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Dakota Mekkes Eyes 2019 Big League Debut

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Dakota Mekkes arrived on the Michigan State campus as an unfinished product, and he evolved into an intriguing project for the Cubs’ pitching infrastructure and research and development department.

All those elements are still in place, and the 24-year-old righthander has shown enough growth to think that his Wrigley Field debut could come this season. The Cubs might even have a secret weapon for Joe Maddon’s bullpen.

Rewind to the 2016 draft, when the Cubs didn’t make their first selection until near the bottom of the third round. Working with the smallest bonus pool that year—almost $2.25 million—the Cubs understood that they had to send their scouts in different directions and take chances.

By the 10th round, the Cubs zeroed in on Mekkes, who redshirted as a freshman, made just nine appearances during his first season with the Spartans and then struck out 96 batters across 57 relief innings in 2016.

"We were just more creative than we had been in the past, more open-minded,” scouting director Matt Dorey said, "really using the R&D staff as well, probably more than we had previously. It was such an outlier number with his strikeout rate, and then we just dug further with how many bats he missed with his fastball in the zone, even though the velocity wasn’t what it is today."

Listed at 6-foot-7, 250 pounds, Mekkes reached Triple-A Iowa by the middle of last season. Without 40-man roster considerations, he could have been a September callup last year.

With his wing span, arm angle and funky delivery, Mekkes has drawn an internal comparison with Steve Cishek. Mekkes has opened eyes with a 1.16 career ERA in the minors and 190 strikeouts through 147 pro innings.

"There’s a lot of good late life and he can really jam a hitter up,” Maddon said. "He reminds me of (former Angels reliever Brendan Donnelly) a little bit. BD wasn’t overpowering in any area, (but he had) a lot of deception. Very assertive in the zone. I think there’s a lot to be said for that, so it’s a combination of factors with (Mekkes), plus he’s got a lot of confidence because he’s been really good.

"It’s a simple approach. It’s kind of interesting to watch.”

CUBBYHOLE

— Righthander Adbert Alzolay entered camp behind schedule after he felt something in his right side during a bullpen session in early February. The Cubs are operating with what general manager Jed Hoyer called "an abundance of caution” after shutting down Alzolay with a strained right lat muscle in the middle of last season. Without those setbacks, Alzolay would be squarely on the big league radar. As it stands, the Cubs will have to carefully monitor Alzolay’s workload and any increases from last year’s Triple-A output of 39.2 innings.

"It’s a long process,” Alzolay said, "but the main thing right now is just to be 100 percent healthy.”

— Great line from 24-year-old lefthander Ian Clarkin, a 2013 first-round pick whom the Cubs twice claimed on waivers from the White Sox this offseason: "I’ve never been to Chicago.”

Patrick Mooney is a senior writer for The Athletic Chicago

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