Adbert Alzolay may still wind up a frontline starting pitcher for the Cubs, but it's safe to say he won't realize that potential in 2019.
Alzolay — who turns 24 in March — has fallen off top prospect lists after a forgettable 2018 campaign in which he posted a 4.76 ERA and 1.41 WHIP with Triple-A Iowa in only 8 starts before going down for the season with a lat injury.
The injury wasn't bad enough to require surgery and Alzolay is expected to be a full go for spring training this season, but he will not be afforded a full season's worth of work.
"The reins are off," Cubs VP Jason McLeod said last month. "He's worked exceptionally hard. The kid's phenomenal. He feels great; he looks great. But yeah, it won't be a full 160-inning year."
Alzolay threw just 39.2 innings last year after tossing 114.1 and 120.1 frames the two years prior in the Cubs system while serving as the organization's top pitching prospect. Despite the injury-shortened campaign, Alzolay is still the Cubs' top pitching prospect by FanGraphs' ranking, but comes in behind Brailyn Marquez on Baseball America's list and Alex Lange on Baseball Prospectus' Top 10 this winter.
Still, the Cubs are bullish on Alzolay. They like the on-field talent (he posted a 2.99 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 8.5 K/9 while splitting time in Class-A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Tennessee in 2017) and the organization absolutely raves about his makeup, especially as he's worked his way back from this injury.
There was talk last May of the young right-hander coming up to Chicago to make his big-league debut against the Reds in Cincinnati, but the Cubs wound up going a different direction and Alzolay's season was done just a couple weeks later.
The initial plan for Alzolay is to head to begin 2019 in the minors and probably won't be in the rotation given his innings limit this year. The best bet for him to make it to Chicago and impact the big-league club is via the bullpen.
He made 7 appearances as a reliever against some of the game's top young talent in the Arizona Fall League in 2017, but otherwise has only worked out of the bullpen for a pair of games in Class-A ball since 2015.
The Cubs desperately need to start getting some pitching contributions from their farm system, and Alzolay is one of the arms with the greatest potential to change that narrative.
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