Dillon Maples is not a new player to the Cubs system. In fact, he has been around as long as just about anyone in the system. He was drafted in the 14th round of the 2011 draft and lured away from his commitment to the University of North Carolina with a $2.5 signing bonus which was pretty unheard of at the time in such a late round. A high school player with electric offerings and a very athletic frame, it did not take long for Maples to begin cracking top prospect lists as he made it all the way up to number 12 in the Cubs system the following year in 2012 according to MLB.com.
But over the course of the first few seasons of his career, Maples did not live up to the high expectations. As a starter, he worked with a mid-90s fastball to go along with a pretty devastating curveball. He showed potential to be a top of the rotation starter during the first half of his age 21 season. He spent it in low-A ball and pitched to a 2.14 ERA in 42 innings before he was rushed up to class-A advanced where he began to struggle.
Ultimately, injuries were what derailed Dillon Maples’ early career and saw his time as a starter come to a close. From arm problems to broken ribs, he just could not stay healthy and put in enough time on the field to get any kind of rhythm going. His 76.2 innings pitched in 2013 still stands as a career high mark. Up through the 2015 season, he had seemingly entirely dropped off the prospect radar.
The 2016 season saw a complete conversion for Maples into a full-time reliever. If any pitcher could thrive as a reliever, Maples was the guy. His mid-90s heat ratcheted up to the high 90s and his hook turned into the most devastating offspeed offering in the entire system. While his stuff was already plus-plus, he failed to truly put it all together last year and spent most of the year at South Bend before getting bumped up to Myrtle Beach.
2017 has been the year that Dillon Maples has truly exploded onto the scene. Starting off the year in Myrtle Beach, he has powered through the system while making stops in Tennessee and now Iowa. It is now September and we are waiting on a call to the bigs for the power reliever. A rise up through three levels of the minors is pretty surprising and if he can make that jump from high-A to the majors in one season, that is basically unheard of.
The biggest reason for his success this season has been the strikeout rate. It has risen to ridiculous levels, sitting at 34.4% in Myrtle Beach, 43.1% in Tennessee, and now 35.5% in his 17.1 innings at Triple-A Iowa. Pair those numbers with relatively low walk-rates for a high strikeout reliever (5.3 BB/9 this season) and a very low 0.4 HR/9, and you have a pitcher that has proven that he can be a valuable asset this September in Chicago.
That is where the problem comes in. Much like Jen-Ho Tseng, who I discussed last week, Maples is not on the 40-man roster. That means in order to get pulled up to the Major League level this month, he will first need to be added, which means someone currently on the list will need to be removed.
The most likely scenario for Maples is that reliever Jose Rosario is designated for assignment to open up a slot for someone to be added to the roster. Jose Rosario was protected last offseason to keep him from being taken in the Rule 5 Draft and has failed to put it together this year while also dealing with injuries. My guess is that from that roster move, Maples would get the spot. Tseng is also gunning for that same addition to the 40-man roster and might take it. If the Cubs wanted to call-up both guys, some maneuvering could be made. I think Maples is more likely to get the roster spot than Tseng this September if I came down to only one player.
When it comes down to it, Dillon Maples is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this upcoming offseason. Because of his breakout 2017 campaign, even if he fails to get the call to Chicago this season, I fully expect him to be added to the 40-man roster during the offseason. He would then make a push during spring training 2018 to be a fixture in the bullpen.