After the Cubs called Brandon Hughes from Triple-A Iowa, he credited Scott Effross for helping him convert from outfielder to pitcher.
“I think he gives me too much credit,” Effross said of Hughes. “He did all his work. He’s been minding his own business since he was changed.
Just as Effross has since crossed his own switch on the mound – capitalizing on the “second chance” the Cubs gave him a few years ago when he was in the minor leagues.
If the Cubs are going to go anywhere in the next few seasons, producing success stories from their pitching pipeline will be a big reason why.
Keegan Thompson and Justin Steele are currently members of the rotation. And in Effross, Hughes, Caleb Kilian and Matt Swarmer, the Cubs have a handful of promising development scenarios this season.
Four pitchers who had different paths to the major leagues.
“Where you’re drafted doesn’t matter and all those things, does it?” said manager David Ross. “First-round players, you think you have a better idea of how this is going to play out. You also support the underdogs.
Effross struggled in Double-A in 2018 and as of June 2019 he held a 5.88 ERA. The Cubs approached him to convert to the side arm throw.
He took a week to discuss with his family and his agency and decided to go.
“The organization really gave me a second opportunity to attack that and give them a different look that they didn’t have in the minors,” said Effross, one of Ross’ go-to relievers this season who holds a 2.84 ERA in 26 appearances.
“For me, a second chance to prove myself. It was one of those decisions that, at the time, was obviously hard to hear. Like, ‘Hey, we want you to change because of these reasons. It does not work.
“Looking back, obviously, I couldn’t be more grateful for where I am and for the second chance to compete in a new way for the Cubs.”
Effross said he wasn’t sure what to expect, but attacked the change head-on. He spent the next two months in Arizona establishing the new arm angle in a way that was both comfortable and could maximize his ability.
He returned to the Affiliate Ball in August with Single-A Myrtle Beach and rose quickly through the Cubs’ organizational ranks after the 2020 season was canceled, earning promotion to the big leagues last August.
Says Effross: “The timeline they gave me saying, ‘We want to do it right. We’re not going to rush you. We want to give you everything you need to be successful,” was the biggest confidence booster around the time we changed.
Player development is not linear, and the cases of Effross, Hughes, Kilian and Swarmer are examples of this.
Hughes struggled offensively as an outfield prospect and the Cubs gave him two choices in 2019: convert to pitching or be released. He made the switch at the same time Effross converted to a handgun, and the two paths crossed in Arizona at that time.
AFTER: How a career change led Hughes from the Cubs to MLB
Three years later, they’re both in the Cubs’ bullpen. Hughes struck out 13 batters with just two walks in 10 innings, holding a 3.60 ERA.
Swarmer, the Cubs’ 2016 19th-round pick, was the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2018. He had a rough 2019 and pitched in an adult recreational league to stay sharp in 2020.
He threw quality starts in his first two career outings after the Cubs promoted him from Iowa last week.
Kilian, acquired last summer in a trade from Kris Bryant, has a lot of promise as the organization’s top pitching prospect. He pitched five solid innings in his major league debut on Saturday.
“I think they’re all different and they all have to find something to prove,” Ross said.
“You love the underdog so much, like I said. Also the first round that comes up or the big prospect that comes up and comes out like, ‘Yeah, there’s a reason they put that label on me and I’m gonna make sure that’s what I going to be.’
“There is a lot of strength in all of this. You like players who fight their way through the minor leagues and get to the major leagues, whatever the path. It’s hard to get here.
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