Burl Carraway picture by Todd Johnson
To be quite frank, the Cubs relief corps is easily becoming the most impactful position group in the Cubs’ system. They might not have as much potential as the outfield group, but the relievers have turned it on in the past year. We’ve seen Justin Steele and Keegan Thompson make it to the majors and succeed along with Manny Rodriguez and Scott Effross. This year we should see Ben Leeper, Cayne Ueckert, Bryan Hudson, Ethan Roberts, and Brandon Hughes get some time in Chicago, albeit at different times.
As for the All-Star team relievers, they will be in the system for most of the year. There are plenty of names to discuss. What I like most about them is that they are also different. They all throw hard but they do it in a variety of ways which is going to be beneficial at some point. But in trying to pick a bullpen, I had some issues.
1. There are some starters who are probably going get bumped to the pen who are not going to be on this list now but could make one of the monthly All-Star teams at some point. We are also going to see some guys come out of nowhere or may seem to be nowhere at Myrtle Beach and just dominate.
2. The depth of the Cubs have in their relief corps right now is incredible and there are some new guys that are coming into the system for their first full year. They are going to push their teammates to compete with them.
With Leeper, Roberts, Hughes, Hudson, and Ueckert probably heading to Chicago at some point this summer, I left them out of the discussion. Scott Kobos could be headed to the starting rotation and so that shrinks the pool of candidates immensely in the upper levels of the system.
However, there are still plenty of other arms available for all star selection.
Here they are:
Burl Carraway now has a slider that could change the fortunes of his professional life. In fact, in instructs, that’s all he threw and he just dominated. Combine that slider with an upper 90s fastball and a big lefty curve and Double-A hitters are not going to know what they are seeing.
Eduarniel Nunez came on strong last year at South Bend. He started the year at Myrtle Beach and then in August he did not allow run in his first month as a South Bend Cub. He’s got some serious velocity and spin rates that other pitchers dream about and he looks like he’s close to putting it all together.
Sheldon Reed missed a year after signing as a non-drafted free agent out of Clemson in 2020. In a short stint last summer in Myrtle Beach, he really impressed as he flashed a mid 90s fastball and complemented it with a nice breaker.
Frankie Scalzo is going to be one guy to watch this summer. Hopefully, he starts the year in South Bend him after getting some work in last year at Myrtle Beach. The former Grand Canyon University closer looks tailor-made for professional baseball with a mid to upper 90s fastball.
In 20+ innings last summer, Jeremiah Estrada reaffirmed his talent as a pitcher after missing basically 2 and 1/2 seasons. He flashed a devastating 12 to 6 curveball and a nice change that has some arm side run. I’m excited to see him at South Bend as well.
Looking back, I felt like I mentioned Zac Leigh and his talents almost every day on Twitter the last three weeks of the 2021 season. I got to see him first in Beloit and then in the Quad Cities and I was just blown away with his 98 mile an hour heater and breaking ball/sliders. More than likely, he will be with Estrada in South Bend. Manager Lance Rymel is not going to have a problem with his pen.
Danis Correa stayed healthy last year. He flashed upper 90s stuff all year at Myrtle Beach and South Bend. He should be at South Bend to start the year.
The final piece to this 8-man bullpen is none other than Bailey Reid. Reid had an up and down year but he struck out a lot of guys. In fact, he lead all relievers in the system in Ks. This year, Reid is reunited with his college coach Tony Cougoule, at least to start the year, at South Bend. I am intrigued to see what he’s been working to go with his fastball and wipeout slider. He got a lot of chase with the slider last summer, but Midwest League hitters are a little more disciplined. Maybe a cutter or curve from the same arm slot would be helpful to disguise the slider.
I have not heard whether Ben Hecht is going to be ready to start the year with an affiliate coming off of Tommy John Surgery. If he was, he would bump someone off this list.
I am really interested in seeing how much some of the guys the Cubs took and signed last summer in the draft and nondrafted free agency improve over the winter. Riley Martin would occasionally post videos of himself working out and getting stronger. The lefty from southern Illinois and then Quincy University is one guy that I am really pulling for to break out.
Tyler Santana was impressive in his short stint in South Bend last summer. He did not embrace technology a lot in college but he’s really taken to it as a pro. How that plays out over this winter and what kind of pitcher he is in April could be quite different from what we saw in August and September. Word is that the Cubs are stretching him out to be a starter this spring.
Chase Watkins did not pitch at a full season affiliate last year after being drafted. But the big lefty could slide over to the rotation or stay in the bullpen. He’s got the build and the frame to withstand the grind of 140 game season, but he’s also got the stuff that really plays up coming out of the bullpen. It’s going to be a tough call for the Cubs brass.
Gabriel Jaramillo is another arm who did very well at Myrtle Beach last summer before arriving in South Bend. Jaramillo can reach almost mid 90s is a quick study who has really good command and control of his pitches.
Joe Nahas should be a starter. Otherwise, he would have made this list.
Word is Jake Reindl is looking much improved this spring and Dauris Valdez is throwing well after missing most of 2021. In addition, recently signed Kyle Johnson, formerly of the Yankees system, is one to watch. The former OF from Purdue converted to pitching.
I could go on and on as it seems like the Cubs have an endless supply of arms now.
Both Jack Patterson and Michael McAvene will be back at some point this year. Whether they start in the bullpen or in the rotation is still up in the air.
We will be back tomorrow with our roundtable discussion on who we picked for our Hitter of the Year.