The Cubs have an aging rotation, and in 2021 two lesser-known prospects could carve themselves a role.
Much of the coronavirus’s fallout shook up multiple areas of professional sports, including Minor League Baseball this season and the Chicago Cubs. The truncated 60-game season led teams to create alternative sites for prospects to keep them fresh and develop.
Two of those guys who find themselves a part of that roster are right-hander Keegan Thompson and left-hander Jack Patterson. At first glance, it would seem Thompson and Patterson are mirror images of each other. They are both 25 years old, with an almost identical frame, and an equal four-pitch mix.
Thompson has one year on Patterson as a third-round draft pick in 2017 out of the University of Auburn. As a three-year starter for the Tigers, Thompson put together an impressive resume: 19-10, 2.46 ERA over 38 starts, and racking up over 200 strikeouts in those three years.
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Patterson played at a much smaller school, Bryant University, where he did not fully start until his senior season. As a 32nd round selection, Patterson slid under the radar, and the Cubs nabbed him, and fans should be glad they did because he has found success.
For Thompson, he began his professional career on a strong note posting a 30.7 percent strikeout rate to just a 5.3 percent walk rate in 19 innings. In the first season at short-season Eugene, he pitched to a strong 2.37 ERA, 2.71 FIP, and 2.76 xFIP. In 2018, Thompson spent time at both Class-A Advanced Myrtle Beach and Double-A Tennessee.
He held his own over 25 starts between the two levels, posting a 3.61 ERA with 115 strikeouts to only 34 walks. Last season, Thompson made one start at Tennessee, where he tossed five shutout innings with eight strikeouts. He suffered an undisclosed injury that shortened his season. However, he has been working his way back as an option on the alternate site roster.
Patterson has moved quite a bit quicker than Thompson. He found similar success in his first taste at pro ball, pitching to a 3.08 ERA in five starts. His FIP and xFIP were not great, yet he did a great job of managing his lines. Last year Patterson moved from Class-A South Bend to Tennessee, posting ridiculously low 1.69 ERA in 24 games to include nine starts. In three starts at Tennessee, he registered a 2.63 ERA.
Thompson has some of the best-ranked stuff in the system despite ranked in the bottom half of the organizational top 30. The slider has become one of his strongest pitches with good swing-and-miss ability while he relies on an above-average curveball and a low-90’s fastball. His ability to keep hitters off-balance will play well for a guy who doesn’t throw exceptionally hard.
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Patterson relies on a nasty sinking fastball, which does differ from Thompson. It can reach 95 mph and leads to a lot of ground balls. His curveball needs to be further developed, but his mix of changeup use allows time to be the case with his curveball.
The Cubs have a rotation that is starting to age out. Long time ace Jon Lester is entering into the final year of his contract, and Yu Darvish will be entering his mid-30’s. It will be time to start considering what the future of this rotation becomes, and both Thompson and Patterson should have an opportunity to make an impact in 2021.