‘A pitching coach’s dream’: Adrian Sampson has put himself on the map for Cubs
When the Cubs sit down this offseason to start penciling in what the 2022 pitching staff might look like, Adrian Sampson very well could be a part of the mix.
It hasn’t taken long for the 29-year-old right-hander to go from afterthought to a surprise piece on the pitching staff.
Sampson made his 4th start of the season Saturday and shut down the red-hot Cardinals offense, tallying a quality start. He now has a 2.87 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in 31.1 innings for the Cubs in 2021, splitting his time between the bullpen and rotation.
“He’s pitched really well,” Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. “It’s been a pleasant surprise how he’s done.”
Sampson pitched with the Lotte Giants in Korea last season and made 35 appearances (15 starts) with the Texas Rangers in 2019. He emerged as an under-the-radar target for the Cubs and signed a minor-league deal with the team in May.
He had a 4.96 ERA in 16 games (14 starts) for Triple-A Iowa prior to his promotion in mid-August.
He has allowed some hard contact (7 homers) but has shown an ability to give the team 4-6 strong innings when he starts or serve in a multi-inning capacity out of the bullpen.
“It’s those pieces that are integral to a successful pitching staff — a guy who can pitch out of the bullpen, can make spot starts, very low maintenance,” Hottovy said. “If he’s going to come out of the ‘pen, he’s like, ‘I don’t need a clean inning. I don’t need to be told when I’m pitching. Just call my name and I’ll pitch.’
“Two days later, it’s like, ‘hey, you’re gonna start on Saturday’ and he’s like, ‘alright, I’m good.’ That’s a pitching coach’s dream to have guys that are willing to do that kind of stuff and then see him be successful through that process too is a lot of fun.
“If you want to be creative and be able to sustain success over the course of the season, you need those glue type of guys to be able to keep things together when injuries happen or guys go through rough stretches or guys get fatigued from overuse. It’s been nice to see him have success and perform.”
That “glue” type role is something Alec Mills has filled for the Cubs over the last few seasons. But with Mills emerging as a bonafide option for the rotation in 2022, Sampson could slot into that spot.
He’s fine with any role the Cubs present to him. Sampson just wants to pitch in the big leagues.
“I love having the ball,” he said. “I like having them pry it away from me. Regardless of if I come out of the bullpen or start or whatever, no matter what, I want the ball.
“I feel like I can throw it as long as I can and taking me out of the game is something that I want to make it hard for the manager to do. That’s always been my goal but bouncing back and forth between the bullpen and starting — I’ll just take the ball when they let me throw it.”
With a mindset like that, it’s no surprise Sampson is finding success in a swingman role.
It also helps that he has experience, with 153 MLB innings under his belt prior to 2021.
“It’s a learning curve,” he said. “I wouldn’t be able to be successful like I am right now if I haven’t done it before. I did this in 2019, I did it a little in ‘18 but being comfortable with where you’re at — being comfortable being uncomfortable is a huge thing. No matter what position you’re playing.
“That’s just my mindset. It’s always been like that. I don’t know if they can teach it or it just comes naturally to me. I enjoy doing what I’m doing.”
From his first day in the big leagues with the Cubs on Aug. 18, he has been very open about his desire to earn a spot on the pitching staff in 2022 and beyond.
Sampson compared the opportunity to “Game of Thrones” after that debut and his confidence has been on full display between the foul lines and during his media sessions via Zoom.
Between that fire, his veteran experience and the flexibility, Sampson has become a name to watch on the Cubs pitching staff heading into the offseason. He turns 30 in October and is under team control for several more years with minor-league options remaining.
“He knows what he wants to do out there — really smart, got a little edge to him as well,” David Ross said. “He knows what he does well and sticks to that. There’s a lot to be said about that — just having confidence in yourself, pitches you can execute, goes out there and executes ‘em.”