The Cubs surprisingly chose to add three minor league pitchers to the 40-man roster on Tuesday in order to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft on December 6. Lefty Bailey Horn from Triple-A Iowa, righty Porter Hodge from Double-A Tennessee, and righty Michael Arias from High-A South Bend were the only members of a group of 69 eligible players to be selected. The Cubs’ roster now stands at 40 players, but that will probably change with Friday’s non-tender deadline.
Very few people expected the Cubs to go with three selections, and I didn’t see anyone predicting all of them to be pitchers. Let’s take a look at why they made these choices.
Horn is a pretty easy one because he’s a lefty reliever who’s close to the big leagues already, making him an easy target for another team to poach in December. Originally acquired from the White Sox in exchange for Ryan Tepera ahead of the 2021 trade deadline, Horn is 11-9 with a 4.20 ERA, seven saves, and 11.5 K/9 innings in 99 career minor league games.
The 25-year-old pitched to a 7-3 record with three saves and a 4.21 ERA in 45 relief appearances between Tennessee and Iowa last season. He’s still got a lot to work on, but I-Cubs broadcaster Alex Cohen says he’s got an electric arm with plus MLB stuff and the athleticism to make the necessary adjustments to make it at the highest level.
Hodge, 22, went 6-7 with a 5.13 ERA and 103 strikeouts in 35 games (12 starts), as he pitched primarily in relief for the first time in his career. He led Double-A with 0.33 HR/9 while his 11.5 K/9 mark ranked ninth. He was named the Southern League Pitcher of the Month for May after leading the league with a 1.64 ERA and ranking third with 13.09 K/9 and sixth with a 1.05 WHIP during the month.
The 6-foot-4 righty was selected by the Cubs in the 13th round of the 2019 draft out of Cottonwood High School in Salt Lake City, Utah and has some of the nastiest stuff in the system. That hasn’t really shown up in the box score yet, as Hodge is 15-15 with a 4.34 ERA and 312 strikeouts over 79 games (50 starts) in four minor league seasons. He had a 5.13 ERA at Double-A this past season and wasn’t able to stick in the rotation, but the stuff will play.
He can get swings and misses in the zone on his fastball due to its good natural cut and his slider is as wicked as they come. Settling into a relief role could allow that stuff to play up, or the Cubs could choose to give him another shot to start.
Arias, who turns 22 on Wednesday, posted a 4.09 ERA in 22 starts between Low-A Myrtle Beach and High-A South Bend. He was named the Carolina League Pitcher of the Week on June 4 and pitched to a 2.55 ERA in 11 outings with the Pelicans before being promoted. Arias averaged 12.2 strikeouts and 0.33 home runs per nine innings across both levels.
The Santo Domingo, D.R. native was originally signed by the Blue Jays as a shortstop in 2018, but he was released in 2020 and signed with the Cubs as a pitcher. MLB.com currently has him as the Cubs’ No. 12 prospect on the strength of a repertoire he unleashes from a low three-quarters slot. His fastball sits mid-90s with sink and touches 98, then he has a changeup and slider that can be plus pitches.
Arias is still pretty raw as a pitcher, so this is all about projection. Though he has worked exclusively as a starter over the last two seasons, I have to wonder whether the Cubs are hoping to fast-track him with a move to the bullpen. We’ll probably have to wait for spring training or even the regular season to find out.
There will be a lot more roster manipulation over the coming days as the Cubs and other teams create room on Friday. Then things should really start to heat up as Thanksgiving signals the unofficial start of trade season.