Talking to myself a little this morning about what I watched last night from the Cubs. No, not the blowout loss (we’ll get to that … ), but instead the start from top Cubs pitching prospect Caleb Kilian.
I can’t say that an outing like last night’s is useless for a pitcher like Caleb Kilian – you already know the story there, as there are things young pitchers learn about themselves, about mechanics, about weather conditions, about the relationship between all of those things and big league batters, etc., etc. So don’t take anything I say as me contending Kilian’s start means he’s suddenly terrible. We know better than that, and we’ve seen this process play out for loads of other very good young starting pitchers (mostly in other orgs … ). There are clunkers.
You knew there was a however coming, right?
However, I do think it’s OK to feel – as I do – disappointed that we saw a clunker of THAT type, to THAT degree, THIS early. It’s one thing to be off at the margins, or to be ambushed by big leaguers who have a better plan. But for a guy who usually has excellent command to not even have control like that … to be able to see clearly, as a layperson, that his mechanics were funky … well, that’s more bothersome. Admittedly, maybe part of that is just old fashioned cognitive dissonance, since I really WANTED to enjoy last night’s start by a top prospect. We don’t get much else right now.
It sure was messy, though:
Again, it doesn’t necessarily MEAN anything going forward, and maybe there will be more long-term value from it. But I didn’t expect to see Kilian, in particular, have such an extreme outing of no control. Doesn’t really seem like a primary risk factor for him, so when you do see it, you are put a little more on alert, if that makes sense.
(You know it’s not a great night when the highlight package for a pitcher starts with a bullet lineout to first base to end an inning in which the pitcher has already given up two runs. (One more parenthetical while we’re here: hard to know the exact impact of the extreme heat and humidity, relative to Kilian possibly using a version of the baseball he’s less used to – for example, has he been using the pre-tacked ball all year at Iowa?))
For his part, Kilian confirmed how it looked from the outside, in terms of what was going wrong.
“Today just didn’t feel normal at all,” Kilian said after the game, per NBC. “Felt like I was way out of whack, not in sync …. I think I was trying too hard. I was trying to aim it, trying to throw it to a certain spot instead of just being aggressive and let it rip. Once I started getting the tempo up and having an attack mindset, I was able to command a little better. But I just didn’t have my sharp stuff.”
Kilian added that failures are an opportunity to learn, which is really about all you can let yourself linger on after an outing like that.
A good place to leave this, I think, is an important related reminder from Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy about the value of Kilian now staying up to make at least another start or two (via the Sun-Times): “Getting to spend time with him, talk to him between outings and spend four days with him to see how his routine is, all those little things — I think we’re even more excited than just watching the game [about] getting to have that one-on-one time with him as the season goes on.”
It’s one thing for the Cubs’ big league staff (and trainers, and catchers, and other pitchers) to be working with Kilian from afar, but when he’s actually there, with the big league crew daily, a lotta good development can happen if you’re doing it right.
This is all about getting Kilian into a good place to be a key member of the 2023 rotation. Sometimes I have to remind myself of that, even though I think it’s completely fair for me to want to enjoy the starts we get to see from him this year. Maybe the next one will be more enjoyable.