Late last week, we discussed a handful of potential starting pitching targets for the Chicago Cubs over the course of the offseason and into next year. However, with up to three potential vacancies after the 2017 season, the Cubs may choose to address some of their rotational needs at this summer’s trade deadline.
If and when they do go that route, of course, the Cubs will likely have to part with some high level positional prospects (perhaps even guys that have already made it to the Major Leagues) and probably some low-level, high ceiling pitching prospects (they are always in these sorts of deals), as well.
One of the names that’s sure to be asked about might not be someone with whom you’re intimately familiar, but Jeff Passan says is gonna be “the guy everyone is going to be asking for this July”: Myrtle Beach Pelicans right-hander Adbert Alzolay.
Back in October of 2015 (a lifetime ago), Cubs President Theo Epstein named six sub-20 year old pitching prospects in the Cubs organization to keep an eye on: Dylan Cease, Carson Sands, Justin Steele, Bryan Hudson, Oscar De La Cruz, Adbert Alzolay. The first five pitchers, of course, were fairly common names then (and probably even more so now), but the sixth pitcher was something of a surprise.
Here’s what Brett had to say at the time:
Five of those names should jump out at you … Alzolay, on the other hand, has not been discussed nearly as much, despite a 2015 season that saw him post a 2.04 ERA with solid peripherals. He worked out of the bullpen for much of the year, which probably kept him off the radar a bit, but that appears have been mostly about limiting his innings, rather than developing him as a reliever.
As a starter for almost all of the 2016 season, Alzolay maintained his pretty low profile. He did make 20 starts (120.1 IP) at Low-A, but his results weren’t great, as his peripherals and his strikeout rate mostly plummeted.
But through 11 starts in 2017 at High-A Myrtle Beach, his ERA has dropped to 2.90 (thanks, in no small part, to a more fortunate strand rate and BABIP) while his strikeout rate increased to 22.5%. Impressively, opposing batters are hitting just .213 off Alzolay, and he’s walking just 5.5% of the guys he faces.
With solid numbers (and even more upside), it should probably come as no surprise to learn that Jeff Passan (Yahoo Sports) has called out Alzolay, now 22, in his recent Prospect Heat Check.
Specifically, Passan mentions that Alzolay’s fastball has been sitting in the 94-95 MPH range, but has topped out at 98 MPH at times. In addition to that pitch, he’s throwing a “strong” curveball and a “solid” changeup with enough feel to stick as a starter. While he’ll probably never be a top of the rotation candidate, Passan seems to imply (via scouts’ opinions) that Alzolay is a good bet to become a mid-rotation pitcher sometime soon.
Obviously, there’s a ton of value in holding onto a young, capable big-league starter (as we see offseason after offseason and trade deadline after trade deadline), but there is more than one way to extract value from a player in your organization. And to that end, Passan suggests that Alzolay is the pitching prospect “everyone is going to be asking for this July.”
Now, of course the Cubs need pitching prospects (and starting pitchers) of their own, but it’s not hard to envision them trading off some years of Alzolay down the line for a pitcher who can help the rest of the way this season and for the next few years when they figure to be especially competitive.
Also, don’t forget that pitching prospects are especially risky assets. Their production tends to vary more wildly and they are far more susceptible to injuries than positional prospects. If the Cubs front office were able to turn a few months of good performance and some dreamy upside into an existent, albeit pricier, Major League pitcher, they’d do it in a flash.
In years past, there’s been a bit of a concern that the Cubs don’t have the near-MLB ready pitching prospects teams pretty much require in deals like this, so Alzolay’s emergence is relatively huge. We’ll have to wait and see what the Cubs wind up doing, but it’s good to know they have pieces that other teams might want, even on the pitching side of the prospect ledger.
And, hey, if Alzolay instead simply emerges as a big league starting option for the Cubs, themselves, then that’s just fine, too.