A year ago few were anxiously awaiting the debut of Adbert Alzolay with Myrtle Beach. He was coming off a solid, yet unspectacular season at South Bend where his velocity was good, working 92-93 and touching 95. His curve flashed as an above average pitch, but wasn't a consistent go-to. He did rack up innings, but few outside observers took much notice of the right hander, and if they did they usually referred to him as a potential reliever. It is hard to blame them. Alzolay doesn't have a typical starter's frame, and unless you spent time with him or talked his coaches you wouldn't be keyed into his level of intelligence, preparation or work ethic.
It is no longer a year ago. Alzolay has since ascended toward the top of every prospect list for the Cubs system. And he has done so by making strides in every facet of his game since that 2016 season spent in South Bend. That offseason he improved his lower body strength and worked to incorporate that portion of his body more thoroughly into his delivery. Not only did the work provide a couple of mph bump but also enabled him to hold that velocity throughout this starts. Working from that more solid base he improved the consistency of his curveball, developing it into an above-average-to-plus offering that he could throw in the strike zone or have batters chase it outside the zone. His command also took a step forward.
All of these improvements culminated in a rapid rise, not just in prospect rankings, but more importantly in a rise up the organizational ladder. A season that began under the radar in Myrtle Beach grew in scale upon a second half promotion to AA Tennessee, then found the spotlight when it was announced Alzolay would replace an injured Oscar De La Cruz in the Arizona Fall League roster in Mesa. Alzolay exceeded outside expectations at every stop. He pounded the strike zone, he worked great pace, and got results.
The newfound success did not go to Alzolay's head, however. He simply went back to work. There were still improvements necessary for him to reach his full potential. Most notably, gaining consistency and confidence in his changeup. Excluding a handful of outliers with a plus-plus out pitch, a usable third offering is a necessity for a Major League starter, but not so when it comes to High-A or AA. Alzolay was able to dominate at those levels despite rarely showing, let alone featuring his third pitch. He would mix in a few changeups every game, even the occasional good one, but rarely when he needed an out and almost never in a big spot. Improving that pitch, while also continuing to fine tune his command, were among his primary focuses this past offseason.
Friday night was our first glimpse at the results of that hard work...
...and now that the early results are in, it appears his efforts were not in vain. Alzolay simply dominated the Nashville Sounds in the early going. He set them down in order in each of the first four innings, taking a perfect game into the 5th. At that point he began to lose command of his pitches, perhaps from fatigue. A minor ankle injury had held Alzolay back in spring training and the maximum number of pitches he had thrown in Mesa during game action was 75. He would eventually match that total over his six innings full innings on Friday. He would walk two batters in the 5th and then surrender a solo homer and a single in the 6th as he began missing his spots.
Prior to that he was on point. Not just with his lively 93-96 mph fastball either. He mixed in enough low-80s curves to keep hitters honest as he worked both the top and bottom of the zone with his fastball. Most encouraging however was his increased willingness to throw his changeup. I counted 10 among his 75 offerings on the night, 5 for strikes, 4 of the swinging variety. There were a couple of ugly ones that missed the zone by a wide margin but there were several perfectly placed that began at the edge of the zone before finishing just outside it. Geared up for the mid-90s fastball, the hitters were helpless in their swings at the mid-80s offering.
As for how the rest of the game went, the offense came alive for Iowa, perhaps in response to the excitement surrounding Alzolay's debut. Or perhaps it was just time. Iowa has been among the worst PCL offenses in the league thus far so it seems they were just due. Efren Navarro started it off with a run scoring double in the bottom of the 1st. Wynton Bernard would help break the game open in the 4th thanks to his two-run double. Later in the inning David Bote singled to bring home Bernard. The Cubs would add single runs in three more frames as Alzolay gave way to Randy Rosario and Dillon Maples who combined to punch out four Nashville batters over three scoreless innings of relief.
- Adbert Alzolay: 6 IP, 2 H, R, 2 BB, 6 K (75 P, 50 S) (W, 1-0, 1.50)
- Randy Rosario: 2 IP, 2 K
- Dillon Maples: IP, H, 2 K
- Wynton Bernard: 2-4, 2 2B, R, 3 RBI
- Chris Gimenez: 1-2, 2 R, RBI, BB
- Mark Zagunis: 2-4, R
Injuries, Updates, and Trends
With Luke Farrell joining the Cubs for their trip to Denver, Iowa activated both Alzolay and Brad Markey to fill the hole. With Iowa forced to go with a bullpen day in Farrell's absence on Thursday the group could become overworked if a starter has a short outing in the near future, so Markey's ability to work multiple innings is paramount.
Eddy Martinez and Jeffrey Baez both blasted solo homers but that was all the offense the Smokies could muster. Meanwhile, Michael Rucker (4.2 IP, 4 H, 6 R, 2 BB, 4 K) had been cruising through four innings, but then the wheels came off in the 5th, in all the Biscuits would plate seven runs against him Daury Torrez in the inning.
- Jeffrey Baez: 2-3, 2B, HR (1), R, RBI
- Eddy Martinez: 1-3, HR (1), R, RBI, BB
- Tommy Nance: 2 IP, 2 H, 2 BB, K
Bryan Hudson combined with two relievers to hold the Wood Ducks to one run on four hits. He wasn't perfect, as he committed two errors as well as walked three and gave up three hits across his five innings of work, but he executed in big spots with runners on base. In all, the Pelicans pitchers held Down East to 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position.
On offense, Austin Upshaw blasted an opposite field solo home run in the 2nd, then drove home two more runs on sacrifice flies later in the game. This quadrupled his RBI total to the season from 1 to 4. Hopefully, this will break him out of his early season slump. Vimael Machin also homered for Myrtle Beach.
- Bryan Hudson: 5 IP, 3 H, R, 3 BB, 7 K (W, 2-1, 4.80)
- Tyler Peyton: 2.2 IP, H, BB, 4 K
- Jhon Romero: 1.1 IP, BB, 2 K
- Austin Upshaw: 1-2, HR (2), R, 3 RBI, 2 SF
- Vimael Machin: 1-2, HR (2), R, RBI, 2 BB
- Jhonny Pereda: 2-4, 2 RBI
Tyler Thomas put forth another strong, but ultimately hard luck, outing. Four South Bend errors on the night led to three unearned runs over his five innings of work as he took his second loss on the year despite a 0.60 ERA in three starts. Truly remarkable. His efforts would likely have gone for naught anyway as the South Bend offense was relatively nonexistent. A Yeiler Peguero solo home run was the only run and one of just two hits on the night for the Cubs.
- Tyler Thomas: 5 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 0 ER, BB, 4 K (L, 1-2, 0.60)
- Yeiler Peguero: 1-3, HR (1), R, RBI, 2 BB
Injuries, Updates, and Trends
With Jared Young on the DL, Thomas (15 IP, 9 H, 6 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 14 K) and Peguero (.333/.390/.500) have been the two most consistent South Bend players this season. Peguero got off to a strong start for South Bend last season as well, even being named to the MWL All-Star game at midseason, but the then 19-year old was unable to maintain the pace throughout the season. Hopefully, he can this year.
Filed under: Daily Cubs Minors Recap