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CHGO Cubs Weekly: Three young Cubs who could take a big step forward in 2024

Ryan Herrera Avatar
March 25, 2024

What’s up, Cubs fans?

Though the roster heading into 2024 isn’t vastly different from the one that just missed a playoff berth in 2023, the Cubs believe they’ve assembled a team that can make it back to the postseason.

The core group of veterans is still around. They’re confident in their depth. And then you have players like Justin Steele and Nico Hoerner, players who took a big step in 2023 and still have room to grow.

The Cubs are looking for more youngsters to emerge in 2024.

“I look back on where we were a year ago and some of the players that have stepped forward, and now we’re considering those guys established big leaguers,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said. “The hope is that we look back a year from now, and there’s five, six of those guys that have now established themselves as Cubs.”

It’s not unreasonable to think that could happen. Some of the Cubs’ top prospects have already made their debuts, and others are pretty close to major league ready. To say at least a handful could make a leap this year isn’t out of the question.

So, which players will establish themselves for the Cubs?

Here are three who could do that this season.

Michael Busch

While not exactly “young” in terms of age, the 26-year-old first baseman didn’t get much of an opportunity to establish himself with the Dodgers — but not because he didn’t do everything he could to earn an opportunity.

After some really good seasons at the plate since being drafted in 2019, Busch exploded to the tune of a 1.049 OPS in Triple-A last year. The bat, at least, was major league ready.

But Los Angeles just had so many established big leaguers already that there wasn’t much room for Busch to get an extended run. He didn’t have a ton of offensive success when he did get some chances, but considering his 81 plate appearances were scattered across three separate stints with the Dodgers, that’s not a surprise.

Now with the Cubs after being acquired via trade in January, Busch will get that opportunity. The team has made it very clear he’ll get some run to establish himself at first base.

Feb 15, 2024; Mesa, AZ, USA; Chicago Cubs first baseman Michael Busch (29) warms up during Spring Training camp at Sloan Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Busch has had himself a nice spring at the plate with the Cubs, posting an .896 OPS through 17 games heading into Monday. He has a sound overall offensive game. The test is translating that consistently during the regular season, plus playing at least dependable defense.

At worst, he can hopefully be a good left-handed bat in a platoon. But considering what he did in the minors, Busch has real potential to become the Cubs’ everyday first baseman.

Jordan Wicks

Can Wicks build on his first month in the big leagues? That’s the question surrounding the 24-year-old, who debuted in late August last year, now that he’s been named to the Opening Day rotation.

Wicks moved through the minors fast after getting drafted 21st overall in 2021, and when the Cubs needed an arm to pick up some starts during their playoff push in 2023, he’d done enough to earn that opportunity.

While his last outing hurt his final line, Wicks still finished the year 4-1 with a 4.41 ERA over seven starts. Overall, the Cubs were happy with how he never let the situation get too big. His demeanor, attitude, and mentality—in addition to flashing some really solid stuff on the mound—were notable.

Sep 30, 2023; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jordan Wicks (36) delivers a pitch against the Milwaukee Brewers in the first inning at American Family Field. Mandatory Credit: Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

But now, he has to show he can stay on that path heading into a new year. He has to prove he belongs in that big league rotation and that he can handle the grind of a full year for a team with playoff aspirations.

Part of that is continuing to build up the rest of his arsenal outside of his “bread and butter” changeup. One pitch he worked on throughout the offseason is his slider (his least thrown pitch in 2023), but the overall goal is just to have more offerings to attack hitters with. That would certainly help him find more success.

Wicks is getting the chance to enter the season as a starter for the Cubs, and if he can stay strong in that role, he has a shot to make it last.

Miguel Amaya

Amaya making his MLB debut early last May felt like both a long time coming and a bit of a surprise.

It was the former because he was added to the 40-man roster after the 2019 season and had been considered the Cubs’ catcher of the future for years. But it was also the latter because, due to the lost minor league season in 2020, Tommy John surgery and a couple other big injuries, Amaya played just 63 minor league games between 2020-22 — only 12 coming behind the plate.

But when Yan Gomes went down with a concussion last May, the Cubs needed help at catcher. So, they turned to Amaya.

Aug 26, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Chicago Cubs catcher Miguel Amaya (6) at the batting cage before the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

While his stats didn’t necessarily jump off the page, Amaya’s numbers in the minors — he crushed Double-A pitching for 13 games before the call-up and then crushed Triple-A pitching when he was optioned down for 15 games — show the offensive potential is still there.

But his work behind the plate is what really impressed the Cubs. Everyone raves about how he handles the pitching staff, how he calls games and more. They talk about the calming presence he has, one that gives off the vibe of a long-time big leaguer.

Taking the next step this year starts with Amaya (who turned 25 earlier this month) just continuing to do that. Though Gomes is still No. 1 on the catching depth chart, having the team’s trust will get Amaya his playing time. And if the bat catches up, he might just re-establishes himself as for sure the catcher of the future.

That’s all for now. Talk to y’all again after Opening Day!

PS — Let me remind you about our big Diehard-exclusive perk: A database of Cubs players with recaps of 2023 and previews for 2024. Prospects you might not know as well. The biggest names on the roster. Others to watch out for. They’re in there. Not a Diehard yet? You can sign up here.

PPS — Another reminder that this newsletter will be Diehard-exclusive during the regular season. Sign up now to ensure they’ll keep coming, plus get access to our guide and your choice of a CHGO t-shirt, including the new ones we just dropped today!

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