The Cubs' Rule 5 Decisions: Tyson Miller and the Allure of that Homegrown Starter

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The Cubs’ Rule 5 Decisions: Tyson Miller and the Allure of that Homegrown Starter

Chicago Cubs

This is part 4 of a 4-part series on the decisions the Cubs need to make this week regarding Rule 5 eligible prospects. Part 1 is herePart 2 is here. Part 3 is here.

It’s too easy to tell the story of Tyson Miller’s season as “the tale of two halves.”

Guy shows up in Spring Training for the second consecutive season better at every aspect of his game. More in shape, command improved, a new fourth pitch (curveball), progress with the third pitch (change). Executes out of the gate at a phenomenal level. Earns a promotion.

And the wheels fall off. A bad start, some bad luck, a ball that doesn’t help. Better hitters with better scouting reports hit him extremely hard late in outings. Doubt sets in, and the mechanics tinkering happens. As a result, the signature command gets shaky. Season ends before the true mean regression can happen.

With some players, we have to work hard to construct a narrative using trends or arbitrary endpoints. With Tyson Miller, the narrative is simple. But we can’t reduce him to the pitcher he was in the first half, or certainly not the pitcher he was in the second. It’s useful to look at and be reminded by his combined overall numbers: 136.2 innings, 132 hits, 4.35 ERA, 43 BB, 123 K, 19 HR-A.

With the whole perspective, I don’t see Miller as an easy Rule 5 case. The Cubs have a fair number of starters already taking space on the 40-man. If he’s not ready, starting the minor league options clock doesn’t necessarily do him a favor (though it’s always nice financially to be on the 40-man).

And yet, I could also absolutely see him get drafted, and placed in the 13th spot on the pitching staff of a bottom feeder. They might see him as someone who tunnels, commands and executes, and believe in their own infrastructure enough that they can get him over the finish line with a year of mop-up Major League development.

They might have been there for this:

I imagine the conversation about Miller in the Cubs offices will focus on what realistically can still be checked off in pitching development by the new infrastructure team. Can the slider get sharper? The change more effective? Can the mechanics – and with it, the command – stay consistent? Can it do that with the fastball velocity up another tick or so? Lots of little tinkering available to the right pitching coach.

But the calculus is also about whether he could get drafted, and whether he could survive on a Major League roster. In the era of eight and nine-man bullpens, I absolutely believe he could survive a season at the back of a pitching staff (especially with some IL stints mixed in). But the teams that select in the Rule 5 don’t always look towards lower-ceiling, higher-floor prospects, and that fact alone might be enough to let the Cubs roll the dice.

I would add Miller, but it’s close, and he is today’s most intriguing case.

The Other SP Decisions

  • I’m not sure a Major League team is going to spend $100,000 to see what Matt Swarmer’s deception looks like in a big league bullpen, but I can absolutely see the case for it. If you believe the ball will be less juiced in 2020, nullifying Swarmer’s homer-happiness just a touch, the other tools in his toolbox are enough to have Major League relief success. The slider plays.
  • Just a reminder that a team cannot draft Duncan Robinson, store him on their Injured List, stash him on an extremely long rehab process, and retain his rights forever. Robinson would need to serve a full season on the roster, regardless, even if that time stretched into 2021. And because no one knows how he’s going to look in his return from Tommy John, he will be safe.
  • The Cubs will do this, but I want to point out why it’s so essential that they place Bryan Hudson on their AAA reserve list, making him ineligible for the minor league phase of the Rule 5. Hudson was drafted in part because the Cubs knew that his floor was higher than the average high school project, because he’s a 6-foot-8 lefty with a bowling ball sinker. They’ve always known the relief route back-up plan is available to them, and I think it’s possible they try it in 2020. I’m very intrigued by what it may yield.

Author: Bryan Smith

Bryan Smith is a Minor League Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @cubprospects.