Chicago’s 2014 draft class already looks impressive enough with the likes of Kyle Schwarber, Dylan Cease, and recent big league callups Mark Zangunis and James Norwood. Justin Steele could make it a draft class for the books if he reaches his ceiling, too. Steele was the Cubs’ fifth-round pick that year, one of the prep arms that Schwarber’s under-slot bonus with the #4 overall pick allowed the team to sign. He was in the middle of a breakout 2017 season before Tommy John surgery in August of last year, though the lefty returned surprisingly quickly and is already pitching in games for Myrtle Beach.
I saw him work in the 90-to-94 mph range with his heater in a recent look. Before the injury he would reach the 95-to-96 mph band with his fastball, so there’s some reason to believe above-average velocity could be on the way back. Even if not, Steele’s movement and control/command project out enough to turn lineups over as a starter. His fastball has some natural sink down in the zone, flashing a hint of cut action at times. He’s aggressive over the plate and throws strikes, working quickly and making hitters adjust to his pace. Steele’s curveball is a separator and might wind up being his best pitch, a sharp upper-70s bender with 2-to-7 tilt that flashes swing-and-miss bite. The fastball and curve are ahead of his mid-80s changeup, but Steele shows feel for the pitch and has the clean arm action to get it to average.
Steele’s slow climb and time missed with injury have dropped him off the national prospect radar, but from what I’ve seen—both before and after surgery—he’ll be back on the map after a full season in 2019. If Steele can stay healthy he’s a safe bet to contribute in some capacity, with the best-case ceiling being that of a solid #4 or #5 rotation piece for a contender.