Chicago Cubs could have a secret weapon in the bullpen with righty Jose Cuas

With a unique arm slot and a devastating sweeper, Jose Cuas could have a bigger role with the Chicago Cubs in 2024 after arriving in a trade last year.

2024 Chicago Cubs Spring Training
2024 Chicago Cubs Spring Training / Matt Dirksen/GettyImages

Following the collapse of the 2023 Chicago Cubs, Jed Hoyer has quietly built up some serious depth in the bullpen to ensure Craig Counsell has plenty of weapons to evaluate this spring. There will undoubtedly be a battle to see who among the crowded field can make it to Opening Day with the likes of Adbert Alzolay, Julian Merryweather, Hector Neris, Mark Leiter Jr., and Yency Almonte among others all but assured spots. That leaves little room for the bevy of minor league signings, prospects, and swingmen who have real major-league upside.

One arm fighting for a chance to start the year at Wrigley is Jose Cuas. The side-arming right-hander was brought over in a trade last year for Nelson Velazquez and performed adequately, albeit with some red flags. His 3.04 ERA in 23 2/3 innings on the North side last year was a little too good to be true considering his 4.90 FIP and 5.3 walks per nine innings.

The Cubs clearly liked what they saw in Cuas though, and, in general, they love their pitchers with funky arm slots. Michael Baumann's recent write-up at FanGraphs laid out exactly why there's reason to believe in him going forward too. It comes down to a few factors, namely the addition of a fastball that can help him against lefties, his unique delivery, and a sweeper that the Cubs helped him develop after being traded over. Using the sweeper instead of his slider, he generated the second-highest whiff rate of any pitch in baseball over a minimum of ten plate appearances - nine whiffs in 13 swings. A small sample for sure, but it showed how devastating his sharp horizontal breaking pitch could be, assuming he could get batters to chase.

Those two new pitches completely changed his arsenal for the better. Last year, his sinker was crushed by batters to the tune of a .302 batting average against and a .381 slugging percentage with a .459 expected slug. His slider was even worse, getting rocked with a .471 SLG and .510 xSLG. With better implementation of the four-seamer and sweeper, there's hope that he can find another gear and move away from some of his weaker pitches.

Since Baumann's piece, Cuas has looked as dominant as the Cubs could hope in limited Spring Training appearances. Through six innings, he has only given up one run and has racked up eight strikeouts with five hits and two walks. His most recent outing against the Brewers was shakier with his command issues creeping back in as he gave up three hits, but he still managed to escape with minimal damage.

The Cubs bullpen is finding plenty of success in Spring Training

There's only so much you can take away from such a small sample in games that don't matter, but he's getting results so far in the exact way you would want - with better control and more strikeouts. He's not the only one finding success this spring though. Other guys in competition with him, like Luke Little (five innings, two hits, no runs, and five strikeouts) and Carl Edwards Jr. (four innings, one hit, no earned runs, three strikeouts) have shown impressive stuff so far and could be in consideration alongside him.

Even if Cuas doesn't make the Opening Day roster or break out as a dominant back-end arm, he has a lot of value to the Cubs as an optionable reliever. Hoyer has done well to assemble depth that can easily be shuttled between Iowa and Chicago as needed depending on performance, health, and other situations that arise throughout the 162-game season. Under Counsell, he'll undoubtedly find himself pitching meaningful innings at some point this year, but there's potential for much more.

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