Cubs Promote RHP Matt Swarmer for Monday Start, RHP Anderson Espinoza Provides Additional Depth

The Cubs have decided to call up one of their top performing pitching prospects for Monday’s doubleheader after all, but it isn’t Caleb Kilian. Instead, 28-year-old righty Matt Swarmer got the call from Iowa to start the early game against the Brewers. That’s a bit of a surprise because not many have viewed Swarmer as a dude after a pair of rough campaigns in 2019 and ’21.

He was the Cubs’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2018, though, and offseason tweaks — plus a less lively baseball — have him pitching very well this season. Swarmer is 3-1 with a 2.08 ERA in nine total appearances (five starts) at Triple-A and he’s allowed just a .167 average over 39 innings. That’s a far cry from the pitcher who allowed 58 homers in his previous 264 innings.

Things were looking pretty rough for Swarmer through June and one July start last year and I believed he was close to pitching his way out of the organization. After spending all of 2019 at Iowa, the Cubs asked Swarmer to spend some time at Tennessee to open the ’21 season, not exactly a good sign. Then he gave up 27 earned runs over his first five starts back with Iowa.

Five of those runs came in a game I attended against the Indianapolis Indians, prior to which someone had lamented to me how unfortunate it was that Swarmer had been pitching so poorly. But then something changed. Swarmer allowed just seven earned runs over his next seven appearances (three starts) and allowed 25 earned over his final 70.1 innings. I’m not sure exactly what happened, but Bryan Smith of Bleacher Nation surmises that the Cubs had Swarmer really lean into his slider.

Between his incredibly high leg kick and a big hand wrap that hides the ball as well as anyone in the game, the slider is more effective as a result of extreme deception. It’s sort of like Scott Effross, just with a different mechanism. How that’ll play in MLB is still a question and there’s definitely a little worry about the longball, but it’s good to see the Cubs giving Swarmer a shot.

One other thing I’ve always noted with Swarmer is that he loves wearing his jersey unbuttoned at the top with no undershirt. Not that that’s important in any way, just wanted to throw that out there.

He won’t be the only pitcher coming up Monday either, as righty starter Anderson Espinoza has been promoted from Double-A. Acquired from the Padres for Jake Marisnick last year, the 24-year-old Espinoza is a former top prospect who did not pitch in organization ball from 2017-20 due to a pair of elbow reconstructions. Finally healthy, he was promoted to Tennessee last season and has made eight starts for the Smokies this year.

The results certainly don’t scream that Espinoza is worthy of this promotion, but looking past that 7.31 ERA reveals some promise. He has 36 strikeouts in 28.1 innings and…well, that’s the main thing that stands out. The real key here is that, unlike Swarmer, Espinoza is already on the 40-man roster and doesn’t require a corresponding move to clear space. My guess is that he’ll be used as bullpen depth in more of a long relief role after Sunday’s extra-innings loss depleted the relief corps.

His upper-90s fastball has big-time late tail that makes some confuse it for a two-seam, and the velo will play up in abbreviated outings. Lauded for a changeup earlier in his career, it appears he favors the curve and a “gyro” slider as his main secondaries now. Assuming his opponents don’t have a comprehensive book on him due to all that time off, he might be able to take advantage of this opportunity.

The most interesting thing here is that the Cubs promoted Swarmer to take a 40-man spot knowing Kilian will eventually need one as well, but I suppose they have their reasons. Regardless, it’s good to see them getting more aggressive with promotions. In addition to these two pitchers, Nelson Velázquez was just promoted as well, plus they’ve had Christopher Morel up for a little while now.

The Cubs made two moves in order to clear space in Chicago, placing Jonathan Villar on the IL after suffering a mouth injury while working out that will require significant dental work and transferring Ethan Roberts to the 60-day IL. The former makes room for Velázquez on the active roster, the latter for Swarmer on the 40-man, and Espinoza is the 27th man for Monday’s twin bill.

Now the only question is what happens when all the veterans start coming back from the IL.

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