The Cubs have plenty of roster space to fill between now and the time players break north from Arizona next spring. There will be anywhere from 6-8 available spots on the 40 man roster. We could probably expect the Cubs to have a fair amount of turnover this season.
The first assumption is that the Cubs have the flexibility to acquire players from outside the organization either through trades, free agent signings, and perhaps the Rule 5 draft. That is a fair assumption. It seems very likely the Cubs will be active this offseason when it comes to acquiring players.
There are at least a couple of players, however, who may take a roster spot from within the organization. The first, of course, is Brett Jackson, who has a pretty good shot at being in the opening day lineup.
The second is left-handed starter Chris Rusin.
There's no secret that the Cubs would like a left-handed pitcher or two in the rotation. There are some intriguing options on the free agent market, from big name, big contract types like CJ Wilson and Mark Buehrle to undervalued types like Bruce Chen, Chris Capuano, and Erik Bedard.
The Cubs may try to sign a couple of these free agents, but Rusin may offer a low-cost in-house alternative.
I've watched Rusin often in the minor leagues and most recently in the Dominican League and, if you like the art of pitching, he is a pleasure to watch. He works in the the 88-90 mph range with his fastball and, according to Baseball America, has the best change-up and command in the system. Those two factors make his otherwise average stuff play up quite a bit. Rusin attacks the lower part of the strike zone, often jumping ahead of hitters early in the count. He keeps hitters off balance by constantly changing speeds and locations so that when he does "fire" a 90 mph fastball, it probably looks more like 95 mph. Despite a fringe average fastball, hitters often fail to get a good swing on it.
Rusin numbers in the Dominican Winter league are solid. He has a 2.84 ERA and a solid 2.8/7.5 walk to strikeout ratio. That ratio is pretty much in line with his minor league career rates of 1.93/7.05.
Rusin also has had excellent groundball to flyball ratios. This winter his G/F ratio is 3.45 and it was 3.61 at Iowa this past season. The solid strikeout and ground ball numbers bode well for a pitcher in Wrigley Field, especially when the wind is blowing out, as it often does in the summer.
He's not a top end starter but he can certainly give you some solid innings at the back of the rotation, perhaps as soon as April of next season. He isn't going to beat himself out there. His FIP numbers throughout his minor league career seem to indicate that if you put a good defense around him, he'll keep you in the game consistently.
The Cubs will have plenty of room to add non-roster players before the 2012 season starts, and while most of those players will probably come from outside the organization, don't be surprised if Chris Rusin is one of them.
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