MESA, Ariz. -- Some -- like Joe Maddon -- might call him a late bloomer but Chicago Cubs ace Jake Arrieta has been a top talent in the game for many years. But it's only now, as he turns 30 on Sunday, that the results are catching up to that talent. His manager, general manager, former catcher and a top hitter in the league see a player who can dominate for another half decade at least.
"Being from Texas I used to hear his name a lot in college and stuff," Arizona Diamondbacks perennial MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt said Sunday before playing the Cubs. "I remember him well. What he's been able to do the last year and a half, he's up there with anyone in the league. If he keeps doing that in his 30's he could possibly be the best pitcher in the league."
Considering Goldschmidt is now teammates with Zack Greinke and has spent his career in the same division with him and Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers, that's pretty high praise. While Arrieta has been known in baseball circles his name didn't elicit the same kind of praise the other two, more accomplished pitchers received. They've been doing it for years.
"You see less late bloomers with starters because a lot of times they've been passed up by the guy that's 23, 24 or 25," Maddon explained. "A lot of times I like to get a relief pitcher that hasn't done anything until 27 or 28. They probably started out as a starter; eventually they figure it out in the bullpen and the light bulb goes on. For starters, they may not get that chance into their late 20's. Jake is just doing it later."
General manager Jed Hoyer was asked if "late bloomer" was the right description for Arrieta.
"I think that's fair," he answered. "He was a great prospect, so maybe late bloomer isn't exactly the right way to phrase it. He had some rocky times, but everyone takes a different amount of time to figure it out in the big leagues. We're just glad he figured it out with us."
There may not be another catcher in the league who saw the before and after of Arrieta than former Cub Welington Castillo. He caught him during some struggles in 2013 and then again during his breakout season in 2014 before being traded last year. Now with the Diamondbacks, Castillo was shaking his head on Sunday morning thinking about Arrieta's performance last season. Arrieta went 22-6 with a 1.77 ERA in 2015, producing the lowest post-All-Star break ERA (0.75) in history.
"That was amazing what he did last year," Castillo said. "Everyone that knows him knows what kind of stuff he has. You already know what kind of pitcher he can be. He did it last year and there is no question he can keep doing it."
Health is always a concern for a pitcher and especially one as he gets older, but Hoyer stressed the physical condition Arrieta is in mitigates his late blossoming. He's in better shape than most 25-year-olds.
"He just wants to keep that going," Hoyer said. "He believes he can. His focus is to keep that last year and a half moving forward."
At 29, Arrieta battled one of the best pitchers (Greinke) in the game in an epic Cy Young race. Even the hitters were following it. Now at 30, he's out to do it again.
"It was cool," Goldschmidt said. "There are a lot of good pitches and both guys stood out. Arrieta seems to be just getting started."