If things pan out, the Chicago Cubs might not just have a serviceable bullpen this season, but one of the best in the entire National League.
I know, I know. I must be completely insane to buy in to whatever Theo Epstein and the Chicago Cubs front office is selling this offseason. But it’s that time of year where you can’t help but have at least a little bit of hope, regardless of what the winter brought (or didn’t bring) to your club.
Recent months haven’t brought much in terms of players or on-field talent. Instead, the organization completely revamped several of its internal programs and systems, in regards to both the front office and player development. They’re betting these improvements, along with a new manager in David Ross, can tap into the talent on the roster in ways that, simply put, didn’t happen last season.
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"“One thing (in) this organization that we’ve lacked are these young, interesting arms with plus stuff,” pitching coach Tommy Hottovy told The Athletic (subscription required). “Now I look around this room and we have 10 of those guys. Guys with really interesting pitch characteristics and interesting pitch mix.”"
As the Cubs figure out what they’ve got on their hands next month in Mesa, they know one thing: potential is aplenty when it comes to the pitching staff, particularly in the bullpen.
Epstein has scoured the market for low-risk, high-upside arms this winter – signing countless to minor league deals and former Milwaukee right-hander Jeremy Jeffress to his only big league contract when it comes to pitchers in recent days. What does all this add up to? An unyielding belief that, when equipped with the tools and data the organization has in place, these guys will find success.
That mentality worked, to a degree, last season in Kyle Ryan, Brad Wieck and Rowan Wick, three integral pieces in the Cubs relief corps. If these three can build on their 2019 success, you feel at least a little better about the big picture. One thing’s for certain, though. It’ll take more than this trio if Chicago wants to get back to the postseason in 2020.
"“When you have (big names in the bullpen), spring training is a lot more about keeping those guys healthy and getting ready for the season,” Hottovy said. “When you have guys like this that are competing hard, you’re going to take the best guys that are ready right out of spring training, for the most part. So being able to allow them to go to spring training and compete and then hopefully take the guys that are ready.”"
The only big name in this bullpen? Closer Craig Kimbrel. The rest make up a patchwork of guys who’ve always had the stuff but never been able to capitalize or names looking to work their way back to their past levels of success.
Buckle up, Cubs fans. This season will undoubtedly have its share of drama. We just have to hope that there are enough cards in Ross’ hand to handle the late innings and that he has a few tricks up his sleeve in his crop of unproven, hungry arms.