Whether he was going to impact the 2018 Chicago Cubs directly on the field or indirectly in trade, this was a big year to be following 23-year-old righty Adbert Alzolay, who’d just been bumped to AAA.
But sadly, on May 29th, Alzolay left his I-Cubs start after just four perfect innings with what was ultimately diagnosed as a lat strain and he’s been out ever since. A couple of days later, he hit officially the DL, but with good news: the strain was considered to be among the least severe, and there was hope he could be back in just a couple of weeks. Four days ago, we got yet another update, but it wasn’t very good news, as Tommy Birch reported that Alzolay was expected to be out until after the All-Star beak.
And in what is a continuing parade of bummers, this:
Jed Hoyer says Cubs top pitching prospect Adbert Alzolay will not be able to pitch again this year. He's currently in a rest period after injuring his lat last month. Will not be able to heal and ramp up to throwing enough in time to make an impact on 2018 season.
— Tony Andracki (@TonyAndracki23) June 15, 2018
No operation needed, but #Cubs GM Jed Hoyer says that top pitching prospect Adbert Alzolay is out for the rest of the season given the timing/nature of his lat injury.
— Patrick Mooney (@PJ_Mooney) June 15, 2018
So much for least severe type of lat strain. Yeesh.
Apparently the Cubs recently decided that, by the time he would get throwing again (another month or so?), and then ramp up to competitiveness (another month?), there wouldn’t be a lot of time left in the minor league season (which ends at the end of August). So no reason to push it.
I suppose the tiniest silver lining you can take from this is that 1) he won’t need an operation (that speaks to the severity of the injury and the additional rest and rehab he’d need) and 2) he wasn’t necessarily going to force the Cubs’ hand this year. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I didn’t want him to work through any struggles and play a healthy season (of course I did), but perhaps the injury contributed to his struggles this season. In other words, maybe that’s a bit of an explanation for the 4.76 ERA, 4.73 FIP, and 15.8% strikeout rate.
But if you aren’t super familiar with Alzolay, don’t let those stats fool you. He’s one of the best Cubs pitching prospects and also (was) one of the closest to the Majors. Here’s what Luke had to say about him when he ranked him 3rd overall back in April:
Alzolay’s emergence last season was one of the better stories of the summer. In 22 total starts (15 for Myrtle Beach, 7 for Tennessee) he had very little trouble. His High-A ERA ended up 2.98; his Double A figure was 3.03. The strikeout rates (low to mid 8s) and walk rates (between 2.4 and 3.3) were also relatively close. His ground ball rate is on the low side (just 33% with Tennessee), but he avoid hard contact and allowed no homers at all for the Smokies (8 for the Pelicans).
Alzolay gets some traction at the back of Top 100 charts, but I don’t really see him as an impact-type pitcher. A solid mid-rotation guy, yes. But the sort of player you doodle into daydream rosters? Not really. Then again, a couple years ago we’d have said the exact same thing about – for one extreme example – Kyle Hendricks, and look how that turned out.
Needless to say this is a big blow to the Cubs system as a whole. In fact, I can see that on three different levels.
First, the Cubs farm system is inarguably even weaker than it already was (and that was pretty weak). Second, Alzolay’s success in Double-A and presence in Triple-A tells us that he very well could have been part of the big league depth very soon. Obviously, he wasn’t pitching well enough just yet and there wasn’t an available spot, but if his season turned around, he could have helped out as a spot starter in the rotation or even out of the bullpen later this year. And finally, while I sincerely doubt the Cubs were going to part ways with him this summer, Alzolay was at least theoretically a viable trade chip. He isn’t as exciting as most pitching prospects, but he had one thing going for him: big league readiness.
Now, the Cubs don’t have many similar assets in a year they might have otherwise wanted to add at the deadline.
But that’s all beside the point. For now, the issue is we have a summer without Alzolay and that really, really stinks. Hopefully, though, he can heal up by the fall, participate and dominate in a fall or winter league, and be a big-league factor again as soon as next season.