee running the bases, and ended the season with a 37% K rate. I have to keep reminding myself that he is only 19, and I think the elimination of the short-season leagues really hurts players like Preciado who get pushed to a level a little higher than their capabilities. He is a free swinger at the plate and too often makes his mind up before the pitch on whether to swing or not. More experience and another crack at Low-A may help with his approach issues, and we could see a move to the outfield at some point.

#55. Jefferson Rojas, SS

Age: 17   Bats: R   Throws: R
Height: 5-10     Weight: 150
International Signing: 2022
Expected 2023 Level: EXST; ACL

Signed for a cool $1 million in January ’22, Rojas took a back seat to the other IFA signings — Adan Sanchez, Alexis Hernandez — that year. His his ability to make hard contact during the Dominican Summer League and instructs raised some eyebrows and the 17-year-old has room on his frame to add much more muscle, which should translate into more power. He is athletic enough to stick at short for the foreseeable future and could rise pretty quickly to get much more notice throughout the season.

#54. Alexis Hernandez, SS

Age: 18   Bats: R   Throws: R
Height: 6-1.     Weight: 155
International Signing: 2022
Expected 2023 Level: EXST; ACL

The brother of one of the top prospects in the system, Christian Hernandez, Alexis will look to make a name for himself after signing for $1.3 million in 2022. He has a projectable body that should continue to fill out and he has a chance to be a plus hitter with some legit power to go along with his plus speed. There’s still a long way to go, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him jump into top 20 prospect status by the end of the season as he makes his journey stateside.

#53. Darius Hill, CF

Age: 25   Bats: L   Throws: L
Height: 6-1     Throws: L
Drafted: 2019 (20th Rd)
Expected 2023 Level: Triple-A

Hill is a professional hitter with great contact skills and the ability to spray line drives to all fields. His hit tool will need to continue to carry him as he doesn’t draw many walks or show much power. Although he isn’t an elite athlete and has average speed, I still hold the belief that he is an above-average glove in center. Hill has a fifth outfielder ceiling and could play a role as an end-of-bench bat and late-inning defensive sub. Unfortunately for him, there is a log jam of outfielders in the Cubs system and he may need to get his opportunity outside the organization.

#52. Cole Roederer, LF

Age: 23   Bats: L   Throws: L
Height: 6-0     Weight: 180
Drafted: 2018 (2nd Rd)
Expected 2023 Level: Double-A

Last season was all about getting back in the groove for Roederer after missing about a year following Tommy John Surgery in 2021. His performance was full of ups and downs but he ended the year on a hot streak by hitting five of his eight Double-A home runs in the season’s final nine games. Seeing him get much more comfortable at the plate makes me optimistic about 2023. He has shown some pop and I could see him developing into a 15-homer guy with the ability to steal some bags. I still hold out slight hope that he could turn into an everyday player, but the most realistic projection is fourth or fifth OF.

#51. Christian Franklin, CF

Age: 23   Bats: R   Throws: R
Height: 5-11     Weight: 195
Drafted: 2021 (4th Rd)
Expected 2023 Level: High-A

This is a ranking that may end up looking comically low by the end of the 2023 season. I had a hard time knowing just where to place Franklin on this list becase he only has 101 plate appearances after losing a year of development in ’22 because of a torn patellar tendon in his left knee. At 23 years old, any lost development time is devastating. When healthy, he oozes talent and tools with power/speed combo that could result in 20/20 type production. He should be able to stick in center field and play above-average defense. This will be a huge year for Franklin and should give us a clearer picture of just where he stands as a prospect.

#50. Jared Young, 2B

Age: 27   Bats: L   Throws: R
Height: 6-2     Weight: 185
Drafted: 2017 (15th Rd)
Expected 2023 Level: Triple-A

Young got a cup of coffee with 19 at-bats in the big leagues last year and held his own for the most part. The lefty utilityman has three options remaining, which makes him valuable as a replacement-level player who can move up and down based on need. Although he isn’t stellar at any one position, he is adequate at 1B, 2B, 3B, LF, and RF. This may be his ceiling as a player, but if he can cut down on his K-rate and make a little more contact while maintaining his gap power, he may be able to carve a niche as an end-of-the-bench role player.

#49. Bryce Ball, 1B

Age: 24   Bats: L   Throws: R
Height: 6-6     Weight: 240
Trade: 2021 (Joc Pederson)
Expected 2023 Level: Double-A; Triple-A

Ball is a big lefty with huge raw power that hasn’t shown up in games yet for whatever reason as he has just 24 home runs in 1,001 career full-season plate appearances. He has an all-fields approach at the plate and often drives doubles to the opposite field gap, which makes me believe more power is there as Ball continues to develop. He was about a year younger than league average as a 23-year-old in Double-A, so this season should be telling. Right now he is tracking as a possible platoon 1B/DH option, but he could turn himself into an everyday first baseman if he can tap into some more power.

#48. Ben Leeper, RP

Age: 25   Bats: R   Throws: R
Height: 6-0     Weight: 195
UDFA: 2020
Expected 2023 Level: Triple-A; MLB

After a stellar debut season in which he struck out 53 batters in 35 innings and posted a 1.29 ERA, expectations were high for Ben Leeper heading into 2022. The dominance he showed in ’21 never really materialized in a meaningful way, however, and he wasn’t able to take the next step. He features a fastball that sits 95-96 and has reached 99 but is best pitch is a slider he throws in the upper 80s with hard bite. Giving up home runs and lack of consistency were major issues for him last season, but he is another guy with a shot to be called up if an opening arises in the Cubs ‘pen.

#47. Bailey Horn, RP

Age: 25   Bats: L   Throws: L
Height: 6-2     Weight: 210
Trade: 2021 (Ryan Tepera)
Expected 2023 Level: Triple-A; MLB

Drafted in the 5th round in the 2020 draft by the White Sox, Horn was acquired at the 2021 trade deadline for Ryan Tepera. Horn had a breakout season in ’22 and earned a trip to the Arizona Fall League, where he was selected as an AFL Rising Star. He will look to capitalize on that momentum and make a push toward the big leagues in ’23. The athletic lefty features a fastball that sits 93-95 and the improvement in his slider allowed him to really take off. A good start in Iowa could give him the inside track to an early promotion to Chicago.

#46. Cam Sanders, RP

Age: 26   Bats: R   Throws: R
Height: 6-2     Weight: 175
Drafted: 2018 (12th Rd)
Expected 2023 Level: Triple-A; MLB

Sanders is another reliever with a big arm who could see some time in Chicago. He made the switch from starter to reliever in late July and quickly saw his fastball reach 100, so he has the stuff to make an immediate impact in the bullpen. His only drawback has been consistency, but the switch to the bullpen may alleviate some of those issues. Sanders is one of my favorite players to watch on the mound because he has a bulldog mentality and goes right after hitters.

#45. Danis Correa, RP

Age: 23   Bats: R   Throws: R
Height: 5’11     Weight: 150
International Signing: 2016
Expected 2023 Level: Triple-A; MLB

Correa has a big arm and should be able to help the bullpen in Chicago at some point this season. He features a fastball that can run up into the triple digits, pairing it with a decent slider that keeps hitters guessing. He was susceptible to the home run when called up to Triple-A Iowa late in the season, but a little fine-tuning gives him the potential to be a late-inning reliever. We will get our first look at him in the WBC when he takes the mound for Columbia.

#44. Richard Gallardo, SP

Age: 21   Bats: R   Throws: R
Height: 6-1     Weight: 180
International Signing: 2018
Expected 2023 Level: Double-A

Gallardo has plus command but a lack of swing-and-miss stuff, which really hampers his overall effectiveness. His fastball sits in the 93-95 range, with an average changeup and curveball to complete his arsenal. He projects as a fourth or fifth starter if everything clicks and he can tighten up his secondary offerings. This will be a big year in Gallardo’s development to see if he can reach his potential as a starter.

#43. Mason McGwire, SP

Age: 19   Bats: R   Throws: R
Height: 6-4     Weight: 190
Drafted: 2022 (8th Rd)
Expected 2023 Level: EXST; ACL

The son of former Major League slugger Mark McGwire has made a name for himself on the mound. Drafted out of high school, he is a projectable righty whose fastball sits in the low 90s. He also features a slider and splitter, the latter he learned from Hall of Fame pitcher Rollie Fingers. McGwire should be able to add velocity as he fills out his frame. He has a long way to go but he has pedigree in his favor.

 #42.     Brandon Birdsell, SP

Age: 22   Bats: R   Throws: R
Height: 6-2     Weight: 240
Drafted: 2022 (5th Rd)
Expected 2023 Level: Low-A

Birdsell is a big righty out of Texas Tech who dealt with Tommy John surgery in high school and shoulder issues in college. The latter trouble may have caused him to slide in the draft, where the Cubs were happy to take him in the 5th round. He features a plus fastball in the mid-90s that can reach 99, setting it off with a mid-80s slider and a hard changeup. This is a guy who has the potential to jump up the prospect lists dependent on health.

#41. Kenyi Pérez, SP

Age: 21   Bats: R   Throws: R
Height: 6-2     Weight: 165
International Signing: 2020
Expected 2023 Level: Low-A

Perez has good stuff and flashes a plus fastball that sits 93-95, pairing it with a hard-biting slider that sits around 85. He is also developing a changeup. I think he has the frame to stick as a starter, but command is the major issue that is holding him back and will ultimately determine his role.

The next installment with Nos. 40-21 will be available shortly.

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