Former college closer turned pro starter with plus-plus fastball and above-average breaking ball is set to debut 2021 with five pitches
A special thanks to Michael McAvene for providing insights into the progress he’s made over the offseason
How acquired: MLB Draft, 3rd Round, 2019
Flash forward from a time before 2018, and you’d be shocked at the selection of Michael McAvene. Not only was McAvene a former Tommy John survivor, but he was a college reliever. Both demographics, which historically the Cubs to shied away from. However, McAvene has a special arm, and the time was right to take more chances to find a higher ceiling of talent. So far, Michael has made right on that chance. In the limited opportunity he’s been able to play in-game, McAvene has shown off the triple digits (plus-plus) fastball and the above-average slider. Those tools alone give him an excellent opportunity to develop as a dominant reliever. The Cubs and Michael are hoping for more, and they’re both about to see it. Michael McAvene is excited to start 2021 with a total of five pitches.
Mechanics and Control
Unlike most relievers, McAvene utilizes a windup without men on base. If he is to continue developing as a starter, using the windup should allow him to comfortably continue that in a starting role. He has a durable build, which should be capable of handling the rigors of a rotation role. The effort in the delivery is something to watch coming out of the shutdown. It was high effort with a headwhack in 2019. He utilizes a tilted delivery where he twists his body before bringing his arm through in a low 3/4 slot. The mechanics are repeatable and consistent in viewings.
When McAvene is “on”, he’ll pound the strikezone. He did an exceptional job at limiting walks in professional ball with a 5:1 K:BB ratio (small sample size of 12 2/3 innings). It’s still control over command at this point, but I like Michael’s chances for average control and average command. That will be more than enough to succeed at higher levels if he continues to build out his repertoire as planned.
Fourseam Fastball: This is one of the best pitches in the entire organization. It runs in the upper 90s and touches 100, but it’s far more than just velocity. It is an explosive pitch with exceptional ride up in the zone. He often will pepper the lower part of the strikezone and I think that’s something that should be fixed. McAvene can succeed when he’s off-target. However, since he was primarily throwing two pitches in his debut if he missed both location and hitters were sitting on the pitch, it did find some barrels. The addition of other pitches will only help to improve the fastball since hitters should no longer be able to sit on it. All told, this pitch rivals any fastball in the system. This is a plus-plus pitch (one of the rare plus-plus grades in the organization).
Slider: The slider is above average. Its current iteration plays up better in more limited outings (1-2 innings), but that may change with an increased repertoire. It has good vertical movement and does have some horizontal movement away from righties (two-plane break).
Curveball: McAvene did throw some curveballs during his brief debut, but this pitch has now been morphed into a spike-curve. No grade on this pitch
Changeup: I only saw a handful of changeups. They were below average from 2019. He did use one to steal a strike. There was a velocity separation, but lacked strong “fade” seen in more developed offerings. McAvene has rarely had to throw one in college so the development of this pitch was pretty basic.
The full repertoire in 2021
According to McAvene, he now has added a 2-seam fastball and a spike-curve. Additionally he’s worked to get his changeup in a “pretty good spot”. You can see the pitching infrastructure’s plan during the shutdown: use this opportunity to build out robust arsenals. McAvene joins Ryan Jensen, DJ Herz, and Riley Thompson (among many others) as a spike-curve adopter. Bryan Smith of Bleacher Nation previously noted the spike-curve and developing changeup. The Cubs are clear believers in the 2-seam, which McAvene is also now employing.
Michael McAvene is a pitcher who began in the Cubs system with two main pitches. He now enters 2021 ready to break out five. Until we see the new pitches in-game it’s hard to judge them. The optimism is that Michael’s curve come out above-average and plays off that plus-plus fastball. Throw in an above-average slider and an average pitch between the changeup and 2-seam and the recipe is there for a legitimate starting pitching prospect. In 2021, fans should pay attention less to the amount of innings McAvene throws, but rather on the quality of his new offerings. While the pandemic robbed both fans and players of minor league baseball in 2020, there are still some encouraging development signs from Cubs prospects. Michael McAvene is ready to show off far more than his elite fastball when baseball resumes this summer.