Now we are getting into the really special prospects today. All five of these prospects would be in the Cubs’ top five in other years.
I really went back and forth on whether to rank Owen Caissie or Kevin Alcántara higher. Honestly, I am still not sure I agree with my own rankings. But I also realize that it doesn’t really matter one way or the other. If you want to consider them 6a and 6b, that’s fine with me.
As a reminder, clicking on the player’s name takes you to their milb.com page. And “The skinny” is just the too-long, didn’t-read summary.
6. Owen Caissie. OF. DOB: 7/02/2002. B:L, T:R. 6’3”, 190 lbs. Trade with Padres (2020).
When Owen Caissie makes contact at the plate, you will notice it. Despite the fact that Caissie is a big man with long arms, he still manages to produce the kind of plus bat speed that you generally see with smaller players with more compact swings. This means when he connects, the ball tends to make a loud noise and go a long way fast. Caissie produced some of the best exit velocities in the entire minor leagues last year. His average exit velocity in 2022 was 88.3 miles per hour, which was already very good. He upped that number to 93.3 mph in 2023, which is elite.
Caissie also hit the ball in the air more last season. His ground ball percentage dropped from 47 percent to 41, with most of the gains going into the line drive category. It’s those kinds of under-the-hood numbers that have many analyst excited about Caissie’s potential as a middle-of-the-order slugger. His raw power is a 70 on the 20-to-80 scale, but his struggles making contact could mean his game power ends up as more of a 60.
In last season’s prospect rankings, I noted that Caissie looked bad out in right field. I wrote that he made poor decisions and was slow to get to fly balls. I feared that Caissie might have to make a position change to first base.
But I added: “That might be something that he can just fix with experience. There doesn’t seem to be any physical reason Caissie can’t be a decent defensive right fielder.” It’s a good think I wrote that because it does look like with more experience, Caissie turned himself into a decent right fielder last year. Gone are most of the bad routes and slow jumps. He now makes most of the plays you expect your right fielder to make. I wouldn’t call his defense an asset yet, but he’s shown he can be a solid 50 defender. His arm was always above average and he had and impressive ten outfield assists last season.
There are still a few red flags on Caissie though. His strikeout percentage in Double-A last year was 31.1 percent. That’s just too many for Double-A and Caissie knows it’s too many. He’s a tall man (probably taller than his listed 6’3”) and that leaves a lot of strike zone to cover. Caissie also sometimes struggles with better sliders and curves and has been known to chase them out of the zone. Luckily he is a patient hitter, often preferring to see a few pitches before swinging at one he likes. That patience gave Caissie a solid 14.4 walk percentage last year.
Caissie spent all of last season at Double-A Tennessee where as a 20-year-old, he hit .289/.399/.519 from the left side. He did struggle somewhat with left-handers, hitting just .224/.331/.424. Maybe that’s another area where he can improve with experience. Caissie’s speed is below-average. He stole seven bases last year, but he needed 16 attempts to do it.
Caissie should start the season in Triple-A Iowa, but I wouldn’t count on a major league debut in 2024. For one, Seiya Suzuki is in right field and even if Suzuki gets injured, Alexander Canario should be able to step up. Cassie’s also not yet on the 40-man roster. He really could use a lot more experience succeeding against good left-handed pitching and good breaking stuff in the International League before getting tossed into the major-league meat grinder. Caissie is also still only 21. There’s no need to rush him. But once he reaches his prime, Caissie is a candidate to hit 40 home runs a year.
The skinny: Owen Caissie is a big left-handed slugger with 40-home run potential. He’s improved his defense to the point where he shouldn’t hurt a team in right field. He’s also still just 21 years old.
Here’s Caissie having four hits, including a home run, last August [VIDEO]. You get a really good sense of the exit velocities he produces and the easy power to all fields here.
Kevin Alcánatara, or “The Jaguar” as he’s been nicknamed, has as much upside as any position player in the Cubs system. Like the big cat he’s named after, Alcántara is quick and athletic with explosive power. His ceiling is a 30/30 center fielder with plus defense. The reason he doesn’t rank higher is that there is a lot more risk and bust potential with Alcántara than you’d like. But if he puts it all together, he’s an All-Star.
Alcántara spent most of last season in High-A South Bend, where he hit .286/.341/.466 with 12 home runs and 15 seals in 98 games. Like a few other top prospects, Alcántara got a late-season promotion to Double-A Tennessee to get some more games in. (The Smokies were heading the playoffs and South Bend wasn’t.) He held his own in a short stint with the Smokies, going 4 for 16 with a double, a home run and three walks over five regular season games. He shined in the postseason, playing in all four Smokies games and collecting six hits in 15 at-bats. That includes two doubles and a three-run home run.
“Explosive” is perhaps the best word to describe Alcántara. Although his arms are pretty long which gives his bat a longer path through the zone than you’d like, his bat speed is so quick that it really isn’t a problem. It’s a swing geared towards power over contact, although he hits a few more ground balls than you’d like. A hitter like him should have had more than 12 home runs in High-A.
The bigger problem with Alcántara is that his lanky 6’6” frame leaves a lot of room over the plate for strikes and he can’t always cover it. There will probably always be a lot of swing-and-miss in his game. His big body is also hard to keep under control and sometimes he just gets out of sync at the plate. Alcántara is a very streaky hitter. Looking at his OPS for each full month last year, it was:
Sometimes good breaking stuff gives him fits (of course, who isn’t that true of?) and he will chase a pitch out of the zone, but at least he doesn’t have “swing at everything” complex. He drew 36 walks last year compared to 105 strikeouts in 408 plate appearances.
Defensively, Alcántara is an above-average center fielder with a plus arm strong enough for right. He gets good jumps on the ball and covers a lot of ground out there. No, he’s not Pete Crow-Armstrong defensively, but there is no doubt that he’d be an asset in center.
One other thing about Alcántara is that he really hasn’t grown into his massive frame. He’s still a pretty skinny guy. You have to wonder if his power totals would soar if he were to add some more muscle. On the other hand, that could hurt his speed and defense in center.
Alcántara should start the season in Tennessee. Double-A is a real test for any hitter and I expect he’ll spend most of the season there. After that, if everything goes well, he’ll be looking at a major league debut in 2025.
The skinny: Alcántara is a potential All-Star centerfielder with plus power and plus defense. But consistency and below-average contact skills could prevent him from reaching that potential.
Here’s a game last June when the streaky Alcántara was on fire. He has five hits, including two home runs. You can also get a look at the “jaguar’s paw” gesture that Alcántara does when he rounds the bases on a home run.
(Quite the memorable birthdate for Brown.)
Ben Brown’s 2023 season had its highs and lows. He started out in Double-A Tennessee where he was practically unhittable. In four starts in April, he pitched 20 innings, allowed 13 hits and struck out 30. He gave up two runs (one earned) and walked six—four of which came in his first game of the year.
That earned Brown a promotion to Triple-A Iowa at the start of May. He found the International League more challenging, but he did have a solid month of May with 36 strikeouts over 24 innings and five starts. He did walk 12 batters, which started a trend of control issues in Triple-A.
The Cubs were considering Brown for his major league debut mid-season, but he started to struggle at the end of June and through July. He then hit the injured list in early August with a strained oblique, which pretty much ended his chances of getting the call. Brown returned to Iowa in September and the Cubs had him pitch out of the bullpen. But he never really regained his control, walking 11 batters in just 7⅔ innings out of the pen. Brown finished the year in Iowa, going 6-8 with a 5.33 ERA over 72⅔ innings. That was almost entirely because he walked too many batters (51) and gave up too many home runs (nine). His strikeout total of 100 (plus 30 with Tennessee) was excellent, but the walks and home runs negated a lot of that.
Brown has a plus fastball that comes in at 94 to 96 miles per hour that has a late break away from a right-handed hitter. He matches that with a power curve that has a mid-eighties velocity and a sharp downward break. That pitch grades out to be plus as well. He also throws a hard slider/cutter that is at least average. He rarely throws his below-average changeup.
With three good pitches, two of which grade as plus and the other at average-to-above-average, Brown should be an ideal candidate for a mid-rotation starter. But Brown’s control abandons him at times. His walk percentage in Iowa last year was 15.8 percent, which is simply too high for an effective starting pitcher.
Brown has also had a great deal of trouble staying healthy over the course of his career. The oblique injury was just another negative sign after Tommy John surgery, an elbow strain and COVID during his time with the Phillies. He’s only pitched over 100 innings once in his career, in 2022. And even then, just barely with 104.
Because of control and health issues, there is a real risk of a relief career for Brown. That would be a shame because he has the size and tools to start.
Brown will certainly start the 2024 season in Iowa. He’ll probably be in the rotation, but if the Cubs start to have him pitch out of the bullpen, that probably means that they’re thinking of promoting him to the majors soon. He could probably help the team this year out of the pen, but the long-term goal for the Cubs remains for him to start. But getting his feet wet in the bullpen wouldn’t be a bad idea.
The skinny: Ben Brown is a tall right-hander with an impressive repertoire and mid-rotation upside. But control and health problems could land him in the bullpen.
Here’s Brown striking out nine batters over five innings last July. It’s mostly breaking pitches, but he does throw the fastball in there.
9. Jefferson Rojas. SS. DOB: 4/05/2005. 5’10, 150. International free agent (2022), Dominican Republic.
After excelling in the Dominican Summer League in 2022, the Cubs intended for the 18-year-old Jefferson Rojas to spend the season in Mesa with the Complex League. But he was so impressive in Extended Spring Training (including a home run off of a rehabbing Zach Davies), that they sent him to Low-A Myrtle Beach in early June. There he quickly established himself as a middle-of-the-order hitter and the everyday shortstop for the Pelicans.
Rojas has a fairly simple, compact swing with good bat speed that can generate some good power without sacrificing contact. Rojas did chase a few too many pitches out of the zone, but that’s not really a black mark yet. He struck out 61 times and walked 23 times in 307 plate appearances with Myrtle Beach last year. That’s just OK, except when you consider he was just age 18 in the Carolina League! It’s hard to emphasize how impressive that is. He is the same age or younger than most of the high school players taken in the draft last summer.
In 70 games with the Pelicans last year, Rojas hit .268/.345/.404 with 14 doubles, one triple and seven home runs. He’s also a bit taller now than his listed 5’10” and has yet to really grow into his current height. Rojas could end up with an above-average hit tool and above-average power and stay at shortstop. Or he could add some weight and become a slugging third baseman. Honestly, he’s so young that there are so many directions that his career could take at this point.
Defensively, Rojas is solid but unspectacular at shortstop at the moment. That may just be what he is, but there certainly is enough there that you can see how he could improve with more experience. It helps that his arm is strong, so he can make the plays deep in the hole or at third if he ends up moving there. Rojas has average-to-above-average speed, but he did manage to pick his spots and steal 13 bases last year.
It’s hard to know what the Cubs have in Rojas at the moment except that it is something really good. He could stay at shortstop. He could move to third or second. Some have suggested that he could play the outfield.
Rojas should move to South Bend to start 2024 and the Cubs will probably let him stay at shortstop until he forces a move elsewhere. Caution is recommended for Rojas at the moment, but if he excels in the Midwest League at 19, then he will likely see a lot of Top 100 prospect lists at this time next year.
The skinny: Jefferson Rojas is a shortstop who had an impressive debut in the Carolina League last year at just 18 years old. His hit and power tools could be special. Keep an eye on him this year.
Here’s Jefferson Rojas lining an outside fastball over the right field wall for a home run [VIDEO].
10. James Triantos. INF. DOB: 1/29/2003. B:R, T:R. 6’1”, 195. Drafted 2nd round (2021), James Madison HS (VA).
Nobody in the Cubs system has better contact skills that James Triantos. It’s really hard to get a pitch in the zone past Triantos and he doesn’t chase much outside the zone either. His quick, level stroke from the right side can spray the ball on a line to all fields. A plus hit tool is rare in prospects, and Triantos has one. He also just turned 21 earlier this week.
Triantos got off to a late start to the 2023 season after undergoing knee surgery. After a successful 2022 in Myrtle Beach, Triantos played 80 games for South Bend and put up similar numbers. He hit .285/.363/.390 with 14 doubles, three triples and four home runs. But more impressively, he only struck out 37 times in 350 plate appearances while walking 34 times. That’s some pretty good contact skills. Despite being a below-average runner, he still stole 16 bases in South Bend.
Like most of South Bend’s top prospects, Triantos got a late promotion to Tennessee last year for the playoff drive. He didn’t do much in the playoffs, but he went 4 for 12 with a double and a walk in the three regular season games he played.
Triantos made up for the time he missed in April with a stint in the Arizona Fall League. He was named the AFL Hitter of the Year after he hit .417/.495/.679 with three doubles, five triples and three home runs in 99 plate appearances. Now it should be noted that the pitching in the AFL is always pretty shaky and in 2023, it was described as “abysmal.” But the pitching was pretty much the same for every hitter in the league and only one player, Padres prospect Jakob Marsee, had a higher OPS than Triantos. And he was two years older than Triantos and struck out a lot more.
Triantos’ level swing is more geared towards contact than exit velocity and line drives rather than fly balls. A lot of observers think because of that, his power will always be fringy. But he was getting more lift on his balls last year and he is getting stronger and hitting the ball harder. Triantos is unlikely to ever be a power hitter, but he could start hitting the ball hard enough that he could knock 15 to 20 line drives over the fences a year. Even if he doesn’t, 40 doubles a season isn’t out of the question.
The other major issue with Triantos is that he doesn’t really have a defensive position. The Cubs intended to make a third baseman out of Triantos when they drafted him, but he just hasn’t taken to the position. He’s got the arm to play third, but his reaction times just weren’t good enough for the hot corner.
Triantos mostly moved to second base last year and he was better at that position. He probably will always be a fringy defender there, but his bat would play there very nicely. If he can’t handle second, Triantos would likely have to move to left field where his lack of power would be an issue. Of course, with the Cubs there are issues with Nico Hoerner occupying second base at the moment and that might also be Matt Shaw’s best position. So there is no easy path to the majors for Triantos right now.
Luckily, Triantos is still just 21 years old and there’s no need to rush him. If he continues to hit the way the Cubs believe he can, they’ll find a spot for him. Triantos will almost certainly return to Tennessee next season and the Cubs will have a better sense of his estimated arrival time and possible position by then. Of course, because of the crowded Cubs infield, he may end up as trade bait. But the Cubs won’t give him up cheaply.
The skinny: James Triantos could be a .290 hitter with a .360 OBP and 15-to-20 home runs on the major league level one day. But below-average defense and speed could limit his value.
Here is a four-hit day that Triantos had last May [VIDEO]. It really shows his contact skills.
Tomorrow: The top 5!