I’ve written here before about Dillon Maples, a “stuff” D.M. with 6 letters in each name. That experiment had mixed results in 2018, and we very well may see a repeat of that in 2019. Maples still has a ton of skills, even if finding the strike zone on a consistent basis isn’t one of them. While the supply of 20-somethings with crazy pitches has certainly increased over the past 5 years, they are still finite. Because of this, Dillon will probably get a few more chances.
The reason he might get a chance here is because the Cubs just don’t have a great bullpen. Brandon Morrow will spend Opening Day rehabbing in Arizona. Jesse Chavez was just too expensive to bring back – you can’t just give out 2-year, $8 million dollar contracts to shore up your 25-man roster. Figure in the notable amount of pitcher churn there is on every team, and spots just tend to open up. The Cubs had 14 pitchers last year that made 10 or more appearances. Suffice to say, if you’re interesting, you’ll probably get a look eventually.
Enter Dakota Mekkes. Mekkes is a 6’7″ right-hander who topped out at AAA last season. He sits at 92, can dial it up to 95, and sports 3 different pitches that have a MLB-level quality to them. They don’t make pitchers much taller, but being tall alone makes you Chris Volstad. Mekkes will have to make 2 of his 3 pitches work at the major-league level to have a chance.
Mekkes was a 10th-round pick in the 2016 draft, and he’s climbed 2 levels every single year since being drafted (so he’ll be in the Galactic League at the end of 2019). He’s been a dominant pitcher at every level since being drafted, sporting a 1.44 ERA last season in AAA with 11.78 K/9. That said, he’s had a huge ERA-FIP difference at nearly every level. He has an elite strandability skill. The only problem is that strandability is a skill that doesn’t exist.
Nearly all sites that rank Cubs prospects has Mekkes in the mid-20s for the team. I think that’s mostly a reflection of his very low ceiling. Mekkes probably doesn’t have a path to an MLB contract in free agency – he’ll never have an overpowering pitch and nothing in his past has indicated he’ll ever get walks to a level anything better than mediocre. That said, he’s always had strikeouts in his game, and Mekkes is awkward enough to make people uncomfortable (and not awkward in that one uncle you only see during family reunions that has hard opinions on “the reds”).
It wouldn’t be at all surprising for me to have Dakota start the season at AAA and be the first or second man up. It wouldn’t be completely shocking for me to see him start the season in Chicago (his main obstacle being the fact that he isn’t on the 40-man roster, whereas someone like Adbert Alzolay and Tony Barnette is). Mekkes seems about to have as high a floor as a 10th-round pitching prospect can have – Steamer has him as a 4.31 FIP in 2019 and ZiPS has him at 4.56. 2018’s league average FIP is 4.15, so that gives you at least some idea where he could fit in right now.
Zack Short, the first entry in this series, was a draft pick in the same year (2016) as Mekkes was (Tom Hatch was the first draft pick the Cubs had that year, in the 3rd round). It is looking like the Cubs did a decent job unearthing people that may actually contribute to a major league roster in that year. Those two and a 25th round pick (Trent Giambrone) all look like somebody that has some major league future, however fleeting that might be. That’s a pretty big credit to this front office, in all honesty. It’s really rare that anybody outside of the first 7 rounds or so ever does anything in the league, even if it’s just getting 5 appearances or 10 plate appearances. It’s possible (but unlikely) that the Cubs will get two players from a draft 3 years ago onto the major league roster.