When I woke up Monday morning, I was surprised to see that Rob Zastryzny had been promoted from AA Tennessee to AAA Iowa. Zastryzny has not exactly set AA on fire with a 4.28 ERA over 9 starts with 42 Ks in 54.2 innings. His last outing was his best where he went 7.2 innings with 2 ERs and 8 Ks. I think the main reason for the promotion is that Iowa’s pitching rotation has a lot of injuries to starters that have set the team back.
But now, the team has lost seven in a row. At first, Iowa got by with relievers Michael Wagner and Stephen Perakslis filling in. Castoffs Ryan Buchanan (5.60 ERA) and Alex Sanabia (20.65 ERA, and no, that is not a typo) were signed to fill in and have struggled. Starter Drew Rucinski also has an ERA of over 6.
Simply put, the Iowa Cubs are need of an infusion of starting pitching. While Zastrzyny is ready to help, it will take more than just him in the long run. As a result, Iowa’s pitching woes could set off a chain reaction of promotions within the organization of starting pitching. Here are a few thoughts on what I think could happen.
From AA to AAA – Pick One
Paul Blackburn – He’s really come into his own this year. Much like Ryan Williams last year at Tennessee, Blackburn has been a ground ball machine by commanding three pitches. Because of a shortage of quality pitchers at AAA, I think Blackburn has shown his mettle since coming off the DL last July. Since then, he’s had an ERA of under 1.20 at Myrtle Beach and Tennessee in that span. That’s a pretty consistent span of dominance.
Brad Markey – He has done well as a starter this year at Tennessee. Because of his age, and the need for quality starters at AAA, I think he moves up. The 24 year old has a 2.59 ERA in starts. Like Williams and Blackburn, Markey attacks the strike zone through command and challenging hitters.
From A+ to AA
Jake Stinnett – At 24, the Cubs 2014 second round pick is having his best start in Cub tenure. He has a 2.94 ERA in six starts and struck out 26 in 33.2 innings. He has been throwing a little harder this year. At South Bend last August, Stinnett began to figure things out when he had a 2.84 ERA over his last 5 starts. This April, he picked up where he left off as he put up a 2.55 ERA in 3 starts in April. I think as long as he is producing an ERA of 3 or under the next month, and because of his age, he’s the best shot to move up.
Trevor Clifton – He just turned 21 and he is having the best month of his career (1.10 ERA in April). I think the Cubs will keep Clifton at Myrtle Beach for now. If he continues with a consistent curveball over the next month, he could move up later this year, but that is highly unlikely. I think he gets a full year at high A. His fastball command has been excellent since last July, it’s all about staying on top of the curve for him.
Zach Hedges – He is much improved this year. He’s added some mph to his fastball to make it 94-95 mph and his slider is a plus pitch. He’s durable, goes deep into games, but he still needs to develop some consistency. He had a nice streak of quality starts before giving up 5 ERs in 1.2 innings in his last start. I think he stays in Myrtle Beach and stays stretched out as a starter where he has a 2.70 ERA so far.
Tommy Thorpe will step in for Stinnett at Myrtle Beach. The lefty has made four spot starts this year and would seamlessly fit the rotation. Currently, he has 3.30 ERA with 5 relief appearances. He’s struck out 34 in 30 innings
I don’t think any of the prospects on South Bend will be moved right now. I think the Cubs are going to keep that team together for a while. Myrtle Beach is deep enough with Thorpe to offset the loss of Stinnett to Tennessee. The question is, will Tennessee be deep enough to offset the loss of Blackburn, Zastryzny, and Markey.
If anyone else is to move up, I think it would be Jonathan Martinez. The 21 year old is very experienced and I wondered why he was not promoted to Tennessee after being an All-Star last year at Myrtle Beach.
It should be interesting to see how this pitching problem at Iowa is handled in the next month. It could set off a promotion commotion.
*Ed. Note – Some parts of the player profiles appeared in a different post in a different format by the author on Cubs Insider