The wake of devastation felt across Wrigleyville on Thursday following the news of a trade that sent Anthony Rizzo to the New York Yankees cut deep for Chicago Cubs fans. Rizzo was the heart and soul of the franchise. And while it hurts, as we remember the good times, there are also brighter times ahead as the direction of the franchise shifts with the new crop of faces in hopes of finding sustained success.
Under wraps across the game amid the chaos of Major League Baseball’s annual trade deadline are two promising young arms in the Cubs’ organization moving their way up the ladder, quietly, in fact, and continuing to display their talents.
Manuel Rodríguez, who represented the club in this year’s All-Star Futures Game, has been untouchable. Likewise, Ben Leeper, an undrafted free agent from last year’s class, is showing to be an asset. The two are making a formidable duo.
Chicago Cubs Minors: Gazing into the bullpen’s crystal ball
Every time I dive into prospects and their futures, I feel like Professor Trelawney, the wiry-haired wide-eyed Divination teacher in Harry Potter, who professes Harry’s future and Lord Voldemort’s return to power. Okay, so it’s not that serious, but, to bring it back, the Cubs’ crystal ball is full of imagination after a shift in their ether.
The trade deadline brought more adverse feelings toward Jed Hoyer, and Tom Ricketts after the Cubs continued cleaning house following deals for Javier Báez and Kris Bryant that netted a crop of highly-ranked prospects, along with Craig Kimbrel, who is headed across town. It leaves the Cubs in quite a space and an open door for both Rodríguez and Leeper.
Starting with Rodríguez, the 24-year-old right-hander did not allow an earned run since May 5, a span of over two months. In that time, he has 26 strikeouts in 19 2/3 innings and five saves. Overall, Rodríguez carries a 1.31 ERA. In his 7 1/3 innings at Triple-A Iowa, Rodríguez also notched a 2.02 FIP and 3.27 xFIP, all while routinely hitting 99 mph.
Meanwhile, Leeper has his crazy production value with a 1.41 ERA over 32 innings. Since his call-up to Iowa, Leeper has managed a 1.53 ERA with 29 strikeouts in 17 2/3 innings. Across the scope of his last 13 games, Leeper is 2-1, 1.23 ERA along with 24 strikeouts. Leeper does a great job in limiting his baserunners, and his walks have become fewer.
The two will inevitably be a big part of the bullpen mix sooner rather than later, and that is not a bad thing in itself. But, completely dismantling the core and part of the relief core, there won’t be a high-leverage guy any longer. After making his debut on Friday, Rodríguez can begin working toward becoming the future Cubs closer, and Leeper should filter in and out in both a closer’s role as well as middle relief — a positive advantage for the Cubs.
To reference another fictional character, Andy Bernard from ‘The Office,’ looking at things right now is sad and frustrating. I strongly wish we had the foresight to understand the good times as they are happening instead of realizing we’ve already left them.
The Chicago Cubs have given us some great times in the past five years. Now it is time to look toward that bright future, where we can only hope that one day Leeper keeps a World Series late-game lead locked down before Rodríguez slams the door shut. Imagine that possibility.