Core Horsemen: Young Pitchers, New Faces, Rise of Romine Empire

After years of instability, the Cubs’ core finally melted down and spewed molten hot takes across social media as star players were traded away. The roster of my son’s fall ball team is almost as recognizable as David Ross‘s lineup cards, which has names seemingly drawn from a hat to fuel a run at a single-digit draft pick. There are, however, roots of hope still running through ground that may not have been completely salted.

One of those is outfielder Greg Deichmann, who came over from Oakland in the Andrew Chafin deal. The 26-year-old almost certainly would have been wearing green and yellow last season were it not for the pandemic shutdown, but the time off apparently allowed him to fine-tune his plate approach.

Though Deichmann posted big strikeout numbers in 2018 and ’19, his walk rate as a professional was well into double digits. Then at Triple-A this season, he drew walks at almost a 19% clip while striking out under 23% of the time. Even if his 70-grade raw power never truly manifests, he’s the kind of on-base machine who could really help the Cubs moving forward.

“Having those three guys kind of leave,” Deichmann said of the big trades, “and then trying to, I guess, build a new core going forward, to hopefully be a part of that and really have some success and really help kind of build this team back up, it’s things you can’t dream of.”

It’s imperative that the Cubs create better balance across the offensive side of the roster, but what really hurt their dynastic dreams was the failure to develop pitching. Yeah, I know all about how the “offense broke somewhere along the lines” and I’m not discounting that. It’s just that they had to pay so much for pitching that it crippled the front office when budget decreases forced them to get more judicious with their spending.

Another culprit was the seeming lack of faith in young pitchers. Even as other competitive teams were content to throw their prospects into the fires of division and playoff races, the Cubs remained overly cautious as they preferred to populate the staff with middling veterans. A low ceiling may still keep you dry, but it also means bumping your head way too often.

We’re finally going to get a better taste of what some of these pitchers can do now that necessity has spurred the process along a bit this season. Adbert Alzolay looked great in his last effort against the White Sox after a very rough patch that saw him battle himself as he gets familiar with a growing repertoire, so he figures to be part of the future rotation. Justin Steele was dominant as a reliever early in the season and will return to Chicago as a starter on Tuesday.

Brailyn Márquez hasn’t pitched this season after setbacks with COVID and subsequent shoulder issues, but he still figures to play a role in 2022. Then you’ve got Manny Rodríguez, Ben Leeper, Ethan Roberts and a good deal more hard-throwing relievers who should make noise. Club Velo isn’t a trendy nightspot on the North Side, it’s the result of a new philosophy that should change the way we view the Cubs’ pitching development.

Then you look at the position players the Cubs have coming up, whether it’s familiar names like Brennen Davis and Miguel Amaya — who’s been hurt much of this season — or the influx of young talent from deadline deals. One of those is Alexander Canario, a 21-year-old outfielder who came over in the Kris Bryant trade and has been mashing ever since.

Jordan Nwogu, the Cubs’ third-round pick last summer, is crushing baseballs at Myrtle Beach and looks to be ready for the challenge of High-A at South Bend. There are others as well, of course, many of whom are also in the lower levels of the minors. As such, we’re probably looking at 2023 as Jed Hoyer’s target for the unofficial start of competitiveness within the new window he’s trying to establish.

In the meantime, you may have to rely on feel-good stories from guys who wouldn’t otherwise get a lot of publicity. Though they might not be considered core players moving forward, there are some veterans whose presence on the team may provide a little more emotional fulfillment than what the Cubs will do on the field.

They didn’t suckle at the teat of a mother wolf like Romulus and Remus, but Andrew and Austin will be part of a Romine Empire if the latter returns to full strength soon. The catcher who is affectionately known as Texas Lettuce went 2-for-2 with a double in his first rehab start for the Iowa Cubs on Sunday and could soon join his older sibling, who hit a dramatic homer — his 11th in MLB and first since 2017 — against Craig Kimbrel on Saturday.

I’m not trying to polish a turd and sell it to you as a rare brown diamond because most of you are too smart for that. But what’s done is done when it comes to the Cubs shifting direction, so now it’s a matter of seeking out methods to the madness. Or maybe you find it best to simply tune them out entirely, which really isn’t a bad idea for those of you who value spending your time wisely.

If you are still watching, my suggestion is to first be sure to detach all concern for the outcome of the game since the score matters not at this point. I might also suggest paying closer attention to the minors, whether it’s via or by checking out our Growing Cubs podcast and the write-ups here on the site. Maybe pick out some favorite prospects and follow their respective journeys to the bigs by reading about them here or heading to a minor league game.

Just know that we’ll be with you all the while, whether you like what the Cubs are doing or not.

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