Chicago Cubs farm report: Insights on 8 prospects who are off to a strong start to the minor-league season

The Chicago Cubs boast the type of depth and high-upside prospects in their minor-league system that can fuel annual success in the majors.

They lead all organizations with six players in’s top 100 prospects and are ranked No. 2 overall, while Baseball America ranks the Cubs as the No. 4 farm system.

Six weeks into the minor-league season, the Cubs have numerous players off to strong starts — including the following eight, with insight from director of player development Jason Kanzler.

Triple-A Iowa

OF Owen Caissie

Caissie seems to get better as he gains experience and climbs the Cubs minor-league system. Playing in Triple A for the first time, he’s showing why the organization is so high on him.

The left-handed hitter Caissie is batting .277 with a .415 on-base percentage and .852 OPS. He has three home runs, eight doubles and one triple in 35 games (147 plate appearances).

Caissie, 21, has been consistently among the youngest hitters in the league at each level. That remains true in Triple A, where he is 5.6 years younger than the average and has yet to face a pitcher younger than him this season.

“Owen is showing that age is just a number,” Kanzler told the Tribune. “You would never know that he’s one of the youngest on the field. If you watch the game and how he acts, that’s probably the key and the biggest transition is acting as mature and professional as you can. Because the game is very hard and he’s handling it well, just taking it in stride.”

If Caissie can remain a viable outfielder — he has played errorless defense for Iowa and has two assists from left field — it would give him a more flexible path to the majors.

“He’s a lot faster than you might think,” Kanzler said. “In spring training, some of the big-league coaches challenged him to really work and focus on his outfield defense. I’m pretty optimistic. He has the tools to play a good corner outfield.”

RHP Porter Hodge

Hodge’s first taste of Triple A has featured mixed results, but his ability to miss bats should help him get to the majors.

He needs to find the strike zone more consistently — as shown by nine walks in nine innings — but his 15 strikeouts show why the organization moved him to the bullpen last year. Part of Hodge’s development is learning he doesn’t need to nibble around the zone because his stuff is so good.

“He can put a little more behind his stuff, which is already very good,” Kanzler said of Hodge, 23, becoming a reliever. “All he needs to do is get into the zone a little bit more and all these pitches will play very well.”

Now that he is at Triple A as a member of the 40-man roster, Hodge could be an option to help the Cubs at some point this season if he can lock in his command. A player knowing he’s so close to the big leagues sometimes can be its own challenge.

“Players are not stupid. They know how to do the math and they understand rosters,” Kanzler said. “I’m not going to say that it’s not on his mind, but I also can’t speak for him. I hope that he just goes out there and pitches the way he can pitch, and it’s focusing on the things that we’ve laid out for him to develop and opportunities for him to become an excellent pitcher.

“Whether or not moves happen, that’s to be determined, and guys should never worry about things like that. When the time comes, the time comes.”

Double-A Tennessee

C Moises Ballesteros

Ballesteros’ all-around hitting tools create a tantalizing vision of his big-league potential.

Ranked the Cubs’ No. 7 prospect by and Baseball America, Ballesteros owns a .911 OPS through 24 games at Double A. It accompanies a .321 batting average, .411 on-base percentage, three home runs and five doubles. The 20-year-old lefty hitter commands the strike zone well, too, with 11 walks and 13 strikeouts.

“He’s got advanced maturity at the plate given his age,” Kanzler said. “He’s got incredible, natural bat-to-ball skills. He’s very hitterish and he’s got pop. He can use the whole field. There’s really very few holes. It’s hard to pitch to him. He’s confident and he knows he can hit, a great combination.”

Kanzler believes Ballesteros has the potential to stick behind the plate, which would help his big-league value. Ballesteros has made 10 starts at catcher, 11 as the designated hitter and two at first base this season for the Smokies.

“I tend to believe defense is one of the most malleable domains in the game, and if people put their mind to it and players put their mind to it, they can improve drastically,” Kanzler said. “He’s got the focus. He wants to be in the big leagues. He wants to be the best he can be. We’re going to stick with him at catcher and watch him develop.”

RHP Michael Arias

A starter since he debuted in 2021 in the Dominican Summer League, Arias is in his first season as a reliever.

Although his strikeout rate has dipped slightly this year, his walks also have decreased, an area he needed to improve. In 10 appearances, Arias has a 2.12 ERA with eight walks and 19 strikeouts in 17 innings. Kanzler got to watch Arias pitch in person last week while visiting the Smokies and was impressed.

The Cubs major-league staff got a hands-on look at Arias, 22, while he was part of big-league camp this spring. His 40-man roster status and transition to the bullpen means he could help the Cubs sooner than later, as the organization has shown a willingness to be aggressive in promoting relievers if their performance dictates a bigger challenge.

“For any of these guys, when they get to experience big-league camp and be around great players and veteran coaches and get to have perspective of that entire experience, that usually helps them greatly,” Kanzler said. “They come out of it with a different sense of purpose and also a different level of focus because they get to experience just how good other players are at that level they’re attempting to get to. I think it was a positive experience for him.”

High-A South Bend

OF Brett Bateman

Midwest League pitchers are learning not to overlook Bateman’s skill set. He doesn’t currently possess much pop in his 5-foot-7, 170-pound frame, but he has been a menace when it comes to getting on base.

An eighth-round pick out of Minnesota last year, the 22-year-old Bateman owns a .360 average and .491 on-base percentage through 25 games (113 plate appearances) with South Bend.

“He knows the strike zone exceptionally well,” Kanzler said. “He’s got a very high level of awareness of the zone. Obviously he plays great defense, he’s very fast, he’s very cerebral. He’s always looking and asking questions about how to get better, what things to do. I see him becoming a very good player.”

While he hasn’t homered as a professional and never did in three seasons with the Golden Gophers, Bateman’s seven doubles this year already have more than doubled last year’s output in 28 fewer plate appearances. Bateman also has 10 stolen bases in 12 attempts and is walking more than he strikes out.

Kanzler believes more power and extra-base hits will come naturally as the left-handed hitter matures.

“The key for him is being surrounded by people who are supporting him and really driving it home that the success that he’s having is success and not diverting attention toward home runs or finding power,” Kanzler said. “I’m not worried at all about the power.”

LHP Drew Gray

After missing all of 2022 and part of last year coming back from Tommy John surgery, Gray is showing why he’s considered a top-20 prospect in the system.

Taken in the third round in 2021, Gray is putting up dominant numbers through five starts in his first season at High A. He owns a 1.17 ERA with 23 strikeouts in 15 1/3 innings. Although walks (15) have been an issue at times, Gray has worked around trouble while limiting opponents to seven hits.

In his first full season back on the mound post-injury, a key for the 21-year-old Gray is accumulating innings and re-establishing that he’s a great pitcher. When it comes to his repertoire, Gray clearly is armed with swing-and-miss stuff. Kanzler notably likes the shape of his slider.

“Anything like that is more psychological than physical, and he’s definitely over that hump,” Kanzler said of Gray’s return from Tommy John surgery. “He has separation on the slider and the curveball, so he has two true breaking balls. … He’ll need to use (the changeup) eventually a little bit more. But it’s an exciting repertoire and he’s just getting his feet back under him.”

Low-A Myrtle Beach

OF Alfonsin Rosario

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Rosario, the Cubs’ sixth-round pick last year, is part of a young Pelicans squad and his bat already is standing out. Although he has been in a little bit of a slump the last week, the 19-year-old Rosario had a five-game stretch between April 27 and May 2 in which he slugged two home runs and two doubles, was 7-for-21, scored six runs and stole three bases.

Only 21 games into Rosario’s professional career, his upside is apparent if he can put together consistent stretches.

“Those guys are young; he’s young,” Kanzler said. “I say the more they can play, the better.

“It’s always framing any struggle or failure as an opportunity to double down on great work and preach development. Sometimes having slow starts or things like that are actually a blessing in disguise and guys will realize that’s the kick in the pants they needed.”

Rosario also has played clean defense so far, tallying two assists in nine games split between center and right field.

RHP Juan Bello

Bello, 20, is in his first full season of professional baseball in the United States after appearing in four games last year in the Arizona Complex League.

An international amateur free-agent signee out of Colombia, Bello debuted in the Dominican Summer League in 2022 and has seen his strikeout rate increase each year. Through five starts with the Pelicans, he has 24 strikeouts (12.2 per nine innings) and 13 walks in 17 2/3 innings.

Kanzler noted Bello’s walk rate isn’t super high for that level and his experience. He believes Bello will be able to maintain his strikeout rate as he matures while the walk rate slowly comes down.

Bello recorded a season-high seven strikeouts in 3 1/3 innings in his season debut April 6 and owns a 2.04 ERA while adjusting to playing in the U.S.

“From what I’ve gathered, he’s handled it well, and I think most people vastly underappreciate how tough it is for an international player to come stateside for their first affiliated season,” Kanzler said. “They have to learn an entirely new culture. They’re away from their families. A lot of times they don’t speak the language, so the challenges on the field are just a small part of the total challenges they’re facing, but they come out the other end much better and they’ve grown from it.”