Allen Webster might not be a name many of you remember – unless you’re a big prospect junkie – because it’s been a while since the former Dodgers and Red Sox prospect has been listed among the various top-100 charts, and even longer since we discussed him here.
But after Luke mentioned his promotion to Triple-A Iowa late last week, I thought it was worth re-opening the case. Because, as it turns out, the Cubs may have stumbled into something pretty special. But first, let’s use some of the background we laid out when the Cubs first grabbed Webster back in Spring Training, to set the tone (emphasis added):
Webster was a big-time prospect once upon a time. Aside from being a top-50ish guy back in the day, Webster’s changeup was ranked as the best in the Dodgers’ system after 2010 and 2011 (plus again in the International League back in 2014), and his slider was rated the best in the Red Sox system after 2013. Two plus pitches are hard to come by, so maybe there’s something left [as a starter] if his fastball or sinker are at least passable.
And there’s always the chance the Cubs look at those two quality pitches and do something that maybe should’ve done a long time ago: stick him in the bullpen. I can’t say that’s their plan, but it wouldn’t shock me to find out that it was.
Well, surprise! Webster is now a reliever now and could soon be a factor in Chicago.
The Cubs held Webster back for the first half of this season (I presume he was not healthy and/or recovering from something), and started him out in Arizona (rookie ball) in the middle of July. After two “starts” (they weren’t really starts, he was just the first guy to pitch in each game) and seven other relief appearances in Arizona, the Cubs bumped him up to Double-A, where he immediately dominated:
Something to keep eye on: former top Dodger prospect Allen Webster is healthy and regularly touching 97 with a nasty slider. 4.2 innings into his @smokiesbaseball career he has 9 K’s (vs 3 hits and a walk). A must for the winter: keeping Webster, a free agent, inside the Cub org.
— Cubs Prospects (@cubprospects) August 20, 2018
Nine strikeouts, one walk, three hits, 4.2 innings pitched. That’s pretty darn good, and, coupled with how he was looking, was enough for the Cubs to decide he needed to move onto the next level. Er, well, sorta. As Luke pointed out, the decision to bump up Webster probably had less to do with his competition (this is a former big leaguer, after all) and more to do with his immediate and medium-term future with the Chicago Cubs.
I can think of just one reason the Cubs would be pushing him up the organization this fast, this late in the year: he is being considered for a September call-up. Any why not? The Cubs can probably find the 40-man roster space, and Webster has pitched very well since leaving Arizona. One more arm out of the pen down the stretch can only be a good thing. And if it turns out he can handle high leverage situations? Suddenly a good Cubs’ bullpen looks even better.
Yes, in the near-term, the Cubs could look to add Webster to the pen, see what he’s got, and possibly even use him in October if he really impresses. But that’s about the best case scenario. More realistically, as both Luke and @CubsProspects hinted, the Cubs could use this time to decide if it’s worth keeping Webster in the organization throughout the winter and, obviously, into next season.
The decision is a little tougher than usual, of course, because if Webster shows he’s good enough to want to keep, he will almost certainly require a 40-man roster to stick around – signing another minor league deal is always possible, but, again, not if he shows something special now that he’s relieving full-time. We’ll see.
From what we’ve seen – and what we know about his pedigree – Webster sure seems like a reasonable gamble, at least heading into September. So keep an eye out for him to come to Chicago after Iowa’s season ends and make his case to stick around beyond this season.