With Iowa Cubs baseball less than a month away, we preview seven starters you could see at Principal Park in 2019.
RHP Adbert Alzolay: The Venezuelan native was signed by the Cubs as a 17-year-old in 2013. He played the entire 2015 season with Short-Season Eugene, pitching primarily as a long reliever, before starting 20 of his 22 games with Single-A South Bend in 2016. Alzolay began the 2017 campaign with Advanced-A Myrtle Beach, going 7-1 in 15 starts before a mid-season promotion to Double-A Tennessee. Prior to suffering a right lat strain that cut his 2018 short, Alzolay was 2-4 with a 4.76 ERA in eight games with the I-Cubs. He is expected to be back in Iowa to begin the 2019 season. MLB.com ranks the 24-year-old as the No. 4 prospect in the Cubs farm system and with a healthy 2019, he could be making an impact in Chicago before the season comes to an end.
RHP Trevor Clifton: Clifton was drafted in the 12th round of the 2013 draft by the Chicago Cubs out of Heritage High School. He appeared in eight games for Mesa in 2013 before tallying 13 games for Short-Season Boise in 2014. Clifton went 8-10 with a 3.98 ERA for Single-A South Bend in 2015, making his way to the eight-spot on the Cubs list of top prospects heading into 2016 (Baseball America). In 2016 with Advanced-A Myrtle Beach, Clifton led the Carolina League with a career-best 2.72 ERA in 23 starts and was named the Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year. The Tennessee native made his way back to his home state in 2017, but struggled in his 21 starts for the Smokies, going 5-8 with a 5.20 ERA. Last season, Clifton began the year with Double-A Tennessee before a mid-season call up to Iowa. With the I-Cubs, Clifton went 4-3 with a 3.89 ERA in 14 games. At 23 years old, Clifton looks to be a solid candidate to toe the rubber every five days for the I-Cubs in 2019.
RHP Alec Mills: Mills was drafted in the 22nd round of the 2012 draft by Kansas City out of the University of Tennessee at Martin. He worked his way up through the Royals' farm system and eventually made his major league debut in 2016. Mills was called up and played in three games, giving up five total earned runs for the Royals. After the 2016 season, the Cubs traded for Mills and he started the 2017 season with the I-Cubs. After making just three starts, he went to the disabled list and never returned to Iowa, making four rehab starts between the Mesa and Advanced-A Myrtle Beach toward the end of the campaign. Mills returned to Iowa to begin the 2018 season and was also called up to Chicago three times throughout the year. He started 23 games for the I-Cubs and started in two of seven appearances for Chicago. With a good start to 2019, the 27-year-old Tennessee native could earn more time with Chicago.
RHP Jen-Ho Tseng: The Cubs signed Tseng in 2013 as an 18-year-old after his summer with Taiwan in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Tseng blew through the Cubs system, earning Chicago Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year honors in 2014 and 2017. After posting a 2.54 ERA between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa in 2017, Tseng received a September call-up and made his major league debut with Chicago. Following his best professional season to date, Tseng went 2-15 with a 6.27 ERA for the I-Cubs in 2018 and started one game with Chicago, giving up three runs in two innings. He saw career highs in losses, ERA, hits, runs, earned runs, home runs, hit batters, and walks. In his age 24 season, Tseng will look to rekindle his success from 2017 with the I-Cubs in order to make his way back to Chicago.
RHP Duane Underwood Jr.: Drafted in the second round of the 2012 draft from Pope High School, the North Carolina native enters the 2019 season as the 25th ranked prospect in the Cubs farm system according to MLB.com. Twenty-thirteen was an adjustment for Underwood at Short-Season Boise after coming straight from high school, but the following two seasons he showed why he was such a high pick. Underwood allowed two or fewer earned runs in 20 of his 21 starts with Single-A Kane County in 2014 and helped Advanced-A Myrtle Beach win the Mills Cup Championship in 2015. After starting 13 games with Double-A Tennessee in 2016, Underwood took a step back with a right forearm strain that landed him on the disabled list. Twenty-seventeen was his first injury-free season since 2013 and he held a 4.43 ERA with the Smokies. Underwood notched his Major League debut in June of 2018, but would only make the one appearance for Chicago and missed a September call up. He spent the balance of the 2018 campaign with the I-Cubs, tallying a 4.53 ERA across 27 games.
RHP Duncan Robinson: Robinson was drafted by the Cubs in the ninth round of the 2016 draft out of Dartmouth College. He has progressed through the Cubs' system quickly, making it to the I-Cubs in his third professional season. Robinson totaled a 2-1 record with a 3.98 ERA in eight games between Mesa and Short-Season Eugene in his first professional season in 2016. He started 2017 with Single-A South Bend and earned Midwest League mid-season All-Star honors. He was then promoted to Advanced-A Myrtle Beach where he started all 10 of his games, allowing no more than three earned runs in any start. Over 24 starts with Double-A Tennessee in 2018, Robinson went 7-4 with a 3.31 ERA. He was called up to Iowa in August and gave up just one earned run over 11 total innings in two starts. Robinson went 3-0 and allowed just three earned runs over 29.0 innings in his final five starts of the year between Double-A Tennessee and Iowa. At just 25 years old, the Texas native will look to build off of his brief time with the I-Cubs as we enter the 2019 season.
LHP Justin Steele: Steele was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the fifth round of the 2014 draft and made his professional debut with Mesa that year. He started 10 games for Short-Season Eugene in 2015 and compiled a 2.66 ERA. He moved up to Single-A South Bend in 2016 and Advanced-A Myrtle Beach in 2017 where he totaled a career-high 20 starts and a 2.92 ERA. Everything was moving on schedule for Steele before he hurt his elbow in August of 2017, an injury that required Tommy John surgery to repair. The injury took the end of his 2017 season and the beginning of his 2018 away before he came back for five rehab starts and 11 total games across three different teams within the Cubs' system. Steele's organizational value was showcased as he was added to the Cubs' 40-man roster as protection from the Rule-5 draft following the season. The 24-year-old Mississippi native is believed to be more polished than ever coming off surgery and is the Cubs No. 8 ranked prospect by MLB.com entering the 2019 season.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.