Will the Chicago Cubs utilize Adbert Alzolay in the bullpen this year?

(Photo by Brian Davidson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Brian Davidson/Getty Images) /
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Could the Chicago Cubs tap one of their top pitching prospects to step into the big league bullpen to shore up a taxed, less-than-intimidating pitching staff?

You might want to drop Friday night’s series-opening loss to the St. Louis Cardinals at the feet of the Chicago Cubs bullpen. But you’d be wrong to do so. The team went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position and managed just one run – which came via a Yu Darvish sac fly in the top of the second inning.

Still, adding more high-upside arms to the mix likely wouldn’t hurt things. With Pedro Strop working his way through a minor league rehab assignment, right-hander Dylan Maples is already with the big league club. The youngster suffered a bit of tough luck on a missed strike three call Friday that led to his unraveling in the tenth inning, but there’s never been any disputing his raw stuff.

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Another guy Chicago could look to this season? Former top prospect Adbert Alzolay.

The 24-year-old ranks fourth on MLB.com’s organizational prospect list, trailing only one other hurler in young lefty Brailyn Marquez in the rankings. His numbers aren’t turning many heads this season (he carries a 4.20 ERA across 15 innings with Triple-A Iowa) – but there’s a lot more to this guy than those big-picture stats.

"“He had a high percentage of strikes with the curve and a high percentage of swing and miss with the curve, which was encouraging,” Jason McLeod said after watching Alzolay’s last start for the Triple-A club. “Just to see him go out and compete with his mix of pitches that he has … was a real positive. So it was great to see.”"

McLeod was, of course, referring to Alzolay’s most recent outing – a six-inning, nine-strikeout effort where he sat in the mid-90s with his fastball. The Chicago bullpen lacks a big presence and few arms down there can bring the heat and control on a regular basis – so adding something like that could complement the other arms well.

Last year, Chicago was close to bringing him up to make his Major League debut. But right about that time, he suffered a lat injury that ended his 2018 season. That same injury resurfaced this spring, as well – but he’s really started to round into form his last two times out for Iowa.

Let’s look at the bullpen, as a whole. When Strop returns (which could, in theory, be as soon as this weekend), Maples seems likely to head back to Triple-A. Mike Montgomery is the long man from the left side – and Alzolay may assume a similar role from the right. This could allow Joe Maddon to ease him into big league games in low-leverage situations where he just needs Alzolay to eat innings and preserve the late-inning arms.

Chatwood seems more and more like a late-inning guy the more I see him this year. When paired with Carl Edwards (who I still wouldn’t trust in a high-intensity spot), Brandon Kintzler, Kyle Ryan, Steve Cishek and Brad Brach, there’s plenty of quality there. Of course, if Theo Epstein wanted to go out and pick up Craig Kimbrel, I wouldn’t be upset, but that’s another matter entirely.

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If the pen sees another injury, don’t be shocked if Adbert Alzolay gets the call. This is a guy we’ve been talking about for years and given the pen’s struggles this season, he may have a legitimate chance to make a big impact on the fate of the club in 2019.

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