By Todd Johnson
I don’t think there’s any doubt that the position in the minors that will bear the most help in Chicago this year will be relief pitching. With Zastryzny, Felix Pena, and Jose Rosario on the doorstep, the Cubs will not have to go out looking for a reliever for quite some time. And still, there are other prospects who are in play to help the bullpen this year including Pierce Johnson, Corey Black, Ryan McNeil, and maybe even Duane Underwood (if all goes well).
Last year, the bullpen at AAA Iowa was the strength of that team. This year, the same is true. In addition to the aforementioned pitchers, Stephen Perakslis and James Farris could work their way into the current conversation.
One thing the Cubs did last year in the draft was select 27 pitchers, 16 of which signed. Most of them will be in South Bend this year, but a couple could make their way to Tennessee and maybe even Iowa.
As it stands, Jason McLeod has been throwing a lot of draft picks towards arms in the bullpen. Some used to be starters, but they seem to thrive as relievers in the minor leagues. Today’s post will rank the bullpen prospects in the Cubs minor-league organization
There are several bullpen arms from last year’s draft that will get their first chance in full season ball this year. They include Dakota Mekkes, Marc Huberman, Michael Rucker, Chad Hockin, and Duncan Robinson. My pick to click this year is Marc Huberman, a lefty out of USC,
Huberman came in and only pitched at Eugene last year. In a setup role, Huberman had a 1.72 ERA in 15 innings. As I watched him pitch a few times, most hitters struggle to find the ball coming out of his hand. It’s not that he was trying to be highly deceptive, rather he just hides the ball naturally. I think he might not be around South Bend very long. After pitching a full season in college,
Chad Hockin out of Cal State Fullerton might be one pitcher who benefits from professional coaching. Throwing in the mid-90s, Hockin has closer type stuff and closer experience.
Top five to watch this year
5. Kyle Twomey – Originally, Twomey was slated to be a starter. It didn’t necessarily work out that way. However, after a couple of minor injuries, he seemed to blossom in a relief role. I saw him a couple of time live in 2016 and his curveball devastated hitters in the Midwest League. Out of the pen, he had an ERA of under 1.
4. Wyatt Short – Wyatt surprised everyone at Eugene last summer as he dominated the Northwest League as the Emeralds’ closer. Pretty simply, he did not give up 1 run in 2016. He was efficient, to the point, and devastating out of the pen. He should begin this year at South Bend. Like Huberman, Short is a lefty who could advance quickly in 2017.
3. James Farris – In 2015, Farris went from a bullpen arm to the closer at South Bend and seemed to thrive in the role. At Myrtle Beach, he had an up and down season, but more up than down. Last year at Tennessee, he started to figure things out in July and August. The Cubs sent him to the Arizona Fall League where he dominated in a setup role. I think this year he’ll be at AAA and I think he could be in line for a promotion to Chicago at some point later in the year.
2. Stephen Perakslis – He’s always had mid-90s heat, and he’s always been a second-half player. I don’t know what it is about him that he seems to struggle the first half of the year and then turns it on once July 1 hits. In 2016, Stephen got some action starting for Iowa and Tennessee and seemed to thrive a bit in the role. I don’t expect him to return to that role in 2017. Instead, he will likely return to the bullpen better because of his experience as a starter.
1. Jose Rosario – Rosario has been around for a while and was off of most people’s radar after undergoing Tommy John surgery and missing all of 2015. But that was as a starter. Now that he’s in the pen, his velocity has increased to the mid to upper 90s and he’s perched himself as a prospect who could actually make the 25 man roster. I doubt that he does, but he could become prospect number one to be called up to Chicago this spring or summer.
What I like most about this collection of arms is that they are a mixture of arms. They all have different arsenals and speeds at which they pitch. It’s not a cookie-cutter set of pitchers as it is a mixture of lefties and righties.