The Cubs have been able to produce a few minor league relievers the past two summers. Dillon Maples has all the talent in the world but just needs to harness it. James Norwood flashed quite a bit in his MLB debut. Dakota Mekkes looks to be ready to help in 2019 and Craig Brooks, who can throw in the mid to upper 90’s, is close as well.
Beyond those bullpen arms, there are a few more who should be able to make an impact this year. Whether they get to Chicago or just the verge will be based on their performance at AA and AAA in the spring and summer.
1. Bailey Clark
I’ve had my eye on Clark since he was drafted out of Duke in 2016. He’s battled injuries off and on since joining the Cubs organization, but his velocity has also improved into the mid to upper 90’s. After getting some strength training in over the winter following the 2017 season, Clark threw 95 -97 in 2018 at both South Bend and Myrtle Beach. His K/9 ratio was almost 12 at South Bend and was 8.83 at Myrtle Beach. He is doing very well in relief in the Arizona Fall League and should be at AA Tennessee to begin 2019. The key is staying healthy. If he can, the rest will take care of itself.
2. Sean Barry
The 2017 21st round pick really came on this year for Eugene. Flashing an upper 80’s cutter/slider combo, Barry’s control baffled short-season hitters. It’ll be interesting to see how that plays at the higher levels. His cutter velocity is slowly increasing, creating a greater difference between it and his slider. He should start out the spring at South Bend, but he might wind up in Myrtle Beach.
3. Brian Glowicki
The former University of Minnesota closer took a while to adjust to pro ball, struggling at Eugene in 2017 and in April in 2018 at South Bend. But playing baseball as a career seems to agree with Glowicki now and he looks to be stronger and more athletic than he was when he was first drafted. He improved tremendously during the second half of the year at South and did not allow an earned run in August. I look forward to seeing him get off to a great start at Myrtle Beach as their closer in 2019.
4. Garrett Kelly
Kelly is still a bit of a wild card as he has not completely harnessed his talent and is only be getting to tap into what he can do. The former Frontier League reliever went through two levels in 2018. His fastball easily sits in the mid 90’s and he works with a slider/change combo off of that. He was working to improve those secondaries when I talked to him back in July. With better technology and more physical training, Kelly has the potential to grow even further this spring and summer.
5. Manny Rondon
The southpaw was part of the rotation for Eugene’s 2016 championship team but struggled at South Bend to begin 2017. He later moved to the pen in the second half of 2017 after some minor injuries. The resulting change seems to have agreed with him and Rondon is now shooting through the system. He’s picked up a couple of ticks of velocity as a reliever and he can just burn from pitch one. Like Clark, Rondon is off to an excellent start in the Arizona Fall League. As a lefty, his value has increased exponentially since the move to the bullpen and he should be at Tennessee to start 2019.
6. Michael Rucker
Rucker spent the last year and a half as a starter, but his future is out of the ‘pen. As a reliever, he sits 95-96 and pumps strikes at a 70 percent rate. He could start this year at AAA Iowa in the rotation or he could relieve. If it’s the latter, his control might move him to the front of the line, maybe even in front of Mekkes, who the Cubs would like to see issuing fewer walks.
With the amount of starting pitching depth the Cubs have in the lower parts of the system, there will surely be a few more who transform into relief roles next year. We’ll see more of that in what is gearing up to be the most competitive minor league camp the Cubs have had in recent memory as all those pitchers try to earn spots.