Cubs put emphasis on developing young arms

January 14th, 2018

CHICAGO -- When made his Major League debut in August 2016, it was a significant moment for the Cubs organization. The left-hander was the first Cubs pitcher selected in the Draft by Theo Epstein to reach the big leagues since he took over as president of baseball operations in October 2011.

The Cubs want to get more homegrown talent to the Majors and made some changes this offseason. Jim Benedict, considered a pitching guru who is credited with helping , , and , was named special assistant to baseball operations. Brendan Sagara is the new Minor League pitching coordinator and Jim Hickey is the Cubs' new pitching coach.

"It's just a huge investment in our pitching infrastructure," said Jaron Madison, director of player development. "It's an area we've identified that can continue to get better. Theo made it a goal this past offseason and all through last season, we talked about pitching -- what can we do better as an organization at the Minor League level and the big league level to make sure we're marrying our ideas at both places and getting pitchers up to the big leagues to help out."

• Cubs' Top 30 prospects

Madison and Alex Suarez, director of international pro scouting, closed the Cubs Convention on Sunday with a seminar on the Minor Leagues. The Cubs have had no problems developing position players they've drafted, including , and , who were selected in the first rounds in 2013, '14 and '15, respectively, and were among the top 10 players taken those years.

Last year, the Cubs had two first-round picks -- Nos. 27 and 30 -- and selected pitchers Brendon Little and Alex Lange. Both should open the 2018 season at Class A South Bend. The Cubs had focused on college position players because they usually get to the big leagues quicker, which helped Epstein's rebuilding process. If they continue to have success, they won't be getting any more top 10 picks.

"We're digging in and re-evaluating everything we're doing from a pitching standpoint," Madison said. "We've come a long way, but now we need something to take us to that next level, and that's where Jim [Benedict] and Hickey and Sagara come in."

There are some young pitchers on the horizon, including , ranked No. 3 among MLB Pipeline's top 30 Cubs prospects; (No. 13); and Duane Underwood (No. 17).

Alzolay, 22, was 7-1 with a 2.98 ERA in 15 starts at Class A Myrtle Beach and finished the year in the Arizona Fall League.

"We love the athleticism, arm speed," Suarez said. "He's exceeded every expectation I had from a scouting standpoint. Our area guys were dead set that this was a guy we had to bring into our system. Not only does he have the physical tools but also the mental makeup."

Madison also likes top prospect , 22, who posted a 3.46 ERA in 12 starts at Myrtle Beach. The right-hander was bothered by a pectoral injury last season but is healthy now.

"He's a guy who could move quick through the system because he's a big strong guy with Major League weapons," Madison said. "It's just a matter of keeping him healthy."

• Besides Sagara, the Cubs also will have a new Minor League hitting coordinator in Jacob Cruz and a new Minor League infield coordinator in Jeremy Farrell. Cruz was the Double-A Tennessee hitting coach. Farrell, who was the hitting coach at South Bend last season, is the son of former Red Sox manager John Farrell and his two brothers are already in the Cubs organization. is a pitcher and Shane Farrell is the Midwest area scout.

• Since Joe Maddon became the Cubs manager, there has been an emphasis in the Minor League system for players to be more versatile. Someone may be listed as a shortstop, but he will learn quickly that he'll see time at second and third base and possibly in the outfield.

"We're looking for guys who are athletic," Suarez said. "With a National League club, it's extremely important and when you have a manager as creative as Joe, it's even more important."