With Adbert Alzolay’s stunning debut performance, it looks like the Cubs may have finally produced a pitcher from their own farm system who looks like he could possibly stick in the majors. Yes, it is only one game, but based on Alzolay’s track record, he has the pitches and the wherewithal to hang around.
But one pitcher does not a successful system make, so who is next in line to make it to Chicago?
1. Dillon Maples
Clearly possessed of the most impressive arsenal of pitches out of all the guys in the system, he’s flashed at times in Chicago and he has also bombed. Still, there’s no doubt that he has all the tools he needs to make it in the bullpen. At 27 years old, one begins to wonder how much longer the Cubs are going keep bouncing him back and forth.
2. Dakota Mekkes
The 6-foot-7, 275-pound reliever got off to a bit of a rough start at Triple-A Iowa this year, but he’s turning on the jets in June. With a 1.23 ERA through three weeks of the month, he looks to have regained his confidence and is back to attacking on every pitch.
Though he’s not been know as a high-velo guy, Mekkes hit 96 mph in his last outing. That’s 2-3 ticks higher than where he usually sits and has to look like 100+ to the hitter with that low arm slot and deceptive release point. Mekkes is not on the 40-man roster, so someone would have to lose a spot to accommodate him.
3. Tyson Miller
If I could talk to Jaron Madison, the Cubs’ Director of Player Development, about one player, Miller would be the subject. He had an outstanding first half at Double-A Tennessee, posing a 2.51 ERA in 13 starts, following a solid 2018 campaign at Myrtle Beach. He added 10-15 pounds of muscle before 2018 and it took his fastball up into the mid-90’s.
The great thing about that jump in velo is that he maintained all the command and control he had before. What I like most about Miller is his mental approach and his extremely short memory. If he makes a mistake, he is able to shrug it off and continue back with his previous game plan.
4. Duane Underwood Jr.
His quiet move to the bullpen seems to be going well and he’s still only 24, at least for another month, so there’s plenty of time for him to really break out. Underwood fell off the map after his MLB debut last season, but he could certainly work his way back as a full-time reliever.
5. Keegan Thompson
I though he was going to be a monster this year, so I was disappointed to see him assigned to Tennessee to start the year. But after throwing five no-hit innings on opening night, he hasn’t been seen since. Thompson is on the shelf down in Mesa with an undisclosed injury and has been throwing on the side and doing live BP according to The Cub Reporter.
The delay pretty much ruins any shot for him this year, but 2020 is still a legitimate goal at this point. Thompson has the kind of command and control of four pitches that you want to see from a major league starter.
Oscar de la Cruz, Justin Steele, Trevor Clifton, Wyatt Short
There are two problems with trying to figure out who could possibly be next. One, there has to be a spot for them either in the bullpen or the rotation. Two, the Cubs are in win-now mode and need to call upon pitchers who can help them accomplish that task. Well, usually.
We’ve heard talk for a while now about how the system is starting to produce those types of pitchers, so now it’s just a matter of letting that happen without forcing it. As the Cubs get more aggressive with development, expect to start seeing some of these guys push their way through to Chicago.