A Futures Game MVP, an 18-year-old shortstop, and a Puerto Rico Winter League Home Run Derby winner. The Cubs farm system is on the up and here are three reasons why.
Davis is the name on everyone’s lips when talking about the top prospect on Chicago’s north side. The Cubs’ #1 prospect and #14 overall had a stellar 2021 despite being struck in the face during a Minor League Spring Training game in late April that left him with a broken nose and concussion syndrome.
(Photo: Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
Davis was a multi-sport athlete in high school, helping his team to a state basketball championship. His father is former NBA All-Star, Reggie Theus, and his mother a track and field athlete, so his athletic prowess is no surprise.
Due to the Spring Training setback, Davis’s season didn’t start until mid-May. After 32 plate appearances at High-A South Bend Cubs, he made the leap to Double-A Tennessee Smokies and following a late-August burst of .412/.533/.765 across 11 games, was promoted to Triple-A Iowa Cubs for the final few weeks of the season. In total, the 22-year-old outfielder played 99 games in 2021, hitting .260/.375/.494 with 19 HRs, 25 doubles, 50 walks, and 53 RBIs.
In July, Davis starred for the National League in the Futures Game at Coors Field, Denver. He was voted the MVP after hitting two HRs and joins Alfonso Soriano (1999) and Yusniel Diaz (2018) as the only players to hit two HRs in one Futures Game.
Davis is definitely one to watch and to round off a fantastic 2021, his performances earned him the Cubs Minor League Player of the Year award.
When Baseball America recently unveiled its 2022 top 100 prospects list, a surprising inclusion for many was Cristian Hernandez. However, it was not surprising to Cubs fans who have followed the 18-year-old shortstop since he was first spotted in the Dominican Republic by Alex Suarez, the then Cubs director of international pro scouting.
This month, Baseball America ranked the Cubs farm system 15th, a jump from 20th and their highest ranking for over five years. They cited Hernandez as one of the players giving the Cubs, “considerable talent in the lower levels of the minor leagues”.
Hernandez was the Cubs’ top international signing when he joined the club last January during MLB’s international signing period. He spent 2021 in the Dominican Summer League, batting .285/.398/.424 with five home runs in 47 games. Hernandez has drawn comparisons to a young Alex Rodriguez, hence his nickname “Baby A-Rod.”
Of note, Alexis Hernandez, Cristian’s younger brother, signed for the Cubs last month during the 2022 international signing period. Like his brother, Alexis is also a shortstop and ranks #18 on MLB.com’s top 50 international prospects list. However, there is the possibility of the Hernandez brothers lining up together as Alexis can also play in center field.
Velazquez is another prospect who has received a lot of attention in 2021, particularly towards the end of the year.
(Photo: Norm Hall/Getty Images)
The much-improved outfielder was a 2017 fifth-round draft pick and appeared in 103 games in the minor leagues in 2021. Firstly, with High-A South Bend Cubs and then, following promotion in early August, with Double-A Tennessee Smokies, hitting .270/.333/.496 with 20 HRs. His performances earned him the organisation’s minor league player of the month award for August.
However, it was his performances in the 2021 Arizona Fall League (AFL) that garnered the most attention. In 26 games for Mesa Solar Sox in the AFL, the outfielder hit an astonishing .385/.480/.712 with nine HRs, 24 RBIs and a league-best 1.191 OPS.
Josh Norris of Baseball America reported from the AFL, “There’s no two ways about it: Nelson Velazquez has been one of the most impressive players in this year’s Arizona Fall League. The Cubs outfielder has showcased a swing that is shorter than in previous years and allows him to be on time to the ball while allowing the barrel to explode through the zone with plenty of authority…Velazquez is commanding at-bats. Now, he also commands your attention.”
His performances resulted in him being added to the Cubs 40-man roster, which protected him from the Rule 5 draft in December. Cubs president, Jed Hoyer, said of Velazquez, “He’s been amazing. He had a really good year, so this is a continuation of a really excellent season. Super proud of him. He’s hitting as well as anyone out there.”
However, Velazquez’s year didn’t finish in Arizona. He joined Los Criollos de Caguas of the Puerto Rico Winter League and entered the league’s HR derby at the last minute, which of course he won.
Featured image of Brennan Davis by Steph Chambers/Getty Images
Mark Holmes is one of the team correspondents covering the Chicago Cubs for Bat Flips and Nerds in 2022. You can follow him on Twitter @MarkHolmes36