It has been a week since the hearts of Cubs fans everywhere were slashed, and in that week we saw Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Javier Baez help their new teams in big ways. It’s hard to drown out all of the negativity currently surrounding the club, but I instead choose to focus on positive developments in the Cubs organization.
Luckily, it isn’t too hard to find when it comes to Cubs pitching prospects Justin Steele and Keegan Thompson. Both of these young hurlers have thrown very well in important situations out of the Cubs bullpen in 2021, but as the season turned so did the Cubs’ objective for Steele and Thompson.
According to MLB.com, LHP Brailyn Marquez is both the Cubs’ No. 1 pitching and overall prospect. While that is hard to argue with his large frame and plus velocity, Justin Steele should be considered the Cubs’ top pitching prospect with Keegan Thompson just behind him, in my opinion. This line of thinking has everything to do with each pitcher’s readiness to join the Cubs’ big league starting rotation. Add in the success we saw them have out of the Cubs bullpen, and it’s hard not to get excited about seeing them back in the bigs contributing full-time. MLB.com currently ranks Justin Steele as the Cubs’ #29 prospect and Keegan Thompson is not ranked in the top 30.
After suffering a hamstring injury in May, Steele was optioned to Triple-A Iowa for a rehab assignment. Before he returned, the Cubs took the opportunity to let Steele work up his pitch count so that he could slot into the Cubs’ rotation when he rejoined the team. In six starts with Iowa, Steele has allowed just two earned runs in 25.2 innings with a K/BB ratio of 27:9. He has pitched five innings in each of his last two starts, and I expect him to make no more than one more minor league start before getting the call back to the Cubs to join the rotation.
Similarly, Thompson went down to Triple-A Iowa on July 27 after compiling 27 appearances, including one start, with the Cubs to begin the season. The purpose of Thompson’s Triple-A assignment was the same as that of Steele. Thompson had already pitched more than one inning in 13 of his 26 appearances out of the bullpen, so it should come as no surprise that the Cubs’ vision for him is the same as theirs for Steele.
Thompson still has a ways to go before he is ready to be called back up. To date, he has only made one start at Iowa, going three shutout, no-hit innings with four strikeouts. Like with Steele, the Cubs will take their time with Thompson, especially now after the fire sale. Thompson will likely see five or six more starts before the Cubs are comfortable with both his pitch count and ability to execute.
It’s time for Cubs fans to enjoy the little things like keeping an eye on the club’s top prospects, especially Steele and Thompson because of how close they are to entering the Cubs starting rotation.