Cubs prospect profile: Cory Abbott
Cory Abbott retired 26 batters in a row on March 25, 2017, at Page Baseball Stadium on the campus of Loyola Marymount University (LMU).
One out away from a perfect game, in a 3-2 count, his catcher relayed a sign from the team’s pitching coach to the mound. His coach wanted a fastball. Abbott shook him off and went to a slider, a pitch he failed to locate twice in the at-bat. The batter swung and missed as the pitch disappeared below the inner-third of the zone.
Abbott had thrown the first perfect in LMU baseball history. Thirteen strikeouts, just over 100 pitches and a lot of zeros.
Abbott has continued to succeed in the minor leagues after his breakout 2017 season at Loyola Marymount University. Now just months away from being Rule 5 eligible with the Cubs, his chance to make an impact at the major league level is just around the corner.
The first two seasons of Abbott’s collegiate career passed with little fanfare. He pitched primarily in relief during his freshman year and posted an impressive 2.37 ERA. As a sophomore starter, his ERA jumped up to 4.24 in 70 innings using a fastball and curveball.
Abbott played in the wood bat Cape Cod League that summer with the Orleans Firebirds in search of development. He worked on his slider with his team’s coach and former LMU pitcher himself, Kelly Nicholson. The two worked the pitch into his repertoire after Abbott learned his grip from a video of Mets starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard’s finger placement. His success on the Cape was limited, but when he returned back to school for the 2017 season, his profile rose exponentially with his new breaking ball.
In 98.1 innings, Abbott struck out 130 batters and walked only 28 in the West Coast Conference (WCC). He won 12 games, the most notable of which being his perfect game midway through the season. His conference named him the pitcher of the week five times during the season, leading to his enshrinement as the 2017 WCC Pitcher of the Year. His historic success for LMU vaulted him all the way to the 2nd round of the 2017 First-Year Player Draft, where the Cubs selected Abbott 67th overall.
He started 5 games for Class A short-season Eugene after finishing up his collegiate career. The following season began with an assignment to full-season Class A South Bend before a mid-season promotion to High-A Myrtle Beach. At both levels, he cruised, posting a 2.50 ERA in 115 innings and striking out 131 batters. Perhaps most impressive of all, his ability to limit walks didn’t lapse from LMU, as he issued under 40 free passes.
Abbott pitched all of the 2019 season with Double-A Tennessee, showing little need for acclimation to a level that many players experience their most turmoil adjusting to. He struck out 166 batters — the most in the Southern League last year — in 146.2 innings, with a strikeout-minus-walk rate of 19%.
The San Diego native’s repertoire has deepened substantially since his days at LMU. He now throws a 2- and 4-seam fastball, changeup, curveball, and the slider he closed out his perfect game with. His curveball and slider are widely considered his strongest pitches, primarily due to his fastball’s below-average 90- to 93-mph velocity. His developing changeup is used in tandem with his curveball to keep his splits against left-handed hitters reasonable while his slider stymies right-handed bats.
The calling card of Abbott’s skillset on the mound is his command, especially to his arm side, which allows him to work inside against right-handed hitters and away against lefties.
Come December, Abbott will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft. If he is not added to the Cubs 40-man roster, he can be selected by another team in the annual December event. Given Abbott’s success, above-average command and promising projection, the Cubs will likely protect him from exposure.
And with the Cubs rostering only 50 men on their 60-man roster for the shortened 2020 season as of the July 4th weekend, Abbott’s timetable could accelerate. Abbott is a logical choice to make his way onto the organization’s extra “player pool” roster in South Bend if the team has the need for another arm with the ability to throw multiple quality innings and retire both left- and right-handed hitters.