Iowa Cubs pitcher Caleb Kilian’s name is still synonymous with a huge trade from 2021.
Kilian, who was drafted by the San Francisco Giants, came over to the Chicago Cubs as part of the Kris Bryant trade. Being part of a deal that shipped off one of the biggest stars of the team’s World Series win in 2016 is how Kilian is most known by Cubs fans.
He’d like to change that.
“It’s an honor to be a part of that,” Kilian said. “But I want to make a name for myself. I want to be Caleb Kilian.”
He’s on his way to doing that. Kilian, the top pitching prospect for the Chicago Cubs, according to MLB Pipeline, is now one step away from reaching the big leagues. He’s in his first season in Triple-A and his second season in the Cubs’ organization after he was brought in from the Giants, along with minor league outfielder Alexander Canario.
“He’s got plus stuff across the board,” Iowa manager Marty Pevey said.
That’s why the Giants drafted the Texas Tech product in the eighth round of the 2019 MLB Draft. Kilian made an instant impact in the minors, allowing just one unearned run in 16 innings of work across Rookie Ball and short season that year. Kilian didn’t pitch in 2020 when the minor league season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But he picked up right where he left off when the minors returned in 2021.
He went 6-2 with a 2.13 ERA in 15 starts between Single-A and Double-A and showcased swing-and-miss stuff with 96 strikeouts over 84.2 innings, averaging 10.2 strikeouts per 9.0 innings. It caught the attention of the Cubs, who made him one of the centerpieces of their trade for Bryant.
"He is extremely physical on the mound," said Jared Banner, Chicago's vice president of player development, before the season. "He has great arm strength, can change speeds and can do all the things we really look for in a starting pitcher."
Kilian started carving out his own legacy last season, just like he wanted. The right-hander put on a dominating performance in the prestigious Arizona Fall League's championship game when he struck out eight and tossed six perfect innings.
"I think it helped a bunch," Kilian said. "It kind of got my name out there. I got to pitch to some really good hitters. I didn't feel like a lot of people knew who I was until maybe at the end of last season, especially the fall league."
Kilian entered the 2022 season ranked the fourth-best prospect in Chicago's system, according to MLB Pipeline, and he is in Triple-A for the first time in his career. It's a chance for him to make a compelling case for his first big-league promotion.
But before that happens, there's still work to be done. During his Triple-A debut on April 9 at Buffalo, Kilian showed why there is so much excitement for him, but also why he needs some more time. In 2.2 innings, Kilian struck out six and allowed just two hits. But he also threw 53 pitches, including 33 for strikes, while working on a pitch count.
"I'm happy that I had a lot of strikeouts," Kilian said. "But too many pitches for a starter. The debut, I think it's a good outing. I'm happy with it but we've got some room to improve for sure."
One of those areas for improvement is with his newly developed changeup. Kilian's arsenal already includes a mid- to high-90s four-seam fastball to go along with a two-seamer, slider and curveball. But over the offseason, he began working on the circle changeup to keep hitters off-balance.
To master the pitch, Kilian picked the brain of anyone he could talk to. Iowa pitching coach Ron Villone has given him tips. Even his agent, Bobby Witt, a long-time starter in the big leagues, has helped. But the pitch is still in its early stages. Kilian threw it only one time in his first start this season. It resulted in a hit. But he's hoping it can be a pitch he uses more as he gets more confident with it.
If things go well with the pitch and for Kilian this season, he could get a shot to eventually show what he can do in Chicago.
"It feels really close," he said.
Tommy Birch, the Register's sports enterprise and features reporter, has been working at the newspaper since 2008. He's the 2018 and 2020 Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Reach him at email@example.com or 515-284-8468. Follow him on Twitter @TommyBirch.
This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Iowa Cubs pitcher Caleb Kilian came over in the Kris Bryant trade