Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Stud Pitching Prospects Who Can Help 2024 Cubs Bullpen


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All right, let’s try to figure out some solutions to the 2024 Chicago Cubs bullpen problems. After Adbert Alzolay’s arm injury, half of the team’s Opening Day bullpen is now on the injured list. We’ve talked about trade targets, the dream being Mason Miller, but also other legit trade candidates. Now, let’s take a look at the internal options, who are currently working themselves up through the Cubs farm system.

You could say the Cubs are desperate to find help and well at this point of the season they are. Through the first seven weeks of the season the Cubs have used 15 different pitchers out of the bullpen and the group’s 4.50 ERA ranks seventh worst in MLB. Maybe we’ll see a couple more minor moves similar to the acquisition of Tyson Miller just to survive in the meantime, but eventually the Cubs will need some major impact via the trade market or their own minor league system.

Bryan Smith, who does a great job covering the Cubs minor league system, listed four pitching prospects, who all have had some success so far in 2024 and might earn the opportunity to make an impact in the big leagues soon.

We’ll list the four pitchers based on their proximity to the majors.

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Porter Hodge

Age: 23
Level: Triple-A
Acquired: 2019 Draft, 13th Round Pick
2024 Stats: 11 G, 14 IP, 4.50 ERA, 1.64 WHIP, 24 K, 12 BB, 1 HR

Porter Hodge started the 2024 season at Double-A and after two dominant outings where he struck out 8 batters in 4 innings, he was promoted to the Iowa Cubs at Triple-A. His first eight appearances of the season at Double-A and Triple-A were incredible, as the right-handed pitcher struck out 19 batters in 11.1 innings and only allowed two runs, which came on a two-run homer on April 17.

Hodge looked great early on, but as is the case with so many young pitchers the question remains if he can throw enough strikes to become a reliable reliever in the big leagues. He’s averaging nearly 8 BB per 9 innings this year, but if he’s able to get that under control and get it back to 4-5 like he’s done throughout his minor league career, then Hodge just might take the next step in 2024 with the Cubs.

A good fastball and some nasty break on the off speed is a great combo for Hodge and that’s driven him to striking out 37% of the batters he’s faced so far in 2024.

Eduarniel Nuñez

Age: 24
Level: Triple-A
Acquired: 2017 International Free Agent
2024 Stats: 11 G, 15.2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, 15 K, 6 BB, 0 HR

Batters were only 6-for-51, a .118 average hitting against Cubs pitching prospect Eduarniel Nuñez at Double-A before he was promoted to Triple-A this week. The right-handed pitcher only allowed one extra base hit in 15.2 innings, a double, and did not give up an earned run through 11 appearances.

Nuñez had middling numbers in 2021 and 2022, when he first began to pitch out of the bullpen on a full-time basis. However, in 2023, the righty turned the corner and ended the season with a 3.11 ERA in 46.1 innings, eventually earning a promotion to Double-A.

Now, Nuñez is a step away from the major leagues as he continues to ride his momentum in 2024. Again, the stuff is great, but the command remains a question mark around Nuñez. So far this season, he has limited the walks, only 6 in 15.2 innings, so that’s hopefully a trend that continues as he begins his stint at Triple-A.

Zac Leigh

Age: 26
Level: Double-A
Acquired: 2021 Draft, 16th Round Pick
2024 Stats: 12 G, 13.2 IP, 1.32 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 18 K, 6 BB, 0 HR

Right-handed pitcher Zac Leigh is an older prospect at 26-years-old, but he’s had a few injuries the past couple seasons that kept him in the lower levels of the minor leagues after he was drafted out of Texas State in 2021. Leigh has put up strong numbers since he signed with the Cubs, posting a 2.80 ERA in 96.1 innings. However, because of a few IL stints, Leigh just hasn’t had a lot of innings, logging 39.1 innings, which were a career high in 2023.

Leigh will most likely get the bump to Triple-A soon because he’s remained a steady performer with the Tennessee Smokies to begin the 2024 season, as he’s currently striking out 30% percent of the batters he’s faced with a 3/1 strikeout to walk ratio.

Michael Arias

Age: 22
Level: Double-A
Acquired: 2021 Minor League Free Agent
2024 Stats: 12 G, 19 IP, 2.37 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 20 K, 10 BB, 2 HR

Michael Arias has had an interesting career in pro baseball as he first started his journey as a shortstop with the Toronto Blue Jays, who signed him as an international free agent in 2019. The Cubs scooped him up in 2021 and converted Arias into a pitcher. It didn’t take long for Arias to adapt, as he spent 2021 pitching in the Dominican Summer League and after only 17 innings state-side in 2022, Arias got on everyone’s radar last year, when the right-hander looked great in 11 starts with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans.

Arias was bumped up to Advanced A-Ball in the middle of the 2023 season and although he showed off great stuff you could see that the Cubs were going to try him out as a reliever because the command issues were becoming an issue.

It hasn’t been perfect at Double-A, where Arias has walked 10 in 19 innings and he’s been in a funk as of late, allowing four earned runs in his last five outings. However, at just 22-years-old, Arias has time to continue to develop and gain experience to hopefully improve. His stuff looks legit.

Now, if we take a look at the current Cubs roster, then you can already see how Craig Counsell may use a few of the swing guys on the pitching staff as relievers moving forward. Veteran Kyle Hendricks is going to stay in the starting rotation for the time being, so you should expect Hayden Wesneski to remain a reliever and the same could be said about Ben Brown.

Those are two additional pitchers who were not in the bullpen to begin the regular season that can have a positive affect for the Cubs as bullpen weapons the rest of the sesson.

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