In October, the “Smartest Man in Baseball” received a promotion that should have a lasting impact on the Cubs farm system. Craig Breslow was named the system’s director of pitching, charged with overseeing a restructured development process aimed at jump-starting a moribund prospect pipeline. His work will start in the Pitch Lab, which has already produced success stories such as Kyle Ryan and Rowan Wick.
We’ve already looked at some of the players with the most to gain from the new hitting infrastructure, so now let’s see which pitching prospects might benefit from Breslow’s new development team.
Jack Patterson is a tunneling star who’s ready to break out into the light. The left-hander already has a great story and authored an impressive 2019 campaign, but he can take things to the next level with the help of new tech and new tweaks. Cory Abbott currently leads the way in the farm system when it comes to tunneling expertise, as he is able to disguise his fastball and slider as the same pitch before the batter has a chance to react. Patterson could be next in line, repeating his delivery with a fastball/slider/changeup combination to keep hitters guessing.
Brendon Little is a prime example of the type of pitcher the Cubs seemed so fond of prior to the philosophical changes of the last year or so. A safe pick with less presumed risk than other hurlers, the 2017 first-rounder is now three years into his professional career and has yet to put together more than 101.1 innings in a season. Last year was by far his best performance with a 3.58 ERA over three different levels, but that doesn’t scream ace potential. Still, he might be a perfect candidate to recapture that potential with improved durability or a conversion to a solid two-pitch reliever featuring his plus hook as an out-pitch.
Jake Stinnett will be playing out his age-28 season in 2020 and isn’t even considered a prospect anymore depending on who you ask. His last two seasons out of the bullpen have featured ERAs of 4.91 and 5.18, but some crazy things go down in that pitch lab. He is big (6’4”), strikes guys out (26.1%), and had all sorts of potential at one point (No. 17 pick in 2016). Maybe Breslow & Co. can flip him into some sort of Dillon Maples-like turnaround.
Jose Albertos looked to be on the road to recovery from a case of the yips last summer when a finger issue wound up throwing him off the rails and ended his season. We won’t talk about 2018, not that we’re superstitious or anything, but Albertos pitched with much better results out of the bullpen in 2019. He was missing bats, his stuff looked lively, and he looked relieved to be a reliever. It would be really cool if he could come back this year, even if it’s still in a relief role, as he throws 95-96 with a dominant curve and crazy changeup. As for what the pitch lab could give him, confidence might be the greatest addition.
Erling Moreno has struggled throughout his career to pile up innings, with 72 in 2018 standing as his highest season total. He can spot his fastball between 93-95 and has a quality curveball, but he rarely pitches for more than a month at a time. Maybe the Cubs can find something in his mechanics or his preparation that’s keeping him from staying on the mound.
There’s no one thing that typically unlocks potential or pushes a pitcher to the next level. A grip change or a new pitch — like the knuckle-curve that was all the rage last season — makes for a good story, but most improvement takes place well below the surface. Much of that is mental, whether it’s a matter of visualization, confidence, or simply being able to forget the last mistake. Then there’s health, which is impacted by myriad factors that go beyond mechanics.
So it’s more than just getting guys in the lab and subjecting them to motion capture cameras while measuring spin rate and release point. Breslow’s team will be tasked with taking a holistic approach to tailoring development plans to each player’s individual strengths and weaknesses, not to mention getting a little more aggressive in pushing guys and letting them develop at their own pace rather than handicapping them with a rigid structure.
In addition to those listed above, there are several other players that could see added success with more emphasis on the Pitch Lab and a new overall philosophy. And that goes well beyond the next year or two, as the idea is to establish a continuous pipeline of pitching from the draft to Chicago. That said, it sure would be nice to have them pushing some homegrown talent up to the big club here soon.
Todd Johnson contributed to this post.