It’s been a good while since we’ve seen Chicago Cubs pitcher Adbert Alzolay in action. Thanks to a right shoulder strain, the righty has sat out the entire season while rehabbing only to finally get some game time in the Arizona Complex League on Monday night. Overall, it was a productive night for him – three innings, one earned run and four strikeouts – and an indication of where the Cubs might want to take him long-term.
The situation has really changed since Alzolay got his first cup of coffee in the majors in 2019. Originally seen as a top starting pitching prospect for the team, he’s had a bit of a rollercoaster career ever since. The Cubs haven’t yet been able to turn him into a reliable starter despite flashes of brilliance throughout his young career. He owns an unspectacular 4.58 ERA and a 1.211 WHIP to this point.
Moreover, the organizational pitching depth has caught up with Alzolay this season in a big way. After promising showings in 2021, both Justin Steele and Keegan Thompson have exploded onto the scene with Steele, in particular, evolving into a star in the rotation as of late. Behind them, Adrian Sampson has been a pleasant surprise this year, reworking his approach to limit hard contact at an elite rate. That’s without accounting for the recent debut of Javier Assad, Caleb Kilian, and other potential starters banging on the door to the majors.
It feels like, especially with the Cubs working him toward multi-inning outings, that Alzolay’s future is no longer as a starter. Rather, he could prove useful in a similar role to Sampson as a multi-inning swingman who can fill spots. In a small sample, he’s shown he can be effective out of the bullpen to the tune of a 1.40 ERA in 19 1/3 innings. Moreover, his repertoire can still make hitters look downright silly at its best. That’s especially true of righties, who only for a .568 OPS against him.
Adbert Alzolay adds to the wealth of pitching depth the Cubs have accrued
That Alzolay, originally one of the organization’s highly touted prospects, could now be relegated to a swingman speaks to the depth that’s emerged over the past year. The Cubs are starting to put themselves in a spot where they have an overabundance of potential starters, giving them plenty of options if they need spot starters or reinforcements for injured arms. Thompson, Steele, Sampson and more show how much better they’ve gotten at developing arms at the major league level too.
It also opens up an opportunity for the Cubs to take some big swings this offseason. Knowing that Alzolay and others make up the team’s depth, it makes it less of a risk to try signing a riskier pitcher like Jacob deGrom to be a surefire ace. Alzolay’s the type of pitcher that allows the Cubs to feel more comfortable should one of their top-of-the-line arms go down. There’s a lot of value in that and it mimics how successful organizations like the Dodgers have handled their staff in recent years.
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Unless he really forces the Cubs’ hand next year, it’s hard to see a starting rotation spot in Alzolay’s future, but the organization’s pitching infrastructure makes that outcome easy to stomach. He’ll still be extremely valuable both for extended stints out of the ‘pen and spot starts when the Cubs need somebody competent to hold the line.