"We can't be naive to think that we're going to get through the season only using seven or eight starters, or even 10 starters," Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said this week. "I think we can absolutely contend. I definitely think we need more arms, but we're talking about volume of arms."
With that topic in mind, here are Hottovy's answers to three questions currently facing the Cubs as it relates to the team's rotation depth:
MLB.com: As things stand right now, Adbert Alzolay appears poised for a spot in the rotation. Why do you think what he did down the stretch was real and can be carried into 2021?
Hottovy: Just the work they put in. This was a unique year. Guys weren't competing all the time, so one of two things could happen: Guys could go down there and kind of go through the motions, or guys go down there and try to get better. Credit to Adbert for really pushing himself every single day, wanting to get better, wanting to improve, wanting to work on the slider, wanting to add the two-seamer back in.
And when you start reintroducing these new weapons -- he had thrown a little bit like a two-seamer before, he messed around with some curveball, slash, slurvy slider grips -- and when you distinguish those and you work on them and you create pitches that are different than the ones you had, you start to create freedom in what you can do.
Before, when you were just four-seam, curveball, changeup, you sometimes can put yourself in a corner if you don't quite have the same command of one pitch that day. And now you have to command everything really well and be too fine. And I think he just felt free to be aggressive with pitches now. He trusted the movement. He trusted what he was trying to do and knew what he could do and how he could execute.
More info: Alzolay had mixed results in four games with the Cubs in '19, but showed off a new look in his finish to '20. Specifically, the 25-year-old righty worked on a two-seamer and developed a new slider (with a different look than his curve). In his final two games last year, Alzolay had 15 strikeouts, four walks and two runs allowed on four hits over nine innings. He posted a 2.95 ERA with 29 strikeouts in 21 1/3 innings for the Cubs in '20.
MLB.com: Coming off an abbreviated season, how important will depth be in 2021? And what do you think about the internal options?
Hottovy: We have to be creative in how we use guys. We have to be creative in who we target and guys that maybe we go look at. Even bullpen guys that can give us multiple innings and can get stretched out -- other ways to bridge a little bit more with some long guys after a starter [doesn't pitch deep into a game]. Maybe a starter goes six and you have a long guy that goes three and finishes the game. More creative ways to do that.
I think it also shows that we're going to have a lot of opportunity for young guys to step up and show that they can handle the Major League level and they're ready. And we've got a lot of young guys I think we've seen bits and pieces of over the last year and heard names. We have guys getting really close -- we really do.
We added, obviously, Cory Abbott to the 40-man, but you've got guys like Tyson Miller and Justin Steele and Brailyn Marquez . And obviously Adbert, with what he did for us last year. I just think you're going to have opportunity for those guys to step up and get some experience and get some innings.
More info: Marquez (No. 1), Alzolay (No. 6), Abbott (No. 14), Steele (No. 25) and Miller (No. 26) are all on MLB Pipeline's Top 30 Cubs prospects list. Righty Keegan Thompson (No. 30) represents another pitcher on the Cubs' 40-man roster and in the Top 30. All six spent time at Chicago's alternate training site in 2020. Marquez and Miller made their MLB debuts last season.
MLB.com: You mentioned Abbott being added to the roster. How much are you guys viewing him as a legitimate piece to the rotation depth picture in '21?
Hottovy: He's a guy that's always been a performer. I think that's No. 1. He kind of falls in-between: He's got some pitchability -- he's got some similarities to like an Alec Mills or a Kyle Hendricks -- but he's got some stuff, too. He's got some plus pitches that he has to work with and he's continuing to refine.
He's a guy who's obviously been on our radar for a while, but last year was a tough year in terms of workload for him. He was a little sore in Spring Training, so we didn't get to see him a ton. Then we had the shutdown and then we had the alt site. So, we really didn't get quite the same look at him as if he had been in Triple-A all year pitching or Double-A. But, the work he put in, the way he finished this year, the way he's done things in the past, there's a lot of really good stuff to work with there.
And again, this is a guy that just needs opportunities. He needs that opportunity to go out there and show what he can do and continue to learn and improve. I think we've got a good group of guys at the Major League level to continue to learn from and watch and study, and just try to take things away from a guy like Hendricks and Davies and Mills and some of these guys that have done it, and have succeeded at the Major League level.
More info: Hottovy noted that the 25-year-old Abbott features a four-seamer, two-seamer, changeup, curve and slider. Since being picked in the second round of the 2017 MLB Draft, the righty has turned in a 2.84 ERA in 53 starts. In 2019, Abbott had a 3.01 ERA with 166 strikeouts against 52 walks in 146 2/3 innings for Double-A Tennessee.