Chicago Cubs: Can Oscar De La Cruz return to form after suspension?

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images /

The Chicago Cubs haven’t had much pitching make its way through the system. Oscar De La Cruz was on his way up. But an 80-game PED suspension changed that.

Last season, the Chicago Cubs had a bright spot in the system for pitching. Oscar De La Cruz, the 6 feet 4 inch, 200-pound right-hander was on the 40-man roster and pitching for Double-A. The Cubs had been pressing for him to be a starter, trying to stretch out his innings to see if he could handle the workload. Several different injuries seem to have taken their toll as his stuff had taken a step back. He was at a career-high in innings pitched at 77 1/3, then the worst news possible.

It wasn’t another injury. It was an 80-game suspension handed down from Major League Baseball to the Cubs No. 3 on their MLB Pipeline of Cubs prospects. The positive test was for Furosemide, a diuretic and masking agent. What does it do? It will essentially help the body to create more urine to keep salt and water levels down. It can also help to flush whatever else you might be taking, as there are precise reasons you would be using this. De La Cruz didn’t fit into any of those.

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So can the former top prospect come back from the suspension and rebuild credibility? First, he’ll have to get his stuff under control. With all the injuries, he’s lost a tick or two off his fastball, and his curveball doesn’t have the snap it once did. His changeup was trending in the right direction before the suspension, but he’s lost a lot of development time.

While initially slated to be developed as a starter, it might be best for the organization to focus moving him to the bullpen. Even though he’s young (will turn 24 on March 4), he might not be durable enough to be a starter. Similar to the path the Cubs took with Carl Edwards Jr. The durability might not be there. So start working him towards a role where he’d have a better fit.

De La Cruz will be eligible to return in early-April. He’s pitched a few innings in the Dominican League, but that’s it since the suspension. In four innings, he’s allowed six hits, three runs while striking out five and walking two. But he’s thrown four wild pitches in those four innings, showing his control hasn’t returned. If you have poor control as a starter, you can’t go deep into games, ala Tyler Chatwood. But if you don’t have it as a reliever, you become a liability, like Edwards when his control eludes him for stretches.

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Currently, Adbert Alzolay and Alec Mills are the only two pitchers in the Top 20, depending if you look at Baseball Prospectus or Fangraphs. Mills ranking varies from 10 (BP) to 17 (FG). A ‘return to glory’ for De La Cruz would be welcomed, by the Cubs, and clearly for himself. He’s still very young, and the organization setting a more defined role for him might allow him to progress faster.

The Cubs need all the pitching they can get out of their farm system, especially starters. But beggars can’t be choosers. At this time, the Cubs will take what they can get.