When it comes to left-handed starters in the organization, the Cubs aren’t exactly well-stocked. That could soon be changing, though. AA and AAA are pretty much a wash, but there are several young left-handed starters in the lowest part of the minors, three of whom will likely be making their stateside debuts in 2017. In addition, South Bend and Myrtle Beach will each have a couple of lefty starters.
We’re not talking about a group of elite power pitchers, as the Cubs don’t have any southpaws who can live in the mid-to-upper 90’s. What they do have is lot of lefties with excellent breaking pitches. And there are a couple who may have the potential to reach the mid-90’s with some strength and conditioning changes.
Listed below you will find the Cubs’ top left-handed starters, including a few names to keep an eye on this year in the lower minors.
All three teenagers had excellent seasons, or partial seasons, in the Dominican Summer League in 2016. I think Bolande will stay in the Dominican for another year, but Marquez and Carerra (both only 17 years old) are likely to debut at Mesa in June. Of the three, Marquez has the biggest frame (6-4, 185) while Carerra showed nice pitchability throughout the summer (1.06 ERA in 13 starts). Come the end of this summer, Marquez could be the breakout pitcher of the entire system. There’s just something brewing in his delivery, size, and pitching makeup.
6. Justin Steele – Though he pitched much better in the second half, his 2016 season was a disappointment and the first half was pretty much a train wreck. Steele left his curveball up in the zone and struggled with location in general. It’s not going to be that difficult for him to get back on track to what he was in 2015, mainly 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: 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 and 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 – He was a hot mess in rookie ball when he came over from the Angels two years ago. In 2016, however, he was the Northwest League Pitcher of the Year. The Cubs put a lot of work in with Rondon and he has responded in kind, working with low-to-mid-90’s heat and a wonderful curveball. 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.
3. Jose Paulino – He was a dominant pitcher for Eugene in the first half of 2016, but it took him a couple starts to adjust when he came up to South Bend. He looked lost at times and other times he looked solid in the pocket. Paulino is one whose fastball could reach the mid-90’s quickly. He should be at South Bend to open 2017, though he won’t be there long if he can leverage his big breaking ball/slider.
2. Ryan Kellogg – In July and August of last year, I don’t think there was a better left-handed starter in the system than Kellogg. His curveball baffled Midwest League hitters as he rode it to a sub-2.00 ERA in those two months. I’m anxious to see what kind of winter conditioning work he’s done, as that could really impact his status. Although he can throw 91-92 now, 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. His whirlwind season took him from struggling starter to useful piece in the Cubs bullpen down the stretch. He even made one spot-start in the majors and did well. Zastryzny has the opportunity to stick with the big league club, where I think he earned the right to try out for the 5th or 6th starter spot here in 2017. 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 target the college ranks rather than prep arms.
Next week, the position breakdown series concludes with a look at relievers. In the meantime, be sure to check out the previous positions: