Dominic Hambley – Picture by Rich Biesterfeld
When the Cubs Arizona Complex League team in Mesa takes the field in the middle of June, one of the more intriguing things to find out will be just exactly who is going to be in the rotation for the young Cubs. Last year, the Cubs took a lot of prep pitchers in the Draft and we could see them get a shot on the mound that first month. However, It is unclear at this time who else will be in the rotation. More than likely, those players will be coming from the Dominican Republic summer league teams of last year. As extended spring training begins in April, we should know more.
Dominic Hambley, Erian Rodriguez, and Wilson Cunningham could be three of the starters manager Edgar Perez will use every week. All three were taken out of high school by the Cubs last summer in the 2021 draft . We will get to see just how good they are, even in short stints. As the summer goes on, they will be stretched out to hopefully five innings by the end of August.
Then again, Hambley might never see the light of day in Mesa. He might work his way to Myrtle Beach before the season begins in Mesa. I would not be surprised to see that happen as he quite renowned for his work ethic and his rather large frame is built to be a starter quickly. The only issue is whether his pitches are worthy enough.
As for Rodriguez and Cunningham, they can clearly write their names down in ink.
Two other young possibilities for the rotation include Johzan Oquendo and Elian Almanzar who were both taken in the 2019 draft as youngsters. Oquendo pitched well at times in relief last year in Mesa while Almanzar struggled. It’ll be interesting to see if the Cubs keep both of them in the bullpen or try to work them into the rotation at some point.
One player we could also see is lefty Joel Machado who only made two starts last year before the Cubs shut him down. However, Machado was impressive in the extremely small sample size. But that’s all he’s ever played since signing as an international free agent in 2018, the same class as Richard Gallardo. Machado is basically now two levels behind having not pitch at all in 2019. Yet, Machado is only 20-years-old and has avoided the knife for all we know.
After that, it’s anybody’s guess who could be a starter in the complex league.
There are several guys heading north from the Dominican Summer League who could make a case for a Mesa rotation spot.
For me, Lefty Carlos Garcia was going to be the pitcher to watch this summer in Mesa. However a positive test for steroids pretty much put his 2022 season in jeopardy if he is assigned to Mesa. The Cubs technically could assign him to Myrtle Beach to start the year and put him on the restricted list there for his 80 game punishment. Then, Garcia still might be able to get in a couple of rehab starts in July or so. It’s a small technicality that could allow him to still pitch in the second half. .
Emanuel de la Cruz is another name to keep an eye on when it comes to players coming north from the Dominican. de la Cruz made several starts last year and put up an impressive stat line with an ERA of 2.14 in 46.1 IP. In addition, he struck out 43 hitters in that timeframe while walking only 11 and he turns 20 in April.
Christian Rojas, who put up a 3.38 ERA last summer in Boca Chica, is an interesting arm as well. The now 19-year-old threw 37.1 innings and struck out 39. Oliver Roque is another guy who pitched mostly in relief but had an ERA of under one and he made a couple of starts down the stretch. In two 3 inning games, he did not allow a single run.
Kennedy Delgado, Zhiorman Imbriano, and Manino Santy are also possible options. The list is hard to put together depending on who improved over the course of the offseason and spring. .
We will hopefully get some word soon from Arizona Phil about who is doing well and who is not in extended spring training games long before the complex league begins. When the regular minor league players leave camp in early April, these young kids in Mesa will be all about getting instruction, improving their weight, and focusing on being stateside for what will hopefully be a long season.