With all of the talent that has flowed through the Chicago Cubs’ farm system in the last five years, it would be easy to forget about Dillon Maples. Drafted in the 14th round in 2011, Maples is an elder statesman in a Cubs system that has seen Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and many others reach the majors.
From 2012 to 2016, Maples could not get past Class A-Advanced despite featuring a 70-grade fastball and 60-grade slider. The problem for the high-school right-hander was his command and a struggle to stay healthy. Ranked as just a 30-grade skill, Maples’ command is a big reason why the now 26-year-old has just 5 1/3 innings of big league experience in six professional seasons.
Right away, Maples showed signs of command problems after signing for $2.5 million back in 2011. In 2012 with the Cubs’ rookie level affiliate, Maples walked ten batters in 10 1/3 innings. Those issues with command would only worsen as the right-hander walked a combined 76 batters over 104 2/3 innings during the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
While Maples began his professional career as a starter, making 26 starts between 2013 and 2014, a move to the bullpen in 2015 seemed to help the then 23-year-old. In 18 relief appearances between two different Class-A levels during the 2015 season, Maples walked 13 batters in 35 1/3 innings, posting the lowest BB/9 mark (3.3) in his career.
Despite the walks, Maples showed flashes of why the Cubs went over slot to sign him away from his college commitment. With Low-A Boise in 2013, Maples posted a 2.14 ERA and struck out 41 batters in 42 innings. Even though Maples enjoyed success over that short stretch, the right-hander ended up posting a 4.93 ERA in 2013 and a 9.00 mark in 28 innings during the 2014 season.
By the end of the 2016 campaign, things were not getting much better for the 24-year-old. Once again, Maples failed to make it past Class-A Advanced, recording a 4.22 ERA with 17 walks and 23 strikeouts in 32 innings. A year removed from logging a solid BB/9, Maples allowed 4.8 walks per nine during the 2016 season.
Maples Figures it Out in 2017
In 2017, Maples began the season at Class-A Advanced and he did not disappoint. Over 31 1/3 innings for Myrtle Beach, Maples logged a 2.01 ERA with 44 strikeouts and 15 walks. For his efforts, the 25-year-old earned that elusive call-up to Double-A. Despite averaging almost a walk per inning (11 in 13 2/3), Maples recorded a solid 3.29 ERA and struck out 28 batters.
Already in uncharted waters, Maples worked his way up to Triple-A toward the latter part of the season. Over 18 1/3 innings, Maples amassed a 1.96 ERA with 28 strikeouts and 11 walks. All told, Maples enjoyed his best season as a professional in 2017. Across three different levels, Maples logged a 2.27 ERA in 63 1/3 innings. To go along with that, the right-hander struck out 100 batters (14.2 K/9) and walked 37.
Despite a walk rate of over 14 percent, Maples enjoyed a ridiculous 37.4 percent strikeout rate in 2017, a number that was as high as 43.1 percent in Double-A.
As a reward for his career year, Maples earned a call-up to the majors on September 3, 2017, more than six years after he was selected by the Cubs in the draft. Sticking with his customs, Maples struck out and walked a batter in a scoreless inning against the Atlanta Braves in his major league debut.
Overall, Maples appeared in six big league games during the 2017 season, working 5 1/3 innings and logging a 10.13 ERA. In that time, Maples recorded a 40.7 percent strikeout rate coupled with a 22.2 percent walk rate.
Maples Poised For Another Call-Up This Year
Despite the calendar reading June, the Cubs have already had to deal with various injuries. Eddie Butler has been on the DL since April 20 with a groin strain, Carl Edwards Jr. has missed 11 games with shoulder inflammation and Yu Darvish is on the shelf for the second time this season. With the injury to Darvish, the Cubs have been forced to move Mike Montgomery into the rotation, leaving holes in the bullpen for Triple-A guys to fill.
So far we have seen Anthony Bass, Luke Farrell, Randy Rosario, Justin Hancock and Cory Mazzoni make appearances on the big league roster. With Darvish likely out until the second half of the season, the Cubs could continue to shuttle players back-and-forth between Wrigley Field and Iowa.
Next in line to get the call could be Maples. Just looking at the numbers, it seems like Maples is struggling once again this season. In 20 appearances, Maples owns a 3.92 ERA and has struck out 36 batters in 20 2/3 innings. While that does not seem too bad, the right-hander has issued 19 walks this season and is sporting a 20.4 percent walk rate.
Digging a little deeper and it seems those rough numbers are buoyed by a few rough outings. After starting out the season by issuing three walks in two innings, Maples rattled off four straight appearances in which he did not walk a batter. That stretch of play, however, was followed by five consecutive games with a walk as Maples allowed 11 free passes and four earned runs in 4 2/3 innings.
More recently, Maples has been on point. Since allowing three runs and four walks on May 11, Maples has allowed just three runs and issued five walks while striking out 16 in ten innings. Two of those three runs came on May 15, just four days after his four walk performance. Following that outing, Maples was sporting a 6.17 ERA, a number that is now south of 4.00. In addition, Maples has given up just one walk in his last six innings while striking out 12 batters in his last five outings.
As things currently stand, the Cubs are a half game up on the Milwaukee Brewers. In addition, the North Sider’s own the best record in the National League at 38-25 while also sporting the best run differential in the league with a plus-94 mark.
The Cubs are finding success despite their bullpen owning the second highest BB/9 in baseball behind only the Braves. While that is the case, the Cubs’ bullpen ranks 10th in K/9 and third in ERA.
With a revolving door currently at the back-end of their bullpen, the Cubs would be smart to give Maples another look in the big league pinstripes. With a live arm that can touch 98 MPH and a wipeout slider, Maples could be an X-factor down the stretch for the Cubs.
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