Commentary: What should Cubs do with their starting pitching?


by - Staff Writer -
Joe Camporeale - USA Today Sports
Joe Camporeale - USA Today Sports

We move to the third part of this installment as we now focus on the Cubs pitching staff. First on that list is starting pitching where although they don’t have a ton of holes, they still need to plan for long term before more holes come about.

Right now, the Cubs appear in good shape on paper, where four spots are taken for next season. Those spots belong to Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana, and Jon Lester. A few years ago, most teams would envy at this staff, given the pedigree that all these pitchers possessed. Now, not only do the Cubs feature one of the oldest staffs with only Hendricks under 30 years of age but also one of the slowest in terms of velocity.

That proved to hurt the Cubs at times last season, where it looks as if age caught up to both Lester and Cole Hamels during the season while the lack of velocity hurt all pitchers in their own rights when they couldn’t hit their spot. With four spots in the rotation solidified, the Cubs are looking to fill their fifth and final spot before building for next season.

Right now, it looks as if the Cubs are willing to stay in house and try out four pitchers for that fifth and final spot of the rotation. The two most obvious candidates to this point are Tyler Chatwood and Alec Mills. Starting with Chatwood, he was signed as a free agent two years ago and is in the final year of his three-year deal with the Cubs. After a horrendous season in 2018, Chatwood appeared to figure things out as a swingman in the pen last season, which has the Cubs confident in putting him back in the rotation should that need to happen.

Mills, on the other hand, is an interesting story as he has a much smaller sample size than Chatwood. Acquired with Wade Davis in the Jorge Soler deal, the once highly touted Royals prospect has been mostly a middle of the rotation arm in the minors with small samples at the MLB level. Over the past two seasons, Mills has gotten in 20 games for the Cubs while starting six of those. Although the results may not have been there in the win/loss column, Mills held his own in the rotation as his ability to pitch to contact and keep hitters off-balance worked to his advantage.

With a full offseason to prepare as a starting pitcher, the Cubs may elect to go with Mills in the rotation and keep Chatwood in the pen where he did succeed last year. Should Chicago decide Mills is not the answer, he fits fine as the swingman in the pen as that has been a role; he has filled the past few seasons anyway.

Another name to keep an eye on for the fifth position was Minor League pitcher of the year Colin Rea who was added to the Cubs 40-man roster in October. After dealing with several shoulder injuries the past three seasons, the former top prospect in the Padres system had a season to remember in AAA this season. Not only was he the ace of the Cubs staff, but Rea put together a 14-5 record and ranked in the top five in ERA. That along was good to earn Pacific Coast League pitcher of the year, which is a feat.

Now that Rea has been added to the 40-man roster, it appears very likely that he will have a chance to compete for the final rotation spot this spring. Not only does he appear healthy once again, but he is coming off the best season he has ever put together regardless of level. He had this kind of potential at San Diego but never was able to reach it as injuries slowed him down. Let’s hope the Cubs uncovered a gem here, and that last season is a sign of things to come moving forward.

Perhaps the most intriguing name in the starting rotation situation is No. 2 pitching prospect Adbert Alzolay. Listed as the team’s No.1 for a while, Alzolay slipped to No. 2 following a series of arm injuries the past two seasons and the recent emergence of now No. 1 arm Brailyn Marquez. There is no secret with Alzolay, as he does possess the stuff to not only be in the rotation this season but could be a middle of the rotation arm.

The only problem with him has been his health as he has made a total of 23 starts the past two seasons. That was mainly due to missing five months in 2018, but also two months last season as the shoulder, and arm issues have hampered him. Alzolay did, however, make it to the bigs this season where he showed talent but also looked extremely raw at times. Out of the pen, Alzolay was brilliant, but in his two starts, he was walloped, causing concern for his overall development.

That has been the biggest knock on Theo since joining the Cubs as he has not been able to develop any frontline pitching to this point. As of now, it appears Alzolay could be the first as I feel by 2022 is when most of their pitching talent will arrive in the bigs. He must stay healthy first. Because of that reason, I don’t think the Cubs will let him patrol the rotation to this point as he needs to build up his arm and innings first.

Other pitchers, I would have liked to see the Cubs take a chance on are Julio Tehran, Dallas Kuechel, Alex Wood, and Josh Lindblom. All have recently signed free agent deals with new teams except for Wood.

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