CHICAGO — With a little more minor-league seasoning, Dillon Maples and James Norwood could follow Carl Edwards Jr. to a permanent spot on the Cubs roster.
"Norwood and (Maples) are cut from the same cloth," manager Joe Maddon said Friday, assessing the two homegrown relievers.
Norwood, 25, and Maples, 26, each features a deluxe pitch to complement a fastball clocked in the upper 90s. Norwood, who earned the save Thursday in a 2-1 Cactus League win over the Rangers, uses a split-finger fastball -- a trendy pitch three decades ago that isn't used as frequently because of the stress it puts on the elbow.
Maples throws a knee-buckling slider that helped him ascend from Class-A Myrtle Beach to the Cubs in 2017 after he briefly considered quitting.
However, "it's all about fastball command," Maddon said. "My definition of a major-league pitcher is one who can throw a strike when he wants to."
In the case of Norwood, a seventh-round pick in 2015, his potential has been tempered by his bouts of wildness. He walked five in 11 innings covering 11 games with the Cubs in 2018, and he walked 24 in 50 1/3 innings combined at Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa.
Maples' control problems are more acute. He walked 39 in 38 2/3 innings at Iowa last year but survived with a 2.79 ERA in 41 appearances.
As Edwards proved, there is plenty of hope for Maples and Norwood. After a brief stint with the Cubs in September 2015, Edwards began the 2016 season with Iowa but started throwing his fastball more effectively -- hitting the low, outside corner against right-handed batters more frequently -- and was promoted for good June 20 of that season.
The last stages of development for Norwood and Maples take on greater importance because of the state of the bullpen. Closer Brandon Morrow won't be available until May while he recovers from right elbow surgery, Pedro Strop has a strained right hamstring, Brad Brach's velocity has hovered only in the upper 80s and Mike Montgomery didn't make his spring debut until Tuesday because of left shoulder stiffness.
Norwood understands that throwing more strikes with his regular fastball will make his split-finger fastball more effective.
"It just made it easier for me to get people out because it works well with my fastball," Norwood said. "It's one of those pitches you can't really control too much because you want to throw it as hard as you can. That's what helps with getting the break and just fooling the hitter because it comes out so hard, and then drops."
In order to reduce the stress on his elbow, Norwood said he puts more pressure on his fingertips -- which helps deaden the spin -- as opposed to digging his middle and index fingers around the sides of the ball.
A minor-league coach suggested Norwood use the splitter to complement his fastball and slider because he was throwing his changeup too hard.
Maples, meanwhile, is eager to learn from his past struggles.
"I believe this year I have a better feel of what needs to happen," said Maples, who was a 14th-round pick in the 2011 draft but received a $2.5 million bonus to get him out of his commitment to North Carolina.
Of the 13 earned runs allowed by Maples in 15 appearances over the last two seasons, 10 came in two appearances. Maples didn't allow a walk in his final five appearances of 2018 after surrendering five runs to the Twins on July 1.
"In a way, I'm glad that happened because I learned from that," Maples said. "Each outing you got to take something from it, whether it's good or bad, and I feel like I did that. I had a lot of time this offseason to reflect. I'm just moving forward."
Should Maples take the final steps in his development, it would complete a remarkable transformation after starting his sixth professional season in Class A only two years ago.