Confident Adbert Alzolay Prepared to Show What He Can Do This Season

Before the pandemic made other plans, Adbert Alzolay was heading into 2020 with the idea that it would be the “Changeup Year.” Possessed of a mid-90’s fastball and a wicked curve, the young righty had been working for years to fine-tune an offspeed pitch that he and many others believed would be the key to his big-league success.

Interestingly enough, though, it was the addition of two other pitches that really opened eyes and had fans and evaluators alike raising their expectations for Alzolay. He debuted a sinker early on and then took a big leap with a brand-new slider that helped him rack up 15 strikeouts over nine innings in his last two appearances. Neither pitch had shown up previously, at least not in live action, yet the slider actually ended up being his best offering in terms of per-pitch value.

And we’re only talking about two relief appearances to go with four starts in 2020, so imagine what he’ll be able to do with an offseason to evaluate and a full spring to ramp up again.

“I’m pretty confident,” Alzolay told reporters Tuesday in Mesa. “I feel like you, as a professional, you prepare for these moments, because these are the moments that you want to come in your career.

“I’ve gotten a lot of good things from all those guys. So to me, it was gaining that experience and working towards that goal. Because I know it’s there. I know I can do it. It’s just a matter of doing it the right way and keep working.”

Any baseball player is going to understand the value of countless repetitions, but Alzolay is even more familiar with preparation and hard work as the son of a personal trainer. He understands as well as anyone the need to identify and strengthen weaknesses in order to improve.

“My focus in the offseason was just to get better in the things that I needed to work on with my body, to work on strengthening my shoulder,” he said. “At this point, I know what I can do in this game.

“I know what I can do with the ball in my hand. So now it’s just to keep [working on] the mental game for those big moments.”

The stuff isn’t in question, nor is the desire, but Alzolay’s biggest challenge when it comes to breaking into the rotation on a more permanent basis might be one of simple math. At least three spots are locked in with Kyle Hendricks, Zach Davies, and Jake Arrieta, then you’ve got Trevor Williams and Alec Mills vying for room in what David Ross has said will remain a five-man unit.

Arrieta has taken Alzolay on as something of a protégé this spring, offering the younger pitcher advice during bullpens and working with him on grips and so forth.

“From the get-go, I can tell that he wants it,” Arrieta told reporters. “There’s no doubt in my mind. He’s focused.”

Alzolay’s role may not come down to desire or ability, but rather his fit on the staff. He’s shown the ability to excel as both a starter and long reliever, the latter of which is something the Cubs may have a greater need for as the season goes along. And though his overall physical fitness has never been in question, Alzolay has never thrown more than 120.1 innings in any professional season.

In fact, he’s only gone over the century mark in two different seasons since 2013 and has only logged 141.2 total competitive innings since 2018. The challenge of stretching back out from the short campaign last year is difficult enough without taking Alzolay’s personal health history into account. As such, the Cubs might be better off having him in one of what figures to be two swing roles, perhaps with Kohl Stewart occupying the other.

Whatever happens, Alzolay could end up being one of the most valuable pitchers on the staff if he’s able to stay healthy. The stuff is real, now it’s just a matter of showing it on a consistent basis.

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