Michael Arias – Picture by Todd Johnson

In the 2010s, the Cubs struggled to produce waves of pitchers from the Dominican and Arizona leagues. Now, in 2023, guys are getting through and in large numbers in the lower part of the system. 

Let’s look at the number of international free agent pitchers the Cubs signed that are at a full season affiliate, as well as in Mesa. Let’s also break it down between starting pitchers and relievers. This list does not include players signed as international free agents by other teams like Carlos Guzman or Daniel Palencia. It does not include Hispanic players born in the US or Puerto Rico that the Cubs took in the draft or acquired in trades or the Rule 5 Draft. These are only guys that the Cubs signed as international free agents.

Iowa – (2) -Manny Rodriguez and Brailyn Marquez are the only two Cubs signings on the roster.

Tennessee – (3) – 2 starters and 1 reliever – Richard Gallardo and Manny Espinoza start, and Danis Correa relieves

South Bend – (7) – 3 starters, 4 relievers – Luis Devers, Manny Espinoza, and Michael Arias start while Angel Gonzalez, Eduarniel Nunez, Didier Vargas, and Yovanny Cruz all relieve but Cruz has been on the IL all season and Vargas just went on.

Myrtle Beach – (9) 1 starter, 8 relievers. And when you actually dissect Myrtle Beach’s group of 9, only six began the year with Myrtle Beach as some were still in extended spring training.  Marino Santy starts while Angel Hernandez, Starlyn Pichardo, Scarlyn Lebron, Jose Romero, Kenyi Perez, and Yovanny Cabrera relieve. Jose Mendez and  Kevin Valdez are on the IL.

Mesa – (14) There are 14 international reagent pitchers on the squad. Most of them are relievers and there are currently only 3 of them with starting experience this year. Mesa’s list includes – Gabriel Agrazal, Juan Bello, Carlos Garcia, Joel Machado, Gleiber Morales, Gregori Montano, Wilme Mora, Eligio Paredes, Luis A. Reyes, Wilber Rodriguez, Yenrri Rojas, Joel Sierra, Tomy Sanchez, and Freilyn Silverio. And of those 14, 6 were assigned to Mesa last year.

When you start projecting these guys forward, a couple of them in Mesa probably will see Myrtle Beach later in the year. A few of them will start in the Pelicans’ rotation next year, but I would not be surprised to see a large portion of them double up again next year in Arizona, especially starters like Freilyn Silverio, and possibly Gabriel Agrazal. Then again, instruction could make some adjustments that changes their profile and development. The same could happen this winter, or next spring, settling them up for a full season affiliate gig to start 2024.

But what is causing this large influx of international pitchers that are going to be trickling up to South Bend and Tennessee in the next year?

I spoke with Carlos Chantres, one of the Cubs roving pitching instructors, about the processes the Cubs are doing to breed success with these young pitchers.

The biggest thing right now is that once we get them, we put them through weight, conditioning, and lifting programs. They come in very skinny. There’s not much resources down there [to use on their own before they sign]. So when we get them, we feed them pretty good. We get them in the weight room, we get them in the throwing program. And we start developing their process.

Clayton Mortensen, South Bend’s pitching coach, has a unique view since he saw many of the arms last year as the Pelicans’ pitching coach. Clayton concurred with Carlos. There was a half a season this year where many of the arms Mortensen coached last year were still in Myrtle Beach while he was in South Bend this spring. And Mortensen noticed huge changes in just a half a year when some of them were promoted to South Bend.

Clayton added this about Michael Arias’ changes in just a half year:

I think the biggest thing is strength training….You can look at Michael Arias and you can look at him on the mound. He has changed physically, a big-time leg presence, he is a lot better just in his overall stature, and he was moving better allowing him to stay in the zone. It was really fun to watch him. He made adjustments in the off-season and really hammered that out and he had a lot of success down in Myrtle Beach and I am really excited to see him get in a game and see what he looks like in person.

This interview was conducted before Michael’s first start with South Bend.

When it came to signing mostly 18-year-old pitchers lately, I asked Carlos if that was by design and it was not. He explained the process to me:

It’s just because other teams are down there as well and they see the same guys with you and they’re a little more aggressive sometimes. But our scouting department really focuses on athleticism and arm strength and all that and the way the arm works. And we do a good job in getting those kids.

I am excited to see how well these young pitchers continue to pitch the next couple of years. Just based on how they are doing in Myrtle Beach, it should be a blast to watch them move up through the system.