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Alessandro Maestri was a talked-about prospect a couple of years ago after dominating out of the pen in the lower regions of the Chicago Cubs farm system (for those who want the specifics: he sported a 2.26 ERA and a silly 83:15 K:BB ratio in 83.2 innings).

Then Maestri, 23, had a tough year after the Cubs switched him to the starting role, and he had some shoulder issues. Even if it weren’t for the recent WBC-related buzz, he was going to be one to watch this year.

But because of the aforementioned buzz, he’s been catapulted into the spotlight of mainstream Cubdom prognostication.

Phil Rogers takes his swings:

Maestri, who is ranked as the Cubs’ No. 29 prospect by Baseball America, pitched a masterful 1 2-3 innings against the heart of Venezeula’s powerful order. He didn’t blink when hitters like Miguel Cabrera, Magglio Ordonez and Jose Guillen came to the plate but did admit afterward that it was his biggest challenge ever as a pitcher.

“I was just out there not thinking about how good those guys are,” Maestri said in English, with an accent that would endear him to Chicago fans. “If you’re out there and you’re thinking you’ve got Cabrera and all that, you’re screwed. I was just going to go out and try my best.”

Maestri is developing into more than a finesse pitcher. The pitch he threw to strike out Ordonez was recorded as 96 mph but that is probably generous. It is safe to say his fastball sat in the 91-93 mph range. He kept hitters off balance with a tight slider, which is considered one of the best breaking balls in the Cubs’ farm system.

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