Today over at The Athletic, Sahadev Sharma took a deep dive into the Chicago Cubs bullpen, and it’s something you’ll absolutely want to read. I learned a lot about a number of the individual relievers in the pen, how they’re adjusting their pitch mix to better suit their stuff, and why the Cubs’ pen has been so successful the last few weeks (in short, it’s not just getting the right guys in more suitable spots and roles, it’s getting to a place where the player and the org are both on the same page on his strengths and weaknesses).
Setting aside that aspect of the article, which makes it worth your time, there’s also a news-y note that I think will answer a big question that’s been hovering around for a week now: if the Cubs have been in need of an additional lefty arm for the bullpen for so long, why haven’t they called up Justin Steele or Brailyn Marquez or Burl Carraway? We know these are three BIG lefty arms, and we know for a long time the Cubs have operated with only Kyle Ryan in the pen, and his stuff/velo has looked really shaky at times.
So why, then, are the Cubs going out and acquiring veteran lefties Josh Osich and Andrew Chafin at the trade deadline, and calling up journeyman lefty Rex Brothers when the trio of hard-throwing lefty prospects are right there waiting at South Bend?
No, it isn’t because the Cubs just hate trusting their young pitchers.
First and most plainly, Steele has been hurt, apparently, dealing with a hamstring injury. So there’s your easy explanation for a guy who is on the 40-man roster. If he’d been health, he probably would’ve shuffled up and down more than his one brief visit.
Next, and almost as plainspoken, Carraway simply isn’t ready. It was never reasonable to ASSUME that a guy could be drafted after only a tiny bit of college experience and then come up to the big leagues just a couple months later, barely throwing competitively at all this year. Heck, it was probably a 90/10 proposition, but the Cubs rolled the dice on even including Carraway in the 60-man player pool, just in case that 10% chance came through. From what they’ve seen, however, it’s the 90% thing. He’s gonna be an impact arm eventually, but not this year.
I’ll add on Carraway that, although it wouldn’t have been a sole deciding factor, there was always a mild roster consideration: bringing Carraway up now means he goes on the 40-man roster, and then you cannot take him off for the entire offseason, even if you realize upon his call-up that he’s going to need some time pitching in actual minor league games next year. So it’s a filled up 40-man spot that you otherwise could’ve used to protect another prospect from the Rule 5 Draft (for which Carraway is not eligible).
Then you’ve got Marquez, who is Rule 5 eligible, and will eventually have to go on the 40-man this year anyway. So why isn’t HE coming up, even if Carraway is understandably not? Well, it’s at least partly a question of consistency. Sharma spoke to Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, who described Marquez as some days having his fastball, some days having his secondary pitches, but not really having it all at the same time. On the one hand it’s like, well, yeah, he’s a 21-year-old pitcher who hasn’t thrown but a handful of innings above Low-A. Of course he’s not consistent. That doesn’t mean he can’t sometimes be electric for you. But on the other hand, there’s the concern I’ve expressed all along with Marquez coming up THIS year: given that limited experience, you have to worry at least a little bit about how a young man would handle coming up and struggling mightily. He’s not a reliever, but he’d be asked to pitch as one. He’s never pitched above High-A, but he’d be asked to pitch down the stretch in MLB. He’s never pitched in weird-ass games with no fans, but he’d be asked to do so.
Now knowing that he is also still facing the consistency issues of youth? What if he comes up for a couple outings, and they are absolutely disastrous messes of wildness and tanks? Maybe no harm no foul for the Cubs this year, and *maybe* it would be no issue for him on the development side, but these are real humans we’re talking about. If I were that young and given a shot to come up and I sucked? I’m not sure my headspace or my mechanics would be quite right for the offseason, especially at a time like this, and when my long-term future is as a potential ace in the rotation. The Cubs have not had a pitching prospect like Marquez in over a decade. I have no idea what a call-up would do to his long-term development – but maybe the Cubs don’t know either. I can’t say I’d blame them for erring on the side of caution, can you?
I’d love to see Marquez come up tomorrow. I’m a fan. The idea of getting to watch a lefty throwing 100 mph with a changeup and a slider is fun. And it might even help the Cubs win. He might even show that he can be a dominant force in the postseason this year. I’d enjoy that. We all would. I’m saying only that, if the Cubs are hesitant because (1) they aren’t so sure that is likely to actually happen for him this year, and (2) they know how enormous his long-term importance to the organization could be and don’t want to take any chances … well, then, I’ll just have to wait until next year.
… unless he shows something ASAP that convinces the Cubs it’s time. We can still hope. It’s not ruled out!
Oh, and lastly, on Brothers – Hottovy said that his promotion was less about the other guys, and more about him simply looking dominant for the past couple weeks at South Bend. How much can you take away from that? Eh. I’m not sure it’s a lot. But the Cubs have all the eyes-on and the data, which I don’t. So maybe he’s in a good place right now, and here’s the way Hottovy put it to Sharma: “When you have a guy that has elite stuff like that and you get him around the strike zone, that’s when you have to strike when the iron’s hot. He’s been feeling great and throwing really good.”
That’s actually fair. Brothers has absolutely insane stuff (watch him once and you’ll see it), but he’s been something of a left-handed Dillon Maples for his career. When he can simply throw strikes, he he’s gotten outs. But the problem is he’s too frequently been completely unable to throw strikes. If he’s in a good place mechanically where he’s repeating his delivery and throwing strikes? All right, fine. Bring him up.