By Todd Johnson
When it comes to left-handed starters in the organization, their numbers are not very large. That could soon be changing. In the lower part of the minors, there are several young left-handed starters, three of whom will likely be making their stateside debut in 2017. In addition, South Bend and Myrtle Beach will each have a couple of lefty starters. AA and AAA are at a loss.
What the Cubs do currently lack in lefties is someone who can touch the mid to upper 90s. The Cubs do have a lot of lefties with excellent breaking pitches. There are also a couple lefties who may have the potential to reach the mid-90s with some strength and conditioning changes.
Listed below you will find the Cubs top left-handed starters. In addition, you will find a few names to keep an eye on this year of pitchers in the lower minors.
Breakout Candidates: Brailyn Marquez, Faustino Carrera, Andres Bolande
All three teenagers had excellent seasons, or parts of a season, in the Dominican Summer League in 2016. I think Bolande will stay in the Dominican one more year, but the two 17 year-olds in Marquez and Carerra are likely to debut at Mesa in June. Of the three, Marquez has the biggest frame at 6’5” while Carerra showed a pitchability throughout the summer (1.06 ERA in 13 starts). Come, the end of summer, I think Marquez could be the breakout pitcher of the summer in the Cubs’ system. There’s just something brewing in his delivery, size, and pitching makeup.
6. Justin Steele – His 2016 season was a disappointment. The first half was pretty much a train wreck. In the second half, he pitched much, much better. He left his curveball up in the zone. And for him to get back on track to what he was in 2015, it’s not going to be that difficult. It’s just a matter of mastering the location of his pitches and being able to repeat his delivery. Not nibbling with two strikes would help, too.
5. Bryan Hudson – Hudson only had one problem in 2016. That was walking hitters. However, that one small problem turned into a big problem as he struggled to command his pitches. He got off to a great start in spring training and extended spring training. We did see an uptick, then a downturn in velocity in 2016. It will be interesting to see how he adjusts to South Bend. He could stay in EST if things are not clicking to begin the year.
4. Manny Rondon – Two years ago, when he came over from the Angels, he was a hot mess in Rookie League. In 2016, he was the Northwest League Pitcher of the Year. The Cubs put a lot of work in with him and he has responded in kind. It will be interesting to see if he can sustain the success he had at Eugene and carry it over to South Bend in 2017. He throws in the low to mid-90s and has a wonderful curveball.
3. Jose Paulino – He was the dominant pitcher for Eugene in the first half of 2016. When he came up to South Bend, it took a couple starts to adjust. At times, he looked lost and other times he looked like he was solid in the pocket. Paulino is one who could reach the mid-90s on his fastball quickly. With his big breaking ball/slider, if he stays at South Bend to open the year, he won’t be there very long.
2. Ryan Kellogg – In July and August of last year, I don’t think there was a better starter, right-handed or left-handed, than Kellogg. With an ERA under two for the two months, his curveball baffled hitters throughout the Midwest League. It’ll be interesting to see what conditioning he does over this winter. Although he can throw at 91-92, adding a couple ticks to his fastball might elevate his development exponentially.
1. Rob Zastryzny – One adjustment on the grip of his cutter turned everything around for Zastryzny in 2016. He went from being a struggling starter into a useful piece in the Cubs bullpen down the stretch. He even made one spot start in the majors and did well. Now in 2017, he should stick with the big league club. If he does come down to Iowa, I am sure it will be to stay stretched out as a starter. However, I would rather see him stay in Chicago where I think he earned the right to be a 5th or 6th starter. He could also pitch out of the bullpen.
It would not surprise me to see the Cubs bulk up in this year’s draft by selecting a lot of left-handers. Specifically, they would come more from the college ranks than with prep arms.
Next week, the position breakdown series concludes with a look at relievers.