Picture of Jeremiah Estrada by Larry Kave/Myrtle Beach Pelicans
Out of all the awards, this is my favorite award to hand out. Relievers don’t get a lot of publicity when it comes to the prospect world. But they are an integral part of any organization and play just as important role as anyone else on the team. Coming in and being able to shut down the opposition is an acquired skill that takes a short memory along with some serious intensity to get the job done.
Over the past couple of days, we’ve looked at hitters and starting pitchers, let’s see who everybody here at North Side Bound picks to be the reliever of the year.
Last Year’s Winner – Ben Leeper
Greg Huss – The Iowa Cubs will have an absolutely loaded bullpen this year. Ethan Roberts, Ben Leeper, and Cayne Ueckert will all be featured in the late innings in Des Moines. The problem is, if they perform well enough, they will be in Chicago too long to win this award. Instead I’ll go with a guy that is talented enough to start the year in Iowa but will instead probably start in Double-A: Brandon Hughes. In my opinion, Hughes is the best lefty reliever in the system and I think he’ll put up the numbers to support that — especially at a level he’s too good for.
Greg Zumach – I really believe in a lot of relievers in this system. It’s clear the Cubs are making strides in building a quality bullpen from within. I have to give a massive shoutout to Bailey Reid, who I’ll predict finishes as the reliever of the year. He’s made improvements this offseason and comes in with clear goals. His stuff overmatched hitters last year and he’s primed to do so again in 2022.
Jimmy Nelligan – Every year a new Cubs reliever seems to come from near obscurity to a dominant year out of the bullpen. This year that guy is going to be Frankie Scalzo Jr. Scalzo Jr. was drafted last year in the 14th round out of Grand Canyon University where he was the closer and comes to the Cubs already with experience pitching in high leverage situations out of the pen. He features a mid-90’s fastball and a good, perhaps plus, spiked curveball, and he can throw strikes. If Scalzo Jr. can add another tick or two to his fastball, the Cubs could have another high 90’s plus curveball arm in their bullpen.
Todd Johnson – In every category this week. it is extremely hard to pick just one player. These are good problems to have for the Cubs as it shows their depth. My preseason reliever of the year, though, is Jeremiah Estrada. After a successful 2021 campaign in Myrtle Beach, Estrada should be ready to go for 2022 and I’m pretty pumped to see it. After missing 2 and 1/2 years, Estrada rebounded last year and was just dominating in a short 30+ inning stint in Myrtle Beach. Using a changeup, a curve, and a fastball, he made mincemeat out of the Low-A East. I expect him to do the same in South Bend although I might not get to see him very much as he will probably be in Tennessee by mid-summer.
Really love what Brandon Hughes has done in his short time as a pitcher. Plus his arm should be pretty fresh just having turned to full time pitching the last couple of seasons.
I think I read that Palencia may be used in bullpen as closer. He’s got a shot for this, too.