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Cubs prospect notes: Canario, Wicks, PCA, Shaw and more

Ryan Herrera Avatar
September 1, 2023

The Cubs’ prospect pipeline looks as strong as it has been in years. Recent updates from MLB Pipeline (No. 4), ESPN (No. 2) and FanGraphs (No. 2) have their farm system ranked among the best of the 30 major league teams. It’s no secret that they have a number of potentially impactful players rising through the ranks in the minor leagues.

That said, fans want to know when those players will arrive. Well, on Friday, one of them is getting his shot. With active rosters expanding to 28 players, the Cubs recalled Alexander Canario (ranked No. 14 in the system by MLB Pipeline) from Triple-A to join the big league club.

Acquired from the Giants in the Kris Bryant trade at the 2021 trade deadline, Canario has experienced quite the rollercoaster this year. Last offseason, Canario broke his left ankle and dislocated his left shoulder during a Dominican Winter League game. It was unclear when he’d return to the field.

But Canario persevered and attacked the rehab process, wanting to get back to playing games as quickly as possible.

“I think he did a superb job,” Cubs vice president of player development Jared Banner said earlier this week. “Right when he got hurt and he was in Chicago for surgeries, he told us he was going to be back better than ever. He was going to work hard, and he followed through on that promise. And I think it’s showing now.”

Though Canario of course had specific things the Cubs front office wanted him to work on before a call-up was going to happen, Banner did say health was the only question they had.

Canario managed to return to game action in June, first in rehab assignments with the ACL Cubs and High-A South Bend before returning to Iowa on July 14. In 36 games at the Triple-A level this season, Canario slashed .276/.342/.524 with eight home runs and 35 RBIs.

But last month, he put the the kind of numbers that showed the Cubs he deserved a shot when rosters expanded. In all of August, Canario slashed .305/.356/.652 with seven homers and a .412 wOBA. That earned him what will be his first taste of the major leagues.

“Going back to Triple-A after missing so much time, it’s not easy,” Banner said. “I think now, he has his legs under him, his swing direction is really good, and he has that natural power that we’ve seen so much of in the past. When he’s making good decisions in the box, the ball travels a long way.”

Canario most likely won’t play an everyday role while he’s up. The Cubs are entering the last few weeks of a playoff race, and their starting outfield group featuring a mix of Cody Bellinger and Mike Tauchman in center and Ian Happ and Seiya Suzuki in the corners is set. Canario will provide outfield depth and add more right-handed slug off the bench.

He may get some starts here and there, and his role may increase should any injuries occur. But however the next month goes, it’s been an impressive comeback story for the 23-year-old.

“I think for any player that’s performing that well at the Triple-A level, it’s hard to ignore,” Banner said when asked earlier this week if Canario had played himself into a call-up. “So, kudos to him for having so much success.”

Also on Friday, the Cubs selected Shane Greene from Iowa to fill the spot reserved for a 14th pitcher.

Greene isn’t a prospect by any means. He’s 34 years old, has made 343 appearances in the big leagues (33 starts), pitched in eight playoff games with the Braves in 2019-20 and was an All-Star in ’19. But without a job in the majors to start this year, Greene signed a minor league deal with the Cubs on June 25.

After making three appearances with the ACL Cubs, Greene joined Iowa on Aug. 6 and started five games for the I-Cubs. In four of those five starts, Greene allowed no earned runs. He pitched at least four innings twice, and even threw an impressive five shutout innings on Aug. 22.

Greene’s role with the Cubs remains to be seen. They do need a starter for Game 2 of Friday’s doubleheader in Cincinnati (not announced as of Friday morning), but they also just need arms to give them innings in September. His work in the minors this season and experience in the majors earned him the spot to start this month.

“He has the ability to give length, and he’s been having success doing so,” Banner said. “When a guy goes out there and pitches well, you tend to give him more and more opportunity to pitch. Why take him out right away when he’s doing so well? I think that’s more what it is, and he’s able to carry his velo, carry his stuff, keep getting guys out. He’s been really impressive.”

Here’s what else we’ve heard about Cubs prospects

  • Jordan Wicks (Cubs’ No. 10 prospect, per MLB Pipeline) impressed in his big league debut following a rough start that saw him allow a home run, a single and a walk to begin the game. After a mound visit from pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, Wicks proceeded to strikeout the next five Pirates batters. He retired 15 straight to get through five innings of one-run ball, nine of them coming via strikeout, in his debut.

    The Cubs picked Wicks 21st overall in the 2021 MLB Draft after three seasons at Kansas State. It quickly became clear that he’d be a fast-riser through the system. Wicks was in High-A in early September that year. By mid-July 2022, he had been promoted to Double-A. And in late June this season, he was promoted to Triple-A. Now with the big league team, Wicks is already a member of the rotation in the midst of the Cubs’ playoff push.

    “When I think about Jordan, it makes me think about our entire player-development staff and how hard they work and how many of them have been involved in his development over the last couple years,” Banner said. “Including this year, starting in Double-A with a stickier ball, and then in Triple-A with ABS. Just a lot of adjustments to make. And then, even in that first start, the way he responded to the adversity of the first inning and bounced back and pitched as well as he did, it’s a tribute to a lot of people, and especially Jordan and his talent.”
  • Matt Shaw, the Cubs’ No. 13 overall pick this season (who has already been listed as the Cubs’ No. 6 prospect and the No. 100 prospect overall by Pipeline), is on an even faster trajectory to the big leagues. Shaw tore up both the rookie league and High-A levels (1.135 OPS in 23 games). The Cubs realized he was ready to move on, and they promoted him to Double-A on Tuesday.

    When Shaw first met the media (via Zoom) the day he was drafted, he said he was aware of the Cubs’ recent history of quick promotions with college hitters. That was something that interested him, because he wanted “to move as fast as possible.” That of course depending on his own performance, and after more than answering the call in lower levels, the time was right for a new challenge.

    “When we think through promotions, we want to make sure players are challenged close to the edge of their ability. And with Matt’s performance here in his first 20 games in High-A, it seemed like he was ready for a new challenge,” Banner said. “So, we didn’t want to be too conservative there. We decided to send him on up.”
  • Top prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong didn’t get the promotion many fans wanted him to get, but that doesn’t mean he won’t get a shot at some point this month. He’s only played 25 games at Triple-A. He’s only 21 years old. And after a scorching hot start with the I-Cubs (.941 OPS in his first 17 games), he’s posted a .482 OPS in his last eight games. With the big league outfield set for September, it makes sense to continue to let him get everyday at-bats in the minors.

    His skillset (stolen-base threat, elite defense) could certainly help the Cubs’ playoff push, but the front office also has to balance that against what’s best for his development. And even though he wasn’t added to the 40-man roster in time to — by rule — make him eligible to play in the MLB postseason, there are ways Crow-Armstrong can still make his big league debut this year AND be a contributor if the Cubs secure a playoff spot.

    “We’re consistently looking for ways to both develop our players and also help our major league team at the same time. Sometimes, those things dovetail perfectly. Other times they don’t. So, I don’t think we want to let Sept. 1 necessarily dictate that decision making. I think it’s more about who the player is, where they are in their maturation, can they help us, is there an opportunity for them to help us here, and then go from there. … It’s not ‘now or never.'”
  • Cade Horton isn’t on the major league radar right now, but there’s a very real chance that could come at some point next year. The Cubs’ 2022 first-round pick has already moved from Low-A to Double-A this season after not even playing in pro ball last year. He’s continued to succeed at every level (1.57 ERA, 28 strikeouts in five starts with Tennessee), and the player development team constantly raves about his ability to quickly implement ideas.

    “It’s a talent that he has,” Banner said. “He’s really smart, and he can hear things and be shown things and then apply them almost immediately. Great athlete, great proprioception, and that allows him to do some things maybe other people can’t.”
  • Luke Little is another minor league arm to watch. He’s thrived in promotions to Tennessee and Iowa this season after a move to the bullpen (along with more focus on building his athleticism in the weight room and nutrition). So far, in eight Triple-A relief appearances (11 2/3 innings), Little owns a 1.54 ERA and a 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

    “He’s been performing really well of late, and again, when you’re 6’8 throwing that hard from the left side and having some success, you’re definitely going to be in the conversation,” Banner said.
  • Ben Brown, acquired in the David Robertson trade with the Phillies last year and currently recovering from what’s been described as an oblique/lat issue, is still throwing in Arizona, including bullpens. Banner said Tuesday the Cubs hope to get Brown into a minor league game “within the next week or so.”
  • Banner, on Owen Caissie’s strong season (.922 OPS in Double-A): “I think last year he got off to a little bit of a slow start. I know this season, he wanted to make sure he jumped out fast. He had a strong spring, he went to the WBC. I think that kind of helped him get prepared a little bit sooner. And he started the season really well, getting to his power, especially. Over the last few months, he’s really been able to gradually get his strikeout rate down month by month. His ability to make contact is improving as well. That’s only going to help his power in the long run.”
  • Banner, on what the Cubs wanted Matt Mervis to focus on when he was optioned back to Triple-A: “His swing direction jumps out a little bit, just wanting him to be a little less rotational. And just swinging at good pitches. I repeat it over and over again, but it’s complicated and that simple all at the same time.”

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