Chicago Cubs have seen some bright spots emerge in the bullpen

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

As the Chicago Cubs trudge closer and closer to the end of a difficult season, there seems to be very little to take solace in from this iteration of the ballclub. While some of the younger players have flashed the potential to be future contributors, the team is still in wait-and-see mode, as they hope to find their next core through a combination of free agency and minor leaguers on the rise.

While players like Frank Schwindel and Rafael Ortega are certainly fun players to watch in the short-term, they really don’t project as much more than stop-gaps for future contenders. This is something that can be seen in the bullpen as well, as it’s made up of non-factors for the future like Rex Brothers, Adrian Sampson and Adam Morgan.

As a result, it’s fair to assume that most of the bullpen for 2022 and beyond will be composed of future acquisitions. After all, the big three for the Cubs this season before the deadline was the trio of Ryan Tepera (free agency acquisition), Andrew Chafin (trade acquisition), and Craig Kimbrel (free agency acquisition), so the Cubs have been successful with this model before.

However, this doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to build on already. Some of the relievers the Cubs already have in place have set a solid foundation for the coming years and should get a chance to be long-term pieces.

Chicago Cubs: A nice contingent of relievers has flashed real potential of late

When the Cubs shipped Kimbrel to the South Side, they obviously had high hopes for Codi Heuer, as he was one of just two pieces that came back in the deal. Though he struggled with the White Sox for most of the year, Hottovy and the team have made his development a top priority late in the year. Heuer is still a work in progress and the results so far have shown that.

While Heuer has definitely been able to produce more groundballs and gotten his ERA to a much more respectable 1.40, some of his other numbers have regressed badly while he continues to experiment with his pitches. Sis strikeout percentage has dropped sharply but, to this point, Heuer has still found ways to work around it, and there’s reason to believe he’ll only improve going forward as he continually settles on a pitch mix that works well for him.

Another reliever in the mix is right-hander Manuel Rodriguez.  The 25-year-old has been in the Cubs system since 2016 and has an electric sinker that touches 100 MPH. Rodriguez has a closer level repertoire to work with and flashed it for a large part of the year.

A recent four-game slide badly anchored his overall numbers but it’s important to remember he was placed on the IL recently, which may explain his struggles. In his first 16 games preceding that stretch, Rodriguez had an ERA of just 2.40 and had batters had just a .613 OPS against him. With more development, the Cubs may have a real gem on their hands.

Chicago Cubs have some guys who could play a role down the road

The most recent reliever that has flashed real potential has been former 15th-round pick Scott Effross. Effross was called up in late August and while the Indiana University product hasn’t seen a ton of game action yet, the early results are very encouraging.

Through his first eight games, Effross has stuck out 13 batters over just 9 1/3 innings pitched and has yet to issue any free passes. He currently sports an ERA of 4.82, but an FIP of 3.80, indicating a bit of bad luck for Effross. Effross is already 27, but given the gaudy strikeout numbers, and the encouraging signs of control, the Cubs may have a late bloomer on their hands.

Another name that shouldn’t be overlooked is Rowan Wick. Wick has been getting a large chunk of the closing opportunities as of late, and while he’s struggled a few times in the role, there’s reason to believe he’s capable of handling the role in the future.

The most encouraging thing about Wick is that the things that made him such an effective reliever before his injury are still true. He has fantastic strikeout numbers with a 12.5 K/9 and still has yet to give up a home run through his first 16 appearances. The problem is that Wick is also very unlucky. A victim of soft contact, Wick currently has a FIP of 2.38, despite a much more unsightly 5.00 ERA. The Cubs simply need to stay the course with Wick, and he could eventually turn into a future closer.

Next. Chicago Cubs have sorted out the late innings quicker than anticipated. dark

While work still certainly needs to be done on the bullpen this offseason, there are also a lot of pieces already in place for a solid foundation. Good development is going to be crucial for the future of the bullpen, and it’s imperative for the Cubs to hit on as many relievers as they can so that they allocate spending to other areas of the team.