Every single year that the Theo Epstein lead Cubs have taken the field there have been fans, journalists, bloggers, and rival executives that raise the same exact questions. They have seemed to come across as two separate questions more times than not and are being discussed for multiple different reasons, but sure enough they find themselves in the headlines year in and year out.
Do the Chicago Cubs need bullpen help to truly be a World Series contender?
Is this front office going to continue to drop the ball on their pitching draft picks?
The first question is very common among all teams across the league. With the way relievers’ performance varies from year to year, month to month, and game to game, teams just never seem to have enough bullpen help. Every team in the league needs more high leverage relievers just like they need more bullpen depth.
As for the pitcher draftees, you know the drill. Since taking over the helm in 2012, pitchers drafted by Theo Epstein have struggled to make it to the majors. There has yet to be a single arm to make a significant impact under Theo’s watch and only 4 pitchers have even made their MLB debut with the Cubs: Pierce Johnson, Duane Underwood Jr, Rob Zastryzny, and James Norwood.
After watching big time bats make their way through the system such as Albert Almora, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, and Ian Happ, people are anxious for the arms.
The idea is for college starters drafted in the first several rounds to eventually find their way into the Chicago rotation, but that might not always be the best route for certain guys to take.
The answer to both of these oft-asked questions may be the same thing. And their names are Adbert Alzolay, Justin Steele, and Duane Underwood Jr. All three men find themselves among the top pitching prospects in the system and on the 40-man roster going into the 2019 season.
As previously mentioned, the shelf life of relievers varies. You never know what you are going to get from those guys from one year to the next. But you know exactly what you get with career starters turned relievers. You get a few extra MPH on fastballs, a greater focus on a lone secondary pitch, more strikeouts, and a chance to carve out a role in a Major League bullpen.
With the starting rotation in Chicago pretty set in stone for the next couple years, there is no immediate future as a starter for Alzolay, Steele, or Underwood no matter how well they perform in the minors. And while the starters have a stranglehold on their spots, the relievers have anything but.
Converting guys like Underwood and Steele into the bullpen allow for less general fatigue on three arms that have been shown to be susceptible to injuries in their minor league careers and allow them to get to the strikeout numbers they are capable of showing with high velocity fastballs and already plus breaking pitches.
By bringing those offerings to Chicago, Alzolay, Steele, and Underwood are able to answer both the question of ‘Where is the bullpen help?’ and ‘Where are Theo’s pitchers?’ Expect them each to play a significant role on the North Side this upcoming year if the Cubs want to solidify their bullpen.