Cubs: Longshots with intrigue feature guys who may be future closers
One reliever that has the stuff to be a closer in the future but almost certainly won’t win the job out of the gate is Manuel Rodriguez. Rodriguez, who pitched in the 2021 Futures Game, throws a fastball that can touch 100, a sinker that sits upper-90s, and an upper-80s slider to cap things off. Rodriguez went through an up-and-down major league stint last year, but he has some of the best stuff in the Cubs system and should be a name to keep an eye on in the future.
Another name to watch out for is Scott Effross. Effross doesn’t have stuff that will blow people away, but he works well with what he has. The right-hander had a very solid first stint in the majors, sporting a 3.68 ERA, 11.0 SO/9, and most impressively, walked just one batter in his first 14 2/3 innings pitched. Effross likely projects as more of a high-end middle reliever, but he could get some late-inning looks with a strong spring.
The final name to keep track of is Ben Leeper, who has yet to appear in a major league game. Leeper, who signed as an undrafted free agent after the five-round 2020 MLB Draft, put up absolutely eye-popping numbers in his first minor league season in 2021.
Leeper started the season in Double-A Tennessee and had ascended to become Triple-A Iowa’s closer by season’s end. Leeper finished the season with a 1.29 ERA with an H/9 of just 3.9, HR/9 of 0.5, BB/9 of 3.3, and a SO/9 of 13.6 between his minor league levels. Leeper is someone that likely won’t be the closer at the major league level to start the season, but could very easily wind up in that role at some point this year.
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While 2022 may not be the year for the Cubs to break back into contention, there are a lot of things to like about the way the bullpen has been constructed. There’s a good mix of young, developing arms, mixed with low-risk fliers on free agents that could create a solid bullpen in the upcoming season, and David Ross will have plenty of options on who to go with for the ninth.