Chicago Cubs: Too early to give up on Alex Lange?

(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images) /

Chicago Cubs general manager Theo Epstein shifted his focus on drafting starting pitchers and took LSU’s Alex Lange in the first round of the 2017 MLB Draft.  He’s had a rough go of it.

When Theo Epstein first took over as President of Baseball Operations, the idea was that the Chicago Cubs were going to re-stock their farm system with as many hitters as possible and address pitching via free agency. The two exceptions to that notion were Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks.

The Cubs brass took guys like Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, and Ian Happ all in the first-round as they were considered by many scouts to be the best bat in their respective draft class. It was not until after the Cubs won their first World Series championship in 108 years that they decided it was time to shift their attention to re-stocking pitching talent.

Along came the 2017 MLB Draft, and the Cubs selected LSU’s Alex Lange with the 30th overall pick. Lange who posted consecutive seasons of 125 and 150 strikeouts in 2016 and 2017 with the Tigers, respectively, was highly regarded as one of the best pitchers in the draft.

As previously noted, he was drafted by the Cubs, signed his contract, and off he went to start his professional career. Many scouts believed he would be on the fast track to Wrigley but that has not turned out to be the case for Lange.

He began at short-season Eugene to finish out the rest of his 2017 season and posted a 5.79 ERA in 9.1 innings of work. Fine, whatever. It’s too small of a sample size to make a determination. The Cubs felt he didn’t need to see any time at Single-A and started his 2018 season with High-A Myrtle Beach.

In 23 starts last season, Lange tossed 120.1 innings while striking out 101 batters and walking just 38 batters, all to the tune of a 3.74 ERA. Not too shabby for his first full professional season. However, Lange has been shaky at best this season. He remained with Myrtle Beach to begin the season and made 11 starts, carrying a 7.36 ERA along the way.

Despite his early season struggles, the Cubs felt he was ready to move up to Double-A Tennessee and did so on June 20.

He made his first start with the Smokies last Saturday and tossed 6.0 innings of four-hit ball while striking out 5 batters. He did walk 2 batters and allowed 2 earned runs. Lange is primarily a groundball pitcher getting batters to roll over on balls at nearly a 50 percent clip. If hitters are able to elevate his pitches into the air, that’s when he gets into trouble.

Lange’s progression has not been as rapid as most had predicted and he’ll likely not be ready until September 2020 at the earliest. For whatever reason, Lange had a rough go of it with Myrtle Beach this season as batters were able to achieve a 0.290 average off him.

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He’ll need to replicate what has worked for him in the past that has allowed opponents to bat just 0.243 and 0.232 against him in 2016 and 2017, respectively. I would expect that Lange finishes this season with Double-A and begins next season there as well with the goal of being a September call-up next season.