The prospect that may change everything about the Cubs' long-term pitching plans


It doesn't take a mind reader to know how the Cubs feel about Adbert Alzolay.

When asked about the state of the pitching in the organization, Alzolay is the first name out of Theo Epstein's mouth.

When talking about starting pitching depth for 2018 and beyond, Alzolay's name is right there alongside Mike Montgomery and Eddie Butler, even though the 22-year-old right-hander has yet to throw a pitch above Triple-A.

Even more than that, Alzolay could be the pitcher that changes the narrative of the Cubs farm system.

While they've developed a plethora of quality position players, the Cubs have yet to produce any meaningful pitching from their system under Epstein's regime despite excitement about players in the past.

According to Sahadev Sharma's research, the Cubs are last in baseball in innings pitched by pitchers they drafted (30 IP) since Epstein took over at the helm of the front office in 2012. 

Alzolay wasn't drafted — he was signed as an amateur free agent out of Venezuela — so even if he is The Pitcher That Was Promised, that wouldn't affect the bottom line by the aforementioned metric, but it would help begin to change the narrative about the lack of pitching that has come from the Cubs' system. (Kyle Hendricks was a homegrown player, but he wasn't drafted by the Cubs and spent a year-and-a-half in the Texas Rangers system before being traded to the Cubs. The same goes for Carl Edwards Jr.)

Alzolay didn't find his name on any of the Top 100 prospect lists released recently, but is listed as the Cubs' No. 2 prospect heading into 2018 by Baseball America. He enjoyed a breakout season last year, going 7-4 with a 2.99 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 8.5 K/9 in 22 starts between Advanced Class-A and Double-A ball.

"He's exceeded every expectation that I've had from a scouting standpoint," said Alex Suarez, the director of international pro scouting, at the Cubs Convention earlier this month. "My look is only one look, but our area guys were dead set on this is a guy we had to bring into our system and we had to sign.

"Not only does he have the physical tools, but in terms of mental makeup, he's a great teammate and he's a leader on and off the field. I think what sets him apart is the mental makeup. I don't think there's anything he's afraid to try.

"Pitching in the big leagues is not easy, no matter who you're facing that day. Let alone — this guy coming from where he's from in Venezuela, where things are not great. He's fearless."

The Cubs believe strongly in Alzolay to stick as a starting pitcher in the way guys like Carl Edwards Jr. have not been able to.

In fact, Epstein believes Alzolay could even approach ace level.

"[He's] a really interesting, high-ceiling starting pitcher who — if he reaches his potential — will someday be one of the 5, and closer to the 1 than the 5," Epstein said. "He's an exciting young kid with high character and electric stuff who's got a great starter kit. ... I think factoring him into the sorta-broad picture of our major-league depth makes sense for us."

Epstein and Co. like to go into each new season with around 9-10 options for starting pitchers to get through the year. Right now, the Cubs have Jon Lester, Hendricks, Jose Quintana, Tyler Chatwood and Montgomery and figure to sign at least one guy before the season begins, even if it's not one of the top pitchers on the market.

Beyond that group, Butler is an option along with Jen-Ho Tseng, Alec Mills, Luke Farrell and the Cubs are including Alzolay in that group, especially if they need an arm later in the season.

The plan is for Alzolay to begin the year with Triple-A Iowa and barring a setback or injury, the organization expects him to make his big-league debut at some point in 2018.

If Alzolay starts running up against his innings limit or the Cubs have five healthy, good starters rolling, they could move the young pitcher into a relief role to get him as an option for the big-league bullpen to help down the stretch.

As for 2019 or beyond, the Cubs aren't yet saving a spot in the Chicago rotation, but they're not ruling it out, either.

"He's taken huge steps forward and put himself in a position where he can help the big-league club," Cubs director of player development Jaron Madison said. "That's our hope. Now it's just about opportunity and Theo and Jed [Hoyer] will make those decisions when that time comes."

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