Cubs see a renewed confidence in Adbert Alzolay, whom they really need to take the next step

"His poise and work ethic is great," manager David Ross says.

(670 The Score) In a Cubs rotation headlined by veterans who will rely on command rather than power, 26-year-old right-hander Adbert Alzolay stands out.

Alzolay can hit 96 miles per hour on a regular basis while much of the rotation tops out in the 89-91 mph range. That velocity and his talent make him a key for the Cubs as they sort out the back end of their rotation in spring training.

Alzolay had a 2.95 ERA in six appearances, including four starts, for the Cubs in 2020, when he also spent time at the team’s alternate camp in South Bend. One question surrounding Alzolay is how big of a workload he can handle in a 162-game regular season in 2021. Alzolay hasn’t thrown more than 120 1/3 innings in a minor league season.

"We will have to navigate that for him this season,” manager David Ross said. “That is something that is really on our radar for him. We will have to assess things for him as the season goes. If he is throwing well, we will let him go. I think he'll tell us a lot from his performance and the discussions we have after that.”

Alzolay was a more confident pitcher last September, when he used a different grip on his slider, which baffled hitters. Alzolay has also been working on improving his cut fastball this spring with some help and advice from right-hander Jake Arrieta, and the Cubs are expecting to see significant progression from him this season.

“Adbert has advanced over the last year,” Ross said. “He is out there competing on a daily basis. He has gone through the prospect journey. Now it's time for him to take that step to be a big leaguer.”

Alzolay started the Cubs’ home opener in Cactus League play at Sloan Park on Tuesday, throwing one scoreless inning while striking out one and hitting a batter. He feels as if he’s in a good place this spring.

"I am pretty confident,” Alzolay told reporters. “I think as a professional, you prepare for these moments. These are the moments you hope to come in your career."

Alzolay has made significant changes in his physical fitness routine in the past two years, becoming vegan and losing 20 pounds on the new diet. This past offseason, he started an extensive weight lifting program to add strength. The Cubs haven't locked him into a rotation spot to open the season yet, but they also know his talent could be a needed dynamic for them after years of struggling to develop homegrown pitching.

“He is on another level the way he is carrying himself,” Ross said. “His poise and work ethic is great. The list (of his maturity) is long.

“His interaction with coaches, players and everybody is great. The confidence is pouring out of his actions.”

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.