For the first time in a couple years, a highly-anticipated Chicago Cubs prospect is arriving at the big league level. And, for the first time in much longer than that, it’s a pitcher!
Top pitching prospect Adbert Alzolay, who has been dominating at AAA, is joining the big league team today as they play host to the Mets. Although Alzolay is a starter, he will not be taking the start today, which will instead go to Tyler Chatwood. With Kyle Hendricks on the IL, the Cubs needed a fill-in starter, and opted for Chatwood, who has already filled in once quite well this year.
But Chatwood might not be alone in making this “start”:
Joe Maddon announces that Adbert Alzolay will be at Wrigley Field on Thursday night to back up Tyler Chatwood out of the bullpen vs. the Mets.
The Cubs will also DFA lefty reliever Tim Collins.
— Patrick Mooney (@PJ_Mooney) June 20, 2019
Alzolay could back up Chatwood tomorrow. Prob can’t expect Chatwood to throw more than about 70 pitches.
— Jesse Rogers (@ESPNChiCubs) June 20, 2019
The game situation will dictate a whole lot on how this plays out, but the set up is clearly designed to have a second starting pitcher in place should Chatwood go only three or four innings with his 70 pitches – that’s possible even if Chatwood is pitching well. And if it’s a blowout in either direction, Alzolay might get several innings regardless of how deep Chatwood goes.
So, although it’s not necessarily a planned piggyback start, it could definitely wind up having that look.
What’s particularly interesting about this kind of set up is that, if Alzolay winds up pitching multiple innings in a start-like way, the Cubs are effectively keeping him on his starting schedule, rather than transitioning him into a true relief role in the big-league bullpen. That could mean Alzolay is able and ready to go right back to starting at Iowa the next time through their rotation, or, should the Cubs opt for it, Alzolay would be in line to take the next open start at the big league level. Or or, if the Cubs decide to give the rest of the rotation an extra day of rest in the coming weeks, they could have Alzolay start the day before or after Chatwood the next time through the rotation. Letting Alzolay serve as a piggyback “starter” today keeps a lot of options on the table.
That said, we shouldn’t rule out the possibility that Alzolay will actually just get a look as a reliever.
Should Alzolay instead appear today, and in the days ahead, as more of a true reliever (multi-inning or otherwise), you would immediately start to wonder whether the Cubs wanted to get a look at him as a reliever for the month ahead of the Trade Deadline. If Alzolay is simply ready, and can be a great big league reliever right away, the Cubs might consider letting him stick in that role at the big league level for the rest of the year (unless a need develops in the rotation), before converting him back to starting in the Spring.
It’s not an uncommon approach for top young pitchers throughout baseball to first arrive in MLB as a reliever to fill a need and get adjusted to big league batters/catchers/coaches/life, and then transition back to starting the next year – then, not only is the youngster even more ready, he also has big league experience relieving if things don’t work out in the spring for him to open the season in the rotation.
There’s also the consideration that Alzolay missed most of last year with a lat injury, and then had his start of the 2019 campaign delayed by a side injury. His innings were likely to be watched closely this year, and if the Cubs wanted to use up some of those bullets at the big league level, a lot of them were likely going to come in relief no matter what.
However this plays out, I’m fascinated to watch, and I can’t wait to see Alzolay facing big league batters.