Chicago Cubs: Adbert Alzolay has an important role to play this year

One of the more subdued storylines of the offseason for the Chicago Cubs? Who will round out the rotation in 2020. One possible option? Adbert Alzolay.

Cole Hamels‘ decision to sign with the Atlanta Braves officially opened up a spot in the Chicago Cubs rotation and, given the team is unlikely to spend on major pitching upgrades, it bears wondering who will fill that spot by the time Opening Day rolls around.

There appear to be a number of internal options.

Tyler Chatwood could return to the rotation after a successful stint as a long reliever in 2019. Alternatively, right-hander Alec Mills made a number of starts in September at the tail end of last season, and he showed a pretty consistent ability to log around five innings of work.

Not to mention, left-handed prospect Brailyn Marquez continues to generate excitement, and there is no telling how fast he will climb through the system in 2020.

But another figure to watch is Adbert Alzolay, who made his debut at the big-league level last season and projects as a key arm for the 2020 pitching staff.

Alzolay was widely regarded as Chicago’s top pitching prospect at the start of last season, and he only accelerated the hype train during his MLB debut, throwing four-innings of one-run ball – with five strikeouts – out of the bullpen against the New York Mets on June 20. Alzolay followed that up with his first start against the Atlanta Braves just five days later, allowing just one run in 4 2/3 innings of work.

Things quickly spiraled, however. Alzolay gave up 10 hits and seven runs in just 2 2/3 innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates on July 1. He was sent back to Triple-A shortly afterwards, and – aside from another relief appearance on Sept. 6 – his season was effectively over as a result of injuries.

Alzolay’s young career has already been riddled with setbacks. He suffered a lat strain in May of 2018, and he experienced bicep inflammation last season. Naturally, given Chicago’s recent experience with Brandon Morrow, this is cause for concern.

However, Alzolay still figures to play a vital role in 2020. But will it be out of the bullpen, or in the starting rotation?

The Cubs might elect to take a “committee” approach to the fifth spot, as well. Mike Montgomery had some success making spot starts for the Cubs in 2017, and it is possible to envision a scenario where Alzolay is called upon to make some starts throughout the 2020 campaign in similar fashion.

However, it seems more likely the Cubs will explore his value in the bullpen.

Chicago are mostly relying on Craig Kimbrel to recover from the worst season of his career at the back end. They will also hope Morrow can stay healthy and return to a setup role, while left-hander Kyle Ryan figures to be the most reliable arm in the middle innings. Other than that, there are a lot of unknowns.

Rowan Wick and Brad Wieck seized their opportunities this past September, but it is anyone’s guess as to how they will perform over the course of a full season. The same goes for “bargain” arms like Dan Winkler and Travis Lakins, among others.

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The Cubs figure to experiment with Alzolay in long relief, with the potential he could slide into the rotation on occasion. In any case, it is clear Chicago’s young arms will have to rapidly increase the learning process if they hope to make an impact in 2020.

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