On September 1st the Chicago Cubs promoted right-handed pitcher Dillon Maples to the major league roster. Maples’ career almost ended in 2016 but he made massive and frankly unanticipated progress this season, having one of the most dominant campaigns of any minor league reliever. Let’s take a quick look.
Maples was drafted by the Cubs in the 14th round in 2011 out of high school in Southern Pines, North Carolina. The draft slot was deceptive: he was a first-round talent but fell in the draft due to his University of North Carolina commitment. The Cubs spent $2,500,000 to sign him.
Used initially as a starter, Maples struggled with nagging injuries and command problems brought on by mechanical inconsistency and loss of confidence. 2014 was particularly awful as he posted a 9.00 ERA in 28 innings between rookie ball and the Northwest League.
He converted to relief in 2015 with better results but was still mediocre more often than not. By 2016 he had lost his love for the game and almost quit: he actually called his dad to inform him that he was retiring but his father talked him out of it.
2017 was completely different: Maples posted a 2.27 ERA in 63 innings between High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A, with 100 strikeouts and just 44 hits allowed. He also gave up 37 walks, a bit high, but overall the season was a huge success and worlds-beyond anything he’d done since high school. And now here he is in the majors.
Maples is listed at 6-2, 225 pounds, age 25, born May 2nd, 1992. He’s always had a good arm, featuring a 94-98 MPH fastball (with reported peaks at 100) but struggled with his secondary pitches.
The difference this year was the addition of an improved slider/cutter to off-set the fastball. He also has a curveball which has varied between plus and poor at various points of his career but has been more consistent this season. When he’s right, Maples has three plus pitches and generates strikeouts as well as a large number of ground balls.
Perhaps the biggest change this season has been simple confidence: Jesse Rogers interviewed Maples for ESPN.com earlier this month, with Maples telling Rogers that he’s learned to set aside anxiety on the mound.
"When I play basketball I just play, talking trash, just having fun. I was competing in every other facet of my life except on the mound. I decided I can't do that. I have to bring this attitude to the mound. Once I did that, I started getting results."
Maples has struggled with his command since being promoted, walking four in his first 3.1 innings of MLB work, but he’s also fanned seven. Given the progress he’s made this year, he’ll get plenty of opportunity.