Breaking down Cubs’ new prospects after dealing 3 relievers at trade deadline
Willson Contreras and Ian Happ remain, but the Cubs still added a trio of pitching prospects this week. Here’s more on them.
The MLB trade deadline didn’t deliver the fireworks some expected from the Cubs, who had two of the market’s biggest bats in Willson Contreras and Ian Happ. Instead, three relievers saw their way out of town in smaller deals, the sort that happen every year as teams try to bolster their bullpens for the stretch run.
The returns from those deals didn’t constitute the grand haul that general manager Jed Hoyer secured last summer, when several veterans turned into a group of prospects, including Pete Crow-Armstrong and Kevin Alcantara — now two of the best talents in the organization. But the farm system still needed arms, and it added at least two good ones.
Hayden Wesneski, RHP
MLB prospect ranking: No. 8
The return from an unexpected trade of reliever Scott Effross, Wesneski arrives from the Yankees’ organization in the midst of a solid season at Triple-A. If you were fretting the loss of Effross, who’s under team control through 2027, Wesneski’s “frisbee slider,” the jewel of his arsenal, might soon change your mind.
When people talk about an “out pitch,” Wesneski appears to have one in that slider. The movement on it — reportedly 22 inches in one highlight that has made the rounds on social media this year — is eye-popping, even if it’s not repeatable every time he throws it. According to MLB’s Statcast, among pitchers to throw 100-plus sliders this season, only 11 have averaged horizontal movement of 17 inches or more.
Wesneski pairs that slider with a fastball that MLB Pipeline says can reach 98 mph, forming the foundation of a solid array of pitches that has allowed him to post a 3.51 ERA in the International League this year, well below the 4.58 league average. He has not quite been dominant, with a .267 batting average on balls in play helping to fuel his performance. His 4.00 FIP might be more indicative of how he has pitched.
Ben Brown, RHP
MLB prospect ranking: No. 11
Five years ago, the Phillies gambled in the 33rd round on the lanky Brown, who has developed enough since to become the centerpiece of the deal that sent 37-year-old reliever David Robertson to Philadelphia.
What makes Brown exciting is the leap he has taken at the High-A level in his second season since returning from Tommy John surgery, which, along with the COVID-19 pandemic, limited him to 13⅔ innings over the 2019 and 2020 seasons. After struggling to shed the rust in 2021, Brown earned a promotion to Double-A Reading just two days before the Cubs acquired him.
The 22-year-old had a 3.08 ERA and 3.16 FIP in 73 innings with High-A Aberdeen before those moves. He gets a lot of strikeouts, with a 12.95 K/9 this season. And among the 27 starters in the South Atlantic League to throw 70-plus innings this season when the deal was done, Brown ranked third in ERA and strikeout rate while having the fourth-lowest walk rate. The hope will be that he can keep building on that breakout performance.
Saúl Gonzalez, RHP
MLB prospect ranking: Not ranked
Gonzalez, the least exciting of the three additions to the farm system, came from the Mets for Mychal Givens. He didn’t crack MLB.com’s updated Cubs prospect rankings. Like Brown, he’s massive (6-7). This season, he has been working out of the bullpen, with a 2.81 ERA in 25⅔ innings. Most impressively, he hasn’t allowed a home run.