Chicago Cubs: Alec Mills is making his case for the starting rotation

Alec Mills, Chicago Cubs (Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)
Alec Mills, Chicago Cubs (Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images) /

Alec Mills has been pitching great for the Chicago Cubs so far this spring. He is making a strong case to be in the starting rotation

One of the most significant decisions for new Chicago Cubs manager David Ross this spring was going to be who would get the fifth spot in the starting rotation. Tyler Chatwood appeared to have the inside track coming into spring training, but Ross is giving Alec Mills every opportunity to win that job. And to this point, Mills has taken advantage of it.

I’ve been saying since the end of last season that Mills should be given a shot to be in the rotation in 2020. The 28-year-old right-hander was impressive down the stretch last year, allowing just 11 earned runs in 36 innings pitched while striking out 42. Yet with the Cubs’ collapse late last year and the struggles of several other pitchers on the staff, the strong showing by Mills was primarily lost in the shuffle.

It appears that it didn’t go unnoticed by Ross, however, as the Cubs’ skipper has given Mills the ball four times so far this spring, including three starts. Mills made yet another strong showing in Saturday’s Cactus League action against the Cincinnati Reds, allowing one run in 3 2/3 innings. It was the first earned run allowed by Mills in a total of 9 2/3 innings so far this spring.

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Mills’ early spring success has been attributed mostly to his slow curveball, which he reportedly worked on in AAA ball last year. In 2019, his average curveball velocity was a mere 67.6 MPH after being as high as 79 MPH while he was with the Kansas City Royals in 2016 and at 72 MPH when he was with the Cubs in 2018.

That allows his curveball to distinguish itself from his slider (78.2 MPH in 2019) and changeup (80.8 MPH). Indeed, Mills continues to defy the odds, striking out batters and pitching effectively even though the average fastball velocity was just 89.7 MPH in 2019.

We still have more than two weeks to go in spring training, so it’s too early to say whether Mills has done enough to win the fifth starter’s spot. Chatwood hasn’t pitched poorly – allowing two earned runs in six innings so far – yet Mills’ strong showing has to be among the best stories during the first half of Cactus League action.

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Mills should get the ball a few more times this spring, and it would be nice to see him get a little length in his starts, as he didn’t go more than six innings in any start last year. With Mills out of options, should he keep pitching well, he certainly will get a bullpen spot at least. Yet if Chatwood was the favorite for the final rotation spot coming into spring training, Mills is at the very least making it a difficult decision.