Beyond the top 7: Upper level SPs with a chance to break through

Beyond the top 7:  Upper level SPs with a chance to break through
Alberto Cabrera has been turning some heads in the Dominican this winter.

In reality, you hope none of the following pitchers find their way to the rotation in 2013 unless it's by their own merit.  That is, they earned a rotation spot with an outstanding season.

When the Cubs pitching started to wear thin last year, we started tracking those guys who would get a shot, particularly Brooks Raley and Chris Rusin.  But the problem I had it with it wasn't about giving young prospects a chance, it was that they hadn't really forced their way to the rotation with their performance.  Rather, the Cubs were forced to use them because they didn't have any other options.

The 7 man staff makes it less likely that the Cubs will be forced into the same situation.  But the Cubs will almost certainly trade an arm or two, and we can probably count on injuries as well.  It's likely that at some point, probably near the end of the year, where the Cubs will use a pitcher or two from outside of their 7 man rotation.  This year, however, I hope that it's because someone has stepped up and made it easier for the Cubs to deal an arm.

I think the Cubs should deal any pitcher that doesn't fit into their plans beyond 2013.  But I'd like it a lot better if they were also motivated by say, Arodys Vizcaino mowing through AAA.  In other words, I'd like to see the Cubs make a trade with the perspective of creating room, not creating a hole. That would be much more encouraging going into 2014.

Arodys Vizcaino

Easily the Cubs best pitching prospect because of his combination of pure stuff, command, and proximity to the majors, Vizcaino's biggest question is his health.  From every account I've heard and read, he is doing well and is on target.  He will, however, be on a pitch limit during games and an innings limit for the season (likely around 100).  That said, he is not going to be a significant factor in 2013 and the guess here is that, if the Cubs call him up, they'll use him out of the bullpen at the end of the year.

What you hope to see from Vizcaino is health and the ability to fight through the pain that will come in the early stages of a comeback from TJ surgery.  If he does, we will see a power pitcher with the best fastball and best curveball in the Cubs organization per BA.  What makes him potentially special is a solid 3rd pitch, his change, and his advanced command.

Alberto Cabrera

The Cubs are experimenting with Cabrera in the rotation and have started to stretch him out this winter.  BA calls his slider the best in the organization, a pitch he pairs with a mid 90s fastball with good movement.  Command is the biggest issue.

Cabrera has been excellent this winter as a starter.  In 5 starts, he has pitched 23.2 innings and has an 0.76 ERA.  He has struck out 25 batters.  The one blemish has been the walks.  He has walked 12 batters, though half of those came in his first start.  Since then he has walked 6 batters in 19.2 IP, a respectable rate (2.74 walks/9IP) considering his ability to miss bats.  Small sample size and level of competition caveats apply, but the numbers are encouraging so far.

If Cabrera can continue to improve in AAA the Cubs will have basically created a young, big-bodied, live arm pitching prospect from out of nowhere.  He has the makings of a #3 guy, perhaps similar to the one they just signed for 4 years and $52M.

Barrett Loux

Loux takes a different path to success than the first two pitchers on this list.  He has an average repertoire, including a 92-93 mph fastball and spots his pitches well.   The best pitch may be his change which has very good sink and fade. He went 14-1 with a 3.47 ERA (3.66 FIP) in AA last year.  That puts him line for the Iowa rotation this season, putting him one step away from Wrigley.

Loux isn't as good as that 14-1 record may imply, but some think he has a chance to be a mid-rotation starter in the big leagues.  He's not on the roster, so he's going to really have to force his way to the big leagues this season.  Consistency with his breaking pitches will be the key.

Robert Whitenack

Whitenack has the furthest to go as he'll start in AA at the highest.  His stuff, however, may be a tick better than Loux's when healthy.  He has three solid pitches, starting with a 90-94 mph fastball, a slider, and a good change.  Most importantly, he threw them all with excellent command in 2011.

Whitenack had his breakout season in 2011 and may have had a chance to make it all the way to Wrigley that year had he stayed healthy.  2012 was a different story as Whitenack struggled to miss bats and throw strikes.  The Cubs still saw enough in him to protect him on the roster and if he's healthy and back to his 2011 form, he could find his way on the fast track to Wrigley again.  He has a ceiling of a #3 guy.


The lefty finesse group:  This includes Brooks Raley, Chris Rusin, and prospect Eric Jokisch.  All three are amazingly similar pitchers who rely on their changeups and command to keep hitters off balance.  Raley is rated by BA as having the best change-up in the organization, Rusin has had that distinction in the past, and Eric Jokisch's circle change is among the best in the organization as well.  Eventually one of these pitchers will need to stand out but it may take time to have the kind of pinpoint command it takes to succeed in the bigs as a LH finesse starter.  Because they all have good change-ups, all 3 have a chance to make it as a lefty reliever as well.  Austin Kirk is yet another finesse type lefty at the upper levels.  He's a bit different in that his best pitch is his curve, but like the others, command and the ability to keep hitters off balance will determine his fate.

Nick Struck

The Cubs organizational pitcher of the year was left unprotected this year and the Cubs were happy to see him slip through undrafted.  Teams are often looking to strike gold in the Rule 5, not bring in a 5th starter/middle relief type, so it was a well-calculated risk on the Cubs part. The end result is that the Cubs saved themselves a roster spot and still have another pitcher to add to their AAA depth brigade.

Struck is similar to Loux in that he has more of an average repertoire.  He has an aggressive approach which serves him well as long as he's commanding his pitches and keeping the ball down.  Struck has made some tweaks to his delivery in order to get more movement on his fastball and change.  He ended the season strong before struggling in the fall league.  He'll have to pitch well to leapfrog some of the more talented pitchers on this list and prove he deserves a spot on that roster.

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  • fb_avatar

    Is Randy Wells still with the cubs?

  • In reply to freeagent24:

    I believe Wells signed a minor league contract with Arizona.

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    It was Texas.

  • In reply to freeagent24:

    Wells is one of those coulda-been, mighta-been, stories. He looked fairly good that first full year,... and could never quite figure it out afterwards.

    He was never going to be one of those guys who made batter miss, but with a decent defense and a more forgiving HR ballpark, he might have been OK.

  • John-Ive seen Joksich has been dismissed by most MLB scouts as a fringe lefty, but all hes done in the minors has been to win consistently, even moreso than Kirk, whos been largely a half-season pitcher who fades in the 2nd half. What do you rate his viability as a major leaguer?

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    He's a lot like Raley and Rusin. Mix and match, change speeds, use command and the change to keep hitters off balance. Has had a lot of success so far, so he bears some watching. My guess is that he ends up a reliever.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I agree he bears watching. Until he proves that cannot get hitters out, I will assume that can. He may fit well as a swing releaver/spot starter.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Don't sleep on Eric Jokisch, continues to get bigger and stronger, very intelligent (all Big Ten academic team @ Northwestern). I have heard the knock on Jokisch is too many walks vs. strikeouts but this young man knows how to pitch and I am willing to venture a guess that many of those walks were of the "intentional" unintentional variety while pitching around certain hitters. My 2 cents say we see him at Wrigley late this season or in 2014 as a spot stater/ long relief guy.

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    I have high hopes for Cabrera this year. He just has that "it" factor and I like the work Cubs staff has done with him the last year. Potential breakout candidate for me. If he, Vizcaino, and maybe even McNutt come on strong this year it'll make it easier to wait on our talented lower-level guys like Johnson.

    Speaking of McNutt, any chance if he can regain his 2010-11 form that he could return to the rotation? I hate to see him waste that #2 potential as a permanent reliever.

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    Now that he has good instruction, you can see the kid is coachable with a good aptitude for picking things up quickly.

    I'd love to see McNutt return to the rotation. I think he will, but for now I'm considering him a reliever.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I am not one of those on board with Cabrera. would be a great story, but I just don't think he will have the control needed to pitch at the major league level, let alone with this FO.

    Hope it happens, just not confident it will...

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    Control is my biggest fear as well. Showed good control at AA level last year, so I'm somewhat encouraged by that.

  • Nice article. I guess Cabrera will be the first starter called up from Iowa sometime this year. Kudos to the team for stretching him out - if he becomes a member of the rotation, we'll control him through 2018!

  • In reply to SFToby:

    That would be huge if he can become a starter. So far, so good. It was a move that originally caught me off guard but I'm really liking it more and more.

  • I'm drawing a blank. What trade did we get Loux in?

  • In reply to TokyoCraig:

    The Cubs traded Geo Soto for Jacob Brigham last deadline and it was soon found that Brigham was damaged goods. Texas agreed to send Loux instead. Brigham has better stuff but injuries and spotty command means he's probably a reliever. Loux has a better shot to stick as a starter, imo.

  • Side Note:

    Cubs have come to terms with both Jeff Samardzija and James Russell. No more arb eligibles.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Surprisingly low number on Shark: $2.64 mil

    If my math and Cot's is right, that puts our payroll at about $98 mil including Carlos Villanueva; add in a few auto-renews, at it will be a smidge over $100 mil. Last year's payroll was $109 mil.

    $100mil seems like alot considering where we are, but I can't really fault any signing right now, and depending on your opinion of Marmol and Soriano, doesn't seem like we have tons of dead money either (like we did last year)

  • In reply to Zonk:

    That's the key point. Not a whole lot of dead money and the Cubs should be able to add and/or retain several good players in the next few years.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Yep, agree that Shark signed at a pretty low number.

  • Slightly off-topic, but talking about young pitchers made me think of it: Is the new minor league pitching coordinator going to implement some of his methods with players on the big-league club?

    For example, will he work with Bosio to start incorporating long toss with players on the Cubs, so everything's in sync? Or is it only going to be a minor league thing?

  • In reply to Diggs:

    Primarily a young pitcher's thing. The risk for injury is much greater before a pitcher gets into his mid 20s. Cubs are focusing on getting these guys safely into their peak years.

  • In reply to Diggs:

    I'm sure he'll also work with any and all of the rehab pitchers as well, regardless of position in the organization.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    Yes, that as well. He'll be available for anyone who's at greater risk for injury, I would think.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Interesting. Thanks!

  • John - I don't understand the continuous reference to using Cabrera in a starting role as an "experiment". To the best of my knowledge, he was a starter, actually or piggyback, for his entire career 6 year career before 2012. It seems more reasonable to consider his time as reliever as the "experiment".

  • In reply to DaveP:

    That is true. He spent a lot of time as a starter, which is why he already has a solid change.

    Most MLB relievers were starters at one point, so I wouldn't call moving to the bullpen an experiment so much as the natural progression for many prospects. I was under the impression that, because of his struggles, Cabrera was on that path. I think that he showed enough to pitch his way back off of that path. The Cubs have nothing to lose by giving him a second shot. The same could happen with McNutt next year if he shows something.

  • Does anyone know if you can just go down to the cubs convention and get your tickets there?

  • From what I'm reading about Cabrera, he could he either end up being our #3 or else our setup guy. Either way, if he commands his stuff, he would be one great addition.

    I could see it shaking out something like this:

    #1 - Shark or a FA signing (or trade)
    #2 - FA signing (or trade) or Shark
    #3 - Cabrera or Vizcaino
    #4 - Baker or Jackson
    #5 - Jackson or Baker

    Pretty imposing rotation, I would say. Now, as Harry would say, "LET'S GET SOME RUNS!"

  • In reply to cubs1969:

    And until we trade him we still have Garza. He likes it here and is motivated to work hard. Since you include Cabrera and Viscaino this isn't 2013 so the rotation may include either Appel or Manaea too.

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    In reply to John57:

    Probably not Manaea, but maybe Appel. I don't think most people expect Manaea to move as quickly as Appel would. I guess it depends on how far out you're looking at the rotation, but I was assuming we were talking 2014.

  • In reply to John57:

    You're right. That's why I said "FA signing or trade" thinking of Garza. After I wrote the post, I thought of the draft pick, but I'll stick with the rotation until I see the pick. It may change in any number of ways, but that certainly could be one.

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