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Legends On Deck

LOD’s 2018 Top Prospects: Chicago Cubs – Pitchers

During the 2017-2018 offseason, we here at LOD are putting together a different kind of prospect list than you’re used to seeing. As opposed to typical prospect rankings, we are going position by position to give you the names to look out for in the upcoming season. Keep checking back to see if your favorite player makes our 2018 Top Prospect Team. You can view previous team previews by Clicking Here.

The latest edition of our 2018 prospect series takes our attention to the farm system of the defending NL Central champion Chicago Cubs. Today we start with a couple of pitchers to have on your radar for the upcoming season.  

RHP – Adbert Alzolay – 2017 Teams: Myrtle Beach (Advanced-A), Tennessee (Double-A)

2017 Statistics: 114.1 IP, 7-4, 2.99 ERA, 108 SO, 34 BB, 1.10 WHIP

Adbert Alzolay signed with the Cubs in the Fall of 2012 out of his native Venezuela at age 17. The six foot right hander didn’t make a ton of headlines at the time, but really made a name for himself in 2013 during his time in the Venezuelan Summer League.

The Cubs brought Alzolay to the States in 2014 where he had a brief stint in short season, but spent the majority of the campaign in the rookie Arizona League. He left the momentum he had built in 2013 back home in Venezuela as he struggled to an 8.51 ERA over 24 innings in the AZL.

Alzolay turned things around with Eugene in the Northwest League in 2015. Over his 53 innings, he struck out 49 batters and walked just 15. He cruised to a WHIP of 0.83 and earned himself a promotion in 2016 to Single-A for his first full season. The rollercoaster continued in South Bend for Alzolay. He posted a FIP of 3.87 and a K/9 rate of just 6.06, a far cry from his 8.32 the year before.

When 2017 rolled around, Alzolay wasn’t a highly discussed prospect. But after spending time working on his fundamentals and changing his approach on the mound, he quickly became the talk of the Cubs pitching prospects. Alzolay brought his fastball velocity up from the low 90’s to a consistent 95 and has a very good secondary pitch in his breaking ball, both of which were instrumental to his breakout 2017.

Alzolay started 22 games in 2017, 15 in Advanced-A Myrtle Beach and seven in Double-A Tennessee. He performed well at both levels and posted relatively similar numbers during each stop. Overall he posted a 2.99 ERA over 114.1 innings while striking out 108 batters. One interesting note is that once he made the move to Double-A, typically the hardest move to make and where a lot of pitchers get exposed, his FIP actually dropped from 3.68 at Myrtle Beach to 2.56. That statistical improvement can be credited to the fact that he didn’t allow a single homer at Double-A. While we are comparing 15 starts to just seven, it was encouraging to see Alzolay perform so well at such a competitive level.

With the improvement on Alzolay’s fastball, many have started to look at him as one of the top pitchers in the Cubs system. He switched things up a little bit with his delivery in 2017 and now works extremely quickly and keeps opposing hitters on their toes. With the other pitches in his repertoire developing nicely, he shows even more promise to keep improving. It has been an up and down career in the early going for Alzolay, but he has done a great job of making the necessary adjustments. He is definitely one to keep your eye on in 2018.
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LHP – Justin Steele – 2017 Team: Myrtle Beach (Advanced-A)

2017 Statistics: 98.2 IP, 6-7, 2.92 ERA, 82 SO, 36 BB, 1.38 WHIP

This was a tough choice because I am a big fan of the Cubs 2017 first round pick, Brendon Little, but Justin Steele has been showing promising development and I think he is poised for a solid 2018.

Steele began his pro career when the Chicago Cubs took him in the fifth round of the 2014 amateur draft out of his Mississippi high school. After 18 solid innings in rookie ball, the 6’2 lefty spent his 2015 in Eugene on the Cubs short season squad where he essentially duplicated his rookie ball performance.

2016 marked Steele’s first go at full season ball where he made 19 starts for South Bend in the Single-A Midwest League. He pitched to an even 5.00 ERA and alarming WHIP of 1.71, but he was extremely unlucky in the fact that he allowed a BABIP of .383. His command was cause for concern at times as he posted a walk rate of 10.8%. He also struggled after putting himself in jams and only managed to strand 61.1% of baserunners.

Jump to 2017 and Steele made many adjustments to get things back on track, and this time while facing tougher competition. He started 20 games for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, the Cubs Advanced-A affiliate, last season. He posted an ERA under three and brought the WHIP down to a more manageable 1.38. The K/9 rate went down from 2016, but so did the BB/9 rate.

While he may not have been missing as many bats during his time in the Carolina League as he used to, opposing hitters were having a harder time making quality contact against Steele. He reduced his line drive rate allowed by almost 6% and in turn saw nearly a 6% increase in his ground ball rate.

The former 139th overall pick is adjusting his approach on the mound to better suit his stuff. He has a low 90’s fastball with downward action that he couples with a solid curveball and a good changeup. He won’t be blowing guys away and posting huge strikeout numbers, so he has accepted that his repertoire is best suited for him being a ground ball pitcher. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Steele spend the majority of his 2018 in Double-A while continuing on a steady path to the bigs.

Check back tomorrow as we discuss a Cubs catching prospect to watch in 2018

Jake Berry
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Jake Berry

Contributing Writer at Legends On Deck®
Jake resides in Carrollton, GA and loves everything baseball. He is a lifelong Atlanta Braves fan and enjoys traveling to watch their Minor League teams. He graduated from the University of West Georgia with a Bachelor's Degree in Sport Management. Jake is also a certified personal trainer and has a passion for fitness and weight lifting. You can find his personal site at berrysbaseball.com

You can also reach out to Jake at jberry@legendsondeck.com
Jake Berry
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