Pitching in the Minors – Looking at Casey Bloomquist and His Utility Role

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bloomquist 73 2016Transitioning from being a college pitcher to a minor league pitcher can sometimes be a difficult task. Gone are the weekend series and they are replaced with working on your body and arsenal every day. From high-A Myrtle Beach down to the Dominican Summer League, starters are on a six-day program and relievers are slotted on a 2-3 day program. At AA Tennessee and AAA Iowa, starters go every five days.

The biggest change for most players coming into the Cubs’ system from a college program is the amount of work that goes into being a pitcher. It is a full-time gig. There are no longer classes to go to, nor any papers to write or books to read. It is all baseball, all the time.

In actuality, pitching in the game might be the easiest thing in a six-day starter’s schedule. Here are some things Cubs pitchers do as part of their development and maintenance.

  • Stretching and daily skill exercises
  • Resistance training
  • Long toss
  • The Mark Prior towel drill
  • Side sessions with the pitching coach
  • Game day sessions with the pitching coach
  • Leg work the day after a start
  • Charting pitches while in the stands
  • Working with the organizational pitching coordinator
  • Running – lots of running
  • Weights

One of the things I find most interesting is what you did in college does not matter. Starters turn into relievers and relievers turn into starters. In fact, many pitchers don’t really know what their role is in until they get to the big leagues and it could change even then. For South Bend’s Casey Bloomquist, he ought to feel like a yo-yo as he has been starting, relieving, starting, relieving….

Casey Bloomquist was the 17th round pick of the Cubs in 2015. He debuted in the Arizona Rookie League last year. He only appeared in one game there before moving on to Eugene where he made 8 appearances, 4 in relief and 4 starting. He was outstanding with a 2.29 ERA with 22 strikeouts in 19.2 innings.

To begin 2016, he was assigned to low-A South Bend. I picked him as one of the players to breakout this season. I liked his tenacity, competitiveness, and that he had a sinker, something not seen much at low A. He may not have what scouts call an out pitch, but he is able to get hitters out with the pitches he has.

Bloomquist began the year as a reliever. The 22-year-old began posted a 4.00 ERA in 7 appearances in April. In May, he made the same amount of appearances but posted a much better ERA at 1.93 and struck out 19 in 18 innings.

Along with Kyle Miller, Casey Bloomquist joined the South Bend starting rotation in early June. Bloomquist made the Cubs Central All-Star team for the month as he posted a 1.17 ERA in 4 starts. Now that July is here, Bloomquist is piggybacking the starts of Justin Steele in July despite an outstanding June. It’s confusing, but Casey is adjusting and doing whatever is asked.

bloomquist 2 73 2016I talked with Casey about his first full year as a Cubs prospect.

Todd: What’s been the biggest key to your success on the mound this year?

Casey: Just repeating mechanics, really, just kind of going about my business, staying down in the zone, and working ahead of hitters.

Todd: What does (pitching) Coach Rosario tell you to focus on every day?

Casey: Just going out, getting in your work in, and using that 15 minutes of catch every day and getting the most out of that.

Todd: What is one thing you are working in the second half?

Casey: Just maintaining, just keeping the ball low, mixing pitches, and using both sides of the plate.

Todd: Are you thinking of staying with the three pitches you have, or are you developing a fourth?

Casey: Yeah, I’m in the works of developing a little cutter right now to kind a help me out with lefties who are hitting me better than righties. It would complement my sinker on a lefty.

Todd: Is there someone on the team who is helping you with the grip on that?

Casey: The pitching coordinator, Jim Brower, helped me out a bit with the grip on that. So I’m just working to the point to get to feel comfortable using it in a game.

I like the fact that he is adding a cutter. It is not the easiest pitch to throw but it is slowly becoming the pitch du jour as it is very hard to hit if thrown properly. Being a minor-league pitcher is about always developing, changing, and adapting. The same is true of the pro pitcher. Their work is never done.

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Going Forward
What I like about Bloomquist is he comes across very quiet but is actually very tenacious and driven to succeed. I think you will find that in many pitchers across the Cubs’ system. I don’t quite know what his role is going forward. He could be a reliever. He could be a starter. Or, he could be both.

I would imagine the Cubs brass would like to keep Casey flexible – a trait they value now in developing their own major league bullpen. If they need him to start, he starts. If they want him in short relief, there he is. It might be a way to solve problems to have someone who can start, be a long reliever, piggyback, and even be a setup man or closer. I think the phrase utility pitcher might be something we add to the baseball lexicon very soon.

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