How Javier Assad’s offseason speed program and WBC performances put him in contention for Chicago Cubs roster spot – The Denver Post

Adbert Alzolay’s emoji game practiced last week.

Alzolay listened to his Chicago Cubs teammate Javier Assad’s two stellar appearances for Team Mexico at the World Baseball Classic. And as Assad racked up the scoreless innings on the international stage, Alzolay made sure to shout out his performances on Twitter, punctuated with the appropriate emoji.

“I mean, he’s just electric,” Alzolay told Tribune. “Seeing him grow up in the minors and now seeing him on the biggest stage right now doing what he does against the batters and the teams he does against tells you this guy is already playoff ready.”

Like Alzolay, most of Justin Steele’s career has overlapped with that of Assad at the minor and major league levels.

“It’s Assad, baby,” Steele said. “That’s how he is. He’s really good.

Assad’s success in the WBC built on his work in the Cactus League. In six appearances between the two, Assad recorded 9⅔ scoreless innings with two hits, two walks and eight strikeouts. He notably produced a slight increase in his fastball speed, ranging between 94 and 95 mph and hitting 97 mph.

Assad’s tricks combined with his spring production put him in contention for a spot on the opening roster, even if that means using him in the bullpen. Manager David Ross says Assad is in the running to start the season at the team. Ross does not rule out Assad being used as relief.

“I think that’s all that matters to him,” Ross said. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s a start or a relief. When he throws like that, he can really help us. So as long as he keeps doing that, he’s setting himself up to make some really tough decisions for us. And these are good decisions. The tougher ones we have, that’s a good thing.

“You’re talking about a young man who put himself on the map last year and worked this offseason to improve and he’s proving that early on it gets you excited.”

For the second straight offseason, Assad used a program the Cubs created for him that centered on plyo-ball work to increase his speed. After witnessing the speed gains he made during the 2022 season, they took a “rinse and repeat” approach to his off-season work. Assistant pitching coach Daniel Moskos cited the strength Assad has added in the weight room, where “he maybe took a little more possession and challenged himself,” also contributing to more lives on his fastball.

When Assad showed up at camp and kicked off his first session in the field lab, the Cubs immediately witnessed a different version of the Assad they’d seen last year. Prior to his departure for the WBC, Assad bragged to the Tribune how his plyo-ball routine had helped him maintain his mechanics, regardless of its effect on his speed.

“He’s more physical, so you see the lower half making more aggressive moves on the slope,” Moskos told the Tribune. “So everything is in sync. He looks great right now.

The most encouraging element of Assad’s improved speed is how he hasn’t diminished his excellent command. His ability to exploit fastball control is a testament to Assad’s skill and repeatable mechanics.

“You’re excited because a lot of times we can create speed but if the guy doesn’t own the delivery it can lead to a lot of spray shots and the speed doesn’t have as much of an impact because he’s not in the area or around the area,” says Moscos. “So for a guy who already knows how to be in the zone to now add tools to his tool belt, that’s where you see guys really take off.”


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