Do the Cubs Have a Lefty Shortage in the Minors?

It Depends on What Kind of Lefty You Want

When minor league rosters were first announced, one of the strangest things I noticed was that the Tennessee Smokies did not have one single left-handed pitcher. That was pretty hard to miss. At the same time, South Bend mustered two lefty starters, and one in a relief role who has already spent time on the 7-day disabled list. The lack of lefties in the minors does seem to be a bit strange, considering their high value to the major league club.

At the major-league level, the Cubs have Jon Lester and Jose Quintana as left-handed starters and they have plenty of help in the bullpen with Justin Wilson, Brian Duensing, and Mike Montgomery. Triple-A Iowa currently has four lefties in Michael Roth, Rob Zastryzny, Alberto Baldonado, and Randy Rosario.

In total, the Cubs have about 30 left-handed pitchers in the entire system. Myrtle Beach and Chicago account for 10 of the 30 left-handed pitchers which leaves almost 20 spread across the other 8 teams. The shortage of lefties might not be a big deal right now, but it could be later if something happens at the big league level.

Who Could Help This Year If Needed?

While the Cubs did select left-hander Brendon Little with the first pick in the 2017 Draft, Little is far from a polished prospect. Rather, he might be more of a project that pays off much later. His ability to get to Chicago depends on the new few years of development.

If lefty help is going to come this year, Zastryzny will more than likely be the first name called up to the bullpen. In Iowa, all Zastryzny has done is to come out of the pen and not allow a run in 5.1 innings this year, striking out five batters. That’s a good start for him.

I did find it surprising that Roth made Iowa’s starting rotation to begin the year. Now with Alzolay finally in Iowa, Roth heads back to the ‘pen. He made two starts and did not allow a run over 9.2 innings, while striking out eight. On Tuesday, he was impressive in 4.2 scoreless relief innings.

As for Rosario, he’s only 23, which I find to be amazing. He could be a steal and a long-term piece for the ‘pen. The Cubs control Rosario through 2023, the same as Zastryzny. So far, Rosario has not allowed a run in three appearances for Iowa. He might be the most intriguing arm to watch. Then again, Rosario appeared with the Minnesota Twins in two major league games last June with disastrous results. He allowed eight earned runs in just 2.1 innings.

As for Baldanaldo at Iowa … it’s not going well at Iowa.

Another left-handed pitcher, Kyle Ryan, is in Arizona in extended spring training and will likely be assigned to Iowa at a later date. Ryan spent over two successful years in the majors for the Tigers before struggling in 2017 with an ERA of 7.94 in 5.2 innings. From 2014-16 with Detroit, Ryan had a 3.68 ERA in 122.1 innings — primarily as a reliever.

Ultimately, in the short term the odds are not ideal for lefties in the system. On the other hand (pun intended), depending on the need, the Cubs could go and get one via the trade market this summer. The aforementioned lefties from Iowa would be fine to cover the team for a short DL stint or two. But if a loogy is needed for the regular season season and the playoffs, expect the Cubs to make a deal like they have done in the past.

As for the Future…

The odds of developing left-handed pitchers are much better in the long-term. Here are a few names of some lefties other than Little who might be worth watching this summer. Bear in mind, none of the following names will not make it to Chicago this summer or even next.

Brailyn Marquez – He just turned 19 in January, but at 6’5” he is still growing into his frame and can throw in the mid 90’s. He played last year in Mesa and struck out 52 batters in 44 innings. The issue was not that he walked just 12 guys all summer, rather it was that opponents hit .275 off him. His secondary and tertiary pitches are a work in progress. Marquez should be at short season Eugene, which starts play in the middle of June.

Bryan Hudson – His first start in 2018 didn’t go so well for Myrtle Beach, but there’s plenty of time to recover. In his second start this past Saturday, Hudson went 5 innings, struck out four, and gave up three runs. The 6’8”, 220-pound 20-year-old is improving gradually every year. He was a ground ball machine in South Bend last year. For his career, he has averaged 2.96 ground balls per one flyout. His curve/slider used to be his calling card, but now it’s his ability to get guys to beat the ball into the ground — even with his fastball.

Tyler Thomas – The 6’0″, 175-pound lefty out of Fresno State has dazzled in his first two starts for South Bend this year, including throwing five innings of no-hit ball against Bowling Green. Armed with a low 90’s fastball and a beautiful change-up, Thomas works at a quick pace and keeps everyone on their toes. He was one of the top collegiate pitchers in 2016, but struggled a bit in the spring of 2017 at Fresno State. However, when he came to Eugene he was lights out in a relief role (24 strikeouts in 19.1 IP).

And Don’t Forget…Justin Steele – He had his best season as a Cub in 2017, with an ERA of 2.92 for Myrtle Beach. However, Steele wound up having Tommy John surgery in August. He’s not gonna come back to pitch as a starter this year, but hopefully he can be seen tossing the ball around in Mesa in August. I highly doubt if he gets in any games, but Steele should be back on track to pitch at Double-A Tennessee in 2019.

What most impressed me about Steele last year before the injury was a new mental focus. He credited the Cubs’ mental skills program, which involved meditation, for a lot of his success. Steele’s future could be in relief or the starting rotation. He is still just 22 years oldj.

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