Chicago Cubs: Alec Mills could land the final rotation spot

(Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)
(Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images) /

The fifth and final spot in the Chicago Cubs rotation is up for grabs and young right-hander Alec Mills could have what it takes to lock it down.

After a long and lethargic offseason, the first week of spring training games is finally underway and Cubs baseball is back in action down in Mesa. With these exhibition games, comes the time for the Chicago Cubs to answer all of the questions that have still gone unanswered.

One of the biggest questions left looming over the ballclub going into the 2020 regular season is who will get the open fifth starting rotation spot. 

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Among those competing for this opening are right handers Alec Mills, Adbert Alzolay and veteran Tyler Chatwood. This makes sense considering these three were given the first three Cactus League starts to get right to showing what they’ve got. However, out of these three primary candidates, the one that stands out the most to me is Mills.

Mills, 28, has shown a tremendous amount of potential throughout his time in the bigs. While filling in for the Cubs across the last two seasons, the right-hander has made 16 appearances and owned a 3.17 ERA.

Mills is known for his slider and his change-up. He also made multiple starts at the end of the 2019 season where he was able to log multiple innings, showing his potential for this position in the Cubs starting rotation. In 2019, Mills finished with a 2.75 ERA, and notably had 26 strikeouts and six walks in 20 innings over four starts.

Many might compare Alzolay’s performances to Mill’s. Alzolay, just 24, made his big league debut at the end of last season. Before his debut, he was known as a top pitching prospect who came up to the bigs in 2019. The 24-year-old made four major league appearances: two starts and two out of the pen until he was sent back down to Triple-A. In 2019, Alzolay posted a 7.30 ERA in 12 ⅓ innings pitched.

While both Mills and Alzolay have small sample sizes going into the 2020 season. Mills does have more major league starts considering Mills made six, and Alzolay only made two. In those starts Mills was also more successful. Another important thing to note is that if Alzolay doesn’t make the roster, he has minor league options and could join the starting rotation in Triple-A Iowa. Mills is out of minor-league options, which increases his chances of making the major league roster.

Some might also argue that Tyler Chatwood earned the spot with his successful performance in the bullpen last year. Chatwood, 30 agreed to a three-year, $38 million deal with the Cubs, aspiring to be the team’s fifth starter. Of course, a disastrous showing in 2018 stopped that idea dead in its tracked.

With this, the Cubs went out and got Cole Hamels and Chatwood found himself relegated to the bullpen. In 2019, Chatwood posted a 3.76 ERA in 76 2/3 innings pitched and issued 37 walks which was a major improvement from his 2018.

In my mind, why if Chatwood is coming in clutch out of the bullpen, why should the team mess with that success? In the end, it all comes down to what Mills, Alzolay and Chatwood bring to their exhibition appearances. Mills already pitched this spring, when he started the spring training opener and led the Cubs to a 12-2 victory over the Oakland Athletics.

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So far, it looks like Mills has good stuff. Even though Chatwood has the veteran experience and Alzolay has long projected as a member of the rotation, Mills has great potential to be a successful fifth starter for the north side of Chicago. Regardless, hopefully new skipper David Ross will make the final decision soon.