Burl Carraway and Michael Rucker Impressed at Cubs’ Alternate Site, Could Factor in 2021 Bullpen

If the all the triple-digit velo readings and young relievers making their MLB debuts during the postseason has you feeling jealous, you’re not alone. The Cubs haven’t necessarily done a great job of drafting and developing pitchers over the last, oh, decade or so and it’s dictated a lot of their acquisitions. Ah, but things may be about to change in that regard, perhaps as soon as next season.

Adbert Alzolay has looked good in a swing role, especially after implementing a new two-seam and slider during the season, and he figures to be in a mix for a starting spot in 2021. Brailyn Marquez was called up for the last day of the regular season to whet the appetites of meatballs like yours truly who’d long been clamoring for his promotion, but the Cubs continuing to develop him as a starter means it’ll be a while before we see him regularly.

What’s more, Theo Epstein said during his end-of-season presser that they expect to seek rotation depth from outside the organization. As disheartening as that may be for those of you who were hoping to see more of Tyson Miller, Justin Steele, and others, the good news is that the bullpen may be up for grabs when it comes to some of the young arms in the system.

The most likely prospect to get a serious look is Burl Carraway, a college closer the Cubs say has “once-in-a-decade” stuff from the left side. It’s expected he’ll be on a fast track to the majors because he’s already got upper-90’s velocity and a wicked hammer of a curveball. Cubs farm director Matt Dorey echoed those thoughts when he spoke with MLB.com’s Jim Callis about Carraway’s development.

“Burl has a special, special arm,” Dorey said. “We brought him in to get him acclimated and to surround him with a professional environment. He has the ability to move relatively quickly through our Minor League system and we wanted him to be around some veteran pitchers. It was an opportunity to learn from them and jump-start his development as a professional.”

It’s worth noting that Dorey said Carraway worked on a slider and also likes his seldom-used changeup, though even elite relievers don’t need more than two offerings. Just look at Craig Kimbrel, whose fastball/knuckle curve combo have served him well over the years. The longtime closer has also tinkered with a changeup here and there, but apparently scrapped it again once he got his location issues fixed with his primaries.

Another name to watch for next season is righty Michael Rucker, who had been plucked away by the Orioles in last year’s Rule 5 Draft before being returned during spring training. It’s at least a little perplexing that an organization like Baltimore wouldn’t keep Rucker around, but let’s just chalk that up to them continuing their trend of unwittingly supplying the Cubs with good pitchers.

After working primarily as a starter in 2017 and ’18, the Cubs converted Rucker to a reliever on a full-time basis last season. His velo saw a natural bump as a result and Callis reports that it was up to 95-96 at South Bend this summer. A precision pitcher who’s always had low walk numbers, the 26-year-old could be one of those strike-throwers the Cubs have long sought for the bullpen.

Neither of these pitchers should be viewed as anything approaching a savior, though either or both making the roster would save money and time when it comes to trying to fill out the relief corps. At the very least, it’s a helluva lot more exciting for fans to see homegrown talent rather than some dude who was picked up for a PTBNL or cash and who might pitch four games before being DFA’d.

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