Is Caleb Kilian Going to Get a Big League Start This Week?

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Is Caleb Kilian Going to Get a Big League Start This Week?

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs will next need a fifth starter to fill in for Jameson Taillon on Saturday (or Friday, if they decide to give Marcus Stroman an extra day of rest), and it’s a relatively limited pool from which they could draw.

Javier Assad’s recent option makes him ineligible and Adrian Sampson is on the Injured List at Iowa. Roenis Elias is expected to pitch tonight, and neither he nor Riley Thompson are on the 40-man roster. Ben Brown probably isn’t ready to come straight up from Double-A for a big league start. A bullpen day is plausible, but with a mere 8-man bullpen, it’s hard to be assured that you can actually get through it without decimating yourself for the games ahead.

So, the next logical guy on the 40-man roster would probably be Caleb Kilian, and what do you know:

Since there is no reported injury there at Iowa for Kilian, it’s a pretty good guess that he’s going to be the guy. Kilian last pitched on the 19th, pitched something of a simulate game on the 24th, and then will start for the big league Cubs on the 29th.

Kilian, 25, came up for a trio of fill-in starts last summer, and it was a disaster. Not only did Kilian perform poorly in those outings, his season at Triple-A fell apart from there. The Cubs talked about some mechanical work, and we later learned that he was also dealing with a nagging knee issue. Prior to all that, he had established himself as the Cubs’ top starting pitching prospect, and looked poised to join the rotation for a much longer stint. It was an enormous bummer.

Will this time be different?

Well, I can tell you one enormous way that it will definitely be different: there are zero expectations this time around.

Kilian is still working on things at Iowa, trying to get himself back to being the superlative command and control guy that helped him break out, while also better harnessing premium velocity and some nasty raw secondaries. But when you see a guy who has that kind of velocity and movement getting the literal least swing-and-miss in the entire farm system, you know that something is very wrong. At a fundamental level, (1) hitters must be seeing him way too well, and (2) the ability to locate pitches must be almost non-existent. You can come back from this issue – remember in Keegan Thompson’s initial run with the Cubs how he was unable to miss bats at a near historic rate? it was so crazy! – but I think it’s going to be more of a work in progress for Kilian than we could see in a fill-in start.

There is still probably a big league future for Kilian, whether as a back-end, up-down starter or as a relief conversion (you wonder about that velocity in shorter bursts when paired with ONLY his best two secondaries). I would love nothing more than for him to come up this week and look really dang good, like a switch finally flipped. I just don’t want anyone – myself included – to have that EXPECTATION. This is still a process.

Depending on how long Taillon is going to be out with the groin injury (timeline still unclear that I’ve seen), and whether Kyle Hendricks needs multiple rehab starts or just one, this could be a one-game fill-in for Kilian regardless of how he performs. That’s probably a good thing for now, because he probably has more that he needs to get right at Iowa before he was leaned on too heavily in Chicago.

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.