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2023 Cubs player profiles: A cool half-dozen minor-leaguers

Last in a series. Six players who are on the 40-man are unlikely to see any time in Chicago this year but almost certainly will in the future. We provide thumbnail portraits for each to conclude our series (for now?) and will await developments.

Brennen Davis in better days during Spring Training
Photo by David Durochik/Diamond Images via Getty Images

In alphabetical order, these six players are somewhat unlikely to see meaningful time on the major-league club this year, but any of them could see Wrigley Field in 2024. I’d like to thank BCB’s Josh Timmers for some input into the abilities and performance of some players — his information was invaluable.

  • Kevin Alcántara

From Josh Timmers:

Alcántara is The Jaguar, a nickname he loves. The guy has sky-high tools. I’m hesitant to call him a five-tool player because I’m not sure the hit tool is there, but he’s big, fast and strong. He struggled early this season in South Bend — playing in the cold for the first time in his life didn’t seem to agree with him, although I’m sure the jump in level was an issue as well. But he’s been on fire since June 1. Or at least he was until he pulled up injured about a week ago while legging out a double. He hasn’t played since then, although the Cubs haven’t put him on the IL and he has been seen jogging around Four Winds Field.

Alcántara has struggled at times with breaking pitches out of the zone. He’s also a huge guy and huge guys have big strike zones. He’s struggled at times to make contact, which is why I’m questioning his hit tool. He was making progress before he got hurt. But the dude is a really hard worker from all accounts. The anecdote from when he got traded to the Cubs was that he was in Tampa and he rushed to the airport to get to Mesa as soon as possible and was in the lineup for the ACL Cubs after missing just one day.

Defensively, Alcántara is pretty good in center field and covers a lot of ground. He’s no PCA out there (no one is) but he’s a good defensive center fielder when healthy. He might end up as a superior right fielder as well — he has the arm for it.

Obviously the sky is the limit for Alcantara. He could be a 30/30 CF. But there’s some question about whether he reaches it because of that hit tool.

Alcantara plays for South Bend, the Cubs’ Advanced-A franchises. The team is currently 43-50 but were the 2022 Midwest League Champions. He’s sporting a .276/.328/.452 slash line after 317 at-bats as of 7/29, with nine home euns, 49 RBI, and 13 stolen bases.

That should be good enough to get him to Double-A, and he could stay there for a bit if his hit tool doesn’t allow more contact for more power. He’s on the 40-man roster, so at least we’ll see some of him in early Spring Training.

  • Ben Brown

Brown is one of the Cubs’ top pitching prospects. Josh says he is “pretty much a stereotypical No. 3 starting pitcher. Mid-90s fastball, power curve, sharp slider. Inconsistent change. He’s been having control issues in Triple-A and I’m not quite sure why. But when he’s on, he’s on. He’s had one game with 9 K and no walks and another one with 11 K and no walks in Iowa this year. Consistency is his bugaboo.”

And it’s that lack of consistency that keeps him from the majors, for now. Brown has prototypical starter size (6’6”, 210) and stuff, with an 8-6 record and 116 strikeouts in 80 innings. He’s 23 years old and has spent the greater part of six years in the minor leagues after being drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 33rd round of the 2017 draft.

He’s not doing quite as well in Iowa as he had been at Tennessee but his name keeps coming up when the Cubs talk is about the 2024/25 rotation. If he fashions a more consistent approach, it’s a near-certainty that we will see him in Chicago soon.

Brown was acquired in 2022 for reliever David Robertson and there’s strong hope for his future.

  • Alexander Canario

Canario is regarded as a possible piece of the 2024 major-league roster puzzle. He plays all three outfield positions but is more useful on the corners. Josh says: “Canario has missed most of the season with that injury suffered in winter ball, of course, and while he’s playing again, he really hasn’t adjusted to the speed of the Triple-A game yet. He’s all about power. He’ll draw a walk but he’s not going to hit for average in the majors. He can play CF OK but he’s probably a RF in the majors.“

This, to me, says that he’s due for at least another year in Triple-A unless his services are needed in case of injury, but he has a strong chance of breaking camp in 2025 as a Chicago Cub. We’ll see how that goes. He’s working his way back to 2022 levels, but isn’t there yet.

  • Brennen Davis

Brennen Davis is having a really off year. The Chandler, Arizona native is just under the Mendoza line and has been nursing injuries this year. The former No. 1 Cubs prospect has fallen way down on the list and will need to show vast improvement to be considered for major-league service.

From Josh:

He simply cannot stay healthy. Last year was a lost season because of the back injury and now this year he’s got another injury which the Cubs aren’t talking about except to say it’s not his back. A lot of what I wrote about Alcántara is true of Davis, except that he’s three years older, in Triple-A and cannot stay on the field. It’s frustrating—because there is some real natural talent there. But it means nothing if he can’t play and when he does play, he’s ineffective because he’s playing hurt.

Davis will be looking at a prove-it year, likely his chance to keep from becoming a suspect instead of a prospect.

  • Ryan Jensen

Jensen was a first-round pick of the Cubs in 2019 (No. 27 overall) and really hasn’t been outstanding at any level of the minor leagues (7-17, 4.45 in his minor league career). He does however possess a plus-plus fastball. His future is probably in the bullpen where that velocity could be most useful, if he makes the major league team at all. Josh says: “Jensen is now probably a reliever for good. There was always that risk when they drafted him. Now that he can just get by with his fastball/hard slider (although Statcast calls his slider a cutter. I don’t know what he calls it these days.) he’s looking better. He hasn’t given up a hit over his last five outings — although there is one in there where he walked three and was charged with two runs. Throwing strikes is his issue. If he does it, he can be a pretty darn good reliever.”

  • Ethan Roberts

Roberts made the Opening Day roster in 2022 and was injured not long after that. The injury is in his right elbow and Tommy John surgery has kept him out of action for the rest of 2022 and all of 2023 so far. His profile is not unlike Ryan Jensen’s and the two may be competing for a spot in the 2024 pen.