Chicago Cubs pitching prospect Adbert Alzolay ended his extended spring training and joined Triple-A Iowa earlier in the week. The move might seem small, but fans should start paying close attention to how he is performing.
His first action of the season on Friday was stellar. Alzolay took a perfect game into the fifth inning and a no-hitter into the sixth as he notched his first win of the year in a 7-1 victory over the Nashville Sounds. Through six innings and 75 pitches of work, he allowed only one run on two hits and walked two hitters.
The 23-year-old Venezuelan right-hander is ranked as the Cubs top prospect by MLB Pipeline and has the electric stuff that screams ace potential. He boasts a fastball that can reach 98 mph and his improving curveball can hit the low-80s.
During the 2017 season, Alzolay posted a 7-1 record and a 2.98 ERA in 15 starts with Class-A Myrtle Beach. He followed that up with seven starts for Double-A Tennessee, posting a 3.03 ERA in just over 32 innings of work.
While the Cubs farm system has yielded plenty of great position players currently on the big league roster, homegrown pitching has eluded Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. In fact, all the arms on the current active roster were acquired via trade or free agency.
So far the best pitcher drafted in the Theo-and-Jed era appears to be Zack Godley, but he was sent to the Arizona Diamondbacks as part of a trade for Miguel Montero in 2014. In fact, Rob Zastryzny is the only pitcher to be drafted and developed by the Cubs who has made any incremental impact for the Major League ballclub.
Zastryzny was a second-round pick in the 2013 draft. While he spent part of the 2016 and 2017 seasons in the Cubs bullpen, he hasn’t made enough of an impression to stick around.
Alzolay, who was signed as an international free agent in November 2012, has become a rising star in the minors. And he definitely projects to have a much bigger impact than any arm developed in the Cubs farm system under Theo and Jed.
You can expect the hard-throwing righty to make his way to Chicago before the season’s end. While he could see some action as a spot starter, he can definitely provide value as a middle-reliever. That role not only would help him adjust to major league bats, but it also would add another valuable flamethrower to a stacked bullpen.
No matter what his role becomes this season, Alzolay’s arrival could help change the narrative that the Cubs can’t develop pitchers in-house. You can’t deny that the organization has been trying to put a greater emphasis on finding and growing young arms.
In 2017, the team drafted Alex Lange (No. 5 team prospect) and Brandon Little (No. 6) in the first and second rounds, respectively. International signings like Oscar De La Cruz (No. 3) and Jose Albertos (No. 4) continue to impress scouts, projecting as big league arms out of the pen or in the rotation in the near future.
The Cubs also shook up player development roles this past offseason, adding Jim Benedict as a pitching consultant and Jim Hickey as the pitching coach on Joe Maddon’s staff. Benedict was hired to work closely with Senior VP of player development and amateur scouting Jason McLeod to revamp the organization’s pitching philosophy.
Both are laying out a game plan to help turn their minor league arms into major assets, whether that’s with the big league roster or as key pieces in a big trade or trades.
That’s why Alzolay’s development is so crucial. He represents the first potential domino to fall in what the Cubs hope to be a growing number of arms in the pipeline.