Cubs Minors Preview Series: AAA Iowa pitchers

Cubs Minors Preview Series: AAA Iowa pitchers
Arodys Vizcaino

The final installment (until short season ball) of the Cubs minor league preview series will focus on some of the pitchers at Iowa.  There's some depth here and a top end talent in Arodys Vizcaino.

A reminder that these are not exhaustive lists and that projecting levels can be very speculative. Moreover, players will certainly move up and down throughout the year. If there is a player you want to ask about or if you want to know more detail on any individual player, I'll be happy to respond in the comments section.

You can catch up on the entire minor league preview series here.

Top Prospects

Arodys Vizcaino, 22, RHP:  The Cubs don't have another pitcher in the system with Vizcaino's combination of stuff and command.  He throws 3 pitches including a fastball that has touched 97 mph (though he pitches better at 92-94), a hammer curve, and a solid change-up. What's most encouraging is that he commands them all -- especially that hard curve. The only real question with Vizcaino is durability. Can he handle the load? Even if he doesn't, he can be a top end closer.

Alberto Cabrera, 24, RHP: The Cubs are attempting to return Cabrera to a starting role, something he has done for most of his professional career. Cabrera throws a hard two seamer with good movement that sits comfortably at 92-95 mph and can reach 97. He flashes a good slider but it lacks consistency and he can get hit hard when he doesn't command it. Change-up is solid, but not an out pitch.  He showed a great ability to miss bats, striking out 12.1 batters per 9 IP between AA and AAA (and 11.2 Ks/9 IP with the Cubs).  Cabrera has struggled with command throughout his professional career, though he's generally had good control -- though he lost that too in his brief stint in the majors.  He went from 1.86 walks/9 IP in AAA to 7.48 walks/9IP with the Cubs.  Refining that command will determine whether he can be a mid-rotation guy (or perhaps a late inning reliever), or a 7th inning bullpen arm -- but if he doesn't throw strikes, he won't be either.

Starting Prospects

Brooks Raley, 24, LHP: Raley's main weapon is his change-up and it helps play up his 88-92 mph fastball. His slider is a solid offering and can be especially tough on left-handed hitters. What sets Raley apart is top of the scale athleticism for a pitcher and the hope is that it can translate to plus command. So far that has not been the case. The command is above average, but he needs to improve that if he's going to make it as a bottom of the rotation starter. The alternative is a lefty specialist out of the pen.

Chris Rusin, 26, LHP: Rusin is very similar to Raley in terms of stuff and command.  He's a bit more advanced as far as pitchability and will likely carve out a niche for himself as either a 5th starter or a lefty out of the pen.  He's had a good spring and has a chance to make the team in the latter role, but could return to Iowa if the Cubs feel he's more useful as rotation depth.

Nick Struck, 23, RHP: Struck was the Cubs minor league pitcher of the year last season when he won 14 games and finished with a 3.18 ERA.  Despite the impressive numbers, he's not a front of the rotation type pitcher.  He doesn't possess that one pitch where he can consistently put away hitters.  That profiles him more as a back of the rotation starter. He has strong mental makeup and solid command, however, and that gives him a chance to play his stuff up a bit.  He's fearless out there and he'll attack hitters with a 90-92 mph fastball and can mix things up well with his 4 pitch repertoire.

Barrett Loux, 23, RHP: Loux is similar to Struck in that he'll go after hitters, throws 4 average pitches, and puts up great numbers. He went 14-1 with a 3.47 ERA (3.66 FIP) in AA last season Also like Struck, he doesn't have that one pitch that he can rely on to get swings and misses when he needs it.  His best assets are his ability to locate his fastball and using his above average change-up to keep hitters off balance.  Overall, his control is good (2.91 walks per 9 IP) but not special.   As such he also looks more like a 4-5 guy at the major league level.


Other than Vizcaino, the strength of this Iowa team may be it's bullpen. There's some good arms here but what will get them to the big leagues is their ability to throw strikes.

Trey McNutt, 23, RHP: If you look strictly at his power stuff, McNutt is as good as any pitcher in the organization.  He is consistently mid-90s out of the pen and can put away hitters with both his curve and slider, though he used the slider more late last season.  McNutt has never mastered an offspeed pitch and has struggled with his command and control.  If he stays in the bullpen, however, he doesn't need an offspeed pitch, but he will still need to throw more strikes if he wants to be more than a middle reliever.  But McNutt is an athletic pitcher so he should be able to repeat his delivery consistently and improve that command.  If he does so, I wouldn't rule out a  return to the rotation, much as the Cubs have done with other big athletic pitchers like Jeff Samardzija and Alberto Cabrera.

Rafael Dolis, 25, RHP: Dolis was about as perplexing a pitcher as there was on the Cubs last season.  You would think that a guy who could throw a 97 mph two-seamer would be a nightmare for opposing hitters.  Not so.  He didn't miss many bats (5.68 Ks/9 IP) or generate as many groundballs as you would think (45%).  Not helping was that Dolis lacked any semblance of command (5.45 walks/9 IP) as a Cub and often had to pitch from behind.  He also had a simple, slow-paced, wide open delivery that lacked deception, so hitters seemed to be able to size him up pretty well.  Dolis has changed that delivery this spring.  Hopefully that translates to better results -- and it will have to.  This is Dolis' last option year and he'll have to show something for the Cubs to keep him on the 25 man roster in 2014.

Marcus Hatley, 25, RHP:  Hatley is a big pitcher (6'5", 220 lbs) with excellent athleticism, having been an outfielder in his amateur career.  He throws hard, mostly in the mid 90s but he can touch 97 mph.  He also flashes a good slider and a splitter, but the splitter has been more consistent.  Like McNutt, it's about throwing strikes but isn't as dominant as McNutt when he does. Part of that could be some bad luck.  Hatley had a .342 BABIP at AAA Iowa last year with a ridiculously low 44% strand rate.  When you combine that with his command issues, that was a recipe for disaster, as his 8.22 ERA suggests.  However, his FIP was a very good 2.81, so there's some hope that with better luck, Hatley can put up better numbers this season.

Lendy Castillo, 23, RHP: Castillo was a Rule 5 pick and had a great spring to make the team.  He seemed to show both poise and command that belied his lack of experience.  That was short-lived.  Castillo struggled to find the plate with the Cubs (6.75 walks/9 IP) and had more than a few appearances get away from him last season.  What he has is a live, fresh arm that averaged 92-93 last season and peaked at 97.  His secondary stuff is average at best but the Cubs may try him as a starter down the road. If he's a reliever, he could start at AAA, though AA is also possible.

Frank Batista, 23, RHP: If you like statistical results, Batista is your guy.  He has 24 saves and a 2.22 ERA at AA Tennessee.  If you're a scout or if you focus on advanced metrics, he doesn't hold up as well. His strikeout to walk ratio per 9 IP was pedestrian (6.66/3.59) and his FIP was almost double his ERA (4.40).  He's a small pitcher (5'10, 170 lbs) who can generate 90-91 mph on his fastball but it comes with max effort.  His secondary pitches are fringy at best.  Still, he's a guy who gets the job done, so he bears some watching but there are some real doubts as to whether he projects at the MLB level.



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  • I hope that the young players get there AB's and innings in

  • Thanks for the ages, much appreciated.

    Would you rather see Rusin make the pen or stay in AAA? We definitely need him in the pen but it would be nice to develop another LHP (in case Wood falters or for tradebait).

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    In reply to CubFan Paul:

    In my opinion, we need a LOOGY more than we need another starting finesse lefty. We have a pile of those at AA, not to mention Raley.

    I never really trusted Russell and his stuff, and I feel like he'll either crash at some point, or get too expensive for what he brings. We need a backfill for that.

  • In reply to CubFan Paul:

    You're welcome. As for Rusin, I think he's already developed enough to be a starter, so you can conceivably have both. You can use him in the pen and if you want to move him to the rotation, he still has options and you can send him down to Iowa to stretch him out again. Right now I'd rather have him in the bullpen but midseason may be a different story.

  • I'm not really sure McNutt should go the the bullpen so soon, though I realize the idea would be to flip him back if he has success. It's always the transition in between that bothers me because of the potential for injury.

  • In reply to givejonadollar:

    Sometimes getting time in relief can help a prospect improve him command, confidence by simplifying his repertoire and approach. I think he's in the bullpen for the entire year at minimum and its much easier to stretch them back out in the offseason. That said, maybe they like him in the pen and keep him there.

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    John. Do you still think Vizzy can start? Is it possible the TJS will end his injury issues and he will be a starter from here on out?

  • In reply to Demarrer:

    I hope so. He has the stuff and command to be a front line guy. It's health and durability which are the issues.

  • This is what Phil from AZ reported about the minor league rosters

    I think it pretty much matches the info at too... But the rosters will certainly change a bit by the time the season starts.

  • In reply to Caps:

    Those rosters will change a lot. I liken it to starting with a 40 man MLB roster. There will be a lot of downward movement. But with the minors could be some upward as well.

  • John- when talking about Rusin, what do you mean by "pitchability?"

  • In reply to StalinCastro:

    He knows how to utilize his stuff effectively. He has a good idea of what he wants to do up there and how he wants to approach hitters. The opposite of that would be a pitcher who is considered just a thrower.

  • In reply to John Arguello:


  • Batista benefited from a .212 BABIP against and a 90% strand rate last season at AA. Regression to the mean is going to bite hard.

  • In reply to Eddie:

    He had just a wee bit of luck last year.

  • Cubs will also be welcoming Anthony Rizzo back to camp now that team Italy has been eliminated. Does anyone understand how the bracketing works in the WBC? I was playing with it last night and can't begin to figure out what happens to the winner of the Puerto Rico/loser of USA-D.R. game.

  • In reply to Eddie:

    The winner of the US/DR game goes on to the front of the brackets. Loser of that game plays PR. Loser of that game is out, winner plays the one undefeated team for who goes on to Frisco, to play the winner of the Pacific bracket(Japan or Ned)

  • John, who do you think looks first in line for call-up in case of injury. That's a real speculative question considering it is so dependent on how they look at the time and who gets injured.

  • In reply to Bilbo161:

    Exactly. We'll have to see how things shake out. I think if Rusin is sent down, it's him. The next guy is probably Raley if he rebounds. I think the Cub would like to keep Vizcaino and Cabrera in the minors awhile.

  • Hey John, if Lohse waits to sign until after the draft it doesn't cost the signing team a pick right? If that's the case it may make sense for the Cubs to sign him to a multi-year deal. Guys like Feldman, Baker, and maybe Garza will be dealt at the deadline and Lohse could help replace them. Plus Lohse would be well rested for 2014/2015 seasons when the Cubs are actually trying to make the playoffs:)

  • In reply to Justin:

    Plus if Lohse waited until after the draft it would screw the Cards out of an early pick. And screwing them over is always a good thing. I really hope the Cubs have an under the table agreement with Boras.

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    In reply to Justin:

    If Lohse is still available in June (big if), I think a contending club is going to overpay for his services. That won't be the Cubs.

    The reason is someone will be looking for starting pitching by then due to injury, and with Lohse you won't have to give up prospects in a mid-season deal. Just cash.

    I have a tough time thinking he'll still be unsigned, but then again, this is uncharted territory with the new CBA and draft pick comp

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Yeah but if he goes for a multi year deal why wouldn't the Cubs be in? At this point if I am him I wait until the draft is over to sign. The compensation thing completely ruins his market.

  • In reply to Justin:

    It does make sense, but by that time a lot of teams will want to sign him and he would probably choose to go to a contender. I don't know about a multi-year deal,though. Lohse is already 34 and past his prime. I'm also not sure he's as good as his record shows. Cubs have said they won't pay for past performances.

  • In reply to Justin:

    I doubt that Baker will be traded. Even if he does well, he isn't likely to draw that much in trade. I suspect that the Cubs will just sign him to a longer term contract if he shows he is healthy.

    Of course, if someone knocks their socks off ----

  • Is there anyone currently destined for AA but knocking at the AAA door? Seems like we have a boat-load of ??? at AAA this year.

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    In reply to Bilbo161:

    We do have a boat load of question marks at AAA. It's a collection of pitchers with either fringy stuff, or command problems. (Vizcaino excepted).

    AA is, if anything, worse off. Zych is kind of a repeat of our AAA bullpen; great stuff, developing command. There is Whitenack. Everyone else is fringy. John did a good job summarizing:

    This is the Cubs weakness: We don't have the pitching in our system, particularly at the higher levels. We have raw arms all over, but only Vizcaino among them has commanded it at higher levels.

  • In reply to Bilbo161:

    Struck or Loux may wind up at AA depending on how things shake out, so they'd go to the front of the line. Zonk is right, you have to hope somebody like Whitenack emerges.

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    John, do you think Vizcaino will start the season on the 60-day DL?

    I do, for these reasons:
    1. He is on a strict innings limit anyway; no reason not to keep him in EXST to stretch out more, make a rehab start or two, and hit Iowa later
    2. This will free up a 40-man spot for Lillibridge without having to cut someone else
    3. They won't have to make anything up, as he is legitimately recovering from TJS still

  • In reply to Zonk:

    I'm getting the feeling he will. It makes sense to get hm down in the warm weather and just let him throw and get ready without worrying about winning games. He can then join AAA ready to go.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    An extra slot on the 40-man roster can't hurt either. :)

  • In reply to RayA:

    That will be a big help as Cubs will probably need to make room for Lillibridge.

  • Guy not on this list was Parker....which I believe will return to Wrigley sooner than later......and also Wade, Putman & Champman all have shots.

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    I decided to leave out a few arms but agree that all are good candidates to stick. In particular, Sveum has spoken well of Parker in the past.

  • Just looked at the stats of two players that were on the Cubs radar to play third.........Olt is hitting 160 with striking half the time....Castellanos is doing better hitting 400 and very high on base percentage......

    Porcello has a 2.08 ERA....

  • Delgado, now with Arizona...has a ERA over 6.40 this spring

    B.McCarthy, who many here wanted Theo to sign.... 6.70 ERA.......

    Dempster....2.00 ERA...

    Maholm.....3.40 ERA......

    A. Sanchez......0.00 ERA

  • As does Coleman.

  • In reply to John57:

    Coleman is another good candiate to stick.

  • Any news on Starlin Peralta?

  • In reply to Lothar:

    21.00 ERA and has pitched just 3 innings. They're not keeping him based on performance. Low innings makes me wonder if they plan on sending him back or if they'll DL him with some mysterious injury.

  • They still need to keep him on the active 25 man roster for a minimum of 90 days before the end of August. Putting him on the DL at this time won't be much help.

  • In reply to DaveP:

    They can do it now or later but doing it now allows him to "rehab" in extended spring training and the minors, as Castillo did last year. He's obviously not ready to help now to begin the season, so maybe they buy some more time and try to cram some development before he pitches in the majors.

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    Small sample size amusement:

    Christian Villanueva has put up a triple slash of .124/.154/.500 so far this spring. That's something you don't see every day. (Also: a .000 BABIP.)

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Ha! That's nuts. I don't think I've ever seen a line like that.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I watched a few of his at bats. He hit the ball hard.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Am I missing something? How can you have a .000 BABIP if you have a batting average at all? Isn't all of your batting average balls in play?

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    In reply to Gerald:

    Home runs aren't considered in play.

    The exact calculation is: (H - HR)/(AB - K - HR + SF).

    So, Christian has 3 hits, all home runs.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Thank you for the explanation, Mike. That makes his stats even cooler.
    That is why I love this site. I am always learning more.

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    Someone pointed out that Coleman, Chapman, Jensen Lewis, Wade, etc. are other guys not on this list that might play......

    But I think McNutt and Dolis have the inside track for call-ups, simply because they are already on the 40-man roster. No move needed.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    No doubt. Those guys only get a chance if they do well and Dolis, McNutt, etc. struggle.

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