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Ascending Adbert Alzolay

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The Cubs are hoping this will be a breakthrough year for their young pitchers, when their international investments, first-round capital and infrastructure improvements all pay big dividends.

Righthander Adbert Alzolay, who concluded 2017 at Double-A Tennessee, will be one of the most intriguing players in big league camp. Lefthander Brendon Little (No. 27) and righthander Alex Lange (No. 30)—who last year became the Theo Epstein regime’s highest-drafted pitchers—should begin at low Class A South Bend.

The Cubs' Top 10 Prospects ranking featured seven pitchers, a correction for a franchise that targeted hitters during the rebuilding years. New hires—big league pitching coach Jim Hickey, special assistant Jim Benedict and minor league pitching coordinator Brendan Sagara—are part of a top-to-bottom reevaluation.

"Those waves are coming,” farm director Jaron Madison said. "It’s just a matter of staying healthy (and) really digging in on those guys and making sure we’re doing everything we can to get them to the big leagues.”

Cubs officials are open about the possibility that Alzolay, who signed for just $10,000 out of Venezuela in 2012, could make his Wrigley Field debut sometime this season after a good showing in the Arizona Fall League.

"He’s a leader on and off the field,” said Alex Suarez, who helps run the Cubs' international scouting and player development systems. "He sets the tone for each pitching staff that he’s on, in terms of conditioning and throwing. He’s the guy who wants to get out there more. He’s the guy who wants to run more. He’s the guy who's coming in first in our strength camps.

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His numbers may not show it yet, but the 2018 second-rounder has gained valuable experience in the Midwest League.

"Everything with him—he’s very competitive and he wants to be the best.”

Of course, the Cubs aren’t putting all their eggs in one basket. Righthander Jose Albertos is part of the pipeline the Cubs strategically built in Mexico. Righthander Thomas Hatch, the Big 12 Conference pitcher of the year in 2016, earned an invitation to big league camp.

Righties Dillon Maples and Jen-Ho Tseng both made their big league debuts last September. Righthander Oscar De La Cruz flashed enough high-end talent—while battling injuries—to earn a spot on the 40-man roster last November.

Patrick Mooney covers the Cubs for The Athletic Chicago

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