Cubs Minor League Preview: The Class A Daytona pitchers

Cubs Minor League Preview: The Class A Daytona pitchers
Pierce Johnson

It's been a while since we did a preview because of the start of game action in spring training.  Now that we're all settled in with the present team, it's back to the future.  In case you missed it, here is the preview of the Daytona position players, which is now just about certain to include Jorge Soler.  You can see all of the minor league previews here.

Top  Prospect

  • I think Pierce Johnson can pitch in high Class A already but that's not my decision.  The Cubs may want to take it slow and start him in Kane County, in which case he probably won't be there very long as long as he stays healthy -- which has been a legitimate question already in his young career.  Johnson features a 93-94 mph fastball that can reach 96 and a power curve.  He can also throw a cutter that reaches the mid 80s.  The changeup -- as in with most young pitchers -- is still coming along but it's serviceable for now.  Johnson has ideal height at 6'3" and is all about coming after you with hard stuff.  He's not going to try and fool you with location or by changing speeds all that often.  As such, there's a chance he can be a front of the rotation pitcher but doesn't have the kind of command or control you like from an ace.  The Cubs like his mental makeup about as much as they like Almora's -- it's a factor we emphasize here because, while mental makeup alone won't make you a major league ballplayer, it greatly increases the odds that you will take advantage of the tools you already have.  And Johnson has a lot of them.  He's probably more suited to be a #3 starter with a ceiling of a #2.


  • Starlin Peralta was scooped up in the Rule 5 draft by the Arizona Diamondacks and they reportedly are impressed enough already where they are considering keeping him.  I saw Peralta a few times last year between Kane County and Beloit.  He seemed to get better as the year went on.  His command was spotty but his stuff was overpowering at times.  He ran his fastball up to 97 mph and showed a good hard slider at times, though that pitch seemed to come and go.  The raw tools are there but Peralta may end up in the bullpen if he doesn't develop better command and a change-up.
  • Juan Carlos Paniagua: I have him in the Kane County preview and you can read about him there, but he does have a chance to jump to Daytona given his age (23).  He'll likely start in extended spring training so the Cubs can get a longer look and they'll decide from there.
  • Robert Whitenack may well wind up in Daytona considering how he struggled as he tried to come back from TJ surgery.  He's 24 and on the 40 man roster, so the Cubs will want to move him quickly.  If he starts here, the hope is he ends in A Ball or above.  Whitenack struggled to get over 90 mph last year and had trouble commanding his breaking pitches, but when right he can reach 96 -- but is best when using his 92-93 mph two seamer, plus command, and height (6'5") to  pitch downhill and keep the ball low in the zone.  He has the upside of a #3 starter.

Sleeper Prospects

  • Austin Reed is a guy who wasn't overpowering when drafted.  He relied on an an 89-91 mph fastball that he balanced with an advanced change-up.  But Reed projected well and has filled out as well as hoped.  He's an ideal sized 6'3" and at least 200 lbs and his fastball is up into the mid 90s.  It sat at around 94-96 when I saw him in September. Overall,  Reed was up and down last season, at times appearing dominant and at other times he was much too hittable.  I think part of that has to be chalked up to adjusting to his larger build and an increase in velocity that requires a change in his approach.  It'll be interesting to see what happens this year as he gets more comfortable and does some offseason work with new minor pitching coordinator Derek Johnson.  He also has that change all ready to go with his hard fastball and slider.  Add that to a big durable build and I'd really like to see him tried out as a starter this season.  The Cubs have shown a propensity to convert pitchers with this profile (i.e. Jeff Samardzija, Alberto Cabrera) from the bullpen to the rotation.
  • Michael Jensen put up some good numbers in Peoria last season: 11-5, 3.41 ERA (3.29 FIP) with a strikeout rate of 7.39/9 IP and a walk rate of 2.57/9 IP.  Like Johnson, he features a good fastball and curve, but he's not the same kind of pitcher overall.  Jensen is more Maddux-sized at 6'1, 185 lbs. and his fastball is more in the 90-92 mph range.  His curveball is a big breaking 12-6 offering that gets a lot of swings and misses right now but he's going to have to command it well because big league hitters may lay off of it more.  His command is pretty good already and he has a good feel for pitching for his age.  Stuff-wise Jensen profiles more as a #4 or #5 type in the majors but if he can build on his solid command, his intelligent approach may allow his stuff to play up a little.  He's a bit of a sleeper despite putting up some of the best numbers in the organization.
  • Hunter Cervenka is a LH reliever who was putting up atrocious numbers in the Boston organization.  The Cubs must have seen something they liked and got him as the PTBNL in the Marlon Byrd deal.  Cervenka is a rare Cubs power lefty, often pitching at 93-94 mph last season and complimenting it with a mid 80s cutter.  According to one scout, his fastball also has good tail and sink, so it's about movement as much as it is about power.  The key for Cervenka is to harness his good stuff and throw strikes.  If he does, he has a legit shot to make it as a late inning LH bullpen arm.

Others prospects to keep your eye on..

  • Jose Rosario is about the same size as Jensen but he's all about power.  He can reach 97 mph and has a hard mid 80 slider that was making some MWL hitters look pretty helpless last year.  Rosario has had trouble staying healthy and developing a change-up, however, so his future is likely as a power reliever.  He was injured again last season so he may not be ready to start the season in Daytona.
  • Yao-Lin Wang has put up some great strikeout numbers in his short career.  He whiffed 10.3 batters per 9 innings in Boise and then put up 9.5 strikeout/9 IP rate last season.  If you were to judge him by that metric alone, you'd probably think he brings some serious heat.  He doesn't.  He's more of a low 90s pitcher who plays it up with an advanced change up.  It's been enough to over-match lower level hitters. the question with Wang is will it fly at the upper levels?  It's a big question because Wang, despite his young age (22), doesn't project to get bigger.  He's an even 6'0 tall with a body that's already filled out.
  • Ben Wells is still young (won't turn 21 until September) so the Cubs could start him back at Kane County.  He looked promising to start the season in 2012, reportedly getting his fastball into the 97-98 range before an elbow injury took a big chunk out of his season.  The Cubs elected to avoid surgery and rehab his arm instead, but when I saw Wells in September he was more in the 87-90 mph range. We'll have to see if he bounces back this season.
  • Marcelo Carreno, 21, was acquired for Jeff Baker.  He is a control pitcher who walked just 1.8 batters per 9 innings while strikng out 7.7/9 IP.  He put up a very respectable 2.63 FIP, in the Midwest League (Class A).  Carreno throws about 88-89 and was once thought to have a chance to project for more but he's grown into more of a thick build. He projects more as a bottom of the rotation/middle relief type, but his ability to throw strikes gives him a chance to move quickly and he may reach Tennessee later this year.

P.J. Francescon had 17 starts in Daytona and while he didn't dominate the way he did in Peoria (1.86 ERA and hitters batted just .158 against him), he probably showed enough to move on to Tennessee and we'll cover him in that preview.  Some viewed Zach Cates as a sleeper last year -- Keith Law had him ranked as his #5 Cubs prospect -- but arm troubles derailed him and when Cates did come back he struggled to show the velocity and command he displayed as a Padres prospect.  Larry Suarez is a mountain of a man with a mid 90s fastball that can touch 97.  There isn't much else there, however, and Suarez has moved through the system slowly.  Joseph Zeller is a knuckleball artist who befuddled MWL hitters when that pitch was dancing.  Matt Iannazzo is undersized at 5'9 but the LHP has a pretty big fastball, able to reach the mid 90s at times.  Hayden Simpson may be hanging on and needs to show more this season.  He did hit 90-91 at times, which was encouraging but he more often pitched in the 87-89 range.  He has a full repertoire but needs better command if he's going to pitch at that velocity.  LHPs Andrew McKirihan and Sheldon McDonald put up some good numbers out of the bullpen in Peoria last year.  McKirahan is the more projectable of the two, though both are already 23. They're best hope to reach the majors will be as LOOGYs.  Luis Liria has a good arm and reached 94-95 at times but does so with maximum effort and spotty command.  Su-Min Jung has good size and did a good job of missing bats at Boise but walked too many hitters (18 in 25 innings).  He's otherwise advanced enough to jump to Daytona -- but could well start out in Kane County.


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  • fb_avatar

    Good article, and highlights our problem, which will become more glaring as you move up the minor league teams: We lack pitching.

    There are some interesting raw arms here, but aside from Pierce Johnson more questions than answers

    Theo couldn't be clearer that we need more pitching, and this just goes to show why; the cupboard is bare until some of these guys start to step forward

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Thanks. Agreed on the question marks here. Even their 2nd best prospect on this list, Peralta (if he's here) is probably a reliever.

    That said, I think Reed and Jensen will be interesting to follow. Reed could be like finding that $20 bill in your pocket. Jensen has underrated stuff and a good feel out there.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    John, isn't Reeds brother the WhiteSux closer?

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Yep,... another reason it is a really good thing that the Cubs stocked up on FA arms over the winter for the big-league team.

    E. Jackson, Baker, Feldman, Villanueva, Fujikawa, a resign of Camp as FAs, and others that will start out in the minors that include Rusin/Raley & possibly Cabrera and Vizciano later in the year,... make a much deeper pool of potential starters/relievers than last season.

    But man does the shelf get bare after that point.

    Focus on trading for prospects as pitchers and on drafting good arms should be maintained for a couple more years at least.

  • Hayden Simpson.... Ugh. How much better would this rebuild look if the Cubs had another guy in their top 5 prospects from the first round of that draft, rather than this turd?

  • In reply to Eddie:

    It's really looking like a mistake. I have to admit at the time I thought they should have drafted 3B Zack Cox, who has been a bust and has already been dumped on the Marlins by the Cardinals.

    They did pass up some good prospects though: OF Christian Yelich, RHP Zach Lee (who was probably unsignable for the then cheap Cubs). Then in the 1st round supplemental there was RHPs Aaron Sanchez, Taj Walker and Noah Syndegaard -- and 3Bs Mike Olt and Nick Castellanos.


  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Simpson should be a poster child for why you don't pick undersized power arms. Theres not a lot of Roy Oswalts out there, Ive always been an advocate of using a Tom Seaver/Nolan Ryan/ Jerry Koosman(all out of the 60s Mets teams-Tug McGraw, Jesse Orosco also had long careers coming out of the NYM system them) model for drafting pitchers. Not only were they effective, they were all largely healthy(Ryan had one elbow surgery) and had long careers. I believe Rube Walker was there minor-league pitching co-ordinator then. Hopefully Johnson can do the same with our minor-leaguers.

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    I agree. Usually can get those guys in the 2nd round -- unless they have stuff like Lincecum or Oswalt did out of college. Even Maddux went in 2nd round.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Maddux was always a finesse pitcher with great command. Lincecum is starting to burn out as a power arm, Im betting he will be in the BP by the end of the year, since he isn't sustaining his velocity anymore. Oswalt did what many small power guys do-he cant adapt to being a finesse pitcher, since he cant go powder river anymore, at best Oswalt is now a 6 inning pitcher. Only guys I remember who were successful at that were named Seaver and Sutton, both HOFS, and Sutton was a 6 inning pitcher the last 5 years of his career.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    im not giving up on hayden simpson, if wilken believed in him then im still holding out hope that he can succeed. the mlb draft is the biggest crap shoot of any draft. just look at trout, pujols, and piazza. it's easy to look back and say you should have taken so and so instead. hopefully this front office can develop simpson.

  • In reply to Joshnk24:

    I don't want to give up on him, but it's hard to deny his star is fading fast. He has finesse velocity without good command. It's a tough combo to get very far with. I hope he finds his velo and the promise he showed in terms of command, but he has to start showing it soon.

  • In reply to Joshnk24:

    Ive always said smaller pitchers always are more suspectable to injuries. In Simpsons case, hes never recovered from his bout with mono. Since there aren't many parallels, we likely will have to see if this is the year Simpson regains his strength and gets his FB back up to the mid 90s he was throwing in college. Simpsons case is an odd one, since mono usually isn't something one associates with a baseball pitchers injury concerns.

  • No doubt Theo will want pitching prospects in return when he trades Marmol, Garza, Barney, Russell, DeJesus, Soriano....

    The system will look better after July 31st.

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    As far as pitching, system looks best at Kane County and below.

    But at least Daytona should feature Baez and Soler.

  • Marmol is very likely to go before the season starts. And by mid season Garza probably isn't going to command enough to make it worth while trading him. Barney and Russell are not likely to go, and out of DeJesus and Soriano, we would be lucky to get a single mid-level prospect.

  • In reply to DaveP:

    After Theo got Loux for the shell of Geo Soto, Carreno for Jeff Baker, plus Vizcaino for Maholm, I can't underestimate him. He'll probably find a hidden gem or two.

  • 12 spots left in my ESPN H2H fantasy baseball league drafting tomorrow.

  • what time are you drafting?

  • I know I'm in the minority here, especially on this site whose main focus is prospects and scouting, but I am not alarmed by the less than full cupboard on pitching prospects. We've got a few promising guys and I'm sure we'll pick up more in this summer's draft, but Ricketts can easily afford to sing a two or three top FA starters when the rest of the team is ready to really compete.

    I've always felt that because the game is and always has been about pitching first and foremost, if I'm a GM, I'm only spending money on pitching.

    We've got Shark and EJax, so we really only need one more young gun to breakthrough and the rest we can get in FA. Easy.

    Let's Go Cubs!

  • In reply to Nondorf:

    That sounds good but most of the good young SP are being locked up long term to their teams. You might be able to get one or two but it certainly won't be easy. Most teams are trying to develop their own. One good thing for us is we do have a good FO that seems to get almost anyone they want.

  • In reply to Nondorf:

    I think you need a balance. I'm okay with filling in with a FA or two but it's starts to get expensive when you have to fill 3-4 spots -- especially if they don't work out, as sometimes happens. At the very least, you have to overpay,that's the nature of the FA market. Overpaying to bring in that guy or two is one thing, but I don't think you should ever get to the point where you don't develop pitching and have to depend on the FA market to fill out your rotation.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Nondorf:

    I like the approach but easier said than done. As both Johns said, acquiring pitching likely bring 1 of 3 disadvantages.

    1. If your buying SP on the FA market, there's a high chance that you'll be paying for past performance, meaning most impact SP on the market are already past their primes or close to it. Finding 26yr old top-starters are rare.

    2. You have to overpay for mediocre pitching. 4/5 type guys are getting big contracts nowadays and it's best to develop your own back-end guys.

    3. About once in every 5 years will there be a young ace on the FA market. Maybe even less than that. You can't depend on FA to get a young, cost-controlled ace. Teams are finding out the only way to do is developing your own.

    Much rather develop our own homegrown rotation while sprinkling in a FA/trade or two. The Nats, Rangers, and Reds are a good example of this.

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    Kerhsaw would be the ideal FA if he ever gets there(I doubt he will, the LAD spend $ like water), since he came to the bigs at 20 and will hit FA at 26. Verlander is another example-will hit FA in 2015 ands be 32 when he does, the age where power pitchers start to lose there power. Definitely would be paying for past performance, since Hed likely have to develop some finesse to his game once he starts losing MPH on his FB.

  • In reply to Nondorf:

    Right now, somewhere David Price is smiling. Tampa never pays big $ for those who reach FA, so watch everyone line up after the 2014 season for MR Price, providing he isn't traded for someones entire farm system first.

  • I tend to look at smaller sized pitchers as RP. Rosario has trouble staying healthy largely because hes a max effort pitcher who doesn't have the durability to be a starter. Jensen I look at differently, since hes essentially a finesse pitcher who needs to hit spots to be effective.

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