Had I conducted a straw poll late in the 2018 season, Tyler Chatwood is not the man anyone would have pegged as the favorite for the fifth starter spot in 2020. If we’re being really honest, a lot of respondents probably would have said he’d be off the team entirely. But he 30-year-old righty simplified his mechanics last season and posted a career-best 22.8% strikeout rate while also keeping his walks in check. He was better able to control his wicked breaking stuff, and the shorter outings as a reliever had him sitting 96 mph on both his four-seam and sinker.
One school of thought holds that Chatwood should remain in the bullpen, where his skillset can flourish within tighter parameters. If he’s able to maintain the confidence he gained last season as a reliever, however, he would give the Cubs another high-velo starter beyond just Yu Darvish. I happen to be enrolled in classes at the former institution, but it sounds like Ross attends my rival.
Though the rookie skipper touted Chatwood as “one of the most valuable starters-slash-long guys that we have,” he made it pretty clear that the rotation is a more likely option at this point.
“He’s got power stuff, but I think Chat’s in a really good place and a head space and his outings have been very powerful and he’s made a statement,” Ross explained to Jordan Bastian. “His outings have been very powerful and he’s made a statement, as has Millsy. And he’s got some experience that Millsy doesn’t have.
“So, I would still say Chatwood’s in the lead for that role, but Millsy’s having a great spring.”
There probably wouldn’t even be a question about the final rotation spot were it not for Alec Mills — known to Ross as Millsy, just in case you hadn’t caught that — quietly putting up an outstanding spring. His game is similar to Chatwood’s only in that he’s also a righty who has a very good breaking ball, but that’s about where the comparisons end. Mills is smooth and efficient, leaning on a curve that loops to the plate with less velocity than any other in the majors.
“I feel like he’s looked great all spring,” Ross said. “It’s a very easy watch, I would say. Low heartbeat. Reminds me of Kyle (Hendricks). Very poised on the mound. Knows exactly what he wants to do.”
That poise and calm has many, present company included, advocating for Mills to be the man taking the bump every fifth day in Chicago. Some have also wondered whether that spot could be kind of a timeshare, with the two righties essentially taking turns based on the opponent. That doesn’t seem to be Ross’s style, as we’ve already heard him say he prefers continuity in his lineups and defensive positions.
“Whoever wins that fifth job, they earned it,” Ross said. “Going back and forth to the ‘pen, the arm can get some wear and tear and I just feel like you’re asking for injuries.
“I’ll separate it unless something goes awry or we’ve got a hole to fill.”
Without digging further into what could create such a hole [trade!], we’ll just operate under the assumption that it’s more a matter of injury or timing. So unless something goes sideways for Chatwood, it looks as though he’ll be in the rotation with Mills as a long man. This is one of those good problems to have, since Ross really can’t go wrong with the decision one way or the other.
Or at least that’s how it looks at this point.