Justin Steele Optioned to AAA Following Activation from IL, Possibly to Stretch for Starting Role

Justin Steele‘s return was supposed to provide reinforcement for the Cubs’ pitching staff and it still might, just not right away and maybe not in the bullpen. The lefty has been activated from the IL and optioned to Triple-A Iowa, where he’s been for the last two weeks on a rehab assignment after injuring his hamstring in late May. Steele’s first two outings were pretty standard, just an inning apiece with two days between, but he appears to be stretching out since.

His third rehab appearance came on July 3, when he needed just 24 pitches to retire seven Indianapolis Indians. He got three days off after that, then pitched faced 12 batters and threw 47 pitches over 2.2 innings against the St. Paul Saints on Wednesday. That’s his longest outing of the season and gives a strong indication that he’s remaining in Iowa to continue building his stamina.

The Cubs activating him the day after he had made that long appearance is another indication, since he’s now down for a few days. If they really wanted him for the ‘pen, they’d have waited a couple days or activated him before that longer effort.

With Jake Arrieta‘s future in flux and the distinct possibility that at least one other starter is traded by the end of the month, the Cubs are going to have roles to fill in the rotation in the second half. So while I personally believe Steele’s stuff plays a little better as a reliever, it’s absolutely worth it to see if he can be effective in a starting role. If the Cubs can’t compete for the division title, they may as well see what they’ve got.

That’s not entirely accurate because they know what they’ve got in Steele. Now it’s more a matter of seeing if he can put it all together over longer stints.

“The upside is legitimate as a left-hander that’s really athletic with a great arm,” Matt Dorey, the Cubs’ senior director of player development, said at Cubs Convention in 2020. “He has a chance for two plus pitches, the changeup has a chance to come as well.

“It’s a matter of just keeping healthy and having an extended amount of time to work through some delivery issues.”

Update: Well would you look at that…

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