Despite struggles, Kilian crucial to Cubs' future

June 16th, 2022

CHICAGO -- The future is here. 

Caleb Kilian made his second career start on Wednesday night in the Cubs' 19-5 loss against the Padres at Wrigley Field (the Cubs' ninth straight loss). And while it didn’t go as expected, Kilian is one of the many pieces the Cubs hope is a part of the future. 

Kilian was acquired from the Giants in the Kris Bryant trade last July. He is the team’s No. 5 prospect and their top overall pitching prospect. But his recent outing on Wednesday is just a bump in the road for the 25-year-old. 

“Not very good,” Kilian said. “I had a hard time commanding the ball [and] had to rely heavily on the sinker. I didn’t have my sharpest stuff. Overall, it just wasn’t great.” 

He went just four innings, allowing five hits, five runs and five walks. The right-hander struggled with command and was hit heavy from the start against a potent San Diego offense. Kilian gave up two first-inning runs with two hits and two walks. 

And after that, he never really settled in before exiting after the fourth inning. 

“Today didn’t feel normal at all, not in sync,” Kilian said. “I was trying too hard to aim it and throw it to a certain spot instead of just being aggressive and letting it rip.” 

Kilian’s start marked the second of his young career. His first outing came on June 4 against the Cardinals, when he was called up for the second game of a doubleheader. Through those starts, he has gone a combined nine innings, giving up eight hits, eight runs, seven walks and six strikeouts.

“I definitely need to improve,” the right-hander said. “I’m going to try to take away as much as I can from this and grow.”

Despite the rough outings to begin his career, Kilian will have more opportunities to start.

As the Cubs likely enter sell mode at the Trade Deadline, some veterans like Wade Miley and Drew Smyly could provide other teams with a boost. More importantly, it can give Kilian more starts to develop in the Majors.

A start next week is also not out of the question. With Marcus Stroman, Miley and Smyly all nursing injuries, the Cubs’ rotation is pretty limited. Both Stroman and Miley are dealing with shoulder issues and neither have started to throw yet.

“He’ll get the opportunities,” manager David Ross said. “Right now it’s just a matter of if we need a starter. “He’ll get the opportunity when the rotation shakes out that way.”

The two career starts aren’t how Kilian hoped it would go, but they're just a glimpse. He’s a young pitcher who has shown signs of an electric fastball -- 98 mph with 12 called strikes/whiffs on Wednesday. He's also showed some of that potential in the Minors this season. The right-hander has tossed 43 innings in Triple-A Iowa, where he owns a 2.51 ERA and 47 strikeouts. His 2.51 ERA is the fourth-lowest among International League starters.

“I think he’s got a really elite fastball and can move it around a little bit,” Ross said. “He just didn’t have good command tonight.”

Kilian, however, isn’t the only Cub the club is hoping is a significant piece. Christopher Morel is also a part of that conversation.

Morel's rise to the Majors came when the Cubs were dealing with injuries. But with his early success, it looks like the Cubs’ No. 21 prospect is here to stay.

Since being called up on May 17, Morel is hitting .275 with four home runs, 13 RBIs, 19 runs and six stolen bases. He also set the franchise record for the longest career-opening on-base streak (22).

He added to that in an impressive way by slugging his fourth home run of the season in the sixth inning en route to a 2-for-5 night with a career-high three RBIs.

Both Morel and Kilian will continue to develop and evolve as players in their young careers, but they surely seem to be important to the future in Chicago.

“At some point, [Kilian] will be in the [rotation] every day as long as he continues to do what he’s been doing,” Ross said. “He’s got a really bright future in our eyes.”