Sheldon Reed – Picture by Todd Johnson
There were lots of cool stories this year when it came to relievers. It began with Ethan Roberts in spring training, continued in May with Brandon Hughes, added Michael Rucker and Erich Uelmen succeeding at the major league level to the story, and then Jeremih Estrada tore through the system dominating at three levels. But when it came to reliever storylines we could’ve gone into more detail with throughout the year, there were a few key things we wish we could’ve done in more detail on or explained a little better throughout the course of the season.
To begin, Sheldon Reed and Adam Laskey dominated in the bullpen from Myrtle Beach in April and May. They were a big part of the success of the Pelicans along with several other pitchers who basically turned every game into a five inning affair. But when they were both promoted to South Bend, it was not an easy transition. I talked a little bit about that at some point back in July, but I really didn’t go into the struggles that Reed and Laskey had and how they turned it around to become dependable parts down the stretch.
I would talk to both of them occasionally in Beloit, Peoria, and Appleton over the course of the summer, but it wasn’t until August when the two of them began to click out of the bullpen. Laskey has improved a lot, he’s now becoming a much more stable middle relief guy who provides a lefty option out of the pen.
For Sheldon Reed, he’s been lights out since the beginning of August. He’s allowed one run the past five weeks and has become one of the de facto closers as South Bend tries to make a playoff run. I love to watch him throw his 95-97 mph fastball that he mixes with a nasty slider. He’s not going to need much more at this level. Double-A is a different story.
One other story that did not get a lot of play this year was the rise of Blake Whitney at Tennessee and how he earned a promotion to Iowa where he flashed his ability to locate a low 90s fastball with a nasty slider. He’s had some up-and-down moments, but he’s probably a guy the Cubs might consider for the pen at some point next year. He’s probably in line behind Ben Leeper. He’s going to be helping out the bullpen for the Smokies the rest of the season as their bullpen is a little depleted and South Bend doesn’t really have anybody it wants to send up because they’re in the playoffs as well.
The return of reliever Ben Hecht is something we talked about some in the player of the day posts. He got player of the day a couple weeks ago and then he was the reliever of the week on September 4. But it’s not been an easy return or road back. It’s been a bit of a struggle for him as he tries to get his feel back after basically missing two and a half years. He missed all of 2021 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. It’s been a long road to recovery but it’s good that he’s ending the year on a good note.
Maybe the most underreported story at any of the full season affiliates has been the return of CD Pelham who the Cubs picked up from the Rangers back in November of 2019. He didn’t pitch at all in 2021 and it took a while for him to get going this year. When he got healthy, the lefty reliever pitched really well at Tennessee in July and earned a promotion to Iowa. It’s unclear what his contract status is. He could be a free agent or the Cubs may have him for another year depending on if they picked up the remaining years of his minor-league contract or they signed him to a successor deal. But he’s a guy who’s vicious out there; he’s an intimidating presence who might be a guy to watch next spring at Iowa.
When it comes to the rookie leagues, they tend to get the shaft when it comes to news and hype. This year, reliever Tomy (not a typo) Sanchez just dominated the Arizona Complex League. There’s a few pictures of him floating around the Internet, but I have not seen a video of him just yet. I thought, just based on the statistics, that he should have gotten called up to Myrtle Beach at the end of the ACL season but he did not. I’m looking forward to seeing him next year in the Carolina League.
At some point next month, we’re going to revisit some of these guys when we do our storylines to follow for 2023. Some of the players from the last three days might sneak in as some of the top guys to watch for 2023.