Seven years ago, the Chicago Cubs selected Justin Steele in the fifth round of the amateur draft out of George County High. On Monday, the left-hander from Lucedale made his big league debut, completing a long journey full of ups and downs. Steele, 25, came on in relief at Milwaukee and struck out the first batter he faced to end an inning. He then battled through the next frame, escaping a base-loaded jam without yielding a run. Steele was twice an organization All-Star in the Cubs’ system and has a career ERA of 3.62 in the minors. He also made a lot of trips to the injured list, which limited him to 80 appearances from 2014-19. He spent last season at the Cubs’ alternate site. Steele was recalled from that camp on Monday when the Cubs placed three pitchers on the COVID-19 list. How long he’ll remain on the active roster isn’t certain, but after seven years, he is officially in the MLB books. That in itself is quite an achievement.
The top-rated pitching prospect on the Chicago Cubs’ Double-A roster is Lucedale’s Justin Steele. But the oft-injured Steele has been outperformed on the Tennessee club by another Mississippi native who hasn’t yet cracked the MLB Pipeline prospect ratings. Southaven’s Wyatt Short, a former Ole Miss standout, is 3-1 with a 1.88 ERA and six saves for the Smokies. In 38 1/3 innings, he has 40 strikeouts and 11 walks. And he made the Southern League All-Star Game last month. “I feel like I’m really scratching the surface here,” he recently told the Memphis Commercial Appeal, “so hopefully as the year goes on, it only gets better and better.” The 5-foot-8 left-hander, drafted in the 13th round in 2016, has a 2.49 career ERA and 35 saves in 47 opportunities. He posted 11 saves as UM’s closer in 2016 and finished his Rebels career with 24. … Meanwhile, Steele, a lefty starter and the Cubs’ No. 8 prospect, has spent much of the season on the injured list and is 0-6 with a 5.59 ERA in 11 games for the Smokies. He bounced back strong last summer from Tommy John surgery, finished the 2018 season in Double-A, pitched in the Arizona Fall League and went to big league camp as a member of the Cubs’ 40-man roster. Not much has gone well since.
In his fifth year in pro ball, Justin Steele is still in the low minors, though he isn’t exactly spinning his wheels. George County High product Steele appeared to be having a breakout season at the advanced Class A level in 2017 when an arm injury sent him to the disabled list in early August. As it turned out, the left-hander needed Tommy John surgery. After a quicker-than-usual recovery, Steele seems to be humming along nicely back at Myrtle Beach, the Chicago Cubs’ high-A team. On Sunday, he went five innings, allowing two runs and fanning seven, to improve to 2-1 with a 2.45 ERA in four starts. He had a 1.47 ERA in the Arizona League to begin his comeback. Steele was a dominant hurler at George County, posting a 0.98 ERA and tossing two no-hitters as a senior. The Cubs picked him in the fifth round of the 2014 draft, and he passed on a scholarship to Southern Miss to sign. Now 23, Steele is rated the Cubs’ No. 8 prospect (by MLB Pipeline) and twice has made their organizational postseason all-star team, including last year when he went 6-7, 2.92 at Myrtle Beach before the injury detour. Though he has yet to be tested in Double-A, he appears to be part of the Cubs’ future plans.
Ole Miss product Lance Lynn had made 146 career starts, minors and majors, heading into Tuesday’s turn against the New York Yankees. For the first time, the St. Louis Cardinals right-hander finished what he started. Lynn notched his first complete game, beating the Yankees 6-0 with a five-hitter. “It was definitely one to remember,” Lynn told The Associated Press. “To do it against the Yankees is exciting, especially if it’s your first one as a professional.” Lynn walked three and struck out two, throwing 126 pitches. He had won just one of his previous six starts but is now 6-2 with a 3.12 ERA. For his MLB career, Lynn is 40-20. And his Cardinals have won 10 of 13 to get to 29-23, 1½ games behind Milwaukee in the National League Central. P.S. Another name to watch in the upcoming MLB draft: Justin Steele, a left-hander at George County High. Baseball America ranks the Southern Miss signee as the No. 120 prospect overall. Steele, 6 feet 2, 170 pounds, went 5-1 with a 0.98 ERA, struck out 92 and walked just 12 in 43 innings.