It is no secret that every team with hopes of contending needs a strong arm at the end of the bullpen to shut the door and kill any hopes of a rally for the opposing team. For the Chicago Cubs, there has been a pretty consistent issue in finding the one arm for the ninth inning since the departure of Aroldis Chapman, who the team only had for less than half of a season.
A few years ago, they signed Craig Kimbrel, but he was very inconsistent up until 2021, where he was dealt as a part of the roster teardown to revitalize the farm system and kick off a rebuild. Now, making forward-thinking moves and looking to be competitive again shortly, the 2022 season will be the perfect time to develop a couple of the pitchers Chicago has in-house so they’re not left scuffling to find a reliable closer when ready to contend again.
Chicago Cubs: The return for Craig Kimbrel may be his replacement
Right-hander Codi Heuer was acquired in the aforementioned Kimbrel deal from the White Sox on the other side of Chicago and made a genuine case for himself to become the Cubs’ next closer toward the end of the 2021 campaign.
After joining the Cubs, his ERA dropped from 5.12 to 3.14, his WHIP from 1.42 to 1.15, and his opponent batting average fell from .290 to .198. He was thrown in quite a few higher-leverage situations right after the team acquired him, so I assume because the organization also sees him as a potential candidate for the closer role.
His 2020 season showed a lot of promise and given that he can hone in what makes him a good pitcher, such as better location on his high-velocity four-seam fastball and continuing the success he’s already had with the slider, he’s got a bright future. His off-speed pitches pair well with his fastball and provide great deception, as he held hitters to a .170 mark on his changeup and only .151 batting average when using his slider, with opposing hitters whiffing nearly half the time on both pitches according to Baseball Savant.
Another late-season call-up was Manuel Rodriguez, who headlines mainly due to his 98+ MPH sinker. His high-velocity pitches produce a lot of groundballs, a very useful trait to have as a closer who will likely be put into many situations with runners in scoring position. Not to mention, the Cubs defense he will have behind him has been severely underrated from what I’ve seen to this point.
At any rate, his near 54 percent groundball rate could definitely pair well as a set-up man to Heuer in the event that the team favors a more swing-and-miss approach for the tail end of the game.