Righty pitcher Caleb Kilian has done nothing but dominate throughout his professional career and his performance through eight starts at Triple-A Iowa has left many wondering what he has left to prove there. The thought for some time now has been that he could serve as the Cubs’ 27th man for upcoming doubleheaders against the Brewers (May 30) and Cardinals (June 4), a possibility that is becoming a near certainty based on timing.
Kilian, who came over in the Kris Bryant trade last year, is scheduled to start Wednesday against the Memphis Redbirds and would be on regular rest for next Monday’s twin bill. Then he’d have another four days off to prep for the St. Louis Redbirds. With a 1.31 ERA and 40 strikeouts over 34.1 innings, the only thing standing in Kilian’s way at this point appears to be a 40-man roster spot.
The Cubs have made room for players already this year, most recently promoting lefty reliever Brandon Hughes to the big club, but most of their roster moves have been of the procedural variety. Whether it’s Mark Leiter Jr. or Adrian Sampson, they’re mainly just shuffling players around without doing much to impact long-term commitments.
Kilian is a different story because he has quickly ascended to the top of their pitching prospect list and is now expected to be part of the rotation for the foreseeable future. As aggressive as they’ve been with the changes to their development process, they’re still preaching patience publicly.
“We’re taking things one day at a time,” Cubs AGM and VP of pitching Craig Breslow told Patrick Mooney of The Athletic. “We’re all aware of what he’s been able to accomplish. I think there’s a lot of excitement, rightfully so, around him. What we’re focused on is polishing up development, knowing that he’s kind of passing every hurdle we’re putting in front of him. Hopefully, that forebodes a successful major-league career.”
If nothing else, Breslow certainly has the exec-speak patois down pat. This kind of noncommittal language should be expected, if for no other reason than admitting they’re calling Kilian up means putting fringe roster members on high alert. As if those guys don’t already know their grasp on a regular role is tenuous at best.
While I can understand the concern that calling someone up too early could be detrimental due to the potential for failure, the Cubs aren’t going to learn much more from minor league starts. Besides, a pitcher who can’t get past a little adversity isn’t someone who’s going to stick around no matter how long you let him marinate in the minors. All that said, Kilian appears to be the real deal and has the kind of stuff that should play right out of the gate.
He’s got an upper-90s four-seam with a nice sinker, a firm slider that he throws in the upper 80s, and a spike-curve he implemented during his time in the Arizona Fall League. Kilian is also developing a changeup that should improve his performance against left-handed hitters, so that’s something to look for when you get to see him throw.
Again, the only reason for the Cubs to keep him at Triple-A is to postpone the inevitable and maintain flexibility with a 40-man spot. But if they’re serious about trying to turn this thing around relatively quickly, they need to see what they’ve got. Hell, we all need to see what they’ve got because what we’ve been shown this year ain’t it.