I could easily subtitle this article “Waves of Pitching – Part Three.” Right now, the Eugene Emeralds are 4-2 in the second half and in first place in the South Division of the Northwest League. Some of that has to do with the resurgent bats of Donnie Dewees and Matt Rose, but most of it has to do with the amazing pitching staff.
One of the quirks of the Northwest League is that you can have 35 players on your roster, but you have to activate them nightly. They’re almost 20 pitchers currently on Eugene’s roster. It’s a collection of 2014 and 2015 draftees and international free agents. Currently, of the pitchers on the Eugene staff, two of them are on the Cubs top 30 prospect list on MLB.com. That could change greatly by the end of 2016.
Of the three big names starters to emerge at Eugene this year, two of them actually were expected to in Carson Sands and Justin Steele. Sands has a 4.36 ERA, mitigated by one poor start, and Steele is brandishing a 2.40 ERA in 6 starts. A surprise breakout starter has been Oscar De La Cruz. Cruz, 20, and from the Dominican Republic, currently has a 3.13 ERA in seven starts. He also has struck out 37 in 37.1 innings. A key for him is he is still growing and gaining speed on his fastball. He is already throwing 92-95 mph.
The Emeralds also use 2015 draftees as starters for two innings a start. Kyle Twomey. Preston Morrison, Casey Bloomquist, Ryan Kellogg, and most recently, Kyle Miller, have all made starts. The Emeralds have to be careful about these pitchers’ workloads as they’ve already had a full season of college baseball, somewhere near 100 innings. As a result, their effectiveness should not be judged solely on their stats. Next year will be a better barometer of their talent. However, Preston Morrison of TCU has dazzled in four games to date and Casey Bloomquist has been extremely effective since his promotion from Arizona.
The biggest surprise out of all the staff are players signed from the international free-agent route. Adbert Alzolay has piggybacked as starter and has 26 innings in relief with a 1.04 ERA while striking out 23 with a WHIP of 0.85. Alzolay comes from Venezuela and just recently turned 20 years old. Pedro Arajuo, 22, has also been brilliant as a piggyback reliever lately. He has struck out 45 in 32 innings and 14 appearances! Jose Paulino, 20, has struck out 40 in 32 1/3 innings. All three throw in the mid 90s and are considered developing power arms.
For my money, one of the biggest surprises has been Greyfer Eregua. The 21-year-old from San Carlos, Venezuela has a 2.05 ERA. He’s been in nine games. He’s thrown 30.2 innings with 39 strikeouts and 0.82 WHIP while walking only seven. Opponents are only batting .165 against him. He’s a little undersized and is expected to remain a reliever.
The Emeralds have several recent draftees who pitch in relief including Jared Cheek and Tyler Peitzmeier. The Emeralds also have two recent conversion pichers doing outstanding in relief. Jae-Hoon Ha has a 2.29 ERA in 11 relief appearances. The former centerfielder has struck out 25 in 19.2 innings. He throws in the low 90s. The better story might be Mark Malave, 21, who was recently promoted to Eugene. He is also throwing in the low 90s but is mixing in a really good curveball and throws like he was born to pitch.
It is also been good to see 2013 draftee Trey Masek make his way back to baseball. After two full years of battling injuries, including a torn labrum. He’s only made eight appearances in Euegene, but on Thursday night he got his first save of the year. Knowing the road he’s traveled to get back to baseball, it is one feel-good story for the summer.
What Does This All Mean?
I don’t know how the Cubs are going to make next year’s roster at South Bend and Myrtle Beach with all these pitchers. What the Cubs have done at Eugene is to create a collection of up to 20 arms that will be in competition with each other and the pitchers currently at South Bend for those 22-24 spots. The Cubs have created a wave of pitchers to travel up the minor-league system.
In 2016, I could see Sands, Steele, and De La Cruz easily starting at South Bend. The problem is I could also see Bloomquist, Kellogg, Twomey, and Morrison. In addition, there’s Arajuo, Paulino, Alzolay, and Eregua to add to that discussion. It’s a good problem to have. To have 10 pitchers likely competing for five or six spots is a problem many clubs would like to have.
For Eugene manager, Gary Van Tol, his job has been made easy because most of the college pitchers are limited to two innings per start. Next year, that won’t be the case. Those college arm are going to be throwing full tilt from day one. Throw in Dillon Cease and Austyn Willis as competitors and South Bend pitching looks to be out of this world in 2016. Then, you can add in recent draftees Bryan Hudson and Scott Effross, who will be transitioning to a starter next year. That’s a lot of arms for so few spots.
All of these arms reminds me of last year’s Kane County team that had a lot of pitching depth. All but one of those 2014 starters led Myrtle Beach to a first half division title this summer after winning a Midwest League Championship last year.
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The Cubs’ system, as Eugene shows, and as Myrtle Beach shows, is that the Cubs have lots of pitchers coming. However, they are a few years away, most likely two years for the crew at Myrtle Beach. With Pierce Johnson, Carl Edwards, Jr., and PJ Francescon being the most well-known, and potentially, most ready arms at AA and AAA, the Cubs are going to have waves of pitching coming later rather than sooner. As in the case of the Emeralds, it is too early, and they are still too young, 20 and 21, to predict who has a shot, but they all look promising in their own way.
It will be interesting to see how this collection of high-end arms grow and compete in the system the next month and next summer. Going from playing 78 games in short season A to 140 in low A is quite an adjustment. Most low A starters tend to throw 120 inning in a year. This year has been nice to catch glimpses of what they could be. Next year, we will get a fuller picture of what each can do. Right now, it looks really promising.
By the end of 2016, several of these arms along could be some of the top prospects in the Cubs organization.