Chicago Cubs: Dillon Maples will have a chance to prove himself this year

Despite being optioned to Triple-A recently, right-hander Dillon Maples will get his shot to leave his mark on the Chicago Cubs bullpen this season.

It’s no secret. The Chicago Cubs are rolling the dice with the bullpen this season. After Theo Epstein spent the offseason bargain shopping and focusing on buy-low names, first-year manager David Ross certainly isn’t swimming in arms that inspire a ton of confidence on a daily basis.

With all that in mind, this group certainly has the potential to be solid. There are a lot of high-upside guys and others who have tantalizingly strong stuff. One member of both of those groups is right-hander Dillon Maples.

Maples, 27, has long been one of the guys fans desperately want to see put it all together. His stuff is absolutely nasty – the only problem being he usually has no idea where a pitch is going when it leaves his hand. Looking for answers this spring, it makes sense Chicago recently optioned him to Triple-A Iowa.

Last year, we got a brief glimpse at the right-hander at the big league level. Maples tossed 11 2/3 innings, striking out a staggering 18 men in that span. But he also walked 10 – only furthering the narrative around his seeming inability to throw strikes.

With Iowa, it was more of the same. He struck out a ton of guys (79 in 43 innings) – but walked 36, which works out to north of seven free passes per nine. In the PCL, he managed to work around most of them, limiting the self-inflicted damage – but at the big league level, there’s simply not the same margin for error.

Knowing all this – and knowing that these are by no means new issues for Maple in any way, shape or form – it’s hard to believe he’s going to suddenly flip the switch and start throwing strikes. But the Cubs have shown an ability to turn around guys who struggle to find the zone – most notably, Tyler Chatwood, who bounced back from a disastrous 2018 showing to play a critical swing man role last season.

The big league bullpen, as projected, lacks a lot of swing-and-miss talent. Craig Kimbrel has the makings of a shutdown closer, but is coming off the worst season of his professional career. Rowan Wick, Kyle Ryan and Brad Wieck are looking to build on solid showings last year. But after that, it’s a lot of guys looking to prove themselves.

Enter Maples. I suspect Ross will turn to the right-hander and give him the chance to prove himself. We’re getting to the point where he needs to either step up or Chicago will move on. He’s not a kid anymore – remember, he was drafted in 2011 – and the clock is ticking.

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He’ll get his shot. What he’ll do with it is yet to be seen. But if he can find the zone and keep blowing away hitters with his swing-and-miss arsenal, Maples might be the Cubs’ next late-inning weapon.

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