Updated: Dec 9, 2019
Every Year Thed maintains a certain amount of bodies in the minors who can potentially come up to the MLB level when the bullpen needs a fresh arm. 2019 was no exception, with many players figuratively riding the bus back and forth between the minors and the show. Some were prospects kept on as depth, some were offseason fliers. Today, I will take a look at some of the depth the Cubs had for 2019, which were hit or miss.
Alec Mills: Stashed prospect who had been back and forth with the team.
9 games pitched, 4 starts. 2.75 ERA in 36 IP. 4.19 FIP with a 1.167 WHIP.
Overall, a decent season when the Cubs needed him. He limited baserunners, and his spot starts helped fill the gap when the Cubs needed a body. He was good, and showed promise going forward.
Tim Collins: Signed as a free agent in spring training.
9 relief appearances, 3.12 ERA. 4.83 FIP with a 1.385 WHIP. 4.2 K/9 (Worst on the team)
Collins had a problem missing bats, but wasn't quite punished for it. The FIP and poor K rate was indicative of this. He allowed an average amount of baserunners, but ultimately wasn't killed for it. He completed the figurative tightrope walk, but am not sure I'd like to see him get another chance in 2020. <He was also adorably tiny, which we loved.--Staci>
Kyle Ryan: Offseason signing.
Signed in November, 73 games, 61 IP, 3.54 ERA, 3.85 FIP, 1.377 WHIP, .7 HR/9, 8.6 K/9.
Called up April 6th, he stuck with the team all year and became one of the few stable pillars coming out of the bullpen. He allowed a fair amount of baserunners, but kept the ball in the park very well. Coming off 2 lost seasons, he re-established himself as a decent pen arm. This was a great find by Thed.
Rowan Wick: Offseason trade in November 2018.
31 games pitched, 2.43 ERA in 33.1 IP. 2.82 FIP, 1.140 WHIP, 9.5 K/9
Wick was up and down from the minors a few times before sticking in late July. Once up for good, he allowed runs in 3 appearances out of 26. He was a pleasant surprise. He missed enough bats and limited enough contact to be really effective. Maddon thrust him into a late inning role out of desperation, and Wick responded well. I'd expect to see more of him in 2020. Another solid find by Thed.
Dillon Maples: Stashed prospect
14 relief appearances, 5.40 ERA in 11.2 IP. 7.7 BB/9 (worst on the team), and 13.9 K/9 (second best on the team). 1.371 WHIP overall, with a 5.96 FIP.
Maples is a frustrating prospect. He misses bats and the strike zone at a terrific rate. Unfortunately, he walks way too many batters to be really effective. If he ever figures it out, watch out. For now, not great results. I'd like to keep him around in case he does figure it out, but he is also now 28, and has to be running out of leash.
Adbert Alzolay: Stashed prospect
4 games pitched, 2 starts 2 RP appearances. 7.30 ERA, 7.75 FIP, 6.6 BB/9, 1.784, WHIP, 9.5 K/9
Adbert had a very small sample size in 2019. He had a solid start and showed some promise. It was good to have him on the roster, and we'll see what we get going forward. He was not much of a contributor in 2019 though.
James Norwood: Stashed prospect
9 games 9.1 IP. 2.89 ERA, 4.82 FIP, 1.821 WHIP, 7.7 BB/9, 10.6 K/9
Norwood was pure AAA depth, and got into a few games. His walk rate was tied with Maples for worst on the team, and that WHIP was the highest on the roster. Fortunately he didn't really get dinged for it, but filling the bases as an RP isn't a tightrope you want to walk. Norwood was 25 in '19, so I can see giving him a few chances in the future to see if he figures it out.
Duane Underwood Jr: Stashed prospect
12 games pitched, 11.2 IP. 5.40 ERA 4.24 FIP 1.371 WHIP ,10 H/9, 2.3 BB/9, 10 K/9
Duane was another player riding the shuttle come late season. He struck out plenty, but also gave up way too many hits. The minuscule walk rate was intriguing. There's some promise in there going forward, but ultimately did not pay off in 2019.
Allen Webster: Offseason FA signing
12 games, 11 IP, 4.91 ERA, 5.58 FIP, 1.727 WHIP, 11.5 h/9, 1.6 HR/9, 4.1 BB/9, 7.4 K/9
Webster was a depth signing that did not pay off in '19. Too many baserunners allowed, and didn't miss enough bats. The 11.5 H/9 was second worst on the team, in fact. With a low strikeout rate too, I'm not sure I see upside here going forward. <Matt also hates this guy and we're tired of hearing him complain.--Staci>
Danny Hultzen: Offseason FA signing
6 games, 3.1 IP 0.00 ERA 2.91 FIP 1.800 WHIP
Hultzen was a busted prospect: drafted high but derailed by injuries. He finally made it to the show at age 30, and didn't allow a single run this season. Very small sample size, but also very encouraging. I'd love to see him come back for next year as depth, even though the Cubs recently non-tendered him.
Looking at these 10 pitchers overall, I'm tempted to say that only 3 worked out (Mills, Wick, and Ryan). A few didn't get enough time to really prove themselves as a win or loss. I'm not sure what the proper success rate on fliers is, but 3/10 seems like a low rate. I guess I'd have to look at previous seasons with a similar eye and see if this was on par or not. There was plenty of opportunity in 2019, given the struggles and injuries of Kimbrel, Strop, Montgomery, Edwards, and Brach. I would have hoped to get one or two more of these dice rolls to be a more established success story.
Going forward, there is upside with Mills, Wick, Ryan, Underwood, Azolay, and Hultzen. I'm not sure the others showed enough to warrant a second look, but I wouldn't mind seeing some of those names being stashed at AAA. Overall, I think more depth needs to happen for 2020.