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6 pitchers who may make an impact for post-deadline Cubs

1 week agoTony Andracki

The trade deadline is bearing down on Major League Baseball and for the Cubs, that likely means some major roster shake-up for the second straight summer.

Last season, the Cubs traded away eight players in the days leading up to the deadline (plus Joc Pederson, who was dealt during the All-Star Break). And with all those moves came some new opportunity for young pitchers to show what they can do in the big leagues.

Last season, we saw young relievers like Manny Rodríguez and Scott Effross come up after the deadline and make an impact in the big league bullpen. Rookies Keegan Thompson and Justin Steele turned heads as relievers early in the season but moved into starting roles for the final couple months of the season and now both pitchers are a huge part of the team’s current rotation.

This year, the Cubs have already traded away veteran reliever Chris Martin and several other pitchers could be moved in the next couple days (Drew Smyly, David Robertson, Mychal Givens, Wade Miley).

So who are the arms that could replace them on the Cubs pitching staff in August and September?

Here are a few pitchers fans should get acquainted with.

Caleb Kilian

This is a name that Cubs fans surely recognize, as Kilian is one of the the top pitching prospects in the system and made his MLB debut earlier this summer.

Kilian struggled during his time in Chicago, allowing 13 runs and 12 walks in 11.1 innings. After he was optioned back to Triple-A Iowa in late June, the 25-year-old right-hander had a couple more hiccups but has found more success since then.

In his last 3 starts, Kilian has a 2.25 ERA with 20 strikeouts in 12 innings but control is still an issue (12 walks).

“The thing that jumps out about Caleb is he’s always been a really, really good strike-thrower throughout his career and then he ran into some issues in a couple of starts here,” Cubs VP of player development Jared Banner said. “So, just going back to the basics, the fundamentals with him. He’s also working on some new pitches and working on his delivery.”

The Cubs know development is not always linear and the hope is Kilian will return to Chicago at some point in the near future and flash the potential that made him the No. 9 prospect on Lance Brozdowski’s preseason rankings.

“We expect to have him back at some point in the future and I’m sure he’ll take advantage of that opportunity,” Banner said.

Matt Dermody

The southpaw is a bit on the older side (he turned 32 on July 2) but Dermody has been one of the best pitchers in the Cubs organization over the last month.

He is 3-0 with a 0.77 ERA in 5 July outings for Triple-A Iowa, striking out 26 batters in 23.1 innings. On the season, Dermody is 6-3 with a 3.74 ERA and 1.30 WHIP.

He has worked as both a reliever and starter and could be one of the first calls to Chicago after the deadline passes.

“He’s really gotten himself in a groove,” Banner said. “Those last 7 starts have been strong and anytime you’re in a certain way throwing that well, you put yourself on the radar.

“He’s really a pitchability guy but he’s a lefty with velo at the same time. He’s found some consistency. We were kinda bouncing him back and forth through the rotation and the bullpen and I think he’s kinda has gotten some groove out of the rotation and he’s taken off.”

Dermody signed with the Cubs in August 2020 and made an appearance in the big leagues that season. But he spent last season playing in Japan before returning to the Cubs for the 2022 campaign.

Dermody also notched 28 games in the majors with the Toronto Blue Jays from 2016-17, pitching to a 5.13 ERA.

Cam Sanders

Sanders has popped on the radar in the Cubs system over the last few seasons. In 2019, he enjoyed a solid year with Class-A South Bend (2.94 ERA in 101 innings).

Last year, he spent the entire season at Double-A Tennessee and struggled a bit (5.32 ERA) but missed a lot of bats (107 strikeouts in 89.2 innings).

This season, Sanders excelled at Double-A to begin the year (3.38 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 13.5 K/9 in 6 starts) but hasn’t quite found the same gear with Triple-A.

However, the Cubs recently moved him to the bullpen and the initial returns were eye-popping:

The Cubs selected him in the 12th round of the 2018 draft out of Louisiana State.

If Sanders can continue to have success in the bullpen, he could find his way to Chicago in the final couple months of the 2022 campaign.

Ben Leeper

Leeper was part of the trio of young right-handers that turned heads in Spring Training, joining Ethan Roberts and Cayne Ueckert as impressive arms.

Roberts made the big league bullpen out of camp but ultimately went down with a shoulder injury and had to undergo Tommy John surgery this summer. Ueckert is missing bats in his first stint at Triple-A this season (48 strikeouts in 34.2 innings) but has also walked 35 batters.

Leeper, meanwhile, could be turning a corner at Iowa. The 25-year-old has permitted just 2 runs over his last 6 outings while racking up 13 whiffs in 7.2 innings.

On the season, Leeper has a 4.66 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 3 saves and an 11.8 K/9 rate in 25 innings.

He signed with the Cubs as an undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma State in 2020 (when the MLB Draft was only 5 rounds) and turned in a stellar 2021 campaign. Leeper boasted a 1.29 ERA and 0.80 WHIP in 27 outings for Double-A and Triple-A last season, striking out 53 batters in 35 innings.

Dakota Mekkes

The big right-hander (listed at 6-foot-7, 275 pounds) has been around for a while and is well known among some Cubs fans due to his off-field turn as a podcast host alongside Ian Happ on “The Compound.”

Mekkes was a 10th-round pick in 2016 out of Michigan State University and initially had a lot of success in the Cubs farm system.

His ERAs in his first few professional seasons:

2016 — 1.80 (Rookie league and short-season A-ball)
2017 — 0.98 (Class-A and High-A)
2018 — 1.17 (Double-A and Triple-A)

Mekkes hasn’t been able to duplicate that success since, pitching to a 5.29 ERA in 2019, 4.35 mark last year and 6.14 ERA so far this season.

But he hasn’t allowed a run in July and could be settling in after injuries slowed him at the start of 2022.

It wasn’t long ago that Mekkes was a highly thought-of multi-inning reliever in the Cubs system — he was invited to the alternate site in 2020 to continue his development — and this could be the year he finally cracks the MLB roster after 108 games at the Triple-A level.

Sean Newcomb

The Cubs acquired the southpaw from the Braves in April in exchange for veteran reliever Jesse Chavez. Newcomb made a handful of appearances out of the bullpen before he landed on the IL with an ankle injury.

He pitched in only 1 game after returning from the IL, allowing 5 runs in an inning against the Yankees on June 12. He was designated for assignment after the game but passed through waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A.

The former 1st-round pick (15th overall in 2014) has performed well with Iowa, pitching to a 1.86 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 19.1 innings as a multi-inning reliever and starter since he was DFA’d.

Newcomb is still only 29 and has a track record of success in the majors (3.87 ERA in 332.1 innings from 2017-19). He could certainly receive another opportunity in the big leagues down the stretch this season.

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