Dillon Maples has good stuff. Specifically, he has a downright disgusting slider that can make the most seasoned of hitters look foolish. And for more on that, you could listen to Episode 27 of the Locked On Cubs podcast.
But let’s dive into it here, too. Maples has flashed a ton of potential, however he doesn’t yet appear entirely ready for regular time in the majors. His first call up to the Cubs was last season, on September 1, 2017. His rapid rise from the High-A Myrtle Beach Pelicans to the big league club in the span of one season is a testament to his talent. He posted a 2.27 ERA in 63.1 innings in the minors last season.
And this comes after Maples strongly considered giving up on baseball as a career.
“I’d lost passion, lost drive,” he said. “Injuries, mental funks, [and] zero confidence” were what led to almost leaving the game. But the turnaround came at the perfect time.
Cubs fans were eager to see what Maples had to offer, as the bullpen was of questionable strength on and off throughout the 2017 season. With lots of strikeouts and a slider that some considered one of the best in all of baseball, Maples was dripping with intrigue.
“He has lights out, nasty, filthy, unbelievable stuff,” said Iowa Cubs manager Marty Pevey. “He is just freaking ridiculously nasty when he’s in the strikeouts. But when he’s not, he’s not usable.”
That narrative has followed Maples into 2018. In 27 games and 26.1 innings pitched with Iowa for the 2018 season thus far, he has a 3.08 ERA with 24 walks and 42 strikeouts. The 9.2 BB/9 is as awful as the 15.4 K/9 is great. However, in 10.2 innings from May 29-June 23, Maples walked just six while striking out 19 with zero earned runs allowed. The control appeared to be better, so he was called up to Chicago on June 27.
In his first outing with the Cubs this season, Maples pitched two innings with no earned runs, three strikeouts, two walks, and one hit batter in a 7-5 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers. But true to form, his second outing with the Cubs was not as pretty. On July 1 versus the Minnesota Twins, Maples hiked his ERA up to 16.88 in an 11-10 win. Prior to his entrance in the eighth inning, the Cubs had been ahead 11-5.
The Twins scored five runs with two outs against Maples, who gave up the cycle with a single by Logan Morrison, a ground-rule double from Eduardo Escobar, a triple from Willians Astudillo, and a home run by Mitch Garver. Maples could not get the job done, and Brandon Morrow was brought in to close out the ninth on what was supposed to be his off day.
The issue is not one of velocity, as Maples’s four-seamer sits at an average of 97 miles per hour and his breaking balls are in the high-80s. The problem is his dreadful command. His poor location in the Twins game was a prime example of how wrong things can go when he’s unable to find the strike zone.
Now Maples has a -0.2 WAR and 2.63 WHIP. Another scary stat is his FIP, which sits at 9.48. Obviously, this is working with a very small sample size for 2018, but it speaks to the bigger concern regarding his control. As stated by Pevey, when Maples is off, he’s woefully ineffective. Upon returning to Iowa, he walked three batters and struck out three batters in his first inning of work on July 6.
But Maples is 26 years old and has seen only glimpses of major league playing time. He has pitched in the minors since 2012, but only first saw the Triple-A level in 2017. The Cubs’ bullpen is in much better shape this season than last, so the need is not as desperate. But it would be reassuring to have a stronger pool to pull from in Triple-A, in injury situations and when rosters expand in September.
Maples will have to figure out how to get his pitches under control in order to see regular playing time with the Cubs. Specifically, the frisbee-like slider. The organization seems willing to give him his chances, but he has proven that he’s not ready to contribute in the majors just yet. Barring any catastrophes with the Chicago bullpen, he should be able to continue to get regular playing time in Iowa, where he can hone in on his issues and gain more confidence.
If he can finally harness his pitches, Maples could be a dominant force for the Cubs. He could be a great set-up man for the closer. We’ll likely see him again in September, and whether or not he has improved his command will be interesting to see.
Cubs lose a frustrating game to the Brewers
The Cubs came into the their three-game set with the Brewers playing well, but they didn’t play so well on Monday night. Cole Hamels had another solid game, but the offense couldn’t hit Zach Davies in his return from the DL and several small errors doomed this game. The Cubs lost, 4-3. Sean Sears and I talked about that, today’s game, and a crucial decision by Kris Bryant on the last play of the game.
In the second segment, we talked more about Hamels vs. Davies and some comments from Hamels that were … interesting. In the final segment, we talked about the NL Central and cast our unofficial NL MVP ballots.
Javy Baez is having a special season
On today’s show, we’ll quickly go over the weekend games and highlight the excellent pitching from Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester, and Jose Quintana this weekend. In the second segment, we’ll preview this week’s series with the Brewers and talk a little about Javier Baez‘s season and why it’s so special.
And finally, we’ll wrap the show taking a look at the NL Central and I have a few notes on new Cubs catcher Bobby Wilson.
Cubs win in Atlanta, but lose Jason Heyward to injury
The Cubs had a short layover in Atlanta on their way to Philadelphia, and they picked up a win against the Braves. Mike Montgomery was excellent for the first few innings but ran out of gas in the fifth, giving up four earned runs in 4 1/3 innings with six strikeouts. The Cubs’ bullpen — even Brandon Kintzler! — combined to shut the Braves down the rest of the way, and Chicago pulled off a 5-4 victory. Sean Sears and I talked about that in the first segment, then looked ahead at tonight’s game against the Phillies.
In the second segment, we talked about a variety of little topics: The Bobby Wilson trade, Kris Bryant, Terrence Gore, and Jason Heyward‘s hamstring injury. To finish things out, we talked about the NL Central and updated the standings. I even did some math to explain just how hot the Cardinals would have to finish the 2018 season to win the division.