Cubs Bullpen Notes: Bringing Up Young Starters Into the Big League Bullpen, Brown, Wesneski, Heuer, Roberts, More

Before the Cubs play their series finale against the Rays this afternoon, there are a handful of bullpen notes and thoughts to get in front of you …

  • Like I mentioned in the Bullets this morning, it’ll be fascinating to see how Hayden Wesneski is utilized. I think it’s clear from the timing of the promotion and from David Ross’s comments, that the Cubs are prioritizing immediate impact (with the hopes that there are no negative impacts on player development). We’ve seen before – with the Cubs, and with loads of other teams – that pitching a young arm in big league relief does not have to cause long-term development problems for starting down the road.
  • Ideally – from a development perspective – Wesneski would be at Iowa working on his fastball command and his cutter/changeup consistency against lefties, rather than (probably) being more platoon protected and having his arsenal reduced. But the flip side of that is that Triple-A hitters are not MLB hitters, and learning how to get out MLB hitters is the goal. And in the meantime, if the tiebreaker is that the Cubs are trying to keep their season afloat and this is a guy who could potentially dominate righties in relief? Well, bring him up then. There may wind up time in a couple months to go back to focusing exclusively on player development anyway. Play for the big league wins right now, don’t HARM player development, and re-assess later.
  • I say all of that because it’s extremely likely that the Cubs will have to make a similar decision at some point on (top?) pitching prospect Ben Brown. Like Wesneski, Brown is a starting pitching prospect. But, like Wesneski, it’s possible he could be ready right now to contribute in a big league bullpen. At what point do the Cubs consider this same balancing act with Brown:
  • Here’s how David Ross put it in that Athletic piece: “Everyone is on the radar at this point,” Ross said. “We’re hoping Codi (Heuer) comes back soon. That could be, hopefully, another big-league arm that is able to help us out. Ben Brown has been throwing the ball really well in the starter role. (Daniel) Palencia has been sent to the ‘pen, to work out of the ‘pen and try to learn that role — what that consists of, how to go back-to-back, the recovery with all that. There’s a plan in place, for sure, and big-picture stuff. But this is what we’ve got right now. We have conversations daily about those things.”
  • Remember that these concepts CAN work in tandem if you pull it off just right: you get big league impact in the bullpen, and a young pitcher gets exposure to (1) the big league coaching staff, (2) the changes in life that accompany a trip to the big leagues, and (3) big league hitters.
  • And, let’s not forget the other reality: many of the best big league relievers are failed big league starters (see last night’s dominating performance from Adbert Alzolay). Knowing how these guys respond to the different demands/opportunities of relief – even if it’s merely information you’re mentally stashing away for a future date you hope never comes – is valuable.
  • Back to the Heuer note from Ross there. We know that Heuer hasn’t yet pitched back-to-back days at Iowa as part of his rehab (and indeed has had two full days of rest in between appearances), so it’s hard to see him as being THAT close to returning yet, unless the Cubs are comfortable with his role being limited initially. That said, Mooney writes in his piece that Heuer “could join the major-league club during its upcoming West Coast trip.” That would mean an activation within the next ten days or so for Heuer. It’ll be awesome to finally have him back – and the stuff is going to look REALLY explosive at times – but folks will need to be patient, especially with the command. That is often the last thing to come back after Tommy John surgery.
  • Meanwhile, the Cubs’ other Tommy-John-rehabbing 40-man reliever is Ethan Roberts, and he just hit a big milestone in the process:
  • Throwing off the mound is a big step in the process, though it could still be a month or more before Roberts is pitching in a competitive game (probably rookie ball to start). It isn’t a lock that he will be back in the big leagues this year, but obviously that’s what everyone is shooting for. If he can begin his rehab assignment by the end of July, then he’ll have a very real shot at making it back for the final month of the big league season.
  • Lastly, Brad Boxberger (forearm) has been playing catch, so it’s still a gradual process of getting him back.
  • 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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