By the book: Maples seeks 'pen role with Cubs

Right-hander advanced from Class A to Majors in 2017

January 16th, 2018

CHICAGO -- was sitting at a Starbucks in Memphis on Aug. 31, reading about George Washington, when Cubs player development director Jaron Madison interrupted him. Triple-A Iowa's game against the Redbirds had been called because of the weather. An avid reader, Maples' plan was to hunker down in one of the coffee shop's comfortable chairs for the day.

"Jaron comes over and says, 'Hey, why don't you ride back with me to the hotel?'" said Maples, who was pitching in relief for Iowa, his third Minor League stop in 2017. "I said, 'You know, I'm probably going to get my drink refilled and hang out here for another hour.' He said, 'No, no, no, I think you need to come back with me.'

"I thought, this is a little weird," Maples said. "We get back to the hotel and he tells me, and I was ecstatic."

Madison's message was the news every Minor League player wants to hear: Maples was being called up to the big leagues. After six seasons in the Minors, including several stops, injuries and frustrations to the point where he nearly quit pitching, Maples was headed to the show.

Ranked 14th on MLB Pipeline's list of Top 30 Cubs prospects, Maples made his Major League debut on Sept. 3 against the Braves and walked one and struck out one in one inning. The Pirates roughed him up in his next outing the next day, scoring five runs on three hits and two walks, but he settled down in his final four outings. In six games with the Cubs, he struck out 11 over 5 1/3 innings and showed off an impressive slider.

When the right-hander, who was a 14th-round pick in 2011, returned home for the offseason, he took about two weeks to reflect on what he had done. Maples began the year with Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach, was promoted to Double-A Tennessee then Iowa before reaching the Cubs.

"The first few weeks after the season ended, you're not doing too much. You're just relaxing, and I let it hit me," Maples said Sunday. "I thought about how crazy it was and all the people who have been supporting me through thick and thin. It's been really awesome, and I'm grateful to be surrounded by so many great people.

"Last year was pretty crazy, but I've moved on," he said. "That's why I had that two-week period to sit back and let it soak in. Now, it's, 'All right, let's go. Let's have a good camp and work on what I need to work on. Last year is irrelevant.'"

Maples will be invited to the Cubs' big league Spring Training camp, which will give him a chance to learn from the veteran pitchers.

"[For him], it's about being more consistent and efficient with his pitches," Madison said. "As long as he continues to do that, he'll stay healthy."

This offseason, the Cubs have added arms to the bullpen, including , and . Maples has learned a lot about pitch sequencing in the Minors, and even if he's not on the big league roster on Opening Day, he's someone to keep an eye on.

"He has a slider that no one can hit and he can throw it in any count," Madison said.

By the way, Maples did finish the Washington biography.

"I love reading about battles and wars and people who lead people into battle," he said. "George Washington did everything. He formed this great nation, he was a leader of a bunch of rag tags. It's just awesome. His leadership and stoicism and everything he took on and was able to propel this nation. I enjoyed it."

The book was about 700 pages and a little intimidating, Maples said. He expected to need a year to read it. Getting to the big leagues can be intimidating, too.

"I'm trying to read about all of the people who were the glue to this country," he said. "They're all pretty interesting. I've got [Alexander] Hamilton lined up."