Each day in March, NBC Sports Chicago is previewing one player from the Cubs’ expected 2020 Opening Day roster. With four bullpen roles still up for grabs, let's pivot to pitcher Adbert Alzolay, who will join the club at some point this season.
Alzolay made his MLB debut last summer as one of the more high-profile pitching prospects during Theo Epstein’s tenure in Chicago. The 25-year-old made four appearances (two starts), delivering an up-and-down performance.
In 12 1/3 innings, Alzolay allowed 10 earned runs on 13 hits and nine walks. A bulk of that damage came in a start on July 1 against the Pittsburgh Pirates when he surrendered seven earned runs on 10 hits in 2 2/3 innings.
Expectations for this season’s role
The Cubs reassigned Alzolay to minor league camp on March 10. He was in the mix for the final rotation spot, but that competition is now down to Tyler Chatwood and Alec Mills.
Alzolay will start the year in Triple-A Iowa’s rotation, which allows him to stretch out and build up arm strength. He missed most of 2018 with a lat strain and the first month of 2019 with another. His career-high for innings is 120 1/3 (2016 in Single-A), so there will be innings limitations for him this season.
We’ll see Alzolay on the North Side at some point in 2020, likely in a relief role where he can eat up innings and matchup versus righties and lefties. He could make a few spot starts as well.
Improvement for Alzolay lies in better results from his four-seam fastball. MLB opponents hit .385/.515/.808 against it last season compared to .154/.313/.385 against his curveball and .091/.091/.091 against his changeup.
Alzolay told the Chicago Tribune’s Mark Gonzales that he sometimes loses feel for his changeup and has been working on it this offseason. His curveball is his go-to out pitch (30.8 putaway percentage last season), but opponents can sit fastball if he isn’t fooling them with the change.
Throwing an effective changeup more frequently will make Alzolay more deceptive and keep hitters off balance. If he finds success with all three of his pitches, David Ross can use him in a variety of roles out of the bullpen, building towards a full-time rotation role in 2021.
The complete roster outlook series:
1. Cubs hoping Kris Bryant stabilizes leadoff spot in 2020
2. Kyle Hendricks is a steady force in the Cubs' rotation
3. Kyle Schwarber is primed for a breakout 2020 season
4. Tyler Chatwood has chance to rewrite the script in 2020
5. David Bote searching for more offensive consistency in 2020
6. One pitch could hold key to Jose Quintana's 2020 success
7. Albert Almora Jr. looking to rebound behind new swing, refreshed mental state
8. Cubs counting on bounce back season from Craig Kimbrel
9. Javier Báez is indispensable, and the best is yet to come
10. New pitch key to Rowan Wick staving off regression
11. New MLB rule gives Victor Caratini chance for bigger role
12. Daniel Descalso can only improve from last season
13. Ian Happ poised to claim starting center field job
14. Jeremy Jeffress can bounce back in Chicago
15. Lineup adjustment could be key to Jason Heyward's success
16. Anthony Rizzo remains an all-around rock for Chicago
17. Kyle Ryan's versatility key in uncertain bullpen
18. Now is not the time to write off Jon Lester
19. Willson Contreras' health is critical to team's success
20. How Alec Mills fits on Opening Day roster
21. Steven Souza Jr. could provide needed boost vs. lefties
22. How COVID-19 hiatus could impact Nico Hoerner's trajectory