Pitching is volatile to predict. An added pitch here, an adjustment there, some weight gain here, a pitching prospect could change drastically in their development in a very short period of time. Then, when you have players coming off an injury or an injury plagued year, it is hard to tell what to do with them or to make of them until you have seen them in competition. Take Dillon Maples. He is one of my favorite prospects just on potential. However, this year (2014) could be the end of the road for him after a marred season resulting from a broken rib this spring. He never seemed to get on track at all this year.
With as many as 10 arms competing for starting and relief positions for the big league club, the opportunities to pitch are dwindling as the management has said they will be hitting pitchers in free agency hard with the checkbook. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like code for, “We’re going after Lester.” The opportunities are small in spring training but as the year goes on, the Cubs will need pitchers. They always have and they always will.
Promoted – Iowa to the Big Leagues – Arodys Vizcaino, Armando Rivero, Felix Doubront
Small Shot in Spring Training to make the big leagues – Straily, Jokisch, Beeler, Rosscup, Hatley, Mateo, Negrin, Parker
Staying in Des Moines – Rusin, Pimentel, Rhee, McNutt, Loux
Released – Alberto Cabrera and maybe Chris Rusin. If golden boy Trey McNutt cannot come back, his days as a Cub are done.
Those who don’t make it to Chicago will be back in Iowa. I think for most of the pitchers who are currently at Iowa, the best hope for them would be to make it in the bullpen. With Carlos Villanueva’s contract ending, and Rick Renteria’s mismanagement of the bullpen, they will need 10-12 relievers shuffling Chicago and Iowa to get it done next year. It will be interesting to see how Barret Loux returns from TJS and if Trey McNutt can return from shoulder problems and fulfill any promise when he was the Cubs top pitching prospect 3 years ago.
Promoted to Iowa – Pierce Johnson, Corey Black, P. J. Francescon, Hunter Cervenka, Andrew McKirahan, Frank Batista
Staying at Kodak – C. J. Edwards, Ivan Pineyro, Felix Pena, Blake Cooper, Zach Cates, Jeff Lorick, and Matt Loosen
Could be released – Lendy Castillo (R)
As for the starters, Johnson and Black have a shot to make it to Chicago by mid-summer, Johnson, maybe as a starter, and Black, probably as a reliever. If you asked Corey Black, he would prefer to be a starter, but I think his profile plays better as a power arm out of the pen in the majors. Black is having a pretty solid year and will be given a chance to make it at Iowa as a starter. If CJ Edwards stays healthy the rest of this year, and succeeds in the Arizona Fall League, he could end up at Iowa, too. The problem for Edwards and Johnson is innings. They have not thrown a lot of innings that a starter in the majors would throw. I think the Cubs are going to be careful with them. Hopefully, both can approach 150 innings next year.
The lefty relievers, McKirahan and Cervenka, are a little different profile of relief pitchers. They have good command, solid fastballs, and are not the soft tossing lefties that have proliferated the Cubs system the past few years.
Promoted to Tennessee – Rob Zastryzny, Tayler Scott, Michael Jensen, Austin Kirk, Steve Perakslis, Starling Peralta, Amlung, Concepcion
Staying at the Beach – Paniagua, Skulina, Zack Godley, Yao-Lin Wang
Released – Jose Rosario just keeps floundering at Class A. It is time to move on.
Daytona had the weakest starting staff of the year in the organization. Felix Pena had the best stuff there and was promoted mid-season to Tennessee. He has struggled there. Zastryzny had a great June, July, and August. Unfortunately, he was horrible in April and early May. He has been solid enough of late and should easily earn a trip to Kodak. Tayler Scott is one player I think will get promoted but I am not really sure. At times, he can be solid. Other times he gives up 4 runs in 5 innings. I think 2015 will be a make or break year for him as Tennessee could be the end of the line if he cannot put it together.
Stephen Perakslis has been a huge surprise this second half. He has been throwing strikes and throwing them in the upper 90s. If he can do that at Tennessee as a reliever, he won’t be there very long. Another reliever, Gerardo Concepcion seems to be over the minor injury parade he was on the last two years. Since mid-June, the big wiry lefty has been almost unhittable. He has been a pleasant surprise this year.
For me, Tyler Skulina has all the promise of a front of the rotation starter. However, tendinitis in his knee could derail his career. His velocity has dropped. Here is to hoping he gets that fixed this winter and is back throwing 94 in the spring.
Could be a short trip to Daytona and then on to Tennessee – Duane Underwood and Jen-Ho Tseng
Heading to the Beach – Paul Blackburn, Daury Torrez, Ben Wells, Jonathon Martinez, Michael Wagner, David Garner, Jasvir Rakkar, Francisco Carrillo, Zak Hermans
Staying in Geneva – Tyler Ihrig – although, he has thrown a couple gems lately. Because he is a lefty I would not be surprised to see him move up.
No Clue – Dillon Maples and his rib
This staff is something else. In mid-July, all but one starter had an ERA under 3.00 and the one that didn’t got promoted to Daytona. They are hands down the best staff in the organization despite losing reliever Jose Arias in the Jacob Turner trade. I think Blackburn was somewhat disappointing this year as his velocity was not in the mid 90s but the low 90s. Despite the difference, he did well. He, Underwood, and Torrez all hit innings highs and along with Jen-Ho Tseng and Jonathon Martinez, they form a nice collection of starting pitching. They should do well in Daytona. I don’t expect Underwood and Tseng to stay too long – they have that good of stuff. Underwood in his last start was described as throwing an easy 95. Daury Torrez could join them in Tennessee very quickly if he can develop a third pitch.
Uncertainty Reigns: Boise Arms, Mesa Arms, Dominican Arms, and Venezuelan Arms
All the Way to Tennessee – Marcelo Carreno spent most of 2014 on IR until August and has been rehabbing in Mesa. He will likely end up in Tennessee. Carreno came over in the Jeff Baker trade from Detroit and should be at full strength next year.
Could Make it to the Beach in Daytona – Jake Stinnett, Brad Renner, Ariel Prieto, Austin Reed
It will be hard to crack that rotation in Daytona. To me, Stinnett had the profile of a closer until I saw him attack Virginia in the College World Series with that wicked slider. He could be in Daytona for a short time. This fall, he is struggling getting it back after throwing over 110 innings at Maryland. He will be fine in time. Prieto seems like he has been a Cub for a decade. He is only 21. The lefty is coming off of TJS and will likely be handled with kid gloves next year.
Heading to the Burbs…Maybe…I just don’t know yet – Erik Leal, Trevor Clifton, Josh Conway, James Norwood, Brad Markey, Ryan Williams, James Farris, Tommy Thorpe, Jeremy Null, Daniel Lewis, Carson Sands, Justin Steele, John Michael Knighton, Jordan Minch, and Jeferson Mejia
Clifton and Conway have been the anchors of the Boise staff this year. They have two totally different seasons. Conway has been the model of efficiency while Clifton has model of Bi-Polar pitching effectiveness. Clifton really struggles with his breaking ball command. When he does not have it, it can ugly quickly. When he does, look out. Norwood, Markey, Farris, and Null were all latecomers to Boise after being drafted this year. I like what Farris brings to the table. At the University of Arizona, he was the number one guy and has a solid approach and command. He and Null could be surprises and Ryan Williams could move quickly as a long reliever. However, Williams’ size and stuff seems to now profile as a starter and the Cubs are having him throw three innings an outing. In college he was a reliever.
Out in Mesa, it is hard to judge a pitcher on one or two inning shifts. It has only been in the past week that Sands, Steele, and Willis have been let out on the chain to get to three innings. I can see Sands and Steele heading to Kane County for one particular reason: As lefties, they will likely move through the organization at a faster pace. While Willis, who is the same age as Sands and Steele, will likely start in Boise next year. However, Willis showed the past month that he can improve and learn quickly. It would not surprise me to see Willis at Kane County, but Boise is most likely.
Once in Kane County, the ability for pitching to be promoted gets tougher as the road is beginning to be blocked as “Waves of Pitching” fill the organization. It is a good problem to have. Out of all these pitchers, it likely the relievers who will move levels faster. Jeferson Mejia is a beast. At 6’7”, the righty could pose problems for hitters in the very new future. I think he could move quickly, but the problem is there is nowhere to go.
No Clue – Alex Santana, Austyn Willis, Trey Masek, Tanner Griggs, Greyfer Eregua, Zach Hedges, Jordan Brinks, Scott Frazier and many others including some undrafted players, Dominican, Mesa, and Venezuelan Rookie League Players
Instructs, Spring Training, Extended Spring Training, and the 2015 Draft will determine a lot of the pitching rosters in Boise and Mesa, and maybe even Kane County. Right now, they are too many names, too many unknown players (Dominican and Venezuelan), and too much time to develop to decide who is going where. Cubs brass won’t be able to decide how a Yapson Gomez will do or where Santiago Rodriguez will be until they get over and play in the states. The Dominican team has a nice collection of ERAs including 17 year old Erling Moreno, albeit in only 4 starts. Who know what they really can do. Who knows if one pitcher learns a new grip and develops that long sought after third or fourth pitch.
There are a lot of unknowns. That we know. I am OK with that. It is a good problem to have. In fact, I look forward to trying to figure it out in late May of 2015 when rosters are published for those two squads. It should be very interesting.
According to Cubs minor league pitching coordinator Derek Johnson, he does most of his work in the offseason. This is crucial to him as this is when he gets quality time to work on helping a pitcher develop. I look forward to seeing if Johnson can fix Skulina, get Torrez a third pitch, get Blackburn’s velocity back, and most of all to me, fix Dillon Maples. I hope that he can. If he does, I think Maples could go to Kane County or Daytona – you never know about these things. You just never know.
Minor League Players of the Week
Hitters of the Week (Tie): Kyle Schwarber and Billy McKinney are on fire this week. Schwarber is approaching 280 after dropping down to 230. He has 3 HRs in his last 4 games. McKinney is still on a 130 RBI/162 game pace. It is uncanny how he drives in runs.
Pitcher of the Week: Pierce Johnson finally gave up a run after 23 innings. To me, he has cemented himself the past month as the Cubs top minor league pitching prospect.
Runners up – Tyler Ihrig and Alex Santana
Concern of the Week – Jorge Soler is at .218 and in a mega-slump…until he hit a 3 run jack last night. He needs more nights like that.