Spring Training Notebooks

Cubs Spring Training Notebook: A win for the organization’s pitching development and other prospect tidbits

1 year agoTony Andracki


St Notebook Sloan Image

MESA, Ariz. — A Spring Training no-hitter doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things.

But the main takeaway from Friday night’s record-setting feat was how it highlighted the growth of the Cubs’ pitching infrastructure over the last few years.

Homegrown pitchers Justin Steele, Javier Assad, Adbert Alzolay, Jeremiah Estrada and Cam Sanders combined to throw 7 of the 9 no-hit innings against the Padres and looked impressive in the process.

“Just a nice showing yesterday,” David Ross said. “… It’s very nice to see that the programs we’re implementing are working and these guys are putting in the work to get better and they’re getting rewarded for it.”

Steele and Alzolay will be on the Opening Day roster and Assad is in the competition for the fifth starter spot. This was his last outing before leaving to join Team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic.

Estrada and Sanders are in the bullpen mix and Estrada is already on the 40-man roster after making his MLB debut last season.

They join a long list of young arms making their way through the Cubs system — both in the bullpen and in the rotation.

Brandon Hughes was a big-time success story for the organization’s pitching infrastructure last season and will be in the back end of the bullpen to begin 2023. In addition to Hughes, Estrada and Assad, the Cubs also had a host of other young arms make their MLB debuts in 2022, including Hayden Wesneski, Caleb Kilian, Ethan Roberts and Brendon Little.

That trend will likely continue this year as the system keeps churning out pitchers.

“Those guys are young, putting themselves on the radar,” Ross said. “We have some velocity coming through the organization and it’s nice to know we’re gonna have some guys that we can call upon should things go awry and how important depth has been for us.

“And seeing the fruits of their hard work and them starting to get big league experience in their first Spring Training is nice.”

Even beyond Friday’s no-hitter, the Cubs have had a lot of good pitching performances lately. It may only be exhibition games, but including Saturday’s win, the Cubs have allowed just 1 run and 12 hits over the last 3 contests.

Keegan’s debut

Keegan Thompson made his Spring Training debut Saturday afternoon at Sloan Park. He worked a perfect inning with a strikeout and also shattered a bat on a weak groundout.

The Cubs have been managing Thompson’s workload a bit this spring and opted to have him throw an extra bullpen before getting into game action.

Unlike last spring, Thompson’s role is defined entering the year as he will come out of the Cubs bullpen.

“Out of the bullpen, I’m still gonna be a multi-inning person so I’m still gonna be getting built up a little bit,” he said. “Just kinda the same mindset I’ve had every other spring.”

Last year, Thompson made 17 starts and 12 relief appearances. Over his career, he’s been quite a bit better as a reliever (1.95 ERA) than as a starter (4.94 ERA). His ability to throw multiple innings as a reliever last season often saved the Cubs bullpen and provided rest for his teammates.

“Keegan’s been a real important piece for us out of the bullpen and even when he starts,” Ross said. “I think the thing that stands out to me about Keegan is pitchability. Any situation he seems to be ready for because of his starter background.

“The multiple innings is a value to be able to reset at times. I don’t know how we’ll use him this year in that capacity — whether it’s multiples or 1-inning stints and how he can bounce back. But he’s done a really nice job for us. A really important piece if he can continue to build upon the stuff he’s given us in the past. He will be very valuable for us.”

Prospect tidbits

Speaking of Kilian, he threw 3 innings in a sim game on the backfields at the Cubs complex Saturday morning. He faced a lineup of Cubs minor leaguers and gave up a couple doubles and a run but otherwise looked solid.

Kilian got the start for the Cubs in a split squad game earlier in the week and threw 2 perfect innings against the Diamondbacks with 2 strikeouts.

The 25-year-old right-hander made his big league debut last season but struggled to the tune of a 10.32 ERA with 12 walks in 11.1 innings. He was sent back down to the minors and had an up-and-down remainder of the season.

In all, Kilian went 5-4 with a 4.22 ERA and 125 strikeouts in 106.2 innings at Triple-A Iowa last season and he remains one of the Cubs’ top pitching prospects.

Also in the sim game, outfield prospect Owen Caissie took right-hander Michael McAvene deep to right field. It was a loud sound that reverberated through the practice fields and drew some awe from the fans in attendance.

Caissie, 20, is ranked the No. 80 overall prospect in the game by Baseball Prospectus entering this season. He hit .254 with a .751 OPS and 11 homers in 105 games for Advanced Class-A South Bend.

The Cubs acquired Caissie in the Yu Darvish trade two years ago.

Next up

Drew Smyly will make his second start of the spring Sunday afternoon in Scottsdale as the Cubs take on the Rockies. First pitch is scheduled for 2:10 p.m. Chicago time on Marquee Sports Network.

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