The Cubs’ priorities this season have changed as the team has gone from fighting for a playoff spot pre-trade deadline to focusing on the future post-trade deadline. But with the team focusing on the future with two months left in the season and the World Series core now broken up, many see the team heading toward a long, grueling rebuild.
After seeing the roster since the deadline, it’s hard to blame fans for not expecting much and the team will have to spend this offseason to avoid fighting for a Top 10 pick again in the 2023 draft.
But if there’s something that should give fans hope that the Cubs’ rebuild isn’t going to be a long, strenuous process like their last one, it’s the fact that they now have homegrown arms they can watch develop at the Major League level.
“I think one of the biggest positives that we’ve seen around here this year are these young guys,” starter Kyle Hendricks told the Sun-Times.
No. Having homegrown arms that can go out and perform aren’t the only thing that will help the Cubs avoid a three-to-four year rebuilding process. But the team’s ability to find quality arms in the interim is significant.
Right-handers Adbert Alzolay, Keegan Thompson and left-hander Justin Steele are each getting their opportunity over the final two months of the 2021 season. While Alzolay has been in the rotation since the season began, Steele is finally getting his chance with Thompson’s time coming in the next few weeks.
“Between Adbert and what he’s been able to do this year with unbelievable work ethic and then Keegan and Steele,” said Hendricks. “Those two guys, you can see the competitiveness and the fire. Seeing those kinds of flashes throughout the season gives you a lot of hope that it can turn around real quick.”
All three Cubs’ rookie arms are 26-years-old and as all three enter what should be the strongest years of their careers – if the Cubs find rotation options out of them, it puts their rebuild in a much better place.
“‘Each time I go out there, I’m trying to prove something,” Steele said. ”I’m trying to show that I can be a part of this up-and-coming [group]. That’s why we’re here.
There’s no reason not to find out who exactly Alzolay, Thompson and Steele are right now. Whether the Cubs find they have three mid-rotation, three back-end starters or maybe two relievers and a starter, learning what they are is beneficial as the team makes plans for the future.
“It’s important for us as an organization to evaluate some of the young guys so we can make better decisions when we go into the offseason,” pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. “If we anticipate things are going to happen and we don’t give them the chance to actually prove it, that’s when we get in trouble. So I think as an organization it’s important for us to be able to give them room to work through some outings and be able to see what we have and make better decisions.”
Alzolay has battled through the up-and-downs of his first full season in a rotation and Steele and Thompson are going to get a taste of that before the season is over. Over the final two month of the season, the Cubs will get to see them in a rotation together for the first time. While it should give some clarity on if they can handle starting, it could also be a preview of what the team’s rotation looks like next season.
“For a lot of the young guys, we’re using this as an opportunity for them to get experience but also learn,” Hottovy said. “Learn about pitch sequencing. Learn about how stuff works. Giving them the tools of learning. I think our routine is similar [as before]. A lot of the same scouting reports. We’re not changing how we want to gameplan and attack guys.”