At long last, Dillon Maples is back. That probably doesn’t hearten everyone here, but I’m eager to see him back with the big league Cubs for a variety of reasons.
Kyle Ryan is being optioned back to Triple-A Iowa to make room for Maples, who is being activated off the IL. He had a triceps strain, from which he was able to pitch relatively quickly at Iowa, but the Cubs were content to let his rehab stint run its full course. With Iowa, Maples threw 9.2 innings over 7 appearances, posting a 3.72 ERA, a 25.6% K rate, and an 18.6% walk rate. Not great numbers, but with rehab stints, you never quite know what the actual rehab process was relative to the game appearances, so you don’t really judge the numbers in the same way you might for a prospect. At least not until the last couple outings, when Maples was basically Maples.
So why am I eager to see Maples back with the Cubs? Well, for one thing, there’s still the chance that he’s in the 2022 bullpen, so, at this point, I’m basically on board with seeing anyone who will possibly be with the Cubs next year. More specific to Maples, though, as a guy without options remaining, I’m kinda curious if there is a team – maybe even a rebuilding team – that’ll decide to take a chance on him in the next ten days for a minor prospect (kinda like the Duane Underwood trade before the season). That 40-man spot that Maples would otherwise occupy on the Cubs’ roster all offseason has started to look increasingly tenuous given the other relief options available for the second half. And hey, a lottery ticket minor prospect? Why not?
The flip side is that this is also an opportunity to see Maples pitch in the post-sticky-stuff-enforcement era (still need a better name for that). We only got to see one appearance from him when that was all changing in June, and his super-elite spin rate was down MASSIVELY in that appearance. Injury related? Adjusting to no sticky? We can only speculate, but seeing him out there in the coming weeks will go a long way to determining what’s up (which, in turn, would matter to trade partners as well as to the Cubs’ future plans for Maples and their roster/bullpen).
So basically, I just want to see what Maples looks like right now. You know the story with him. The arm talent is as high as it gets for a reliever – his slider shows plus-plus and his fastball shows plus – but the command has never been there. He’s been successful-ish when the control is there, but sometimes even that totally disappears. Maples with command would be a setup man or closer. He’s never been that guy, and at 29, he might never be. Maples with no command is a useable, if frustrating, middle reliever (and that’s mostly what he’s been). Maples with no control is not useable (and sometimes that’s been him).
Without any options left, this next stretch – whether it’s pre-Deadline, or the rest of the season – might be it for Maples to show what he can be.