I’m not sure if it’s cologne or what, but flamethrowing righty Dillon Maples smells really good out there on the mound. You can tell because he gets so many whiffs. Get it? Because “whiffs” is a double entendre. Thanks, I’m here all week.
The question with Maples has never been one of stuff. Dude can touch triple digits on the radar gun and he’s got what may be the most electric slider/cutter in the game. But when he’s not able to locate the fastball, opposing hitters can sit on the slider and hope to catch a hanger like that trooper in Rounders.
To wit, Maples has struck out 335 batters across 284.1 minor league innings (10.6 K/9) and has K’d 175 over his last 102 innings (15.44 K/9). However, he’s walked a total of 192 (6.08 BB/9), 78 of which have come since 2017 (6.71 BB/9). And over his 10.2 major league innings, he’s struck out 20 (16.89 K/9) with 11 walks (9.29 BB/9) and a pair of homers allowed.
With full knowledge that spring numbers are suspect at best and two outings are not nearly enough of a sample size from which to draw conclusions, Maples’ early numbers are really encouraging. He’s struck out four batters, which is to be expected, but he hasn’t walked anyone yet. That last bit is particularly notable given how pitchers often struggle with command of their secondaries at the start of spring.
There’s also the matter of umpires apparently squeezing starting pitchers in general, but that’s too subjective to use as the basis for anything at this point.
Even though Maples pitches backwards and it’s the heater that has given him fits over the years, I’ll take my cautious optimism wherever I can find it. His ability to develop enough consistency to be a reliable option in the bullpen would be a tremendous boon to the Cubs this season and beyond. Most of that challenge is physical, but the mental aspect can’t be overlooked either.
Maples went from almost walking away from the game (which is even worse than almost walking every batter) to blasting through three levels of the minors and making his Cubs debut in 2017. Now it’s a matter of finding that center point after those wild swings. He has all the tools, he just needs to figure out how to harness them and stay within himself out there on the mound.
If he does that, the only wild swings will come from the unfortunate hitters he faces.