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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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