This young reliever could provide the firepower the Cubs bullpen badly needs

If early velocity in camp is any indication, Daniel Palencia could be ready to become a major late-inning weapon in Craig Counsell's bullpen.

Chicago Cubs v Arizona Diamondbacks
Chicago Cubs v Arizona Diamondbacks / Chris Coduto/GettyImages

One of the biggest strengths of new Cubs manager Craig Counsell is his ability to manage a bullpen. Coincidentally, that was one of the biggest critiques fans had of David Ross, so here's to hoping we see a major improvement in that area in 2024.

Chicago is clearly placing a lot of faith in Counsell's ability to call the shots with his bullpen based on the team's relatively quiet offseason in that area. The Cubs signed veteran Hector Neris, traded for Yency Almonte in the Michael Busch deal and, other than that, once again relied on a smattering of minor league signings to solve the bullpen question after admitting that approach didn't exactly pan out last year.

That approach is likely due, at least in part, to the number of young pitching prospects knocking on the door and making sure there are opportunities for them at the big league level. One of those young arms we got a peek at last year who could figure into the bullpen mix again this year is right-hander Daniel Palencia, who's turning heads in camp already.

This is Palencia's first spring preparing to be a full-time reliever, which could help explain the velocity uptick. Of course, you just hope he's not going too hard, too soon, setting himself to burn out early or, even worse, get hurt. But you have to think the Cubs are keeping a close eye on him, hopefully making sure that doesn't happen.

Cubs need Daniel Palencia to showcase improved control if he wants to play a key bullpen role for the team in 2024

Lsat year Palencia made 27 appearances for the Cubs and was, more or less, a league average bullpen arm (102 ERA+). He showcased some big swing-and-miss stuff (10.2 K/9) but also struggled to hit his spots, walking nearly 4.5 batters per nine. His big strength was definitely his overpowering velocity, but what we're seeing this spring surpasses even what we saw last summer.

In 2023, the right-hander averaged 98.4 MPH on his fastball, which ranked in the top 3 percent of the league. Sitting in the triple-digits here in mid-February is definitely noteworthy because it's been a long time since the Cubs had that kind of firepower in the pen.

The big question Palencia will need to answer this spring is whether or not he can cut down on the walks in his first full season with the team. If he can maintain this impressive velo and show he's got better control, he could be a dark-horse weapon for Counsell in the Cubs bullpen this season.