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Getting to know the South Bend Cubs

The South Bend Cubs defend their Midwest League title with one of the most exciting players in the Cubs system.

Seattle Mariners v Chicago Cubs
Kevin Alcantara
Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

The South Bend Cubs are the final Cubs’ minor league affiliate to take the field this season. Their defense of their 2022 Midwest League title will begin Friday at 6:30 p.m. Central time as they visit the Quad Cities River Bandits.

The South Bend Cubs have been a Cubs minor league affiliate since 2015. They were the Low-A stop from 2015 to 2019, but they’ve been the High-A affiliate since the minor league reshuffling in 2021.

The 2023 edition of the South Bend Cubs features perhaps the most exciting prospect in the Cub system in Kevin Alcántara. The Opening Night roster also features 15 players who are coming up from Low-A Myrtle Beach or below.

Returning from his championship run managing South Bend is Lance Rymel. Rymel was a catcher in the Cubs’ minor league system from 2012 to 2014, playing alongside such future 2016 Cubs heroes as Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Albert Almora Jr. and others. He started as a coach in the Cubs’ system in 2016 and has worked his way up the system. Rymel managed in the Dominican Summer League in 2017 and 2018 (yes, he’s bilingual), in Eugene in 2019 and with South Bend from 2021 to the present.

The bench coach is D’Angelo Jiménez, who returns to the same job in South Bend he held last year. You probably remember Jiménez from his eight-year major league career in the aughts. He’s been a coach in the Cubs’ system for six years now.

Hitting coach Dan Puente had a brief career in the Orioles minor league system in 2004 and 2005, after which he was an instructor of hitting and catching at Elite Baseball Training. He also scouted for the Astros. The Cubs hired him as a hitting instructor in 2019, Last year, he was the hitting coach for Myrtle Beach.

The pitching coach is Clayton Mortenson, who held the same job in Myrtle Beach last year and the year before. Mortenson pitched five seasons in the majors from 2009 to 2013. This is his third season coaching in the Cubs system.

Top prospects:

Outfielder Kevin Alcántara probably has a higher upside than anyone else in the Cubs system. He also has the best nickname in “The Jaguar.” (Or “El Jaguar.” He goes by both.) Like a jaguar, Alcántara is long, lean, fast and powerful. He hit .273/.360/.451 with 15 home runs in 112 games in the tough hitting environment of Myrtle Beach last year. (He hit .303 with nine homers on the road.) Alcántara, whom the Cubs got in trade for Anthony Rizzo in 2021, could not only be one of the Cubs’ top prospects by season’s end, he could be one of the top prospects in all of baseball with a strong season in South Bend.

Shortstop Kevin Made (pronounced Mah-day) is one of my personal favorites among the lesser-heralded prospects in the Cubs system. Made is a wizard with the glove at short. He hit well in Myrtle Beach last year and even hit nine home runs, but he struggled to repeat that performance after he was promoted to South Bend. But Made could have a major-league future ahead if he can make more hard contact at the plate.

Outfielder Yohendrick Pinango has a smooth left-handed hitting stroke, but last season in South Bend, he tended to sell out for power too much. On the plus side, he increased his home runs from 5 in 2021 to 13 last season. On the down side, his strikeouts were way up and his OBP dropped 30 points. Pinango has to find a way to make harder contact without sacrificing his good contact skills. He’ll try again in South Bend this season.

Right-handed starter Kohl Franklin has flashed a major-league quality upper-90s fastball and a spike curve, but his 2022 season in South Bend was rough with a 6.88 ERA. However, he missed all of 2021 with an oblique strain and every minor leaguer missed all of 2020, so it was his first time pitching in three years. We’re all just hoping his 2022 season was the result of rust and he can return to the promise he had shown in 2019.

While they are not on the Opening Day roster, I expect that third baseman James Triantos and shortstop Ed Howard will report to South Bend when they are healthy. Triantos is out until mid- to late-May after knee surgery. Howard is currently working his way back into playing shape after his season-ending hip injury and the resulting surgery last summer.

Pitching staff:

Two pitchers are going to make their professional debuts with South Bend this year. Right-hander Brandon Birdsell was the Cubs’ sixth-round pick last year out of Texas Tech. Birdsell fought injuries throughout his college career (he had both Tommy John and a separate shoulder injury) but he he did pitch 85 innings for the Red Raiders last year.

The other pitcher making his debut is right-hander Connor Noland, whom the Cubs took in the ninth round last year as a fifth-year senior out of Arkansas. He also played four games, starting one, as a freshman for the Arkansas football team before concentrating on baseball.

Right-hander Carlos Guzman came over to the Cubs last month from Detroit in exchange for Zach McKinstry. He had a 4.11 ERA in 23 starts and four relief appearances for High-A West Michigan last year. He did get a win after throwing six shutout innings, striking out four and walking no one, against the South Bend Cubs on August 24 last year. So I’m guessing the Cubs were impressed.

It seems like right-hander Richard Gallardo has been in the Cubs system forever, but the Venezuelan is still only 21. When he’s on, he’s a ground ball specialist. He spent the majority of last season in Myrtle Beach, but he also had stints in South Bend and Tennessee.

Right-hander Tyler Santana was an ace with the Pelicans last season, going 11-1 with a 2.26 ERA over eight starts and 16 relief appearances. He’s going to want to do likewise in his High-A debut this year.

Left-handed reliever Luke Little was a fourth-round pick of the Cubs in 2020 and was, for one season, a teammate of Birdsell’s at San Jacinto Junior College. He struck out a whopping 101 batters in 65⅔ innings last year between Myrtle Beach and a late-season promotion to South Bend. He also did not allow a single home run. He does need to walk fewer batters to advance to the next level.

Left-handed reliever Adam Laskey was nearly perfect in Myrtle Beach last year—he allowed only one unearned run over 26 innings. That got him promoted to South Bend where he wasn’t perfect, posting a 4.26 ERA over 31⅔ innings. (He was a perfect 9-0 between the two stops if that means anything.) He’ll try again in South Bend.

Another lefty, Chase Watkins, was a ninth-round pick of the Cubs in 2021 out of Central Florida. He did well in Myrtle Beach last season, striking out 70 and posting a 3.47 ERA in 57 innings.

Righty Frankie Scalzo Jr. will make his South Bend debut after spending all of last season with the Pelicans. Right-hander Sam Thoreson’s Cubs’ career has been plagued by injuries. He’s only thrown 28⅔ innings over the past two seasons combined. He also makes his South Bend debut.

Right handers Brad Deppermann, Joe Nahas, Sheldon Reed, Jared Wright and lefty Didier Vargas all spent at least some time in South Bend last year.


If you know my weird classification system, South Bend has three catchers on the roster that I’d term “interesting.” Ethan Hearn makes his South Bend debut after spending the past two seasons in Myrtle Beach. In 2021, Hearn was really raw, both on offense and defense, but he showed some maturation last year on both sides of the plate. He especially showed some power with 12 home runs in 85 games. I’d still call Hearn “raw,” but he’s starting to live up to his potential. This is a big season for Hearn. He needs to keep moving in the right direction.

The Cubs took Haydn McGeary in the 15th round out of Division II Colorado Mesa. In a short stint in Myrtle Beach, McGeary showed some real offensive skills with an .804 OPS in 12 games. Unfortunately, he played first base and DH’d exclusively in low-A last year and only caught 11 innings in rookie ball. His bat is clearly ahead of his glove, so he’s going to have to show he can handle catching this year.

There’s no question that Casey Opitz can handle catching—he’s a defensive specialist. What he needs to do is hit. He hit .202 with three home runs in 36 games with South Bend last year. I guess his .328 OBP is a positive, but I like to see more aggressiveness out of prospects in the low minors, especially if they don’t have plus power.


Two South Bend infielders represented their country in the recently-completed World Baseball Classic. Fabian Pertuz played for Colombia. He returns to South Bend after hitting .237 with a .285 OBP and eight home runs last year.

The other WBC veteran is Australian Liam Spence. Spence is making his South Bend debut after hitting .208 with a .333 OBP and three home runs in 41 games for the Pelicans last season.

Both Pertuz and Spence can play all over the diamond.

Second baseman Josue Huma was a dependable bat for the Pelicans last season. He hit .253 with a .321 OBP and four home runs in 66 games in Low-A. He also makes his High-A debut.

Another solid bat down in Myrtle Beach last year was second baseman Juan Mora. Mora played 81 games for the Pelicans and hit .269/.346/.410 with seven home runs. It’s also Mora’s High-A debut.

Scott McKeon returns to South Bend after playing for the SB Cubs, the I-Cubs and the Pelicans last season.


Alcántara and Pinango are joined in the outfield by Jacob Wetzel, who has some pop in his bat with ten home runs in 99 games for the Pelicans last season. (Seven of those ten home runs were hit on the road as well.) His batting average was an anemic .211, but his OBP wasn’t bad at all at .344. He also stole 14 bases in 17 attempts. He makes his South Bend debut.

Defensive specialist D.J. Artis was sidelined by injuries for all but two late-season games last year. He rejoins South Bend, where he played in 2019 and 2021.

Bradlee Beesley split his time between South Bend and Tennessee last year. It wouldn’t surprise me if he did that again this year, but he’s going to start the year in South Bend.