Cubs prospect profile: Adbert Alzolay
Since 2015, only one Cubs starting pitcher to throw more than 170 innings in a season has spent time developing in their farm system: Kyle Hendricks. The Cubs’ success offensively has largely developed from the draft, but their strength on the mound have come from acquisitions of players like Jon Lester, Jose Quintana and Yu Darvish.
Adbert Alzolay is a 25-year-old starting pitcher whom the Cubs signed in 2012 out of Venezuela. The organization hopes the right-hander can give the team a reliable, homegrown starter to usher in a new wave of internal pitching talent.
The Cubs inked Alzolay as a 17-year-old for only $10,000, adding him to Jorge Soler in their haul from the team’s 2012 international class of signings. Alzolay immediately jumped onto radars with a stellar performance at the Venezuelan Summer League in 2013. He led all pitchers (minimum 20 IP) with a 1.07 ERA and struck out 60 batters in 67 innings. During the three seasons between 2014 and 2016, Alzolay ramped up to 120 innings and found success strong enough to push him into the Cubs top three prospects entering the 2017 season according to MLB Pipeline.
Alzolay’s strongest minor league stint came during 2017 as he lived up to lofty expectations. Between High-A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Tennessee, he posted a sub-3.00 ERA with 108 strikeouts to only 34 walks across 114.1 innings. The Cubs sent him to the Arizona Fall League in October of 2017 to face even tougher competition. Alzolay struggled in his seven appearances, but still managed to strike out more than one batter per inning.
Although the Cubs managed his innings and gave him extra rest between starts at times during 2017, the injury bug bit Alzolay in 2018. After 8 starts with Triple-A Iowa to begin the season, he was diagnosed with a strained lat muscle in late May. Just two weeks later, the Cubs announced he would miss the rest of his 2018 campaign.
Alzolay bounced back in 2019 with a notable uptick in his strikeout rate. In his first 7 starts of the season in the minors, he struck out 34% of the batters he faced after not having topped 25% in any prior season. He made his major league debut on June 20 and pitched four innings of relief behind starter Tyler Chatwood to earn his first MLB win.
Five days later, Alzolay made his first major league start at Wrigley Field against the Braves. After a rough outing on July 1 against the Pirates, the Cubs sent Alzolay back to Triple-A. Biceps inflammation caused him to miss just over two weeks after he returned to Iowa, but he rebounded and finished the minor league season strong. He earned a September call up and made one more relief appearance at Wrigley Field before his 2019 season ended.
The right-hander’s repertoire consists of a four-seam fastball, curveball and changeup. His fastball sits between 94-95 with his sharp-breaking curveball routinely considered his strongest secondary pitch through the minor leagues. During his appearances at the major-league level, however, Alzolay threw his changeup over 20% of the time. The pitch surprisingly graded out as his most effective offering according to Fangraphs pitch values, perhaps because hitters didn’t expect him to use it with such frequency.
This spring, Alzolay worked on incorporating a sinker into his repertoire. He threw the pitch back in Low-A, but only recently opted to rekindle the offering. With a fly-ball rate that would place him Top 5 in the league if he qualified, Alzolay is polishing another weapon to help him attack the bottom of the zone in tandem with the elevation of his four-seamer. He also worked on a new grip for his curveball, helping the pitch move towards a 12-6 vertical shape as opposed to an offering with slightly more horizontal movement to the left.
If there is a 2020 MLB season, Alzolay is a strong candidate to earn a spot on the major league roster that will likely be expanded beyond 26 spots. Even if his role is as a multi-inning reliever, he has the plus breaking ball and velocity to flourish. If the Cubs run into injury problems with their starting rotation or simply want a fresh look, Alzolay’s deepened and improved pitch mix could become even more valuable.
The hard work and patience invested by the Cubs’ player development staff in a young arm like Alzolay is finally paying off. For him to become an integral part of the team’s future starting rotation would be an even greater accomplishment.