The Cubs have made the closer position a priority the last two seasons. They acquired Aroldis Chapman and Wade Davis within six months of each other, and both were productive during their time with the Cubs.
But, the team is once again looking for closer help, and while they would love to retain Davis, they are weighting all options. Rumors have linked veteran relievers like Zach Britton, Addison Reed, and Brandon Morrow to Chicago, and of course there was that annoying Giants rumors involving Mark Melancon.
But I have heard rumblings that the Cubs feel they have found their future closer in 25-year-old Dillon Maples.
What Makes Maples So Special?
The former 14th round pick in 2011 was one of the last guys taken in the Jim Hendry Era, and up until this past season looked like a lost cause.
Originally drafted as a starter, Maples had shown flickers of potential in brief moments. However, his lack of control over his nasty cutter/slider made him unreliable as a starter. He would be transitioned into a reliever in 2015, and while he would initially struggle, he eventually adjusted and started to thrive. Finally, he started to close games in the Cubs minor league system, recording 13 saves across A, AA, and AAA last season.
The biggest difference for Maples was his ability to control his devastating cutter/slider pitch and pair it with his triple-digit fastball. According to Fangraphs, Maples’ K/9 never dipped below 12.64 and peaked at a staggering 18.56.
As this Cubs Insider article explains, Maples found that working backwards and attacking with his elite-level cutter and then finishing at bats with his heater made him harder to hit.
Here’s him coming in for a the save this past June for the Tennessee Smokies. Pay attention to the late break of his cutter and how early he goes to the pitch in each at bat.
Maples has made massive strides in 2017 towards eventually earning a spot in the back-end of the Cubs bullpen. And according to a source, there are a few high-ranking officials in the Cubs organization that feel Maples can fill the role of closer.
Maybe not for 2018, according Des Moines Register’s Tommy Birch, who feels the Cubs would want to ease him into that role – due to how hard mentally Maples can be on himself. Here’s what he had to say about the Cubs intriguing prospect.
“He’s got A really live fastball and great off speed stuff. The only thing missing from him is consistency. You sometimes wonder if he even knows where his slider is going sometimes, though.”
Birch saw Maples play in 17 games in 2017, and while he has his reservations on the talented righty, he feels he has the stuff to close out MLB games. And so do the Cubs, but until he shows consistency on the mound, Maples will be hard to trust in the ninth inning role.