Maybe the Chicago Cubs Can Get Really, Really Good at Developing Starting Pitchers

With only the World Series left in the 2022 Major League Baseball season, and with it’s start still a few days away, it’s understandable that writers are contextualizing the series, or the teams in it, through their various local lenses. I’ve done it, too, and I find it to be an enjoyable or interesting way to participate in the moment.

Sahadev Sharma writes this morning at The Athletic some Chicago Cubs-related thoughts on the World Series, including how the Phillies’ power display should be a reminder for the Cubs’ offseason needs.

I thought Sharma did a really good job underscoring how it is that the Astros have been so successful over the last decade, too.

Among the ways they’ve done it? Something we have talked about before, and an area where the Cubs have lagged considerably over the same period of time: the Astros have DOMINATED international pitching prospect acquisition and development.

Look at this section and be reminded (1) just how incredible it is that the Astros have done what they’ve done in their rotation, and (2) how maybe prospect status can sometimes be a red herring:

The Astros have brilliantly filled roster spots after stars have walked — though the Cubs probably shouldn’t follow that route exactly, as they should be better at retaining the right stars going forward (a more Dodgers-like approach). But there is an area the Cubs look ready to emulate: pitching development. The Cubs have a long way to go, of course, but that’s where the Cubs are seeing early returns in their system. The Astros are just doing it very differently than the Cubs, at least on the surface. Behind Justin Verlander, their best starters this year were Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, Luis Garcia and Jose Urquidy, all international free agents signed by Houston.

Not many teams can boast that type of success in the international market overall, let alone on the pitching side. But it’s important to note that none of those pitchers were consensus top-100 prospects. In fact, Urquidy was the only one to appear on any of the major lists (on the back end of one of them prior to the 2020 season). So as long as the player development process is sound, prospect status shouldn’t matter.

In other words, the Houston Astros have, in large part, built out a “World-Series-caliber” rotation on the strength of exceptional scouting and player development. And, since we’re talking about international prospect arms – among the toughest to scout with any kind of future-looking confidence – I would argue it has mostly been player development for them.

So, then, maybe it isn’t THAT crazy to hope that the Cubs have waves and waves of not just “solid” starting pitching coming, but something quite a bit more impactful than that. Maybe Hayden Wesneski, Justin Steele, Jordan Wicks, Ben Brown, Porter Hodge, Luis Devers, Daniel Palencia, Caleb Kilian, D.J. Herz, and others are not top 100 prospect types. But maybe the Cubs are truly building out a system of starting pitcher development that means it won’t matter.

The many breakouts down on the farm, together with what we saw at the big league level this year from Steele and Wesneski, may provide a hint that the Cubs are indeed headed in the right direction (and you could argue we saw impressive development-type things from guys like Javier Assad and Adrian Sampson, too).

I’m not trying to say the Cubs are on the cusp of exploding with starting pitching like the Astros, but I do think that’s where they want to be. It can take a very long time and process to get there, but so far, so good.

written by

Brett Taylor is the Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and on LinkedIn here. Brett is also the founder of Bleacher Nation, which opened up shop in 2008 as an independent blog about the Chicago Cubs. Later growing to incorporate coverage of other Chicago sports, Bleacher Nation is now one of the largest regional sports blogs on the web.

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