As the Chicago Cubs plummet further and further down the standings, it feels as though there’s nothing worth paying attention to on the major league scene anymore. While offensively, it truly feels as though no one currently on the team that will be around when the Cubs compete again, the same doesn’t have to be true of the rotation.
The starting staff will obviously have to be addressed before talk of contending can begin again. Thankfully, Justin Steele, Adbert Alzolay, and Keegan Thompson could wind up playing a role in the future. All three have the potential to be fixtures in the rotation going forward, but they have a lot of work to do before the team can put long-term faith in any of them. Chicago won’t be doomed if they don’t pan out, but the future would be much brighter if they do.
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While the lineup certainly has a ways to go as well, as of now there could potentially be four spots in the rotatio up for grabs if none of Steele, Thompson or Alzolay improve. With that in mind, it would be almost a certainty that the Cubs would do most of their spending on starting pitching rather than rebuilding the bullpen or the lineup.
For this reason, by far the most important objective for the team needs to be developing the young bucks of the rotation. Steele and Thompson still aren’t completely stretched out, but they’ve each flashed their nasty pitch arsenals out of the bullpen in the majors this season.
Steele has been relatively solid in his first couple of starts, especially in his second outing when he began striking more batters out, but still needs to be stretched into getting deeper into ball games and keeping the ball in the yard. It’ll be integral to his development for him to find a good mix of pitch efficiency and striking batters out.
Thompson is basically a carbon copy of Steele as he still isn’t fully stretched out, but he has the arsenal to be a reliable starter if he can be efficient.
Chicago Cubs: Consistency will be critical for all these young arms
Perhaps the biggest risk/reward for the Cubs would be the development of Alzolay. The young right-hander has flashed moments of brilliance, being a masterful strikeout artist in several starts, but he’s also been incredibly inconsistent, getting hit very hard in other starts.
Perhaps the biggest enigma with Alzolay is his struggles against lefties. Alzolay has been really tough to hit for righties, but lefties have raked against him, slashing .277/.344/.631 with a .975 OPS. It makes it almost impossible for Alzolay to remain a starter long-term, but if the Cubs can find a way to bring his struggles against lefties under control, Alzolay could wind up being a good starter for years to come.
Turning Steele, Thompson, and Alzolay into, if nothing else, middle-of-the-rotation arms would make the rebuild go much smoother. It would lessen the need for the Cubs to spend all their money on starters and would allow them to reinforce the bullpen and supplement the future rotation. The Cubs are banking on their ability to develop the next core to get back into contention, and this will be a solid litmus test.