Steele will be 'pretty darn valuable' for Cubs in '23

Taillon strikes out four across three scoreless frames in second spring start

March 4th, 2023

MESA, Ariz. -- Cubs left-hander was scratched from his first Cactus League start with arm fatigue.

If there was any concern on the organization’s part about his health, he took that off the list when he pitched two scoreless innings in the Cubs’ 4-0 victory over the Padres Friday.

The immediate takeaway from that game, of course, was that seven Chicago pitchers combined to no-hit San Diego.

The more important development was Steele’s performance. He needed just 18 pitches to get six outs and worked so quickly he went to the bullpen to throw another 25 pitches in order to get stretched out.

“It felt good,” Steele said. “I think if I can do that all year, I think we’ll be in a pretty good spot.”

A healthy and productive Steele will go a long way towards solidifying the Cubs’ rotation this season. The 27-year-old had a tantalizing 2022 season, even though his 4-7 record didn’t reflect it.

Steele put up a 3.18 ERA, struck out 126 batters in 119 innings and, notably, was dominant after the All-Star break, posting a 0.98 ERA -- the best in the Majors among pitchers who threw over 30 innings in the second half -- before a back injury prematurely ended his season.

He figures to be the Cubs’ No. 3 starter behind Marcus Stroman and .

“He’s one of those guys who we will rely heavily on, and he put in the work in the offseason to be that guy,” manager David Ross said.

Steele switched up his normal offseason routine, moving from Mississippi to Arizona so he could work at the Cubs’ complex five days a week.

“It just made the offseason a lot easier for me and the training staff,” Steele said. “If something came up, I was immediately able to get to work on it rather than being in Mississippi. [Before,] I would have had to call somebody on the phone and then talk to somebody else on the phone or do a Zoom link. With everybody on the same page in Arizona, you just get rid of all that stuff and it’s hands on with instant feedback.”

The Cubs want Steele to add to his repertoire by developing his changeup, a pitch he didn’t feel comfortable throwing last season. Steele, however, said he’s in a “good spot” with the changeup this spring, even though he didn’t throw any against the Padres.

Even if the changeup doesn’t become a major weapon for Steele, the club feels he has enough stuff to succeed.

“If he continues to build off just having that four-seam [fastball], slider in to righties [and] away to lefties and building off that, he’s pretty darn valuable and had a really good season on that,” Ross said.

Shortstop Dansby Swanson said Steele reminds him of former Braves teammate Max Fried.

“He’s obviously got a lot of potential,” Swanson said. “I know people are going to just completely run with this the wrong way when I say it, but he’s got a similar profile to Fried. Their action on their ball moves in a similar way, especially the fastball. It’s just really unique. I think that gives him a big advantage. He’s obviously got some pitchability. He knows what he’s doing.”

Steele hopes former Cubs left-hander Jon Lester will make an appearance at camp so he can continue to pick his brain. Lester’s advice at midseason last year helped Steele more effectively attack right-handed hitters.

“I would love to have him … watch one of my bullpens so he can give me any kind of knowledge,” Steele said. “Anything he has to say, I’m more than willing to listen to it. He pitched for a long time in the big leagues, and that’s something I want to do. If I can have anything close to his career, I’ll be extremely happy with it."

Taillon sharp
Taillon threw three scoreless innings in the Cubs' 2-0 victory over the Angels Saturday and said he felt much more comfortable with the pitch timer than he did in his first Cactus League start.

“I felt like I was in a lot better tempo and control with it,” said Taillon, who struck out four and allowed just one hit. “I think I saw on some of [the pitches] the clock go down to three, two, one second.

“I’m not saying that was a goal of mine, but I definitely need to remember to breathe and kind of process pitch by pitch what I’m doing and what I’m doing with the next pitch. I feel like in my first [start], I didn’t do much of that. I kind of felt like a pitching machine.”