In his first summer as a pro, Cales split time between the rookie-level Arizona League and short-season Northwest League, so he was a little surprised when he made the leap right up to Class A Advanced Daytona to start this season. He nearly fell over when he got nudged up to Double-A in May, even though that didn't go so well. But he earned his way back up there, and even got a one-appearance taste of Triple-A, late in the season.
"It was a shock to go up to Double-A," Cales admitted. "Then to give me another chance at the end of the year, I don't think I could've asked for anything better. I didn't believe much of it was happening because it was happening so fast."
The promotion was well earned, in both cases. The right-hander gave up just one earned run in April and was only scored upon four times in 37 games with Daytona. Over 46 innings, he allowed just 29 hits (.187 batting average against) and 11 walks while striking out 43 batters. His ERA was 0.00 in both June and August.
"The kid throws strikes and he throws from a different angle," said Oneri Fleita, the Cubs' vice president of player personnel. "He goes right after hitters. He's fearless and he's aggressive.
"He's got an unorthodox delivery. He was as reliable as anyone we had in the organization all year."
"My whole mentality was to go out there, throw strikes and see what happens," Cales said. "Don't force anything. Go right at hitters, try to be fearless. See if they can hit you, pretty much."
A simple enough philosophy, but how many young pitchers struggle with throwing strike one? Cales thinks that perhaps some of it comes from his previous life as a hitter. Throughout his college career, he was an infielder as well as a reliever. It wasn't until the Cubs drafted him that he felt he had a future on the mound. Needless to say, he's embraced the new role.
"I took it and ran with it. I love what I do," Cales said. "There was a time for hitting and that time has passed. This is a new beginning."
Cales remembers what caused him trouble as a hitter, and that was falling behind. Whenever he was in a pitcher's count, he was in trouble and he's maintained that perspective even though the tables have turned.
"If you throw a lot of strikes, you're putting the pressure on the hitter," Cales said. "You keep throwing strikes, they're going to have put the ball in play. I have to get it in my favor. I'll have better results if I'm in control of the situation."
One thing he may not have control over is when his family gets together. His mother has worked in ticket sales for the White Sox for nearly two decades, so there's been that team's merchandise everywhere over the years. Cales is happy to report, though, that he's seen some blue being worn in the past year.
"A lot of them did," Cales said of the switch. "I see the Cubs stuff on. That wouldn't have happened if I didn't get drafted by them. To see them wearing Cubs apparel, that's very nice that they're supporting me."