The Chicago Cubs really only have three rotation spots set in stone.
Kyle Hendricks is the ace of the staff after the North Siders dealt Yu Darvish to the San Diego Padres. Zach Davies, whom Chicago acquired in the Darvish deal, will likely be the number two guy. An aging Jake Arrieta rounds out that top three.
The other two spots, as things currently stand, appear to be up for grabs. Trevor Williams and Alec Mills are among the arms battling it out. But one spot should really be a no-brainer.
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Adbert Alzolay needs to be in the Cubs rotation at the very start of the season
Alzolay made his first start of the spring Tuesday afternoon against the Kansas City Royals, throwing a scoreless inning and displaying promising stuff. He was in the mid-90s with the fastball, locating to all quadrants and showing more command with the slider.
The 26-year-old was adamant after the game about embracing the competition and asserting his desire to get one of the rotation spots, per Russell Dorsey of the Chicago Sun-Times. This is exactly the kind of thing an organization wants to hear from an arm who figures to play a vital role in the rotation in the very near future.
That role should begin immediately.
Alzolay only threw 21 1/3 innings in 2020, but he impressed in that limited showing. The Venezuelan struck out 29 and gave up just 12 hits. He issued 13 free passes, but had an entire offseason to hone his command.
Indeed, Alzolay revealed after Tuesday’s game he worked tirelessly on slider command during the offseason, even admitting he mostly tried to throw the pitch down the middle of the plate and let it work away from righties last season. He also broke down how added command with the slider will allow him to keep hitters off balance by starting them out with his curve.
This is all the more impressive because of just how good Alzolay’s slider was in 2020, when even he said it lacked command.
Opponents hit a measly .028 against his slider, which also yielded a 37.7 whiff percentage, per Baseball Savant. The pitch also broke 4.1 inches above average, a number certainly indicative of the sheer stuff Alzolay possesses.
Now that Alzolay has fully harnessed what should be his top strikeout pitch, the Cubs need to let him spread his wings in the rotation from the very start of the regular season. Alzolay’s fastball can get into the upper-90s. He has that curveball, with a plus change-up he breaks out especially against left-handers.
The arsenal and desire to compete are there. So too is the willingness to learn. Alzolay has shadowed Arrieta almost from the very start of camp, seemingly hungry to glean any semblance of information he can from the former National League Cy Young winner. Arrieta himself spoke glowingly about Alzolay to Dorsey, even hinting at his inquisitive nature.
Whether the Cubs can contend in 2020 or not, Alzolay is a guy they need to give innings and experience immediately. He and Brailyn Marquez will spearhead the rotation in the near future, and it is pivotal Chicago allows him to build over the course of a 162-game season.