Dillon Maples giving the Cubs something to think about this spring
MESA, Ariz. — We’ve been down this road before with Dillon Maples.
Is this the year he finally harnesses his wicked stuff and becomes an x-factor out of the Cubs bullpen?
That’s been the question ever since Maples made his MLB debut in September 2017 after a breakout season in the minor leagues. It has never panned out in Chicago, as he sports a career 8.49 ERA and 1.93 WHIP in 31 appearances.
Except this spring, there’s a different wrinkle — Maples is out of minor-league options. So if the Cubs choose not to keep him on the Opening Day roster, they would have to place him on waivers and another team might take a flier on his potential.
Last summer as the shortened season was arriving, David Ross lobbied for Maples to make the Opening Day bullpen and loved the swing-and-miss stuff. The right-hander walked 4 batters and gave up 2 runs over 2 appearances and wound up optioned to the alternate site in South Bend for the remainder of 2020.
Maples and the Cubs set about making adjustments to his delivery and approach in an effort to harness his 97 mph fastball and nasty slider. So far this spring, he’s turned heads with those changes.
“Dillon’s done a really good job,” Ross said. “He’s throwing a lot more strikes. He’s a guy that [Saturday] I wanted to get him in against the ‘A’ lineup and see how that played out for him.
“I think some of the issues that he’s had in the past are kind of long gone and behind him. He’s throwing a lot of strikes. The slider’s got great depth.”
With Maples, the key is always going to be consistency. He made some tweaks with his mechanics and delivery and it’s paid off this spring as he has yet to walk a batter in 4 outings and has 6 strikeouts.
The Cubs have also seen a noticeable difference in how Maples is carrying himself.
“Dillon was arguably our best pitcher in summer camp last year and really came in and did some good things and then things got out of whack for him and it’s difficult to make the adjustments,” pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. “But he really did a lot of work at the alt site last year. Worked on a ton of stuff over the winter and then has come in and kinda re-invented himself.
“You see different mechanics, you see him doing quick pitches and wind-ups. He has a freedom about him now. It’s one thing to have the stuff, but when you start to see that freedom and that willingness to kinda do all these different things, that shows me that a guy is mentally in a really good place to take on a lot of things.”
Hottovy and Ross have had an up-close look at Maples’ journey over the last four years. He was a highly regarded pitching prospect who finally saw things click in 2017 when he struck out 100 batters in 63.1 minor-league innings.
Now 28, the clock is ticking for Maples as he tries to make the Opening Day roster once again.
“I’ve definitely seen the version of him grow every single season to get better and be able to help us,” Ross said. “So I would say he’s in the mix to be on the team.”