Cubs’ young starters using last two months to audition for spots in 2022 rotation

Could Adbert Alzolay, Justin Steele and Keegan Thompson all be in the Cubs’ 2022 rotation?

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Justin Steele is one of the young pitchers the Cubs will take a close look at over the remainder of the season.

Justin Steele is one of the young pitchers the Cubs will take a close look at over the remainder of the season.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

The Cubs’ priorities this season have gone from fighting for a playoff spot in late June to focusing on the future after the trade deadline.

But with the World Series core broken up and less than two months left in the season, many see the Cubs heading toward a long, grueling rebuild.

Given the roster the Cubs have been playing since the trade deadline, it’s hard to blame fans for not expecting much. Indeed, the Cubs will have to spend some money this offseason to avoid another rough season in 2022.

But if there’s something that should give fans hope that the Cubs’ rebuild isn’t going to be the arduous process their last one was, it’s that the team now has homegrown arms developing at the major-league level.

‘‘I think one of the biggest positives that we’ve seen around here this year are these young guys,’’ right-hander Kyle Hendricks told the Sun-Times.

Having homegrown pitchers who can go out and perform isn’t the only thing the Cubs will need to avoid a lengthy rebuilding process, but their ability to find quality arms in the interim is significant.

Right-handers Adbert Alzolay, who left with a tight left hamstring in the second inning Friday against the Marlins, and Keegan Thompson and left-hander Justin Steele will continue to get their opportunities during the last two months. Alzolay has been in the rotation since the season began, Steele finally is getting his chance and Thompson’s time is coming soon.

‘‘Between Adbert and what he’s been able to do this year with unbelievable work ethic, then Keegan and Steele,’’ Hendricks said. ‘‘Those guys, you can see the competitiveness and the fire. Seeing those kinds of flashes throughout the season gives you a lot of hope that it can turn around real quick.’’

All three are 26 years old and entering what should be the strongest years of their careers. And if the Cubs can find a rotation option or two among them, it would put their rebuild in a much better place.

‘‘Each time I go out there, I’m trying to prove something,’’ Steele said. ‘‘I’m trying to show that I can be a part of this up-and-coming [group]. That’s why we’re here.’’

There’s no reason for the Cubs not to find out what exactly they have in Alzolay, Thompson and Steele right now. Whether they learn they have three mid-rotation starters, three back-end starters or maybe two relievers and a starter, finding out what they have is important as they plan for the future.

‘‘It’s important for us as an organization to evaluate some of the young guys, so we can make better decisions when we go into the offseason,’’ pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said. ‘‘If we anticipate things are going to happen and we don’t give them the chance to actually prove it, that’s when we get in trouble. So I think, as an organization, it’s important for us to be able to give them room to work through some outings and be able to see what we have.’’

Alzolay has battled through the ups and downs of his first full season in the rotation, and Steele and Thompson are going to get a taste of that before the season is over. While that should give the Cubs some clarity about whether they can handle starting, it also might be a preview of what their rotation will look like next season.

‘‘For a lot of the young guys, we’re using this as an opportunity for them to get experience but also learn,’’ Hottovy said. ‘‘Learn about pitch sequencing. Learn about how stuff works. Giving them the tools of learning. I think our routine is similar [as before]. A lot of the same scouting reports. We’re not changing how we want to game-plan and attack guys.’’ 

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