Chicago Cubs’ prospect Dillon Maples overcoming Steve Blass Disease

Here are a few more features of  players from the lower level of the Chicago Cubs’ minor league system.
Dillon Maples:  RH pitcher Maples’ performance for Boise the last couple of weeks is further evidence that as much as we try to figure out the game of baseball, the more confounding it proves to be.  Former major league pitcher Steve Blass won 69 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates between 1969 and 1972, making the All-Star game that year.  He also pitched two complete games in the 1971 World Series.  In 1973, Blass inexplicably lost the ability to command his pitches and walked 84 batters in 88.2 innings and compiled an ERA of 9.83.  After spending two more season laboring with errant control in the minors, Blass retired in 1975, giving rise in baseball lexicon to the term “Steve Blass Disease” to explain a player’s sudden inability to make an accurate throw that he had made thousands of times before.  Rick Ankiel’s pitching career with the St. Louis Cardinals fell prey to Steve Blass Disease.
What does this have to do with Dillon Maples?  Maples, 21 and a 14th round selection in the 2011 draft, pitched several games earlier this year for Kane County that seemed symptomatic of Steve Blass Disease.  In 34.2 innings, he allowed 33 hits, issued 31 walks and seven wild pitches and hit seven batters.  His ERA over eleven games (seven starts) was 8.31 and WHIP 1.846.  On a positive note, he did fan 34 and yield only one home run.  The debacle in Kane County followed a similar one for Maples last season when he debuted for the Cubs in the Arizona Rookie League.  In just 10.2 innings, he walked ten, hit three batters, threw six wild pitches and allowed six hits, leading to an ERA of 4.35 and WHIP of 1.548.
Maples, who was considered a second round talent and was only available in the 14th round because his commitment to playing football at North Carolina dissuaded teams from investing a draft pick in him, appeared to be a lost cause earlier this summer.  Then the Cubs demoted him to Boise in the middle of July, and like a light switch turning on, Maples has been a completely different pitcher.  In five games, including four starts, the pitcher with the mid 90’s fastball and above-average curveball, has tossed eighteen innings and walked only six.  He has yielded fifteen hits (no home runs) and has not thrown a wild pitch, while fanning sixteen.  His WHIP and ERA are down precipitously to 1.167 and 1.000, respectively.  Now we can only hope that Maples is cured.
Arizona Rookie League:
Tyler Ihrig:  LH pitcher Ihrig was a 23rd round selection in the 2013 draft.  Little is available about Ihrig’s repertoire, but the 21-year-old’s results for the Rookie level Cubs have been exceptional.  He has made six relief appearances covering ten innings and given up just eight hits (no home runs) and one walk while fanning fourteen.  That has led to an identical ERA and WHIP of 0.90.
Update:  Ihrig tossed 1.1 scoreless innings last evening to earn the win in his club’s 4-3 victory over the Arizona League Indians.  He allowed one hit and no walks and fanned one, lowering his season ERA to 0.79.
Gerardo Concepcion:  LH pitcher Concepcion’s signing by the Cubs on March 11, 2012 was ballyhooed almost universally in the major leagues.  Concepcion, now 22, had defected from Cuba, where he had earned Rookie of the Year Honors pitching for Cuba’s most prestigious amateur league, Cuban National Series.  Several clubs, including the New York Yankees, were vying for Concepcion.  The southpaw, whose fastball ranges from 91-94 MPH and who features a change-up and curveball, signed a 5-year/$6-million major league contract and was placed on the Cubs’ 40-man roster.  Concepcion pitches across his body, which works to his advantage in concealing the ball from hitters but can also work against him in hampering his command.
Despite the fanfare when the Cubs acquired him, Concepcion had a dreadful first season in the minors, pitching for Peoria, the Cubs’ former Midwest League affiliate.  In twelve starts, he compiled a record of 2-6, an ERA of 7.39 and a WHIP of 1.911.  In 52.1 innings, he allowed 70 hits and 30 walks and fanned just 28.  His walks-per-nine-innings was an appalling 5.2.  Late last summer, the Cubs announced that Concepcion was suffering from mononucleosis, which might help explain his poor performance, and shut him down for the rest of the season.
Following the season, the Cubs might have tipped their hand about their level of disappointment with Concepcion.  They removed him from the 40-man roster, subjecting him to waiver claims by all other teams, and after none was made, they out-righted him to Kane County.  It was reported earlier this summer that a back injury would likely prevent Concepcion from pitching this season, but he recently made his season debut for the Arizona League Cubs on July 31.  He pitched two innings of one-hit shutout ball without allowing any walks and striking out one.  Last night, he made his second appearance for the rookie team, and it was a struggle.  In 1.2 innings, Concepcion allowed no hits and one unearned run.  He walked four, made three wild pitches and fanned one.  Given the hype surrounding Concepcion’s signing, it bears watching the next month to see if he can gain some momentum heading into the offseason and re-establish himself as an upper-tier prospect in the Cubs’ system.
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