It was not long ago that the Chicago Cubs farm system was the envy of every team in the league. A few years later, it’s hardly recognizable.
There are still a few pieces that have yet to graduate or have not been traded away. It seems like we have been waiting forever for names like Duane Underwood and, more recently, Oscar De La Cruz to show us something. Now there is a changing of the guard.
The Cubs farm system was never short on firepower at the plate. Now, though not elite, they enter 2018 with some young guns on the mound that are worth following this season.
Adbert Alzolay, RHP
Alzolay had his best season in 2017, reaching Double-A for the first time in his career. In fact, he hurled five innings of shutout ball in his Tennessee debut, striking out 10 and walking one. He didn’t allow more than three earned runs in any start after a four-run outing on May 16, the most he allowed all season.
Now 23, the right-hander’s best pitch is his fastball. He moves quickly and aggressively, pounding the strike zone and going after hitters. Views on his curveball are mixed, some believing its inconsistencies make it average, while others see it as a plus pitch. There are no questions about his changeup, and if he cannot harness it, a career in the bullpen may be his fate.
Alzolay went 7-4 over two levels last season, posting a respectable 2.99 ERA (his FIP just a tad higher) and 1.10 WHIP. He won’t strike out a ton, just 108 in 114.1 innings, but doesn’t walk much either. He could benefit by missing more bats because he’s been much more of a fly ball pitcher throughout his career. In a game of increased launch angles, that could prove dangerous.
John Sickels ranked him the top prospect in the Cubs system. He’s certainly one to watch in 2018.
Jose Albertos, RHP
Albertos was signed in 2015 but has been eased into things with concerns around continued forearm struggles. Last season he pitched more regularly than ever, and he was impressive.
The 19-year-old reached the Northwest League and was successful thanks primarily to a plus-fastball-changeup combo. His fastball moves, consistently hitting in the mid-90s with reports of it touching the upper 90s. Most feel his changeup is his best offering right now, which is impressive for a teenager. His slider is inconsistent and its development will be key in reaching his ceiling, which could be a No. 2 starter.
There haven’t been any concerns about his delivery, which seems easy and advanced in most reports. There are concerns about his durability, and 2018 will be the year to see if he can put together a full, consistent season.
Alex Lange, RHP
The LSU product’s debut wasn’t fantastic, but his stuff is nonetheless intriguing. Coming off a bit of a longer season, pitching all the way to the finals of the College World Series, Lange was able to hurl nine innings in his pro debut.
While he was a bit hittable, he proved he could miss bats at the next level, striking out 13 in his first four career starts. He also only walked three. It was hardly enough to pass judgment, but his strong season with LSU in the SEC and CWS (10-5, 2.97 ERA in 19 starts, striking out 150 in 124 innings) leaves much in which to be excited.
There are some concerns with Lange. His delivery has always been questioned, sometimes seeming forced and causing him to overthrow. Nearly every report shows a significant drop in velocity last season as well, hitting more in the lower 90s than usual.
That said, Lange’s fastball-curveball combo is ready to climb the ladder. His curve was arguably the best in his draft class, and when his fastball is on, he strikes out batters with ease. Lange didn’t have to use his changeup much in college, but if he wants to remain in the rotation, he’ll have to harness it. The more it develops, the better it could make his fastball.
There are already some saying that Lange is destined for the bullpen and the Cubs should focus on his heater and breaker. There’s still plenty of hope that he can be a big-league starter, and this season could answer a lot of questions behind that.