Chicago Cubs prospect watch: Dillon Maples

Dillon Maples could be a future star in the Chicago Cubs rotation. (Donna Ford)

The Chicago Cubs best pitching prospect is 19 years old, was the 429th overall pick in the 2011 amateur draft and hasn’t pitched a full season of pro ball yet. In year’s past, that would sound about right as their farm system has been one of the worst in baseball over the last decade or so. But the Cubs’ 2011 draft may have just turned that around as they spent more money ($12MM) than any other team to lock up a bright looking future. That included their 14th-round pick, Dillon Maples.

Maples, a 6’-3” power righty out of Pinecrest High School in North Carolina, was tabbed the 46th best prospect by Baseball America and the 24th best by Perfect Game. A strong committed to play football for the University of North Carolina caused him to slip due to signability issues. The Cubs offered him first-round money, top-five to be exact, and Maples signed with the team for a $2.5MM bonus, the most money ever given to a player past the third round. Even with the high price tag, he was seen by most draft experts to be one of the best steals of the draft.

Owning one of the best curveballs in the draft, a 78-80 mph hammer, and a mid-90s fastball with late life, Maples toyed with his opposition over his high school career. His last two seasons looked like this:

2010: 8-1, 0.53 ERA, 0.68 WHIP, 102 K/23 BB, 52.2 innings, .076 BAA, 17.5K/9
2011: 9-1, 0.92 ERA, 0.70 WHIP, 143 K/27 BB, 68.2 innings, .093 BAA, 18.8K/9

He was a 2010 AFLAC All-American, a 2011 second-team Baseball America All-American and a member of the 2010 U18 Team USA where he pitched 11 innings, allowing just one run on two hits, while striking out twelve.

Dillon’s dad, Tim Maples, also starred at Pinecrest High School and was a second-round draft pick by the Orioles in 1979, playing five years in their minor league system. He played a huge part in Dillon’s success as, like most kids, the two would play catch in the backyard. But not everyone’s dad is a former minor-league pitcher.

From an ESPN Rise article by Brandon Parker:

Playing catch in the backyard has a little more purpose when your dad is a former minor leaguer. Some throwing sessions lasted until 9 at night, and even then, they wouldn’t officially end until Tim’s pitching eye was satisfied.

“I kid you not, 30 minutes after we went in, I’d just toss him a curveball playing around and he’d be like, ‘That was wrong!’” Dillon says. “So then we’d be on one knee in the living room, practicing again.”

“That’s when I was ‘Mama’ and stepped in a little,” Dillon’s mom, Tracy, recalls with a laugh. “But it wasn’t like Tim was making Dillon do it, because Dillon wanted to play; he just didn’t want to do it for as long as Tim wanted to.”

That’s not to say Tim was an overbearing father or coach. If anything, his own experience taught him to make sure Dillon wasn’t pushed too hard.

“There were times I wanted to back off, and as a parent, you can’t expect too much or you’ll be in for a letdown,” says Tim. “He came to baseball pretty gifted early on, and when he comes home as a freshman saying he threw 86 on the gun, it’s hard not to get excited.”

Dillon made his professional debut at the Arizona Instructional League this year. He went 3.2 innings, allowing two runs on three hits, striking out two. He also walked four batters, showing a wildness that can be chalked up to nerves. He projects to a good command pitcher with two already plus pitches. His changeup, like most pitchers his age, is still developing, but looks like it will be a solid offering. He has the size and frame to add more velocity as he matures and his mound presence is advanced for his stage. Because of his blistering fastball, power curve and feel for pitching, he has drawn comparisons to Josh Beckett.

Here is some game footage

Maples will most likely start the season with either short-season Boise or Class A Peoria. At just 19, fans shouldn’t expect to see him in the majors for a couple of years. With new GM Theo Epstein restructuring the team from the inside out, the Cubs are going through a mini-rebuilding process. Trimming the payroll of fat contracts and dead weight, and building up the farm system through the draft and trades are the top two priorities for Epstein and Co. And just about the time the Cubs are ready, Maples will be, too.

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