Dillon Maples has yet to make a live appearance for the Cubs this spring, which is somewhat disappointing because many have been hoping he can finally put it all together and prove that he’s ready to stick. Not that a few spring outings can say that definitively, but we’ve already seen several bullpen hopefuls make multiple appearances. Even some minor leaguers who have no shot at the roster have pitched more than once.
Maples has been throwing at a full go, so his absence isn’t a matter of health. A quick look at his live BP session Sunday morning reveals that his delayed debut may actually be a matter of adjusting to new mechanics. Take a look the video below from Mark Gonzales of the Tribune and we’ll discuss briefly on the other side.
Dillion Maples’ live BP session pic.twitter.com/qvBsKVtuGM
— Mark Gonzales (@MDGonzales) March 1, 2020
Though he only throws two pitches in this clip, it’s apparent that his arm angle is slightly different than what we’ve seen from him in the past. Even allowing for the camera angle and limited sample, it appears as though he’s throwing with a lower three-quarter motion and may have simplified his overall delivery. He comes right out the stretch with a quick arm stroke and the ball explodes toward the plate.
I wasn’t certain at first whether I was just seeing things, perhaps based on my frequent references to Scott Effross being pushed to adopt a sidearm delivery, but our own Todd Johnson seconded my observation.
His forearm used to be at a right angle to his upper arm. Now that angle is about 135-150 degrees
— Todd ⚾️? (@CubsCentral08) March 1, 2020
Gonzales further confirmed on Twitter that the move is noticeably different in person, adding that “sometimes his front leg [is] more bent from stretch position.” That particular detail isn’t as easy to see in the video, and any real comparison to his previous mechanics is made difficult by the opposite orientation of game cameras. With that in mind, let’s file these observations away for later.
Sources: Dillon Maples fine-tuned his wicked slider at Hogwarts pic.twitter.com/c3yyfADpuD
— Cubs Talk (@NBCSCubs) June 28, 2018
David Ross didn’t address any specific changes, but did talk to reporters in Mesa about the plan for Maples going forward.
“That’s his second live (BP session) and you’ll probably see him do games here coming up,” the manager explained. “Just his progression as he’s come into camp and what they’ve lined up for him. Looked really good.”
Assuming these new mechanics are indeed more than just an optical illusion, they were no doubt implemented to improve Maples’ ability to find the plate on a more consistent basis. Possessed of some of the filthiest raw stuff in the game, the righty is unhittable when he’s on his game. He’s also prone to completely falling apart and losing the ability to throw strikes, so it’s been impossible for the Cubs to rely on him to this point.
A lot of that hinges on the mental side of the game, as Maples has admitted to suffering from a lack of confidence in the past. Relievers are often impacted the most in that regard because their outings are so brief. In addition to serving a very real purpose, perhaps new mechanics can also act in a capacity similar to Dumbo’s feather by helping to level out those inherent emotional swings.
If Maples is able to dial in the command, even if it means backing off of the slider or fastball just a little, he could be a dude. And not just any dude, but like, “Duuuuuuuuude.” That’s blog-ese for an excellent pitcher.
Ross on Maples (good chance to win job) and Darvish (still no Opening Day announcement) pic.twitter.com/hUQjO0iDGU
— Gordon Wittenmyer (@GDubCub) March 1, 2020
“He’s got a great shot, got a really good chance,” Ross said about Maples making the 26-man roster. “He’s got really good stuff, one of the best breaking balls in our organization and has looked really good so far attacking the zone.
“He’s got some really nasty stuff…when he commands it well.”
Now let’s just hope Maples forces us all to remove that kind of qualifying language from our descriptions of him moving forward.