The Reliever of the Year competition was not much of a competition. It, like the Starting Pitcher of the Year, was also unanimous as Jeremiah Estrada took all 3 first place votes. However, it was quite the competition for second and third place as Zac Leigh and Danis Correa both had the same amount of points while Bailey Horn wound up in fourth and Riley Martin came in fifth.
Estrada’s ascension was quick and painless. After spending most of his early Cub career as a starter on the injured list in 2018 and 2019, Estrada busted out last year at Myrtle Beach as a reliever as he had a 1.57 ERA in 23.0 innings. After overcoming a bad case of COVID last fall, Estrada came back in 2022 and played at four levels, something we had not seen from any Cubs prospect in decades.
Estrada made mincemeat out of South Bend, Tennessee, Iowa, and even got in a few games in Chicago. His MiLB season saw him throw 48.1 IP with 78 Ks and an ERA of 1.30 with a batting average against of .186 – all outstanding numbers!. In Chicago, he threw just 5.2 innings with 8 Ks in 5 games.
Now armed with a 40-man spot, Estrada has a legitimate shot of making the ball club coming out of spring training.
But he’s not the only arm who could be ready or in Chicago next summer.
Our two runners up could make it there next year.
Danis Correa could get their first as he, like Estrada, could have a 40-man spot soon. If not protected, some team will take him in the Rule 5 Draft. This year, Correa started out at Tennessee where he was vicious with a 1.93 ERA in 40 innings. When he got to Iowa, he struggled quite a bit. That 99 mph fastball wasn’t enough. He only played there a month as he threw 16.2 innings with a 5.40 ERA but he struck out 24.
As for Zac Leigh, he could be ready for Chicago sooner than we think. Currently, he is out in Arizona working on some things in the AFL that could shorten his tenure at Tennessee next spring and get him to Iowa, and possibly Chicago, sooner! This year, he got a late start, and after a couple of rough outings, he was dominant at South Bend with a 2.35 ERA including an ERA under 1 his last 9 outings.
For Bailey Horn, he is the most surprising reliever of the bunch. After working as a starter in 2021 after coming over from the White Sox, Horn showed up May 1 with South Bend as a reliever as that role fit him to a T. He had 74 Ks in 51.2 innings split between South Bend and Tennessee. Horn has been nails in the AFL for Mesa in October and that could get him to Iowa to start 2023. Well, that, and he’s left-handed.
Speaking of lefty relievers, Riley Martin also made our list in 5th place. He dominated Myrtle Beach in April, struggled at South Bend in May, improved in June, and then went on the Development List in July and worked up a new slider that contrasted his curve as he dominated in August and September at South and was a key part of the title team. After that was over, Martin went to Tennessee to try and help the Smokies win a title, but they fell short. Out of all 5 of these names, Martin is a bit further behind but that doesn’t mean he can’t catch up quickly.
When 2023 comes around, seeing which of these players are going to make it to Chicago in the next year will be fun.