Hunter Bigge’s Dream Comes True in Electric Debut

The seven hardest pitches in the Cubs’ 9-2 victory over the Orioles on Tuesday night all came from a righty reliever making his MLB debut. Hunter Bigge sat 98-100 mph, freezing opponents with hard stuff on the edges when they were looking for breaking balls, in a perfect 9th inning that featured his first strikeout. The moment was made all the more special because Bigge’s family was on hand to witness the outing over 20 years in the making.

“Very nostalgic of playing in Little League baseball,” Bigge said after his debut. “I played baseball my whole life and this has always been my dream, so when I was running out there from the outfield, I got goosebumps. Very surreal, it feels like a dream. I’m very happy.”

A Harvard-educated kid from Northern California, Bigge exudes a sense of chill and has always been willing to roll with the punches. That’s served him well over the course of a professional career that has been anything but linear. After being selected in the 12th round of the 2019 draft, he made one appearance with one of the Cubs’ complex teams before reporting to short-season Eugene for eight more outings.

Then came the pandemic, which shut down all of minor league baseball in 2020 and threw everyone into flux. The lost season was particularly difficult for young minor leaguers whose parent clubs really didn’t know much about them yet. As easy as it is to say players should be willing to take control of their own development, it’s a different animal when you’re working in isolation.

Bigge talked with Cubs Insider in July of 2020 about his journey to that point and what the future held, displaying an easy smile and a genuine laugh that punctuated several of his answers. Though he was certainly focused on putting in the work it was going to take to move forward, he seemed totally unconcerned about the specifics.

“I just want to be in South Bend or Myrtle Beach next year, maybe,” Bigge said. “I don’t even know what the minor league season is going to look like, but I assume I’d be somewhere in that range. And then from there, I just want to shove and get as many people out as possible and move up as quickly as I can.”

That movement was slowed in 2021 by a labrum tear in his hip that limited him to just 20.2 innings over 17 appearances with High-A South Bend. He struggled with control the following season at the same level but still earned a promotion to Double-A Tennessee, where walks became an even bigger issue. Bigge corrected that in 2023 with the Smokies, then walked more batters (13) than he struck out (12) following a promotion to Triple-A Iowa.

It didn’t help that his velocity was more in the mid-90s after being a few ticks higher early in his career, leading to questions about whether he’d be able to put everything together. Bigge impressed Craig Counsell and his staff during spring training, but an oblique strain put him on the shelf to start the season and eliminated any chance for a dark-horse roster addition.

That changed when Bigge dominated over 11 appearances with Iowa this season, striking out 19 batters with six walks in 11.2 innings. As mentioned above, getting the heater back up to 100 was a big factor. More important was a willingness to just let his stuff eat and go after opponents with strikes.

“A lot of it was confidence, trusting in my stuff and the shapes of my pitches and being confident and filling up the zone,” Bigge told Marquee’s Tony Andracki. “I think I’ve been able to attack hitters better this year. I started throwing a little bit harder too and I think that is confidence as well.

“A lot of it has been mental for me, so I was just practicing believing in myself.”

Even though the game wasn’t close, it was so refreshing to see a homegrown Cubs reliever out there firing BBs with elite velocity in the late innings. And while I know better than to anoint someone the team’s closer of the future based on such a small sample, sometimes it’s okay to express a little irrational hope. Bigge is an easy cat to root for and I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do with a little more experience.

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