Keegan Thompson May Open Season in Iowa as Bullpen Takes Shape

The Cubs have shown off quite an array of hard-throwing relievers with sick stuff this spring, though developments with some of their incumbent pitchers may make bullpen construction more difficult than initially thought. In addition to how individual pitchers look in Mesa, the club has to weigh the value of minor league options and the fact that they’ve still got just one lefty reliever on the roster.

One of the biggest complicating factors to this point has been the disappointing performance of Keegan Thompson, who was slotted into a relief role prior to the start of camp. Thompson’s fastball velocity isn’t where the Cubs would like it to be and his secondaries haven’t been as crisp, so there’s a distinct possibility that he’ll go to Iowa to work some things out.

That leaves Adbert Alzolay as the primary long reliever, which wouldn’t be bad at all except for the fact that the team would prefer to better protect the rotation. One very strong possibility to join Alzolay is Javier Assad, who has pitched very well for Mexico in the WBC and whose fastball is in the upper 90s at this point. Assuming Hayden Wesneski earns the fifth rotation spot, Assad should get a chance in the bullpen over Adrian Sampson.

Brandon Hughes is that lone lefty in the ‘pen and he’s been less than great this spring, which begs the question of why the Cubs never brought in backup. Jed Hoyer teased an addition a little while back and all signs seemed to point to Zack Britton as a fit, but I guess the money just hasn’t worked out. Mark Leiter Jr. put up great reverse splits and could be used as a pseudo-southpaw, but he’ll have to be given a roster spot.

Of course, Britton would have required a spot as well and one could be cleared by moving someone to the 60-day IL.

There are some other interesting decisions to make with Cam Sanders, who I’d personally like to see make it, and Jeremiah Estrada. Both may have to wait, as Sahadev Sharma writes that they’re both “probably ticketed for Triple A” to open the season. Michael Fulmer should earn a bulk of the save chances, assuming his teammates put him in a position to do so, but there are several others who could take the 9th in given situations.

All we really know for sure is that the Cubs have a lot of options, many of which will continue to bubble up from the minors. For the first time in years, there’s a sense that everything doesn’t have to go perfectly right in order for the staff to succeed.

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