For those that aren’t familiar with Justin Steele‘s 2021 timeline, let’s quickly recap it:
- April 12th: MLB debut against Milwaukee going 1.1 innings out of the bullpen.
- May 21st: Placed on 10-day injured list with a right hamstring strain.
- June 27th: Sent to Triple-A Iowa to begin a rehab assignment.
- July 8th: Officially optioned to Triple-A Iowa.
- July 11th: Activated by Triple-A Iowa, makes first Triple-A start after four relief appearances.
- July 17th: Makes second start for Triple-A Iowa.
Steele has made 11 appearances out of the bullpen for the Chicago Cubs so far in 2021. Due to the Cubs’ nose dive in the standings, the front office decided to keep Steele at Triple-A to begin ramping up his pitch count so he can be a starter in the second half of the season. From 2015 to 2019, all of Steele’s appearances were as a starting pitcher, so it should come as no surprise that the Cubs want him to return to that role. The team likely sees him as a guy that can be in their rotation for years to come.
In his first start of 2021, Steele went 3.2 innings with no hits, no runs, two walks, and five strikeouts. He followed that up by going 3.0 innings of one hit, no run ball with two walks and five strike outs. Steele was hitting 95 and 96 mph with his last five fastballs in the first inning.
In his two starts for Iowa, Steele has gone a combined 6.2 shutout innings allowing only one hit while striking out 10. Add on the two multi-inning appearances before his first start and he has gone 11.1 innings only allowing one run with 12 strikeouts.
When will we see Justin Steele?
The Cubs are in absolutely no rush to bring him up, nor should they be. At this moment, he is their most relevant pitching prospect because of how close he is to entering the major league rotation. Top prospect Brailyn Marquez is likely the second-most relevant (other than perhaps Keegan Thompson).
Steele is going to continue to be extended at whatever pace the team deems necessary. Since we’ve only since him go 3.1 and 3.0 innings in his first two starts, it’s going to take some time. He needs at least four or five more starts that take him into the 5th inning, at the bare minimum, before we see him back with the Cubs.
It seems that he is currently working on a pitch count and that will continue to rise as he throws more. However, I think the number of innings per start will be the better indicator of when he will get the call. Being efficient on the pitch count and being able to take it deeper is a better sign of maturity and readiness.
There is no doubt that his stuff works in the MLB because we have seen it already in 2021 out of the bullpen. The important thing for Steele now is maturity, which he will continue to gain in Iowa.
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