UPDATE at the Top: David Ross was asked about this idea, and despite all the external signals that it could be happening … it is not.
David Ross spoke highly of Caleb Killian and said, “I’m sure we’ll see him sooner rather than later.”
But when asked if Kilian was in the convo to start in the double header Monday, he said, “no.” Later in the week? No.
— Maddie Lee (@maddie_m_lee) May 26, 2022
Original post follows.
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You may have a different flavor of what constitute’s an organization’s “top” pitching prospect, but it is inarguable that Caleb Kilian is the Cubs’ best starting pitching prospect who is currently knocking on the door of the big leagues.
At Triple-A Iowa this season, after a breakout in the fall, Kilian is sporting a 1.31 ERA over 34.1 innings. He has a 28.0% K rate, a 9.1% BB rate, and his 2.65 FIP is the second best in all of Triple-A, behind only Grayson Rodriguez, who is one of the three best prospects in baseball. Whatever you’d want to see from Kilian in his first go at Triple-A, he’s doing it.
A digression: I don’t quite know why Kilian doesn’t get top 100 prospect consideration. It reminds me a bit of Kyle Hendricks’ ascent up the minors, insofar as he never reached top 100 status, despite always being great. Like Hendricks, Kilian was viewed – at least until last fall – as a purely command/control guy, who could maybe get passable results some day in the big leagues, but wouldn’t excel for a lack of stuff and velo. That’s probably the main factor, but between last fall and now, Kilian suddenly sits in the 93-95 mph range, sometimes reaching 97 mph, and has a nasty arsenal of secondaries. Even if you wanted to compare him to Hendricks – you should never do that to a young pitcher – you couldn’t do it anymore. They really aren’t comparable types of pitchers anymore.
Anyway, back to the point of this post, which is: we all know that Kilian is going to come up to the big leagues sometime this year, and next week might actually be when it happens.
Multiple articles dropped recently to suggest as much:
“There’s a lot of excitement, rightfully so, around him."@GDubCub on why Caleb Kilian is the face of the Cubs' competitive timeline, whether he debuts during Monday's doubleheader or later in the season:https://t.co/0QlovDYIUo
— Cubs Talk (@NBCSCubs) May 25, 2022
What else does Caleb Kilian have to prove in the minors? The Cubs are weighing the idea of adding their top pitching prospect to the big-league rotation next week, an early return on the Kris Bryant trade and another sign of change within the organization. https://t.co/LDrgHvBN3m
— Patrick Mooney (@PJ_Mooney) May 25, 2022
To be sure, there is no confirmation from the Cubs that Kilian, who turns 25 next week, will come up to pitch one or both of the double-headers next week. But his start today (happening as I type!) does line up perfectly with both of those double-header days, and the Cubs would otherwise have to figure out SOME kind of starting plan that would allow them to throw nine “starters” out there over the course of seven days. It’s much more difficult to conceive of a different option than to conceive of Kilian coming up.
Given Kilian’s success, his proximity to the big leagues, and the fact that he’s going to have to be on the 40-man roster by this offseason anyway, it just makes sense to let him have a taste of big league bats for at least one of those double-header days, if not both (the tricky thing, if you want him for both, is that you cannot option him back to Iowa in between – he’d just have to stick around as one of 13 pitchers on the roster for the intervening days, so the Cubs would have only seven relievers available for that stretch). (EDIT: I have been corrected – while it used to be the case that the 26th man (back when rosters were 25) was subject to all the normal option rules, that is apparently not so with the 27th man. The 15-day period required for a normal option to the minors before a guy can come back up does not apply to the 27th man.)
But, as I said, the Cubs are staying tight-lipped.
“We’re taking things one day at a time,” said Craig Breslow, the Cubs assistant general manager and vice president of pitching, per The Athletic. “We’re all aware of what [Kilian’s] been able to accomplish. I think there’s a lot of excitement, rightfully so, around him. What we’re focused on is polishing up development, knowing that he’s kind of passing every hurdle we’re putting in front of him. Hopefully, that forebodes a successful major-league career.”
Breslow added a reminder that the Cubs have been overly cautious with Kilian so far this year because of that deep run in the Arizona Fall League. So it’s probably worth keeping that in mind in terms of a possible starting call-up.
“Obviously, the on-field performance has been great in terms of traditional run prevention, right?” Breslow said. “His stuff is still getting better with each outing. The velocity and power across the board are starting to tick up. He’s still adding volume. We deliberately kind of slowed the ramp(-up), knowing that he pitched longer into last fall than he typically had with the Arizona Fall League. He wasn’t part of major-league spring training so that he could have a regular offseason. It’s a combination of the finishing touches on development. He’s talked about feeling more comfortable. We saw a few more walks than we’re used to seeing, but even that’s trending in the right direction. When you bring someone up, you want to ensure that you’re giving them the best chance to be successful.”
But still. The timing of the starts, the Cubs’ needs, the lack of other available options in the same tier … it all kinda points in the direction of a Kilian debut being highly likely.
And from there, who knows what happens. The Cubs are almost certainly going to have some rotation vacancies after July, so this could all be building toward Kilian being a rotation mainstay for the final two months of the season, giving him a chance to adjust to the big leagues before he’s more heavily leaned on in 2023. Comes up for a couple “freebie” double-header starts, goes back to Iowa to work on this or that, comes back up in late-July/early-August to make some starts before the offseason? You can’t always plan it out that exactly, but it does kinda sound like a plan, no?