Kyle Hendricks Back in Rotation, Ethan Roberts Added to 40-Man, Moises Ballesteros Promoted to AAA

Craig Counsell has run out of buttons to push, so he’s going to have to work a little magic if he wants to keep Jed Hoyer from pulling the eject lever on this season. Or perhaps it won’t be Hoyer making the call. Rather than get into whether heads need to roll at the top of the baseball side’s chain of command, let’s look at some of the moves being made in the organization as the Cubs fall further from contention.

The players seem to believe they still have a chance, at least publicly, and maybe they do if things fall just right.

“I think we have a really good team,” Jameson Taillon said Sunday after his offense saddled him with a loss. “We have a lot of talent, and for whatever reason right now, it’s just not all clicking at the same time. But it’s a long year. We have [90] games left. So we still have time to put our foot down and turn this around.”

Though it’s not a move that provides any of the dynamism they so sorely lack, Kyle Hendricks will make his return to the rotation on Wednesday. Injuries to Ben Brown (neck) and Jordan Wicks (oblique) opened the door for Hendricks to come back from the bullpen following three straight scoreless outings. This is absolutely a matter of necessity and might be Hendricks’ last chance to prove he’s still got it.

The relief corps has been performing better overall for the last several games now, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement because you can never take things for granted back there. One likely option is Ethan Roberts, who was just added back to the 40-man roster on Sunday as he works his way back from elbow reconstruction in 2022. The Cubs designated José Cuas for assignment to make room.

Roberts could have opted out of his minor league deal on June 15 if was not added to the roster, so the fact that he didn’t indicates the Cubs told him he was likely to be promoted soon. He has yet to allow a run in 10.1 innings between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa this season, striking out 13 with eight walks. The control should tighten up with more experience, as Roberts has not had walk issues in the past.

Though his fastball is lingering in the low 90s, his slider will generate plenty of swings and misses. He’s healthy enough to pitch on back-to-back days and is a bulldog on the mound, something the Cubs could really use as they look for a spark.

Roberts’ spot in Iowa will be taken by righty Frankie Scalzo Jr., who Greg Zumach of North Side Bound was first to report is being promoted from Tennessee. In even bigger news, 20-year-old catcher Moises Ballesteros is also being fast-tracked to the highest level of the minors. This is a very aggressive promotion given his youth, but Mo Baller has proven he’s figured out Double-A pitching.

As noted on X by @ballskwok, this is the first time since at least 2006 that the Cubs have called a 20-year-old hitting prospect up to Triple-A on something other than an emergency basis. The thread goes on to highlight the fact that only 132 players have gotten at least one plate appearance at that level in the last 18 years, with only 43 of those getting 50 or more. This is in MLB, not the Cubs organization.

Assuming he’s able to stick, Ballesteros should easily join that latter group. If the Cubs are feeling really saucy, the kid could even follow in Starlin Castro‘s footsteps by making it to Chicago before he’s legally able to purchase alcohol. While there are still questions as to whether he’ll be able to stick behind the plate long-term, the bat will play and Cubs catchers have been atrocious offensively this season.

At 5-foot-7 and 195 pounds, which might be generous, Ballesteros is a stout fire hydrant of a man who resembles the Jays’ Alejandro Kirk. Interestingly enough, Kirk debuted in 2020 at the age of 21 and could serve as a template for Ballesteros in more ways than one. Even though the odds might be pretty long on another promotion, I’d love to see the Cubs give this kid a chance in Chicago this season.

I mean, it can’t be any worse than what they’re getting from their catchers right now. The aggregate 40 wRC+ and -1.2 fWAR they’ve gotten from Miguel Amaya and Yan Gomes both rank 29th in MLB, and their four homers are tied for 27th. Cubs catchers have only caught eight would-be base stealers, tying them with the Cardinals for the fewest in MLB.

Ballesteros probably isn’t going to be much of an improvement defensively, but I’d be willing to bet he could show up to Wrigley tonight and do better than the 54 wRC+Amaya has put up. Gomes is right there with Hendricks when it comes to guys who are holding onto roster spots based on reputation. As good a dude as he is, there’s a point at which the front office has to seriously consider eating the money and moving on. That point was several weeks ago.

Gomes is slashing .154/.179/.242 with a wRC+ of 17, which means he’s 83% worse than the average MLB player when it comes to creating runs. His 2.1% walk rate is lower than all but two of 354 players who’ve logged at least 90 plate appearances this season and he’s no longer adept enough behind the dish to come close to making up for his missing bat. The Cubs are undoubtedly working the market for another catcher, and Gomes will likely be a casualty of that search one way or the other.

If they still truly believe they can get back in the race, trading for a backstop would push Gomes out. Putting out a for sale sign could mean giving a few youngsters some run in the second half, at which point Ballesteros could take over for the veteran. At least that would give fans something exciting to tune into rather than the snoozefest Marquee has broadcast for the last several weeks.

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