Friday Six Pack – Starting Pitching Prospects for 2018 Getting a Little Clearer

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By Todd Johnson

On Monday, Cubs Central’s first monthly all-star team of the season will be published. So far, it’s been 3 and 1/2 weeks of interesting performances by some of the Cubs’ best prospects. Time is also growing near as the Cubs seem to be struggling with two starters in the rotation. On the horizon, two starting pitchers will most likely leave at the end of the season as free agents. So, the performances by several of the Cubs are an insight into who could be, and who could not be, possible starting pitchers in 2018.

My initial theory was that the Cubs would get one possible starter either this summer or at the trade deadline this summer or they could acquire one next winter. Then, the other pitcher could be one of their own prospects. Right now, the accruement of another pitcher is extremely likely. In addition, the Cubs could produce more than one pitcher on their own. The problem, though, is that there is no number one or two type starter among them. Still, the pitching prospects could all be functional on many levels.

Three likely to get a shot next spring

  1. Eddie Butler – Right now, he’s looking good. He is pitching well in a predominant hitting league. He is not striking out as many hitters as I thought he would/could, but he is getting them out in a timely manner with as few  pitches as possible. He’s not throwing straight gas, but is using all his pitches. His current ERA of 1.49 is the lowest in the Cubs system for starters with 4 starts.
  2. Duane Underwood – He’s having a bit of a renaissance season. He has a 3.00 ERA in 3 starts, one in which he struck out 8. I would like to see him go a bit deeper in each start. Currently, he’s gone 5 innings in each one.
  3. Alec Mills – He made two starts and then went on the DL. His second start was a bit of a gem. He went 6 IP with 3 hits and no runs allowed. It should be interesting to see how he does when he returns.

Three who could get a shot next next spring

  1. Trevor Clifton – I really like Trevor. He has two plus pitches and an improving changeup. Some call him workmanlike, but I don’t see that. He has a lot of talent. He can throw hard. Once he gets in a groove, he is almost unhittable. Even though his fastball comes in between 92-95, it has late action that occurs ten feet from the plate. His curve can be knee buckling while his change has some arm side run at times. He currently has a 2.66  ERA and all of the earned runs he’s allowed this year came on just two pitches until last night. He has improved on the little things a lot since South Bend and now has one of the best pick off moves in the system. I think he gets a shot in spring training and is likely added to the 40 man this fall.
  2. Jen-Ho Tseng – He’s a bit of an enigma. LIke Underwood, he’s having a bit of a resurgent year. So far, he’s had 4 starts with a 2.45 ERA. He’s struck out 14 in 22 IP. Yet, there are still the questions of dependability and consistency. In 2014, he was the Cubs MiLB Pitcher of the Year. Since then, he’s struggled to figure out what kind of pitcher he can be. It looks like he’s reverted to 2014 and it looks like it is working.
  3. Zach Hedges – I love watching this young man pitch. He’s a ground ball machine. His start on Tuesday saw him go 7 IP with only 1 hit. His current ERA is 2.38 and is likely headed down. He should be the first pitcher at AA Tennessee to get the call to AAA Iowa, whose staff is a bit distressed. Whether or not he can make it to Chicago really depends on his ability to keep the ball down in AAA Iowa when he gets there. He has a plus slider and throws mostly between 90-94 with his sinking fastball.

You are probably wondering why Dylan Cease is not on this list. Currently he is at low A South Bend. He will not be ready come next spring to attempt to compete for a spot in Chicago. He’s likely to be ready in 2019. Even if he makes it to AA Tennessee in August this year, he needs a lot of work on a changeup or a third pitch. If he’s going to be just a two pitch pitcher, then Cease will just be a reliever very, very quickly.

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