Brett Davis - USA Today Sports
Brett Davis - USA Today Sports

Cubs re-sign promising reliever Ethan Roberts

by - Senior Writer -

The Cubs haven't done much this offseason, but that was to be expected while everyone awaits the Shohei Otani decision. However, some of the moves the Cubs have been making have been on the minor league level, including their move last night. Every offseason, you have the 40-man roster crunch where a team has to make some tough decisions, and the Cubs were forced to make many tough ones this season.

Ethan Roberts and Codi Heuer were two of the tough decisions the Cubs had to make as both were injured last season and were then left off the 40-man roster this winter. However, all is not lost for Roberts as he is back in the Cubs organization on a new minor league deal, hoping to earn another shot at the MLB level. That shows you how much the Cubs value him, as he was one of the faster-rising pitchers in 2021 before making the opening-day roster in 2022.

Like Heuer and Brandon Hughes, who were also tendered about a month ago, Roberts was allowed to look around and see what options he may have. Whether he found better options is the question, but either way, he has decided to return to the Cubs organization on a new minor league deal and could pitch his way into being a key bullpen piece once again.

Considering what a typical Minor League Salary looks like, Roberts most likely received a significant bump in pay; otherwise, you would have to assume he would've tried his luck with a different organization. Given that he spent 2023 recovering from Tommy John surgery, the expectation is that he is fully healthy and will be able to go through a normal spring training and potentially challenge for a roster spot much like Mark Leiter Jr did last spring.

Don't forget, Roberts made the opening day roster in 2022 at the age of 26 and appeared in a handful of games before his elbow decided to give way. The command was iffy, but for the most part Roberts was able to hold his own as the Cubs were expecting big things from him that season and was looked at as a possible late-inning contributor.

Given that he reached the Majors once already and was down in AAA before seeing his elbow pop, worst case scenario is that he remains in Iowa to give the Cubs some bullpen depth and the rest will take are of itself. When you look at Roberts and the type of pitcher he is, this is a guy who can fill a variety of bullpen roles, but has thrived in the middle to late-inning relief roles.

Not the hardest thrower, Roberts has always been around 93 with his fastball, but was closer to the 94-95 MPH range once he made the opening day roster. However, it has been the slider that has been his wipeout pitch and it is arguably one of the toughest pitches to square up in the Cubs entire system. From a velocity side, that pitch sits around 86, but with elite spin rate and a sharp break hitters have an extremely difficult time making any consistent contact against it.

While Roberts earned his first taste of the majors in 2022, he was a bit of a late bloomer and it wasn't until 2021 when he really took off to put himself on the Cubs radar. During that season, Roberts was a particularly compelling relief prospect coming up, flying through the system, and really breaking out in 2021 – 3.00 ERA across Double-A and Triple-A. When you look at what ERAs have been the past few seasons, especially at AAA, that would be considered elite.

Along with that comes the high strikeout rate of 32.6%, while the walk rate was just 7.7%. He projected to have close to those numbers in the majors because he is a high-spin machine who delivers from a low angle and had a sweeper with crazy movement. You could see why the Cubs were so high on him during the 2022 spring season and why David Ross gave him the opportunity when he did.

It was likely that 2022 was going to be an up-down year for him as he got his big league feet under him, but it was very easy to watch him and envision a late-inning option in 2023 and beyond. Now that he has had his surgery and appears healthy again, that is not only the plan for Roberts heading into 2024, but with Craig Counsell as the manager Roberts is a name to watch again.

One thing Counsell has done better than most managers is not only getting the most out of his pen, but knowing how to manage a bullpen to put every guy in the best situation. Considering what Roberts brings to the table, expect him to get a long look from Consell this spring. If Craig likes what he sees, Roberts will not only be given a chance at some point this season, but Counsell won't hesitate to use him in key situations in order to prove his worth.

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