With the Cubs in the midst of playing 11 games in 10 days, including a doubleheader in Cincy on Saturday, starting pitching is at a premium. Given that reality, the expectation is that the Cubs will be bringing up a pitcher, and thanks to MLB’s relatively new 26th Man policy for doubleheaders, they can bring up any player on the 40-man roster for that day.
On Monday, Iowa Cubs beat writer Tommy Birch tweeted that we just might get to see Adbert Alzolay‘s debut Saturday:
— Tommy Birch (@TommyBirch) May 14, 2018
With Iowa reshuffling the rotation Alzolay is now scheduled to pitch on Saturday. The Cubs #1 prospect has a very real chance of debuting Saturday — and who wouldn’t want to see this happen? He is already on the 40-man roster, and although his 2018 season to date doesn’t look terrific (2-2 with a 4.10 ERA) that can mostly be chalked up to his last start, in which he served up three bombs in just 4 2/3 IP. He’s undeniably the Cubs’ best option should they call someone up right now, even if he’s only started five games at the highest level of the minors.
The Importance of Alzolay
Unless circumstances drastically change this would be nothing more than a cup of coffee for Alzolay. He would certainly enter the game with that understanding, given the current health of the Cubs rotation — assuming Yu Darvish suffered nothing more than a cramp on Tuesday night.
More than just a cameo, if Adbert is to start Saturday he would be auditioning for a potential role on the team later in the year. Injuries happen, of course, especially to the rotation, and should Alzolay prove effective he could be the front-runner should the Cubs need a rotation filler down the road. The ability to call-up a prospect as a long-term sub would be highly preferable to trying to make a trade at the deadline.
Armed with a mid 90s fastball, a hard-breaking curveball, and a developing changeup, Alzolay is more than just the Cubs’ top prospect: He could become the first pitcher the Cubs have developed since Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took over. (Carl Edwards, Jr., Kyle Hendricks, et al do not apply as they were traded for as prospects.) That reality can’t be highlighted enough, as the Cubs’ wildly successful rebuild has notoriously lacked homegrown pitching — and to an extent that was done purposefully as the Cubs intentionally loaded up on high end hitters in the first round of the draft. And with Alex Lange and Brendon Little (among others) not too far behind Alzolay, he could be the first in line of what just might become a string of successfully developed arms in the Cubs system.
Signed as an international free agent in 2012, his road to becoming a top prospect has been long, but he has the confidence, mental makeup, and physical ability to become a successful piece of the big league rotation (for more background I encourage you to read here.)
What about Mike Montgomery?
I’d love to see Alzolay get his first taste of the bigs on Saturday, but there’s one rather large roadblock: Joe Maddon stated after yesterday’s win that Mike Montgomery has “earned” the right to start Saturday. Monty threw two scoreless in relief Tuesday night, stretching him out just a bit and setting him up to start this weekend — should the Cubs not need him the next three games in relief.
The irony here is cruel. I desperately want Alzolay to debut, but late last season (and again this offseason) I campaigned for Montgomery to become a part of the rotation. I’m a big fan of his, and would love to see him yet get a chance to be a part of the rotation. He remains an important cog of the bullpen, his versatility as important as his reliability.
Why not use both?!
Per Bleacher Nation, there’s an argument to be made that both can be used Saturday, similar to what the Cubs did with Monty and Eddie Butler last season. While I like this idea on paper — Alzolay can still debut, Monty can further stretch out without forcing him to throw too much in his first start of the year, etc. — there’s another idea that comes to mind: Having Alzolay and Montgomery both start on Saturday. With the Cubs halfway through the brutal 11 game/10 day stretch, having your top prospect and your emergency/sixth starter cover the doubleheader would allow Jose Quintana‘s next start to be pushed to Sunday, and with the off day Monday, Darvish could get extra rest before opening the series in Cleveland.
In my mind, this would be a win/win. Alzolay debuts, Monty gets the start he’s craving, and the Cubs give the rotation extra rest — a goal that the front office has anyway.
Regardless of what happens Saturday we’ll get to see Alzolay soon enough. To quote The Replacements, “I can hardly wait.”
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