Although the Cubs did get on a roll in the second half of the 2022 season, I’d be lying if I said I was watching closely in the second half. I’d pop in from time to time and their run in September was fun, but I missed some things. I did watch Javier Assad start a few games, but most of my knowledge of him was looking at the box scores and his Baseball Savant page. Now, well, now Assad is definitely on my radar and more importantly to him, he’s on the Cubs radar, too.
Cubs manager David Ross named Assad as one of the right-handed pitchers who would be competing in spring training for the fifth spot in the starting rotation. The big hype was and deservedly so around Hayden Wesneski, who may be close to winning the fifth spot after his dazzling spring so far. I, like some, thought Adrian Sampson would be solid enough to begin the season in the rotation, but he’s been getting crushed and in a competition, your results eventually have to matter.
Assad has been away from Cubs camp, joining Team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic, and despite only making one appearance in the international tournament, Assad is keeping his name in the mix to make the Opening Day roster. It may not be as the fifth starter, but Assad’s outing against the United States certainly caught the Cubs attention as they are now considering what the bullpen may look like with Assad in it.
Via The Athletic.
With two weeks remaining in spring training, manager David Ross and president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer haven’t yet begun the in-depth conversations about the Opening Day roster. They exchange ideas and maintain an ongoing dialogue, but the harder decisions won’t be made until later in March. Assad was already in the running to be the No. 5 starter in the major-league rotation or the sixth starter held in reserve at Triple-A Iowa, but the Cubs are also considering using him out of the Wrigley Field bullpen.
In his three-inning relief appearance against the United States, Assad faced 10 hitters and only allowed one hitter to reach, Mike Trout who singled in the sixth. Assad was feeling some adrenaline, as he was pumping his fastball up to 97mph, using it to strike out Pete Alonso twice.
David Ross said that Assad was up to 95mph in spring training before he left to join Mexico’s squad earlier in March.
In 2022, Assad had a 3.11 ERA in 37.2 innings, making nine total appearances and eight starts in his first call up to the majors. The rookie did struggle with high pitch counts, walking nearly five batters per nine innings, while also having a below average strikeout rate. His average fastball velocity was 93mph, while the sinker sat at 92mph to end the regular season.
So yeah, it is exciting to wonder what Assad throwing in the upper 90s in short stints out of the bullpen could look like for the Cubs.
Of course, it’s not as simple as he throws hard in one inning, put him in the bullpen. At 25-years-old, I’m sure the Cubs and Assad both want to see him become a quality starting pitcher. Now, that doesn’t mean that just because he begins in the bullpen, he’ll be stuck there forever. We’ve seen guys around the league being used as a reliever and then eventually they do work back into the rotation. The Cubs have done it with Justin Steele.
There are also other roster considerations with a few pitchers out of minor league options who the Cubs may still want to keep around because they have also been solid relievers.
But I guess it’s a great sign for the Cubs pitching depth that this is even a debate. A young pitcher looking great in a competitive environment that has seemingly improved in the offseason is making a case to take a job away from other very capable pitchers. Normally, yeah, just take the young gun, but the Cubs do actually have a few veterans in camp who very much deserve a bullpen spot.
You also have to think about the rotation depth. While Kyle Hendricks is making positive strides in his recovery from shoulder issues, he’s not expected back until May at the earliest, there’s Sampson not looking sharp and Assad would be one of the first guys, if not the first guy to get called upon if something goes awry in the rotation. Maybe it is beneficial, no matter how great Assad looks as a multi-inning reliever, to keep him stretched out and in a starting role in Triple-A to begin the season.
Nevertheless, I love that Assad isn’t making this decision easy for the Cubs and we’ll see him a few more times before spring training ends. Let’s see if those extra ticks on his fastball was because of some extra energy running through his body in the World Baseball Classic, or if Javier Assad is now throwing legit heat on a consistent basis.
Kind of makes you wish the Cubs didnt sign a journeyman starting pitcher to a 4 year contract where we could had used that money somewhere else and blocking some youngsters to make the Cubs’ rotation