Now is the time when a lot of minor league deals are going to be rolling in, and I will say up front that these signings have NOTHING to do with whatever the Cubs may try to accomplish on the big league roster. Every year, they (and all teams) bring in veterans or reclamation projects or interesting younger players on minor league deals. You need them for depth, you might want to try to get something out of them in Spring Training, etc. This is normal, and fine, and good.
In this installment, MLBTR reports that the Cubs have signed lefty reliever Eric Stout to a minor league deal. The name should sound familiar, as Stout spent the first half of the 2022 season in the Cubs organization on a minor league deal (he was acquired for cash by the Pirates in June when the Cubs had to designate him for assignment to open up a roster spot).
Stout, 29, had the look of a capable big league reliever in his brief appearances with the Cubs, so I’m not surprised the Cubs targeted him for a return.
In particular, Stout’s strikeout rate exploded in the Cubs system (36.6% at Iowa, 40.0% in Chicago (tiny sample warning, just 3.2 innings)). Unfortunately his walk rate at Iowa was an unsightly 16.8%, which is tolerable only if that strikeout rate truly does live up near 40%.
My guess is he was working with some new stuff, which was nasty, but he wasn’t yet able to command. Maybe a second year in the Cubs organization will help – it’s a bit reminiscent of Kyle Ryan, another lefty who worked in the Cubs’ minor leagues (on a minor league deal) for about a year, returned for a second season, and then actually contributed meaningfully in the big leagues.
Stout will come to Spring Training on a non-roster invite, and probably will have a real chance at making the big league bullpen, even if the far more likely outcome is that he heads to Iowa to open the season as depth.
Note that, while the Cubs are loaded in relief in general at the MLB/Triple-A border, what they don’t have a lot of are lefties ready to go. Stout, originally from Glen Ellyn, Illinois, said it was a dream come true when he came up to the Cubs last year. Might get another look this season. It’s a nice story, if nothing else.