The Cubs are planning to promote pitching prospect Caleb Kilian to make his major league debut tomorrow against the Cardinals, manager David Ross told reporters (including Jordan Bastian of MLB.com). The right-hander is not yet on the 40-man roster, so Chicago will need to formally select his contract tomorrow. The Cubs’ 40-man is full, meaning there’ll be a corresponding move forthcoming.
Chicago acquired Kilian last summer, adding him alongside outfield prospect Alexander Canary from the Giants for Kris Bryant minutes before the trade deadline. San Francisco had selected Kilian in the eighth round of the 2019 draft out of Texas Tech, and he’s elevated his stock with a strong showing in the minor leagues. The right-hander owned an excellent 2.43 ERA through 63 Double-A innings at the time of the trade, and he’s continued to thrive since changing organizations.
Kilian made four starts with the Cubs Double-A affiliate down the stretch, then has started this season at Triple-A Iowa. He’s worked nine starts and tossed 39 1/3 innings, pitching to a 2.06 ERA with solid strikeout and walk rates (24.8% and 9.1% respectively). Kilian has induced grounders on nearly 60% of batted balls against him — well north of the 43.1% MLB average.
Baseball America recently ranked Kilian the #5 prospect in the Chicago system, writing that he’s improved his raw stuff since entering pro ball. According to BA, the 6’4″ hurler works in the low-mid 90s on his fastball and has a trio of average or better secondary offerings (curveball, cutter and changeup). The outlet credits Kilian with plus control, while FanGraphs wrote this offseason that he may wind up with plus-plus command (a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale) at peak. Both publications suggest he’s likely to be a long-term starting pitcher — probably a middle or back of the rotation arm.
The Cubs would’ve had to add Kilian to the 40-man roster after this season to keep him from being taken in the Rule 5 draft, and they’ll bring him aboard a few months early. It remains to be seen whether the first call will be more than a spot start, as the Cubs and Cards are slated for a doubleheader. Whether it’s immediate or at some point a bit down the line, though, the retooling club figures to install Kilian as a regular rotation member fairly soon.
Even if Kilian is in the majors from here on out, he won’t reach a full year of service time this season. He won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2028 campaign at the earliest. Kilian would be in a strong position to qualify for early arbitration after 2025 as a Super Two player, but optional assignments back to Iowa could change that trajectory.