CHICAGO -- Daniel Palencia showed promise as a starting pitching prospect in the Cubs’ system, but it was also easy to dream on his overpowering arsenal in a bullpen. Chicago is starting to explore that path for the hard-throwing righty.
Earlier this month, the Cubs placed the 23-year-old Palencia on the development list and sent him to Arizona to begin a transition to relief. This past week, Palencia was activated and promoted to Triple-A Iowa, putting his triple-digit heater a call away from the big leagues.
“He's a guy that fits that bill,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer told reporters this week. “He's up to 102 [mph]. He's got offspeed pitches. We're trying to simplify his mix to a certain extent. He's been a four-pitch guy. He's probably not going to be a four-pitch guy in the bullpen.”
Palencia -- ranked as the Cubs' No. 13 prospect by MLB Pipeline -- was acquired as part of the July ’21 trade that sent veteran reliever Andrew Chafin to the A’s. Last season, the right-hander posted a 3.94 ERA with 98 strikeouts against 35 walks in 75 1/3 innings.
In five starts with Double-A Tennessee to start this season, Palencia turned in a 5.87 ERA but had 18 strikeouts in 15 1/3 innings and held batters to a .196 average. In his Triple-A debut on Thursday, Palencia struck out two, walked one and allowed no hits in one shutout inning. He touched 99.1 mph with his sinker and averaged 98 mph with the pitch.
“It's nice to have those kind of arms,” Hoyer said. “We'll be transitioning some of those guys into the bullpen in the weeks and months to come.”
Here are four more players of note from around the Cubs’ four full-season affiliates:
Triple-A Iowa: RHP Ben Brown
All eyes continue to be on the 23-year-old Brown at Iowa, where he has posted a 3.75 ERA in five starts since his promotion. The No. 6-ranked Cubs prospect has 36 strikeouts and 12 walks in 24 innings, and it’s worth noting that seven of his 10 earned runs with the I-Cubs came in one rough outing on May 16.
On Saturday, Brown struck out 11 and walked two over 5 1/3 innings, allowing one run on four hits to Nashville. A pair of big league-quality hitters, Luis Urías and Luke Voit, went a combined 0-for-5 with five strikeouts and one walk against Brown.
Double-A Tennesee: C Pablo Aliendo
Aliendo, 20, has flown under the radar for the Smokies, but has hit .280 with seven homers, 11 doubles, 25 RBIs and a .982 OPS through 26 games. Pipeline’s No. 29 Cubs prospect -- a native of Venezuela -- entered Sunday 6-for-17 with two homers, four doubles and seven RBIs in his last four games.
High-A South Bend: RHP Brandon Birdsell
The 23-year-old Birdsell is not on Pipeline’s Top 30 list right now, but the 2022 MLB Draft pick (fifth round) is off to a great start to his season. Birdsell allowed two runs or fewer in each of his first seven starts this year at South Bend. Overall, he has a 2.20 ERA with 27 strikeouts against 12 walks in 32 2/3 innings.
Single-A Myrtle Beach: 1B/OF Felix Stevens
Stevens, 23, has bounced mostly between first and left field for the Pelicans, while hitting at a .293 clip with 13 extra-base hits, 20 RBIs and a .924 OPS through 34 games. A product of Cuba, Stevens entered Sunday with an 8-for-18 showing (two homers and six RBIs) in his last six games.