CHICAGO -- The Cubs need more inventory for their bullpen -- both for the Major League relief corps and the depth behind it -- and the team does not shy away from projects. Left-hander CD Pelham gives Chicago a high-upside reliever that checks all of those boxes.
The Cubs claimed Pelham off waivers from the Rangers on Wednesday, bringing the 40-man roster to 38 at the moment for the North Siders. Pelham is coming off a forgettable 2019 campaign in the Minor Leagues, but the power in his left arm makes him an intriguing option if the Cubs can get him into their pitch lab and tap into that potential.
Over the weekend, the Cubs also acquired a reclamation project in righty Jharel Cotton, who missed '18 due to Tommy John surgery and then dealt with other setbacks in '19. Cotton will have a chance to build up like a starter early in the spring, but his most realistic path to the MLB roster is via a relief role.
Both Cotton (one) and Pelham (two) have Minor League options, allowing the Cubs the opportunity to send them to the Minors without worrying about exposing either pitcher to waivers. That also gives Chicago's team of pitching coaches and lab rats time to dig into the data on both pitchers to find ways to improve their production.
The 24-year-old Pelham comes to the Cubs with a big four-seam fastball, which Statcast read at 96.4 mph on average in his lone taste of the Majors in '18 with the Rangers. The lefty leans mostly on a fastball-slider mix and appeared in 10 games in '18, striking out seven with four walks in 7 2/3 innings. He also gave up six runs on 12 hits in that big league stint.
Last season, the 6-foot-6 Pelham finished with more walks (40) than strikeouts (37) between stops with Double-A Frisco and Triple-A Nashville. His ERA (11.97) in his 42 Minor League apperances in '19 left a lot to be desired, but the Cubs' acquisition is less about numbers and more about upside. If Chicago can get more out of the fastball or slider, or find something within his sinker, changeup or curve, that could turn Pelham into a viable bullpen weapon.
In 2018, the Cubs worked with lefty Kyle Ryan at Triple-A Iowa on altering his arm slot and he turned into a reliable late-inning option in '19. Righty Rowan Wick adopted a knuckle-curve after being acquired by the Cubs last winter and developed into a setup man by season's end. Lefty Brad Wieck (acquired in July) saw his curveball's spin rate jump to 2,407 RPM on average with the Cubs (from 2,174 RPM earlier in the year with San Diego).
Besides exploring trades and free agency to immediately upgrade the Major League bullpen, the Cubs will be searching for other success stories to help fill out the 'pen throughout '20 and beyond.
This offseason, Chicago saw veteran relievers Steve Cishek, Brandon Kintzler and Pedro Strop reach free agency. Derek Holland and David Phelps joined them on the open market after Chicago declined to pick up their team options. That leaves a lot of holes to fill for a Cubs bullpen that has closer Craig Kimbrel and few locks within the host of internal candidates.