A very fun thing about the state of the Chicago Cubs’ farm system and big league roster, generally, is that there are so many pitchers who have theoretical back-end-of-the-bullpen stuff.
That’s not to say you wouldn’t like to have an obvious shut-down closer on your staff, of course. I just mean that it’s nice to have a collection of arms that are of that possible character.
Maybe the Cubs nailed the Michael Fulmer signing or Julian Merryweather waiver claim. Maybe Rowan Wick turns the corner. Maybe Brad Boxberger becomes the closer. Maybe Adbert Alzolay is just so dominant in short bursts that the Cubs want him late in the bullpen rather than multi-inning.
Maybe Codi Heuer or Ethan Roberts comes back from surgery looking as good as ever?
Triple-A arms like Cam Sanders? Ryan Jensen? Ben Leeper? Danis Correa? Yup. It’s possible!
On and on. And I didn’t even mention the lower-level arms who could explode this year … like Jeremiah Estrada did last year.
Yes, this is a Jeremiah Estrada post.
I’ve just had him on the mind a good bit lately precisely because of his huge breakout last year. At this time last year, Estrada was coming off a 2021 season that saw him throw only 23.0 innings at Low-A, bookended by his return from arm issues and then missing the end of the year with a very serious case of COVID. They were 23 very dominant innings, mind you, but very few would have had him on the BIG LEAGUE radar in March of 2022. So I kinda just wonder sometimes who that guy might be right now. You can’t help but think of that during Spring Training, especially now that the Cubs have so much arm talent in the system.
As for Estrada, he was even more specifically on my mind today because R.J. Anderson at CBS picked Estrada as the Cubs representative on his surprise breakout list:
RHP Jeremiah Estrada: The Cubs added several veterans to their bullpen over the winter, cluttering Estrada’s path to the Opening Day roster. It won’t matter; his fastball is a chainsaw that will empower him to clear a way. Estrada’s heater checks all the boxes, including top-notch velocity (and even better effective velocity thanks to his deep release point), vertical break, and spin axis. He overpowered minor-league batters last season, striking out more than 40 percent of those he faced across three levels. It’s only a matter of time before Estrada gets the opportunity to do the same against MLB foes.
All spot on.
To the eye test, Estrada, 24, was not at his best in the big leagues late last year, but (1) he pitched so little in 2021 (and not at all in 2020) that I’m sure he was wearing down a bit after such a long season in his return; (2) his pitches still graded out really well; and (3) he still posted a 3.18 ERA and 32.0% K rate over his five appearances.
Given the caliber of his pitches, and the rapidity of his rise last year from High-A all the way to MLB, it would be silly NOT to expect that he’ll make an impact this year in the big league bullpen (barring injury).
In fact, of all those names I mentioned that the top? Estrada might actually be the best bet to wind up the closer by midseason.
And, for funsies, you hope some other A-ball reliever rockets his way up to the big leagues this year after a massive breakout in the minors last year like Estrada had. Some guy we aren’t even thinking about today.