Cubs News

Why the Cubs feel confident going all in on pitching development

2 years agoAndy Martinez

ST. LOUIS — Carter Hawkins knows there’s no such thing as an overnight fix.

“I think the misconception is that somebody can come in and immediately change culture, immediately change infrastructure, immediately can change process to where there’s instant results,” the Cubs general manager said between Thursday’s doubleheader games. “That just doesn’t happen. It doesn’t happen in life, and it doesn’t happen in baseball.”

So, the notion that Hawkins, who came from an organization with a rich history in developing pitching in Cleveland, would completely revamp the Cubs’ pitching infrastructure in the 10 months he’s been with the Cubs is a tall task. It’s actually been quite the opposite.

The Cubs’ recent run of success with homegrown pitching like Justin Steele, Keegan Thompson and the recently departed Scott Effross are thanks to efforts the Cubs have put forth over the last few years.

“That’s not because of anything that we’ve done in the last 9 months, that’s because of things that have happened 2, 3 years before,” Hawkins said. “As [Assistant General Manager/Vice President of Pitching] Craig [Breslow] and the rest of that group started putting things together, really encouraged by that.

“Now, are we gonna continue to evolve? Absolutely. I think we’re gonna do that all the time, but overall, really encouraged. I think we got a great structure place, great resources in place, a lot of different people looking at things from a lot of different angles and could not be more excited about the direction we’re headed there and both on offense, as well.”

That’s why the Cubs feel strong about the prospects they’ve brought in both in the draft and at the trade deadline. They signed 15 pitchers they drafted last month and acquired 3 more pitchers in trades within the last week. Part of that was due to the availability in each market and the difficulty in acquiring pitching at any level.

“There’s a premium on that in free agency, there’s a premium on that basically in every market,” Hawkins said. “Felt like the draft was a great market for us to try to acquire some of that premium talent. So set up our board that way and that’s how it unfolded and then I think on the trade deadline standpoint, that’s a little bit more about just who’s available and who are the type of players that you wanna bring in.

“I think obviously we were able to bring in some great talent there on the mound as well.”

They’re banking on the success their pitching infrastructure has shown to continue to churn out major-league caliber pitchers.

“Within the first day of drafting them, our pitching group had put together plans and ideas for how to help these guys developmentally,” Hawkins said.

For Hawkins and the Cubs, that development process starts at the macro level.

“Generally, my mental model is you can either fix the ball or fix what’s driving the ball in terms of fix what the ball is doing in the air, in terms of making it go harder or making it go in a different direction or making it go to a specific spot or fix how the body makes the ball do that,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins has seen the Cubs’ success come in the form of fixing what the ball does in the air. The Cubs have taught plenty of pitchers a slider that features more horizontal depth. Thompson, for example, has used it to great success, with opponents hitting just .071 in plate appearances that end in that pitch and posting a 53.3% strikeout-rate with it.

But that doesn’t mean the Cubs are just going to go up to every pitcher in their system and teach them how to throw a wipeout slider and tell them to use it heavily.

“I think the beautiful thing about development is you can’t be cookie cutter,” Hawkins said. “A lot of people have tried the cookie cutter developmental, and it just doesn’t work.”

Instead, the Cubs are trying to fortify the strengths of the pitchers. That applies whether it’s a pitcher with nasty stuff or one who relies on control or deception.

“So, it’s really focusing on how we maximize the strengths the player already has versus fixing the weaknesses the player has,” Hawkins said. “Now, if there’s weaknesses that the player has that are easy to fix that are pretty high leverage and low cost, we’ll definitely address those. But the nice part is, any pitcher from any type of background will come into a system, do a thorough assessment, figure out what the highest-level interventions are, pull those levers and see some success.”

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