So far this winter, we’ve covered the Cubs’ organizational depth at second base, third base, first base/DH, and catcher. Today’s review will take us through the wonderful world of left-handed relievers, which the Cubs have a lot of at the upper levels of the minors. This could be considered a strength, but there’s also a bit of uncertainty in the mix.
The same can be said for several other positions, which is why ranking these groups would leave you with a coin flip for anything from second to seventh.
The Iowa Cubs and Tennessee Smokies will be brimming with lefty relievers who could be called up at a moment’s notice. After that, however, the organization gets pretty thin when it comes to southpaws coming out of the bullpen
Let’s break it down by affiliate.
Most iterations of Iowa’s projected roster had three left-handers coming out of the bullpen, and that was before the Cubs went out and signed three minor league lefties this winter. Stephen Gonsalves will likely start, but Locke St. John and Rule 5 pick Conner Menez will probably be in the bullpen if the Cubs end up keeping him. That could give Iowa anywhere between five or six lefties depending on who makes the squad.
We could see Brandon Hughes, who has really blossomed since converting to the bullpen from the outfield in 2019. There is a longtime prospect Bryan Hudson, who seemed to really grow into the relief role last summer in Tennessee. There’s also former first-round pick Brendon Little, who was very close to being added to the 40-man roster if not for an injury in the Arizona Fall League.
Cubs Insider favorite Scott Kobos could be in contention for a relief role as well. He ended the season in Des Moines after starting in Myrtle Beach and being promoted all the way through the system in a few months. The initial plan was to use him as a starter and the Cubs may want to stretch him back out, so that’s something to watch for. If that’s the case, Kobos will probably go to Tennessee to work out of the rotation.
Scott Kobos pitched an impressive 10th inning for Tennessee today. He came in with the runner on second and left him there and finished off the last hitter with a 94 mile an hour fastball. pic.twitter.com/f7VXKUmf9p
— Todd ⚾️🐻🦌 (@CubsCentral08) September 5, 2021
Burl Carraway, the Cubs’ second-round pick in 2020, had an up-and-down year in 2021 that ended with a hot stretch in South Bend and a promotion to Tennessee. He then went to instructs in Mesa and threw nothing but sliders the entire time in order to develop a better feel for the pitch. Adding a slider to his fastball and curve could be a deadly combination if he can get them all across the plate for strikes.
Expectations have been big for Carraway, especially after the Cubs hyped him up as a once-in-a-decade talent following his selection, but he is focusing on his own timetable and not anyone else’s.
Burl Carraway breaking out the slider down at instructs
(From Burl’s IG) pic.twitter.com/FbFUEt6HmW
— Greg Huss (@OutOfTheVines) October 10, 2021
Wyatt Short, a longtime Cubs prospect out of Mississippi, is back again for what could be one last run at getting to Iowa. He’ll be joined by Bryan King, who was injured early and spent most of last year at South Bend before a late promotion to Tennessee. He has a nice curve and a sneaky fastball but sometimes has trouble keeping the ball hidden.
South Bend on Down
When it comes to the bottom two-thirds of the system, lefty relievers are quite sparse. Luis Rodriguez was pretty good last year in Mesa and then again in Myrtle Beach (1.73 and 1.74 ERAs respectively). Chase Watkins, a 16th round pick out of Oregon State, did not pitch outside of rookie league but he could be at South Bend next summer. Riley Martin out of D2 Quincy University could be an interesting follow next year as well.
— Mike Rosenbaum (@GoldenSombrero) July 20, 2021
I recently did a profile on Dalton Stambaugh and I really like the quality of his pitches when he puts him where he wants. I think he could be a breakout guy this spring as he has a nice curve and a little cutter that almost acts like a sinker. Like many MiLB free agents, Stambaugh needs experience against advanced competition and could be at South Bend until he begins to master his role.
Dalton Stambaugh curve pic.twitter.com/2xDsg8SvMm
— TheBullpen🐾 (@RealCubsAnalyst) November 8, 2021
Jack Patterson began 2019 as a reliever before converting back to a starting role, which is what he’d done in Arizona and Eugene in 2018. He missed 2020 from the pandemic and then was out this past season due to Tommy John surgery, so who knows what that timetable will be and how many innings the Cubs are going to let him pitch next summer.
Another guy who could be a reliever moving forward is Joel Machado, who signed as an international free agent in 2018 and didn’t pitch it all in 2019 or in the pandemic of 2020. He threw in only two games when he finally got a chance to pitch in 2021, but the results were very good as he allowed one run in eight innings and struck out seven. He might have an impact if he can overcome the injuries and lack of experience.
It’s pretty clear that the Cubs will have plenty of lefty relievers ready for Chicago in 2022, but Hudson, Little, and Short are free agents at the end of the season. That will be a task for GM Carter Hawkins and a development team being tasked with opening up a pitching pipeline and maintaining a more consistent flow throughout the system.