Chicago Cubs: Dario Alvarez has a tremendous opportunity this spring

(Photo by Rick Yeatts/Getty Images)
(Photo by Rick Yeatts/Getty Images) /

Often overlooked, Chicago Cubs left-hander Dario Alvarez could surprise some folks and force his way onto the big league roster this spring.

As Spring Training action gets underway, there’s not a lot of questions surrounding the Chicago Cubs. The starting rotation is flush with quality options. Theo Epstein kept the team’s position player core intact this winter, instead bringing in support via free agency. One of those guys? Southpaw Dario Alvarez.

Alvarez has a bit of MLB service time under his belt, totaling 48 innings split between the Texas Rangers, Atlanta Braves and New York Mets. Chicago brought him in as a depth option this winter on a one-year deal as part of their pitching-heavy offseason.

At first glance, one might be very encouraged by the numbers he put up last year with the Rangers. I mean, who doesn’t love 2.76 ERA across 20 appearances? Well, me – at least to a degree. If you look at some of his other metrics (10.5 H/9, 4.63 FIP, 7.7 BB/9) – there are some readily apparent issues here.

Joining him from the left side are…

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Still, with the lack of impact lefties in the Cubs pen, he stands a chance of seeing a big league mound this season. Justin Wilson, acquired at the deadline last year to be the team’s left-handed fireman, imploded after the trade. Virtually every metric trended in the wrong direction and he was largely a non-factor come October.

Mike Montgomery, meanwhile, is a swing man – not a one-inning guy. In needing to keep him semi-fresh for spot starts and long relief outings, it’s unlikely you see him in the late innings too often. Chicago did bring back Brian Duensing, but whether or not he’s anywhere near what he was last year remains to be seen.

As points out below, the Cubs expect to carry eight relievers into Opening Day – along with their five starters. There is one key reason why Alvarez could be among those eight individuals.

".. Alvarez is a dark-horse candidate to make that list. The reason? His slider. Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein noted how nasty a pitch it was after the team signed the lefty."

There’s no doubt that Alvarez has swing-and-miss stuff. It simply comes down to his controlling his arsenal – especially that wipeout slider. Consistency is everything after how the Cubs pen melted down in the postseason – and walking batters likely won’t be tolerated by new pitching coach Jim Hickey.

The opportunities will arise

I have no doubt Alvarez will have opportunities this season. They may come as early as this weekend as Cactus League games begin. Then again, he might join another young arm, Dillon Maples, at Triple-A Iowa.

The same seem to battle the same ailment: harnessing their above-average sliders. If both can figure it out, the Cubs’ pen could immediately get two huge additions down the stretch ahead of what will hopefully be a fourth-straight postseason appearance.

Next: Cubs' farm system shows plenty of pitching depth

The stuff is there. Starting today – and moving forward – it’s all about execution. Expect that theme to run through the entire organization in 2018.