Minor League camp opened this past weekend. Not much word has leaked out at this point, and unfortunately a recent illness and time away from work has forced me to cancel my travel plans to Arizona this spring so I won't be able to provide the first hand reports that I hoped, but there are a few tidbits I would like to cover.
The Cubs pair of first round picks from last season Brendon Little and Alex Lange kicked off their spring in a shared bullpen session on Tuesday. Stephanie was on hand (as evidenced by the wonderful new pictures) and reports the session grew quite a gathering. Also included in the five man group were ground specialist Bryan Hudson, changeup specialist Jesus Camargo, and 2017 11th round pick Rollie Lacy.
The hammer curve featured by Lange drew very high praise from AZ Phil who labeled it a plus-plus pitch. This is in line with my own assessment from last fall. It is a true out pitch and I have no doubt would be effective against MLB hitters right now. The question becomes, do the Cubs allow Lange to develop a third pitch, which will greatly increase his odds of remaining a starter, or do they attempt to fast track him at some point in the near future and see how well his fastball/curve combo plays out of the pen?
There is a good chance that if given the opportunity Lange could potentially contribute out of the Major League pen as early as next season. I'm all for keeping him in the rotations at South Bend and Myrtle Beach this season to give him a chance to work on his changeup and also get the maximum amount of experience possible against professional competition. However, if he does not show tangible improvement with the pitch, or develop any other third offering, then I would strongly consider converting him to a reliever heading into next spring with an eye toward him helping out down the stretch in Chicago.
As for Little, it was also encouraging to hear AZ Phil come away with a similar impression, in particular with regards to Little's changeup. Throughout the draft process all I heard on Little was mid-90s fastball and a big curve. Never did I read a scouting report that included the potential for a plus changeup. Then, low-and-behold when Little reported to Eugene last August I was pleasantly surprised to see the lefty prominently featuring an average change that flashed as potentially even better.
Yes, his velocity was down (88-90) at the end of the year, but their was still a nice split between his fastball and change of roughly 8 or 9 MPH. If he can get his velocity back up into even the low-90s consistently in combination with his plus curve and potentially plus change it is very easy to understand why the Cubs were so intrigued. He has a starter's repertoire. What he needs to develop is control of it all. Little walked 9 over his first 16.1 IP with the Emeralds and according to AZ Phil struggled with his fastball command throughout the bullpen session on Tuesday. Unlike Lange, I see no reason to rush Little. The organization can provide him with multiple seasons in the minors in order to iron out the kinks if necessary because the potential rewards, a MOR starter, are worth the investment.