Thompson and Hughes Plans, Young Relievers, Steele’s Changeup, Stupid Cardinals Draft Success, and Other Cubs Bullets
Daddy-daughter dance with The Littlest Girl was really nice last night. She definitely put me through my paces, physically, as she dashed around to every corner of the space. And she also ABSOLUTELY-FORCED-ME-I-HAD-NO-CHOICE to finish multiple dessert options of hers that she decided after a bite or two that they weren’t for her. Just doing my duty.
- On the one hand, I keep saying every Cubs pitcher I see this spring “looks awesome.” On the other hand, every Cubs pitcher I see this spring does in fact “look awesome.” So you can see the bind I’m in.
- A lot of us have been waiting on the spring debuts for Keegan Thompson and Brandon Hughes, each of whom are expected to be in the day one bullpen, but each of whom had yet to appear in a Cactus League game. Keegan Thompson made his debut yesterday (and looked awesome), and Brandon Hughes has been pitching in live BP and sim games. Per the Tribune, he is expected to appear in his first Cactus League game today.
- The delayed debut for each was all part of their individualized work and ramp-up plan, in part because of how much they pitched last year and the roles they’re expected to fill this year. For Hughes, it sounds like there were some mechanical things to work on, but also it was just a very long season for the former outfielder. For Thompson, there’s also a slight role change to keep in mind – last year, he was fully stretched out as a starter, then did the multi-inning thing, but always on at least three days’ rest. This year, the Cubs want him to more regularly be able to pitch on just two days’ rest (Tribune).
- Watching Danis Correa yesterday, the young relief prospect unquestionably has big league caliber pitches.
- As is often the case, the question is whether Correa, 23, can command those pitches minimally well enough to translate into big league utility (so far, at the higher levels of the minors, his walk and strikeout rates haven’t matched the stuff). Hope to know whether he can improve the command by mid-year. I didn’t like how he kept getting to two strikes and then was overthrowing his fastball to try to get that third strike (so he was yanking it glove-side repeatedly). Have to stay inside yourself and trust the stuff – there’s a reason he still got two strikeouts despite that, the latter of which came on his final fastball when he just pumped it down the middle.
- I had the same question (did the ump just read the clock wrong? was the clock wrong on the broadcast?). Was glad to see Estrada take care of business on the next pitch anyway:
- I mentioned it yesterday after the game, but it just keeps standing out to me: the Cubs have SO MUCH young relief talent right now at or near the big-league level. In years past, if the Cubs had ONE guy like Estrada or Correa, they’d get so much of our hope and attention, and you felt like the Cubs HAD to spend a lot to fill out the bullpen (money or prospect capital at the deadline), and/or they HAD to hit on every reclamation project. Now it feels like they’ve got 10 young arms I want to see at some point this year, and I’m not even sure it’ll be logistically possible.
- Will Smith and Brad Hand both signed yesterday, so I remain of the mind that Zack Britton is coming soon. I think there’s a chance he agreed to a deal even before those guys did (which then led them to find deals), but it just hasn’t been reported yet. Britton’s physical process figures to be a little more involved thanks to his age and his health issues the last few years. I feel very good about the Cubs’ bullpen setup as is, but I would never be unhappy about the Cubs taking a reclamation shot on a guy like Britton, who can be elite when healthy.
- Justin Steele has been a rare guy who can succeed as a starting pitcher on the strength of mostly just two pitches (the four-seamer and the slider accounted for nearly 90% of his pitches last year), primarily thanks to the different ways he can shape each pitch, plus his excellent command. Of course, that’s not to say you wouldn’t love him to have a really strong third pitch, too. The sinker is sometimes useful, the curveball is one he occasionally drops in. But it’s actually his changeup that the Cubs apparently had him working on this offseason (Cubs.com). Steele says he’s in a “good spot” with it, and I wonder how much/if we’ll see him use it this spring. It would be great to have another weapon against righties.
- I don’t intend to share every Jason Heyward home run, but about 15 people sent this to me after it happened, so yes, I saw that Jason Heyward home run’d again:
- Again, I have nothing but well-wishes and pleasant hopes for Heyward, though you have to caveat this stuff like you would for any guy: it’s Spring Training, and that came off a pitcher (Jackson Kowar) who has the 14th highest HR/9 in all of baseball from 2021-2022.
- For useful context: Heyward is raking this spring to the same extent that David Bote is. Near identical numbers over nearly the same number of strikeout-free plate appearances. But they’ve also faced nearly identical caliber of pitchers on average (rated as somewhere between Double-A and Triple-A level pitchers, according to Baseball Reference). Just as you have to pump the brakes on Bote (unless you’re the Rockies!), the same caution is advised if you’re rooting for a Heyward return to glory.
- Meanwhile, if you were curious, Cardinals uber-prospect Jordan Walker is seeing pitchers, on average, between Triple-A and MLB caliber, and he is destroying all comers:
- You know things have gotten bad when you’re left to hope that at least a guy makes the Cardinals’ Opening Day roster so they only get six years of control instead of seven. And then hope he struggles or whatever. But he won’t. Sigh. Walker is going to be a monster.
- Went back and looked at that 2020 pandemic draft, by the way, where the Cardinals got Walker in the second half of the first round, and then Masyn Winn, Tink Hence, and Alec Burleson in the second round (hooray for free picks for them). A lot of folks have rightly pointed out that the Cubs may have really whiffed in that draft (Ed Howard and Burl Carraway were the first two picks, with Howard going before Walker, and Carraway going before the other three), but I was surprised to look back and see just how many terrible picks there were throughout the first couple rounds. In hindsight, it makes sense – that was the year of no real games – so I guess the Cubs aren’t wholly unique (and at least they got Matt Mervis, Ben Leeper, Luke Little, and Jordan Nwogu – oh, and hey, I don’t want to COMPLETELY rule out Howard just yet). It’s just that the Cardinals ARE wholly unique in having crushed that draft. It makes me sick.
- 19-year-old Phillies phenom Andrew Painter was turning heads this camp, and was potentially going to make the team’s rotation. But this too often winds up going poorly:
- This guy remains a one of one, and it’s a shame he only just this year got the ability to call his own pitches with pitchcom:
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