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.
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.
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.