By Todd Johnson
The tide is turning. By the end of the 2018 season, there will be a wave of starting pitchers hitting the shores of Chicago. It’s going to be unlike anything Cubs fans have seen. To date, only one drafted player, Rob Zastryzny, made it to Chicago and made one start. By the end of next year, as many as six starting right-handed starting pitchers could easily be ready.
When I look at the Cubs’ right-handed starting pitching prospects, they seem to be in tiers. The first tier contains players who are at AA and AAA. The second tier is at low and high A ball, and the third wave is at Eugene, the rookie level in Mesa, and in the Dominican. Some are more ready than others. The others, however, could be ready and just as equal in performance.
Initially, I just wanted to do one post. Once I completed that post, I decided to split into two parts. Today, I will look at five pitchers on the fringe who could make it to Chicago by the end of 2018 but are not considered to be in the top 5 of RHSP prospects in the system.
11. The first pitcher profiled today is Jake Stinnett. If you ever watch Jake pitch, you know that he gets massive movement on all his pitches. He just has not been able to control the quality stuff that he has. Last year at Myrtle Beach, he got off to a great start and then began to fizzle in July before recovering in August. I am beginning to wonder if the pen is for him. 2017 will tell.
10. Preston Morrison is another pitcher who is blessed with immaculate control but not overpowering pitches. He gets a lot of movement and is able to command his pitches to do what he wants. The question is whether those pitches have enough giddy up on them to succeed at the major-league level. Last year he moved to the third-base side of the rubber and his career really took off at South Bend and again at Myrtle Beach.
9. Erling Moreno pitched his first full season of A ball after 2 injury plagued seasons. The young 19-year-old was dominant at short-season Eugene as he flashed a plus curveball to go with his low 90s fastball. He was pretty much devastating all year long and is one of my favorite pitchers in the system. Still, I’d like to see what he can do in South Bend in 2017. He will still only be 19 and I think that his arm strength will return more and we might see more on his fastball than what we saw in 2016.
8. Out of all the arms the Cubs drafted in the 2016 draft, Bailey Clark might have the most special arm. In terms of talent, he can throw in the upper 90s and he was excellent in five starts for Eugene after completing a full college season. Even though his college season at Duke was not what one would have hoped for, Clark came in, took some direction, and took off as a member of the Emeralds. I think after a full spring training, he is going to be ready to shine in South Bend.
7. Ryan Williams – What I love most about Williams is that he attacks the bottom part of the zone relentlessly. He has a closer’s mentality in a starter’s body. Although he missed most of the last year, I am still very high on him even if he only has one full year in the system. I think he could have made it to Chicago last year. Although he starts, he does have the experience in the bullpen from college when he was a closer. He’s not overpowering, but he has great command and control of his pitches.
6. Zach Hedges – Hedges, in my opinion, could make it to Chicago, if needed, in 2017. Wow! That was totally strange typing that. After an impressive offseason of conditioning before the 2016 season, Hedges gained 3-4 mph on his fastball. This put him consistently in the 92-95 mph range to go along with a plus slider and what hopes to be a developing change. He works deep into games, he works off contact, and he works quickly to keeps hitters off balance. He is a groundball machine. And he’s close. He should be at AAA to start the year. Working in the Pacific Coast League this summer will present Zach with challenges not seen as the league is predominantly a hitter’s league, especially the mountain range teams in the west.
Don’t sleep yet on Jen-Ho Tseng, Jake Buchanan, Erick Leal, or Brad Markey. All have had their moments. To me, Leal and Markey could surprise the most. Leal is a tall, lanky pitcher who seems to improve slightly every year. Markey is a command specialist. Last year was a good year in terms of stats, except he gave up a lot of solo home runs. I am sure correcting that is at the top of his to-do list for 2017.
Buchanan is actually, believe it or not, someone who could spot start in Chicago before any other starter currently in the minors. As for Jen-Ho, he’s the only starting pitcher left from the vaunted Kane County team who has a viable shot of making it as a starter. The problem for him is that they have made so many changes to him, I don’t even know if he knows who he is as a pitcher anymore. We shall find out once more in 2017.
I will be back next week with part two as I examine the top 5 RHSP in the Cubs’ system and some dark horses in the lower parts of the system for 2017.