The Cubs weren’t ready to announce anything Thursday.
But top pitching prospect Caleb Kilian was their top option to start one of Saturday’s doubleheader games as they opened a five-games-in-four-days series against the Cardinals on Thursday night — with a decision expected to be announced Friday.
Whatever that decision is and whenever Kilian’s much-anticipated big-league debut comes, Alec Mills knows what he’s seen since rehabbing a couple of injuries in recent weeks.
“What he can do is special,” Mills said of the 6-foot-4 power pitcher acquired from the Giants in the Kris Bryant trade last summer. “I don’t think he knows how good he is yet.”
Craig Breslow, the head of the Cubs’ pitching infrastructure, calls Kilian “an extreme strike thrower” with an array of pitches manager David Ross calls “real big-league stuff.”
That’s what makes Kilian, who turned 25 on Thursday, the best option to help a taxed pitching staff get through its heaviest week of the year, assuming the club is able to solve a 40-man-roster crunch and clear what is an especially precious spot for the purposes of what might just be one big-league start for now.
Kilian was originally scheduled to start Tuesday for Triple-A Iowa but has had that start pushed back all week as the Cubs have mulled possibilities while measuring the load on an overworked bullpen.
"I’ve watched bullpens, and I’ve tried to talk to him a little bit more,” said Mills, who returns to Iowa next week for at least one more rehab start before returning from a quad injury.
“He’s just so willing to learn, so willing to listen to everybody,” Mills said. “He’s one of the nicest kids you’ll ever meet. So it’s been a blast to watch his success.”
Kilian didn’t allow more than a run in a start this year until giving up a three-run inning during his ninth, and most recent, start. He had a 1.31 ERA until that start (now 2.06).
“The stuff’s trending up; the velocity’s moving up,” Ross said the day after that start. “There’s just a lot of good things to like about him.”
Whatever happens Saturday, Kilian is expected to join the Cubs at some point this season for an extended stay, which makes him not only the top storyline entering the season’s first series against the Cardinals but the face of the Cubs’ pitching-development storyline this year.
In fact, he just debuted at No. 100 on Baseball America’s update top-100 prospects list this week.
If people are starting to talk about the Cubs’ pitching development after a decade of dormancy, Mills said there’s good reason.
“There’s plenty of guys down there that can throw,” Mills said. “People don’t understand how talented Double-A and Triple-A is. We always say you’re a phone call away from the big leagues. And obviously watching what [infielder/outfielder Chris] Morel has done, I mean— they’re down there and they’re just as good.
“It’s just a matter of getting here and sticking.”