Let’s cut right to the chase, the Cubs are not known for developing relief pitchers. Or any pitchers, for that matter. They’ve only called up a few arms — notably Kyle Hendricks, CJ Edwards, Justin Grimm, and Neil Ramirez — of any consequence over the last five years and those came from Texas via the Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster trades. In other words, the Cubs haven’t produced much of anything from start to finish in their system.
Things are about to change.
Dillon Maples broke out in 2017, rocketing from class A to the majors in one season and he is set to compete for a spot in the Cubs bullpen in spring training. Pedro Araujo is another reliever who showed out last year while at Myrtle Beach. He has been doing excellent in the Arizona Fall League and should be at AA Tennessee to begin 2018. After missing most of 2017, Jake Stinnett was reborn as a reliever and is also turning heads out of the bullpen in the AFL.
Here’s a look
At AAA Iowa
David Garner has had one of the quietest rides up through the system, advancing to AAA without much fanfare. A setup man who throws in the mid 90’s isn’t necessarily unique, but there’ll always be a market for those guys. Although Garner only pitched for Iowa in nine games in August, his chance at the big-time could come later in the year.
It’s easy to forget about Corey Black, who pitched only 53 innings in 2016 and then missed all of 2017 following Tommy John surgery. We’ve seen scores of pitchers come back from elbow reconstruction, but I’m interested to see how it will impact Black’s career and what type of pitcher he will be. He’s only had one full season as a reliever and only 30.1 IP at AAA, but recovery bears watching.
Part of me wants to see Scott Effross as a starter because he does have four pitches he can throw for strikes. Then again, he really put himself on the map with a 2.03 ERA in 44.1 IP over the second half at Myrtle Beach. AA Tennessee is going to love him.
At Myrtle Beach
Jhon Romero basically got by on two pitches last summer, but they were both excellent. Armed with a mid-90’s fastball and a hard, biting curve, Romero could move quickly in 2018. He began last season at Eugene in July and was just dominant at two levels. I’m extremely excited to watch him pitch in his first full season.
At South Bend
It is hard to breakout in a half a season, but Jake Steffens came close. His ascension to closer at Eugene was definitely one of the surprises of the second half, as he saw his stuff tick up a little bit from college. Now at full-season South Bend, the Cubs should get a better picture of whether he can stick in the bullpen.
It appears that Ben Hecht has a golden arm and you wonder why he is a relief pitcher to start his career. From a small town in southern Illinois, Hecht was a strikeout machine at Eugene after struggling in his final season at Wichita State. He struck out 25 in 17.2 IP in his professional debut at Eugene.
Ricky Tyler Thomas started every year in college and he did it well until last spring, when he was outstanding as a reliever at Eugene. He has a nice changeup and when he can locate his fastball, he becomes even more deadly. He’ll really take off if he can add a tick or two to the heater this season.
It’s a little hard to project who will be at short-season Eugene, as there’s a lot of spring training and extended spring training for the young kids to develop, not to mention the small matter of the MLB draft. One who might get some pub is Ivan Medina, the 21-year-old closer for the Arizona Rookie League champion Mesa Cubs.