Chicago Cubs minor league roundup on May 28

CHICAGO — Daniel Palencia showed promise as a starting pitching prospect in the Cubs’ system, but it was also easy to dream of his overwhelming arsenal in a bullpen. Chicago is beginning to explore that path for the right-handed pitcher.

Earlier this month, the Cubs placed the 23-year-old Palencia on the development list and traded him to Arizona to begin a transition to relief. Last week, Palencia was activated and promoted to Triple-A Iowa, putting his triple-digit heater a phone call away from the big leagues.

“He’s a guy who fits that profile,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer told reporters this week. “He’s up to 102 [mph]. He has off-speed pitches. We’re trying to simplify your mixing to some extent. It’s been a four-pitch guy. He probably won’t be a four-pitch guy in the bullpen.”

Palencia, ranked the Cubs’ 13th-ranked prospect by MLB Pipeline, was acquired as part of the July 21 trade that sent veteran reliever Andrew Chafin to the A’s. Last season, the right-hander posted a 3.94 ERA with 98 strikeouts to 35 walks in 75 1/3 innings.

In five starts with Double-A Tennessee to begin this season, Palencia posted a 5.87 ERA but struck out 18 in 15 1/3 innings and held hitters to a .196 average. In his Triple-A debut Thursday, Palencia struck out two, walked one and allowed no hits in a scoreless inning. He hit 99.1 mph with his sinker and averaged 98 mph with the pitch.

“It’s nice to have those kinds of arms,” Hoyer said. “We’ll be transitioning some of those guys to the bullpen in the coming weeks and months.”

Here are four standout players from the Cubs’ four full-season affiliates:

Triple-A Iowa: RHP Ben Brown
All eyes continue to be on Brown, 23, at Iowa, where he has posted a 3.75 ERA in five starts since his promotion. The No. 6-ranked Cubs prospect has 36 strikeouts and 12 walks in 24 innings, and it’s worth noting that seven of his 10 earned runs with the I-Cubs came in a tough outing on the 16th. of May.

On Saturday, Brown struck out 11 and walked two in 5 1/3 innings, allowing one run and four hits to Nashville. A pair of quality major league hitters, Luis Urías and Luke Voit, went 0-for-5 combined with five strikeouts and one walk against Brown.

Double-A Tennesee: C Pablo Aliendo
The 20-year-old Aliendo has flown under the radar for the Smokies, but he has hit .280 with seven home runs, 11 doubles, 25 RBIs and a .982 OPS in 26 games. The Pipeline Cubs’ No. 29 prospect, a native of Venezuela, entered Sunday 6-for-17 with two home runs, four doubles and seven RBIs in his last four games.

High-A South Bend: RHP Brandon Birdsell
The 23-year-old Birdsell isn’t on Pipeline’s top 30 list right now, but the 2022 MLB Draft (fifth round) pick is off to a great start to the season. Birdsell allowed two runs or fewer in each of his first seven starts this year at South Bend. Overall, he has a 2.20 ERA with 27 strikeouts to 12 walks in 32 2/3 innings.

Single-A Myrtle Beach: 1B/OF Felix Stevens
Stevens, 23, has mostly bounced between first field and left field for the Pelicans, while hitting .293 with 13 extra-base hits, 20 RBIs and a .924 OPS in 34 games. A product of Cuba, Stevens entered Sunday with an 8-for-18 performance (two homers and six RBIs) in his last six games.