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.
The Cubs open the second half with a win
The Cubs beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the opener of their five-game series on Thursday night, rallying from an early deficit to win 9-6. In the first segment, I looked back on that game for a brief moment and previewed the pitching matchup in Friday’s game. In the second segment, Evan Altman of Cubs Insider joined me to talk more in depth about Thurdsay’s victory, the Cardinals, Jason Heyward, and several other pertinent topics.
In the final segment, we fielded a question from a listener — that we pretty loosely answered — and talked about a new addition to the bullpen. Welcome to Chicago, former Texas Rangers reliever Jesse Chavez!
Will the Cubs run out of gas by the playoffs?
As the Cubs head out of the All-Star break, their fortunes for the 2018 season seem to be in good shape.
A late spurt just before the mid-season classic coupled with a sudden cold spell by their chief rivals have given the Cubs the best record in the National League by 2.5 games in the standings.
The Cubs also have one of the most favorable schedules down the stretch, with only 37 games remaining against opponents that currently have winning records. That’s tied for third-best among all NL teams with a winning record.
But there are concerns, and it starts with the schedule. Out of all the contending teams, the Cubs will have the most blistering pace in the last half of the season, having to play 69 games in only 74 days.
That starts tonight against the St. Louis Cardinals, in a span where they will play 21 games in 20 days.
With only six scheduled days off until the end of the season, the Cubs are tied with the Atlanta Braves for the least amount among the 10 teams with winning records. By comparison, the Milwaukee Brewers will play only 64 games for the remainder of the season and will have 11 scheduled off days.
Of all the teams contending for the playoffs in the NL, the Philadelphia Phillies may have the easiest route with 67 games remaining, 33 against teams with winning records, and eight days off scheduled.
And although the Cardinals are experiencing troubles, they have the second-softest road with 68 games, 36 against winning opponents, and seven off days.
That kind of schedule will push many players on the Cubs roster up to or past their previous limits. Albert Almora, Javier Baéz, Willson Contreras, Ian Happ, and Kyle Schwarber are all on pace to set career-highs in at-bats, while pitchers Tyler Chatwood, Mike Montgomery, and Brandon Morrow will all be close to or surpass career-highs in either appearances or innings pitched.
At this point, no one can be sure just how their production will be affected as the season wears on.
During this string of three straight postseason appearances, the Cubs have used there deep minor league system to either bring relief to the major league roster, create a spark of energy, or provide extra help as part of a trade.
From 2015 through 2017, the Cubs have used on an average of 47 players a season, with an average of 31 making a significant contribution (defined as 25 or more games for a position player, and 15 or more appearances for a pitcher).
Up to this point, the Cubs have used 39 players, 25 with significant contributions.
The Cubs could be hoping that players such as David Bote, Victor Caratini, and James Norwood are ready to step up and provide that spark, but there seems to be no one behind them ready to contribute if those players do not.
There are some that may hold out hope that veteran Chris Coghlan can lend a hand, but a 33-year-old batting only .146 in Triple-A might not be able to flip the switch if given a chance to return to the majors.
Over the past three seasons, the Cubs have used a flurry of trades involving their minor league players to bolster their major league roster. Unfortunately, they received practically no additional developmental talent in return.
That, combined with a loss of draft picks in 2016 and international signing restrictions, has combined to deplete the Cubs’ minor league resources. While they have talented players such as catcher Miguel Amaya and pitchers Cory Abbott and Keegan Thompson that may pique some interest, don’t expect teams to line up in order to deal the Cubs a potential difference maker for those players’ distant promise.
So as the trade deadline nears, keen interest should be had as to how the Cubs address this situation. Does the front office have the courage to deal a fairly significant major league player in order to supply reinforcements?
Will they try to scrape together something from their ramshackle minor league system and make the best of it?
Or will they stand pat and hope that injured players like Kris Bryant and Yu Darvish come back rejuvenated while their replacements hopefully continue to contribute at a high level?
If they aren’t careful, the Cubs could come out of the gate in the playoffs gasping rather than swinging.
Wait, could the Cubs trade for Jacob deGrom after all?
The Cubs are back in action today, taking on the St. Louis Cardinals and their new manager, Mike Shildt. Sean Sears and I previewed the game, which Sean will be attending as credentialed media for the first time. The game will feature Kyle Hendricks against Carlos Martinez. In the second segment, we looked at a piece Jesse Rogers wrote for ESPN that tried to pinpoint what a Cubs trade for Jacob deGrom might look like. Is it more favorable than we originally thought?
Given this new information, we came to the conclusion that the Cubs are definitely, 100% trading for deGrom. No question, done deal. In the final segment, we briefly discussed the results of a poll from the @LockedOnCubs Twitter account and I made puns relating to Brad Hand‘s name.