Sixty-four men played for the Chicago Cubs this year, five short of the franchise (and MLB) record the team set last year.
I am certain you don’t want, or need, to see grades for all 64 men who wore the blue pinstripes in 2022. So I’m limiting this to the 28 players who were on the active roster at the end of this season, plus a handful of others who played significant roles, some of whom will be back next year.
Ready? Here goes.
Willson Contreras: B
Willson certainly had a busy second half, from not being traded to being seriously injured in the Field of Dreams Game to returning and receiving more ovations at Wrigley Field due to his presumed departure as a free agent, to homering in his final game of the year.
Contreras had one more at-bat in that game and singled, which could be his final at-bat as a Cub. I am still certain he’ll receive a qualifying offer from the Cubs. In my view, it’s 50/50 that he takes it.
Alfonso Rivas: C-
Rivas plays pretty good defense at first base, but he hasn’t hit (.235 BA) or hit for power (.307 SLG). For a defensive first baseman, you’ve got to do one or both of those things to be a MLB regular and I’m reasonably certain Rivas will be replaced by Matt Mervis for 2023.
Nico Hoerner: A
Though he slumped late in the year, Nico led the Cubs in bWAR (4.5) and finally played a full MLB season, even though he missed some time with a bizarre injury suffered in May (running into an umpire in San Diego).
He hit 10 home runs and stole 20 bases. Over the last 10 seasons, the only other Cubs to reach both those milestones in the same season are Javier Báez and Dexter Fowler.
Nico’s also become a team leader. He might have to move to second base next year if the Cubs sign one of the top free-agent shortstops. He would certainly handle that well.
Patrick Wisdom: C-
Wisdom regressed in BA and SLG this year, while continuing to strike out about 45 percent of the time. That’s just not a formula for a MLB regular. His numbers vs. LHP — .250/.336/.557 (31-for-124) with 10 home runs in 70 games — suggest he could be a useful platoon player.
Ian Happ: B+
Happ’s numbers slipped a bit in the second half after he made the NL All-Star team; he hit for a .747 OPS after the All-Star break, compared to .808 in the first half. He became a more than competent left fielder and was second to Hoerner in bWAR (4.3).
I’d like to see him signed to a contract extension.
Christopher Morel: C+
Morel splashed on the scene homering in his first MLB at-bat.
Morel set a franchise record by reaching base in every one of his first 22 MLB games and at the end of that span was batting .303/.388/.528.
As happens to many rookies, the league caught up with him. He hit just .214/.282/.403 in 91 games and 322 PA the rest of the way.
The good stuff, though, is that Morel hit 16 home runs and stole 10 bases, played several positions competently, and posted a 1.4 bWAR season in a year he began in Double-A and just turned 23 in June.
The Cubs will have to figure out what to do with him. Is he a Ben Zobrist-type multi-position player? That would be real useful.
He’s going to have to cut down on the strikeouts, though — 137 in 425 PA isn’t going to cut it going forward.
Seiya Suzuki: B-
Suzuki got off to a fantastic start, batting .333/.458/.632 with four home runs over his first 18 MLB games.
Predictably, pitchers adjusted to him. Over his next 22 games he hit just .183/.253/.293 with no home runs and 30 strikeouts over 91 PA, and then he suffered a finger injury that kept him out of action for five weeks.
When he returned he hit an inside-the-park home run in his first game back in Milwaukee — off Josh Hader! That’s another fun thing to watch [VIDEO].
Suzuki finished the season well. Over his last 32 games he batted .315/.392/.514 with five home runs, perhaps a taste of what we’ll see from him in 2023.
His outfield defense, which was said to be good in Japan, wasn’t as good in MLB, though he did show off a strong throwing arm. Check out this throw that nailed the Marlins’ Miguel Rojas at the plate [VIDEO] (the “safe” call you see was reversed on review).
Franmil Reyes: D
I had higher hopes for Reyes when the Cubs claimed him on waivers from the Guardians. He had two previous 30-homer seasons, including just last year, and a career .828 OPS coming into 2022. Even as a (mostly) fulltime DH, that plays.
Except Reyes hit only slightly better with the Cubs this year (.689 OPS) than he did with Cleveland (.603 OPS). He’s arb-eligible and I can’t imagine the Cubs wanting to pay him (around) $6 million in 2023 for that kind of production, so they’ll likely let him go.
He’s been fun, though:
Franmil Reyes has marked his territory in the Cubs’ dugout. pic.twitter.com/3Z2i9K3Us3— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) October 1, 2022
Yan Gomes: C
Gomes didn’t hit much — the .625 OPS was the worst of his career — but he was widely praised for his handling of the pitching staff. He’s under contract for 2023 and if Willson Contreras isn’t re-signed, Gomes will start most of the games next year.
P.J. Higgins: C-
Higgins started out hitting quite well, but faded in the end. The .693 OPS certainly plays for a backup catcher, and he can play first base and a bit of third base. If Contreras returns, Higgins likely heads to Iowa as the “break glass in case of emergency” catcher. If not, he’ll be on the MLB roster as Gomes’ backup.
Nelson Velázquez: D+
The 2021 Arizona Fall League MVP never did hit the way he did in that league, never got untracked, was only average at best defensively. The Cubs can probably do better for a fourth or fifth outfielder, though Velázquez likely is in the mix for those spots as well.
David Bote: B-
Not a kid anymore — Bote turns 30 in April. He’s under contract for two more years with two option years after that.
Bote hit pretty well, actually, after returning from injury and a stint at Iowa, posting a .759 OPS in 41 games. But no one’s going to claim him if he’s waived off the 40-man roster because of the contract ($12 million remaining). That’s what I would expect, for the Cubs to DFA him, outright him to Iowa — he wouldn’t declare free agency, because he loses the money if he does — and invite him to Spring Training.
Zach McKinstry: C-
What an odd little player. He played in 47 games for the Cubs and had eight multi-hit games ... that’s good! He also had 25 games in which he had no hits at all.
He’s got some power — 13 extra-base hits for the Cubs. He’s got some speed — seven steals, no caught stealing. He plays several positions competently. But can they afford to keep a player like this, who will be 28 in April, on the 40-man roster all winter?
It will be a tough decision.
Esteban Quiroz: D
Quiroz had a couple of nice games but basically showed why he’s 30 years old and never played in the major leagues before. There are tons and tons and tons of guys like this who can be signed to minor league deals and brought to Spring Training. Quiroz is one of those guys. He’ll be DFA and given a NRI to Spring Training 2023.
Nick Madrigal: Incomplete
After he returned in August, he hit .277/.348/.317 (28-for-101) with four doubles.
He’s got no power. He doesn’t walk much, although the .348 OBP over that 28-game period is pretty good. If he’s to be successful in MLB he’d have to hit about .320 — which is, in fact, just about what he hit in 83 games over two seasons with the White Sox (.317).
So the ability is there. But if the Cubs do go and sign one of the top FA shortstops, which seems quite possible, Nico Hoerner probably moves to second base and that leaves Madrigal as odd-man-out, since he can ONLY play second base. Honestly, I don’t see anything in what Madrigal does that tells me why the Sox made him a No. 1 draft pick.
The best use of Madrigal is probably to try to trade him.
Michael Hermosillo: D-
Injured much of the year and didn’t hit when he was on the MLB roster. He seems like a good guy and it was a nice story for him to play for the team he grew up rooting for, but it seems as if his time in Chicago has come to an end.
Rafael Ortega: D+
He always looked kind of awkward in center field. He couldn’t hit lefthanders — .529 OPS vs. LHP this year. His 2022 season ended with an injury when he was hit by a pitch and suffered a broken finger.
Again, probably a good guy, but he’ll be 32 next year and the Cubs can find plenty of guys who can do what Ortega did who are younger.
Marcus Stroman: B
Stroman was basically as advertised when signed, except for missing about seven or eight starts with COVID and a shoulder issue. Once he returned from the shoulder issue he was outstanding: 2.56 ERA, 1.106 WHIP in 16 starts. Hopefully he can continue that in 2023. Stroman truly seems to enjoy being a Cub:
Shout to the @Cubs fanbase for all the love all season. Whether on the road or at home…y’all brought that energy every night. Thankful for you all!— Marcus Stroman (@STR0) October 5, 2022
Thankful for you, too, Marcus. Here’s to bigger and better things in 2023.
Justin Steele: B+
Steele finished the year on the injured list with a back issue, which likely will be fully healed by Spring Training.
He had a rough beginning to this year but from June until his season ended with that injury at the end of August, he was lights-out: 2.05 ERA, 1.241 WHIP in 14 starts, and he allowed two or fewer runs in the last seven of those outings. This is pretty impressive:
And so is this:
Justin Steele climbs this list on a day where Jon Lester was on hand at Wrigley Field to watch him pitch: pic.twitter.com/0AN2ns10TD— Tony Andracki (@TonyAndracki23) August 21, 2022
Looking for really good things from Steele in 2023.
Keegan Thompson: A- (as reliever), C- (as starter)
It seems obvious now that Thompson’s best role is as a multi-inning reliever. There aren’t a lot of guys around MLB who can do what he can in that role. In 12 relief appearances covering 36⅔ innings he posted a 1.47 ERA, 0.900 WHIP and struck out 42. In 17 starts, his ERA was 4.83, his WHIP 1.443 and he allowed 14 home runs in 78⅓ innings.
I mean, I know what I’d do with him next year, especially if the Cubs go out and sign a top starting pitcher.
Drew Smyly: B
If only he hadn’t suffered that oblique injury that kept him out until just before the trade deadline, the Cubs might have been able to deal him for some useful prospects.
Instead, his post-All-Star break ERA of 2.83 in 11 starts helped the Cubs do some positive things after the break. There was value to that even if the Cubs don’t exercise Smyly’s option, and I don’t think they will.
Adrian Sampson: B
Sampson’s season ended a few innings early when he left the season finale with a groin injury. But every time he went out to start a game, it seemed as if he’d give the Cubs five or six innings and a chance to win. He did, in fact, throw six or more innings in seven of his 19 starts (and the Cubs went 11-8 in his starts), and if the Cubs improve the rotation by adding a free-agent starter, he can still be a useful guy for 2023.
Hayden Wesneski: A-
You know who had a MLB debut like Wesneski? Rick Reuschel, in 1972. The Cubs needed a starter mid-season and Reuschel posted a 2.93 ERA in 21 appearances (18 starts), presaging a really good 18-year career.
Now, Wesneski isn’t the same type of pitcher Reuschel was, and he didn’t pitch as much for the Cubs this year — six games, four starts, 33 innings. He’s a year older than Reuschel was when Rick made his debut, but I can see Wesneski holding down a rotation spot all year in 2023. He has mound presence, mixes his pitches well and OMG this slider:
Hayden Wesneski, Nasty 82mph Slider. pic.twitter.com/wJLx4KzaRZ— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 3, 2022
I was (and still am) a fan of Scott Effross, but that trade is going to pay off big-time for the Cubs.
Wade Miley: Incomplete
What other grade could you give a guy who made just nine appearances (eight starts) and had multiple stints on the injured list? If you really want to give him a grade for that, it’s probably a “B.” The starts were in general pretty good, there just weren’t enough of them.
Claiming his $10 million deal was a worthwhile risk. It just didn’t work out.
Javier Assad: B-
Kind of the poor man’s Wesneski. He doesn’t throw as hard, but does have a good mix of pitches and seems to know how to pitch his way out of jams, a useful skill.
His longest, and probably best, start of the year was September 12 against a very good Mets team, who he held to five hits and one run in six innings. Here are those six K’s [VIDEO].
There’ll be a place for him somewhere on the 2023 Cubs, I’d think.
Kyle Hendricks: D
I hate giving a grade like that to Kyle, because he has long been my favorite Cub.
He tried to pitch through a shoulder injury and failed, not pitching at all after July 5. He’s been rehabbing the shoulder and is supposed to be ready to go at Spring Training next year.
Yes, Kyle is getting older — he’ll be 33 in December. He doesn’t have great velocity — never really did — and so if he can return to the pitcher who could locate so well that he’d baffle hitters, the velocity won’t mean much of anything.
I think Kyle will return to form in 2023. He won’t be the pitcher who led MLB in ERA and finished third in Cy Young voting in 2016, but if he can put together 30 starts of a mid-three’s ERA and not walk guys, he will return to MLB success. I’m rooting hard for him.
Brandon Hughes: B+
What a great story — going from a 15th-round outfield pick out of Michigan State to nearly being released in 2019 before switching to pitching. He’s taken to that and developed a really good repertoire:
Just look at these sliders!
Brandon Hughes, K'ing the Side. pic.twitter.com/tp4okMYIqD— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 25, 2022
Instead of going out and looking for a free-agent closer, why not give the job to Hughes? Or, make him the lefthanded closer as part of a platoon with...
Adbert Alzolay: A-
Coming off injuries to make six late-season appearances, Adbert walked two — two! — and struck out 19 in 13⅓ innings. That’s ... really good!
It’s also something a closer should do. Not that David Ross or anyone else in Cubs management would listen to me, but that’s where I think the Cubs should use Alzolay. For one thing, being used as a closer is — one inning three or four times a week — should allow Alzolay to tick up his velocity. He threw quite a few pitches at 97 in his brief outings this year.
One thing for sure: Don’t make him a starter again. He’ll just get hurt.
Mark Leiter Jr.: C+
Leiter actually pitched really well over his last 20 outings of the season: 2.25 ERA, 1.000 WHIP, 30 strikeouts in 28 innings. Could the Cubs have finally found a proper role for him, perhaps as a useful setup man?
Possibly. The thing is, do you use a 40-man roster spot on a pitcher who will turn 32 in March and literally has never been this good except for the last two months?
I’d say no. I’d say DFA him and give him a NRI to Spring Training. We’ll see what Jed Hoyer & Co. decide.
Michael Rucker: C+
Kind of like Leiter’s pitching twin, Rucker was very good after his last callup in August, posting a 2.95 ERA and 1.174 WHIP over his last 26 outings.
Rucker is three years younger than Leiter. He’ll be 29 in April. A pitcher like that might rate a 40-man spot over the winter.
Rowan Wick: D
I really wish Wick had done better this year, I suspect the Cubs wanted him to take over at closer when David Robertson was traded, but Wick just couldn’t get the job done, with five blown saves in 14 opportunities. He’d put together some good outings in a row and then interrupt the string by getting hit hard, or issuing too many walks, or both.
Wick turns 30 next month. I suppose the Cubs have invested too much time in him to drop him from the 40-man, but you never know.
Erich Uelmen: C-
Uelmen’s sinker is his out pitch and when he’s on he can get several ground outs quickly, as he did September 30 against the Reds, retiring the side on three ground outs on only seven pitches.
But then there were other outings where he couldn’t throw strikes and got hit hard.
He’ll turn 27 next May. It’s probably worth giving him more chances.
Jeremiah Estrada: B
Hey, look — a Cubs prospect reliever who can actually throw 100 miles per hour.
He succeeded in some relief opportunities in a couple of brief callups and will certainly be in the mix for the 2023 bullpen.
Steven Brault, Kervin Castro, Jesse Chavez, Narciso Crook, Matt Dermody, Scott Effross, Anderson Espinoza, Luke Farrell, Jackson Frazier, Mychal Givens, Robert Gsellman, Jason Heyward, Caleb Kilian, Brendon Little, Chris Martin, Conner Menez, Alec Mills, Sean Newcomb, Daniel Norris, Nicholas Padilla, Ethan Roberts, David Robertson, Frank Schwindel, Andrelton Simmons, Eric Stout, Locke St. John, Matt Swarmer, Ildemaro Vargas, Jonathan Villar and Jared Young all also played in at least one game for the 2022 Cubs.