Can Cubs follow Cards path of grooming power SP prospects out of the bullpen?

Can Cubs follow Cards path of grooming power SP prospects out of the bullpen?
Neil Ramirez has pitched very well this spring

For a team that had the 4th worst record in baseball, there isn't going to be a whole lot of competition in spring training for roster spots as things stand now.  There is a 5th OF"er spot available and if Mike Olt doesn't win the 3B job, there could be a utility infielder position open.  The catching is all squared away with Welington Castillo and George Kottaras.

The tentative rotation is :

  • Jeff Samardzija
  • Travis Wood
  • Edwin Jackson
  • Jason Hammel
  • Jake Arrieta

Likely nailing down bullpen spots are:

  • Jose Veras
  • James Russell (L)
  • Pedro Strop
  • Carlos Villanueva
  • Wesley Wright (L)
  • Blake Parker
  • Alberto Cabrera (out of options)

Barring a trade, it's really difficult to see anyone else squeezing in for the Opening Day roster.  But as we have seen the past two seasons, the roster in April will almost certainly look very much different by August.  Injuries, ineffectiveness, and perhaps trades will create openings as the season goes on.   Depth will be important as the Cubs try to stay afloat over the course of a 162 game season.

Amassing pitching depth isn't easy and nobody likes to dip into their 8th or 9th starters unless it's absolutely necessary.  The Cubs have quietly built some solid depth forthe rotation.  Their role early on is to provide depth, but hopefully an arm or two emerges as the year goes on and force the Cubs to make some tough decisions as the year goes on.  The Cubs don't have any can't miss prospects knocking on the door, but at least this year they may not to be rummaging the scrap heap for last minute replacements.  We may finally see the Cubs start to answer some of those concerns in-house.

But as the Cardinals shown, starting depth doesn't necessarily mean they have to be used as starters -- at least not right away.  The Cardinals have shown great success grooming power arms out of the bullpen early in their careers.

Here are 8 power pitchers who are yet to enter their prime to keep an eye on this spring...

Justin Grimm

Grimm was told to prepare as a starter and was set to be the leading candidate for the 5th spot before the signing of Jason Hammel.   He tops my depth chart for that reason and because he has the best chance of being something better than a 5th starter based on the quality of his stuff, particularly his top two pitches (fastball, curveball).  Continued development of the change-up and consistency with command could make him a #4 starter.

As a reliever, however, he doesn't need to worry about the change or being as consistent with his command.  He can reach 97 out of the pen and can use his curveball as a wipeout change of pace pitch.

Neil Ramirez

Ramirez has been a starter but many feel he will actually end up in the bullpen where he can play up his fastball and limit exposure with his spotty command.  Ramirez gets every chance to start, however, because like Grimm, he has good stuff and the kind of size/strength to eat innings if healthy.  Ramirez rebounded from a poor season in 2012 to put up intriguing numbers in 2013, but shoulder health, repeating his delivery consistently, and command will determine his future.

Alberto Cabrera

Cabrera had success at AA as a starter but ran out of gas after the big innings jump from 2012, which he spent as a reliever.  It remains to be seen whether Cabrera gets another crack at starting or if the Cubs will make his late season move to the bullpen permanent.  He has a mid-90s fastball and a slider which can be an outpitch, so he has a good starting kit for either a starter or a power reliever -- but he's out of options so he is going to have to prove something quickly or go the way of Rafael Dolis.

Hector Rondon

There is some speculation about trying Rondon as a starter but his injury history makes that very risky.  Rondon finished strong last year in terms of both numbers and stuff, flashing a 97 mph fastball and a slider which took a big step forward last year.  After being basically guaranteed a roster spot last year,  Rondon may be on the outside looking in this year.  He'll compete with Blake Parker and Alberto Cabrera for one of the last 2 spots, but it won't be easy.  Parker was one of the Cubs more effective relievers last year and Cabrera is out of options.  Rondon may need to wait for an opportunity at Iowa, but you can't rule out him making the team this spring if he builds on his strong finish.

Arodys Vizcaino

Vizcaino showed electric stuff this fall but the Cubs will bring him along slowly for obvious reasons.  He hasn't pitched in over 2 seasons so his command is a bigger question than it was 2 years ago, when Keith Law ranked him as the 12th best prospect in all of baseball.  He may need some catching up to do and build some strength up at Iowa, but when he comes up, he has a chance to add an impact reliever.  Vizcaino will almost certainly spend any time with the Cubs this season out of the pen but that could change down the road if he proves he's healthy and can build stamina.

Armando Rivero

Like Rondon, Rivero may also get a look as a starter this season.  The lanky 26 year old Cuban struggled out of the gate, then suddenly found his velocity, consistently throwing in the mid 90s in the second half of the season.  He also has a bit of a slurve which he can get hitters at lower levels to chase when he's ahead in the count, but he's going to have to be more precise with it at the upper levels.

Carlos Pimentel

Pimentel already transitioned to the bullpen in 2012 after some moderate success as a starter but returned to the rotation in 2013 where he was able to maintain his high strikeout rates while showing significant improvement with his walk rate.  The stuff isn't as overpowering as other pitchers on this list, but Pimentel can pitch in the low 90s and perhaps turn that up a notch out of the bullpen.  He's still just 24 and younger than many of the pitchers on this list so it was a worthwhile waiver claim by the Cubs to see if his step forward in 2013 is a sign of things to come.  Results out of the winter league were encouraging where Pimentel went 5-0 with a 1.67 ERA, striking out 32 and walking 14 in 37.2 innings.

Marcus Hatley

Not a starting candidate but another potential power arm out of the bullpen.  Hatley sits in the 93-95 range and can touch 97.  He has a power curve that he has trouble commanding, but last year he showed an improved ability to miss bats.  He is your Blake Parker type sleeper for this offseason in that he's a guy with good stuff/good makeup but perhaps a bit of a late bloomer.

Deeper Down on the Farm

The list above is  for this spring but there is no reason the Cubs can't continue this pipeline for years to come.  Here are my favorite pitching prospects who could fall back as power relievers if they don't make it as starters.

  • Corey Black: Stuff to be a starter, including a 97 mph fastball, but size may limit him down the road.
  • Tyler Skulina: Low to mid 90s as a starter with some projection left but could be even more overpowering out of the pen.
  • Dillon Maples: Up to 96 in short spurts with a breaking pitch that can be unhittable when he's on.
  • Scott Frazier: 6'7" pitcher who can hit 96 mph and pitch with hard, downward plane.  Can be  intimidating in short bursts.
  • Trey Masek: Smaller pitcher with great arm strength who can pitch in the 93-95 range with potential for good command.
  • Zach Cates: Was up to 96 mph late in the season.  Has a good slider and a solid change as well. Great athlete.
  • Josh Conway: Has closer's stuff (mid 90s fastball, wipeout slider) but needs to stay healthy.
  • Duane Underwood: Arm strength is there but still learning to pitch.  May need to start his career out of the bullpen.
  • Juan Paniagua: May have the best arm on this list, touching 98 with some reports that he has hit triple digits, but visa issues have hampered his development.
  • Starling Peralta: If he can show some of the promise he showed in 2012 and early 2013, he still may have a shot.  But time is running out.
  • Matt Loosen: 93-94 mph as a starter but showed some promise in the AFL out of the bullpen.
  • Jose Arias: Big body, mid 90s fastball with decent command, but inability to sell change may eventually relegate him to the pen.

The Cubs have made it a point to stock up the system with power arms for this very reason.  Power arms who don't make it can still be effective out of the bullpen -- particularly the late innings.  The same isn't as true with finesse, pitchability types who project as bottom of the rotation type starters.  It's in many ways just another manifestation of the Cubs inclination to go after players with high floors.  And arm strength gives pitchers a higher floor because it becomes a potential weapon out of the pen if they can't make it as starters.

Can the Cubs have anywhere near the success that the Cardinals and other teams have had by stockpiling power arms?  That remains to be seen.  But it seems obvious that this is part of their plan.

To me, the progress of some of these young power arms is what will be most interesting to watch this spring and it could be where we start to see that first wave of talent emerge as the Cubs look ahead to 2015 and 2016.

 

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  • I guess Rob Zastryzny doesn't really profile as a legit power arm, but 92-95 out of a lefty could be special. I know he didn't really do much after he was drafted, but I think that has more to do with the Cubs just being careful and getting him ready for this season.

    I expect a good step up this year from Z2.0

  • In reply to waitingOn2015:

    True. I was debating with him but I really think he makes it as a starter. I have him rated very highly in my prospects lists -- mostly because I am more confident with his chances of sticking as a starter. Having a good change-up gives him a head start.

    In other words, I left him off the list for much of the same reasons I left of CJ Edwards, Paul Blackburn, and Pierce Johnson. But you're right, it's very likely at least one or more of those guys end up in the pen.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    With a list that extensive, we have to hope we get lucky with a few guys making an impact. If so, we have the arms to make some real progress. Need the same luck with Olt and some other everyday players to compete.

  • In reply to Roe Skidmore:

    That's the hope. You hope if you have enough inventory that you'll be able to withstand all the expected attrition and still end up with a few impact type pitchers to show for it all.

  • Good stuff John. The FO has made no secret of their plan to attack the lack of organizational pitching with volume, or their preference for power arms.

    Of the 8 you have profiled, I wouldn't be surprised if we find one SP gem out of that group and a couple of impact BP arms. Vizcaino & Rondon could be HUGE for us in 2015!

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Thanks. I would love for that to happen. One thing I always envied about the Cards is you just don't get a break with that bullpen. Hopefully these guys can come in and throw heat and keep hitters on their heels in the late innings (and throw strikes, of course).

  • The Cubs re-signed Lim didn't they? I like him in the pen over Blake Parker

  • In reply to CubFan Paul:

    They did. He hasn't been officially invited to ST but I've been told he will be. I think his lack of a roster spot is going to make it tough for him to make the team out of spring but I like him a potential situational weapon vs. RH hitters.

  • The fact that Rondon (experience) and Vizcaino (injury) aren't on the list for the bullpen breaking camp only shows that this is clearly the strength of the team right now.

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    I was thinking about that too -- especially with regard to Rondon. Also Grimm should be a shoo-in but that is a tough squeeze. Perhaps they stretch him out as a starter at Iowa?

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I thought Rondon would make the pen before Parker. But you are probably right, you usually are.

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    In reply to John57:

    Alot of the decision has to do with options and service time. Rondon still has an option left this year; Parker has some limits after Mid-May due to service time

  • In reply to John57:

    Parker is the one spot Rondon could sneak in but it's going to take something big, in my opinion. Parker pitched well enough to keep his job. Rondon sure looked good at the end of the season, though. I think he's very possibly a long term answer in the bullpen.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I would really like to try Grimm as a starter. He was AL Rookie of the Month last April in that role.....can he sustain that over a longer period? I would like to find out.

    I feel like if he's effective at Iowa, he'll be the first call when a starter gets injured

  • Good stuff and plenty of arms to keep an eye on this year. I will definitely be keeping a closer eye on their bullpen sessions.

    I toured Cubs Park last night and looks amazing. Plenty of space for the fans, players and community. And very easy access off the freeway. Hohokam had the "where is it" out of the way neighborhood location and grass parking lots. The Cubs really have done a great job with the new park, which literally emphasizes the building from the ground up way they are doing things now.

  • In reply to Buzz:

    It looks really nice. I'm sorry I'm going to miss it this year. Maybe fall or next spring.

  • I assume you meant to say that Paniagua has been know to hit 'triple' digits.

    I've complained a lot about the FO's inability / willingness to invest in the big league club - but this is an area where I think they've excelled. I'd love nothing more than to have a bullpen that is loaded with pre-arb power arms that can be a shutdown force in the 7th / 8th / 9th innings. That allows the FO to spend money on the rotation or locking up our young stars (assuming some of those guys pan out).

    Seems like Vizcaino would be an ideal closer / 8th inning guy. Also, CJ Edwards could end up in the pen - which would add additional depth as well.

  • In reply to Roscoe Village:

    Thanks. I did. Even I've been known to hit double digits with my fastball :)

    Agreed. I think this is a cheap, effective way to steal some wins. if you can shut down the game from the 7th on you give yourself a good chance to win a lot of games. I use the Cards as an example but the A's also used a revamped bullpen to improve in 2012. One area where you can have an impact without spending and it can a perpetual re-stocking process. Just keep doing what they're doing.

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    It wouldn't totally surprise me for Villanueva to switch places with Arrieta if Jake continues to struggle with his control. It builds trade value for Villanueva at the deadline and Jake could be a Cardinal-esque reliever.

    But, yes, I like this line of thinking a lot. These guys are going to start pushing for the majors quite hard and, when they are ready, the Cubs can either trade or release ineffective guys to make room.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Arrieta is another possibility as a power reliever but really hoping he sticks as a starter this year. That would be a huge boost if he has some success there. But agree -- can't argue with the fallback on Arrieta. If he ends up an effective power reliever, I'd be okay with that.

  • John, sort of off topic and stemming from some comments in Moody's last article, I did some research on the top 40 starting pitchers from 2013 with Whip being my only criteria (I know there are a lot of other indicators but I only had so much time to slack off at work). I wanted to see where the players were picked in the draft to see if the Cubs' methods can bear fruits. Here's what I found out:

    Top Ten WHIP – Eight 1st Round, One F/A, One 4th round (Cliff Lee) – of eight 1st rounders, four were top ten picks overall.
    Top Twenty – Thirteen 1st round, four F/A, One Second Round, One 4th Round, One 13th Round (A.J. Griffin)
    Top Thirty – Fifteen 1st round, Seven F/A, Four2nd round, One 3rd round, One 4th round, One 13th round, One 29th Round (Kyle Lohse)
    Top Forty - Sixteen 1st round, Ten F/A, Six 2nd round, One 3rd round, Two 4th round, One 8th round, One 11th round, One 13th round, One 29th round, One 30th round (FELDMAN!!!)

    So of the top 40 WHIP pitchers in 2013, 80% of them were drafted in the 1st round, second round, or were international free agents. The good news is the cubs have picked up a lot of international F/A, and they'll have the money to sign one a pitcher or two in the upcoming years if nothing develops down on the farm.

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    In reply to Break The Curse:

    Interesting. That's why developing even one of the Skulina/Masek/Skulina/Underwood group into a middle of the rotation starter or better would be a huge win for Cubs scouting department.

  • The Cubs were big into power arms in the Hendry regime and those staffs in the late 90s/early 00s almost always led or were among the league leaders in strikeouts. Even with a huge number of guys blowing out their arms or never finding their control in the minors, those teams always benefitted from the depth of power arms and I see no reason this coming era will play out any differently. Betting on high upside, power arms is always the better way to go in my opinion.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    Agreed. It gives you that higher floor because the ability to miss bats is a big plus in high leverage situations.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Well, that, and you can't teach arm. At least not like you can teach command and control.

  • In reply to SouthBender:

    That's about the most concise way to put it!

  • John, sort of off topic and stemming from some comments in Moody's last article, I did some research on the top 40 starting pitchers with Whip being my only criteria. I wanted to see where the players were picked in the draft to see if the Cubs methods could bear fruits. Here's what I found out:

    Top Ten WHIP – Eight 1st Round, One F/A, One 4th round (Cliff Lee) – of eight 1st rounders, four were top ten picks overall.
    Top Twenty – Thirteen 1st round, four F/A, One Second Round, One 4th Round, One 13th Round (A.J. Griffin)
    Top Thirty – Fifteen 1st round, Seven F/A, Four2nd round, One 3rd round, One 4th round, One 13th round, One 29th Round (Kyle Lohse)
    Top Forty - Sixteen 1st round, Ten F/A, Six 2nd round, One 3rd round, Two 4th round, One 8th round, One 11th round, One 13th round, One 29th round, One 30th round (FELDMAN!!!)

    So of the top 40 WHIP pitchers in 2013, 80% of them were drafted in the 1st round, second round, or were international free agents. The good news is the cubs have picked up a lot of international F/A, and they'll have the money to sign one a pitcher or two in the upcoming years if nothing develops down on the farm.

    If this posts twice I apologize. My computer did something weird the last time I tried to post.

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    In reply to Break The Curse:

    It's something I've noticed myself: MVP candidates and Cy Young candidates both tend to come from the IFA ranks or the first couple rounds of the draft. (Not that there aren't major exceptions, but they are exceptions.)

    I think were Theo's argument holds water is that you can get solid middle and back of the rotation starters from later in the draft.

  • In reply to Break The Curse:

    Thanks BTC. That's a higher percentage than I realized coming out of the early rounds. The Cubs will have to make it up somehow. I imagine some of it will be through trades. This FO has had some good luck with pitching after the first round, so hopefully they can continue that. Good start so far with Johnson, Blackburn, Zastryzny.

  • What happened to Rafael Dolis?

  • In reply to IThrewSomeRocks:

    Dolis is with the Giants organization now.

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    In reply to IThrewSomeRocks:

    He's a FA.

  • Great stuff on our young power arms, John. I'm the eternal optimist and, so this is more fuel to the "Cubs-Can-Really-Surprise-This-Year!" fire I've been stoking.

    The bullpen cost us how many games last April thru June? I don't have the number, but it sure seemed it was enough to be the difference between .500 and last place. And that was even with a sputtering offense. So its exciting that FO has not only rebuilt the bullpen and has lined up several power arms to add to the mix as others falter/injuries etc. I suspect, Cabrera, Ramirez and Vizcaino (and probably in that order) stepping up will be key for us this year.

  • In reply to Teddy P:

    Thanks. I'll be stoking too. I really believe a big year from the bullpen and a bounce back from the core will go a long way this year. I think if those two things happen and everything else is equal, the Cubs will surprise.

  • In reply to Teddy P:

    i believe we blew 43 saves last year...

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    Love all the power arms collected the last few years. You have to think at least 2-3 of these guys take a step forward and become front line starters. Or at least mid-rotation types. My bet is on Vizcaino, Maples, Grimm, and Ramirez making it as starters for the first wave with Skulina and Coonway with Underwood as starters later on. The rest I think end up in the pen.

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    I'm not hopeful on Maples at all. Just don't think he will be able to make the adjustments he needs to make in his delivery make him a viable Manor Leaguer.

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    He is a stretch, but man when he's on he's really, really tough to hit. Of course, none of it will matter if he can't throw strikes consistently.

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    I think as long as they can fill a few bullpen slots and maybe a rotation slot or two, I'd be happy. I think they can fill in the rest from there.

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    I think the first wave has CJ Edwards too.

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    The only guy from that first wave that I would put any kind of wager on would be Grimm. I love Vizcaino, but between 2 years away from pitching and his build I think his days as a starter may be numbered. I'm willing to give him some starts in April/May in Iowa but if they try to keep him as a starter you may not see any significant return until 2016 while he gets stretched out. I'm never betting on anyone to stay a starter that has had shoulder issues like Ramirez, nor am I counting on anything from a guy that has delivery issues and hasn't been able to throw strikes in A ball. I think you are being wildly optimistic with that group.

  • What are Zach Rosscup's chances of making the team out of ST?

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    In reply to DropThePuck:

    Almost certainly not, barring injury....see my question below

  • In reply to DropThePuck:

    Pretty much zero unless Wright or Russell get hurt.

  • In reply to DropThePuck:

    Pretty low, imo. i think he goes back to AAA to keep refining his command.

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    Good article. One factor to keep in mind is service time; service time will impact usage and development for a few players:

    --Blake Parker will require Optional Assignment Waivers to send to AAA after 5/17 this year. This means that if he starts the season at the ML level, and pitches well where he would be claimed, he's basically out of options after mid-May.
    --Neil Ramirez is down to his last option this year; so he needs to be ML-ready by the end of this season, if not sooner
    --Vizcaino accrued service time the last couple years while injured; this means he is a FA after 2017 already. With only 4 seasons of control left, I wonder if the Cubs will accelerate him and forget about starting...we'll see.

    You also pointed out that Cabrera is out of options; I have to believe that means he is a bullpen guy only now, since he has to make the team out of ST.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Thanks. I do think Cabrera is very likely to work out of the bullpen this year. Interesting on Vizcaino. That definitely makes it likely he'll be in the bullpen for the next couple of years.

    I think Ramirez will be up at some point this year if he has any kind of success at AAA.

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    John, can you confirm I am reading the 40-man roster (AZ Phil) and transaction rules properly?

    Looking at the list you posted, Blake Parker is the ONLY pitcher that can be sent to AAA to start the season without exposing him to a waiver claim. That's it. And even him, after 5/17 he is in that same bucket.

    That means the pitchers you listed WILL make the team barring injury, with only Parker maybe being the odd-man out.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Can definitely trust AZ Phil's info there. Barring any moves or injuries, it's hard to see it shake out otherwise. As you mention, Parker is a possibility, but he was pretty solid for them. Can't imagine he can lose his job this spring.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Agreed; any way you slice the numbers, Parker was effective. He was actually better against LHP than RHP. While he can be sent down, I just can't see a reason why he would be. He would have to be a disaster this spring to get sent down for performance reasons.

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    I think Corey Black is my sleeper pick. I don't see too many people on here that are really high on him, but with his stuff along with the huge chip on his shoulder that he plays with, I see him making a big move up the Cubs list this year.

  • In reply to Richard Madsen:

    Some people like him. Most notably Keith Law but I know others too. He has the stuff to start. It's all about whether he can handle an MLB starting load with him.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    FYI, I just got my BA prospect Handbook for 2014 and they have Black as #15. pretty lofty when you consider this time last year everyone thought it was impossible to trade Soriano for salary relief.

    One mildly disappointing thing about the BA top 30; no Duane Underwood. I thought he had the best stuff and highest ceiling out of recent drafts. Guess his struggles this year and lack of development hurt. That said, I expect a good year and he will be right back on the list.

  • John, has there been any word on Fujikawa's status? Is he going to pitching in ST or is he looking more at a midseason rehab. Guys come back from TJS pretty quick sometimes so I wouldn't think it out of the question that he is at least throwing off a mound in ST.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    I've heard they're hoping he's back by May but that seems optimistic to me. He's a bullpen guy, so maybe he comes back a bit quicker, I can see him throwing in ST, but I don't think he'll be doing it in games until late spring at the earliest.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Thanks. I always worry about older guys having to come back from TJS, but then I see someone like Jose Contreras make it back last year in like 9 months and at this point I figure you can never rule anyone out anymore. Being a reliever probably does help.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    One thing, Fujikawa figrues to be placed on the 60-day DL; not sure what the earliest date you can come off that is, 60 days from beginning of ST, or 60 days from opening day...

  • In reply to Zonk:

    If Fujikawa looks like he going to be ready in April or May, the 60 Day DL may not be an option. It would be nice to use him as a way to open a roster space for an NRI to be added to the 40 man, but it is not a foregone conclusion. They can always drop a guy like Raley if they need to add Ryan Roberts (who I think is by far our best option for the 25th roster spot) or someone else.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    If I remember correctly, it's 60 days from the date he's placed on the list.

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    Good angle for a story. Good organizations should never have to spend big money on a reliever. It makes no sense given how up-and-down and abundant they are. They should come from your own organization, guys who don't have two or three plus pitches to be starters. I compare them a little bit to kickers in the NFL.

  • In reply to Gregory Shriver:

    I think the issue with relievers is not how much they make in a season but rather the length of the deals. A good org should never have to give a FA reliever a 3+ year deal. But getting a guy for a high salary on a year year deal isn't so bad. I mean, if we were a contender and we thought a bullpen might be a little thin this year, would picking up the 1 yr/10M on Jim Johnson's contract be a terrible use of resources? I don't think so, the Orioles essentially gave him away. The old mantra of there is no such thing as a bad one year contract holds true, even for relievers in my opinion.

  • I think what has me most optimistic about this season is the depth of useful parts on the Iowa staff. There is a very good chance that we could be looking at something like this for the Iowa staff and everyone of them has at least some potential to help the club this year if needed:

    Grimm
    Rusin
    Hendricks
    Pimentel
    Beeler

    Vizcaino
    Ramirez
    Rondon
    J. Sanchez/Wada
    Rosscup
    Hatley
    Schlitter

    There isn't a TOR prospect there but all of them profile as either back of rotation/middle relievers/LOOGY at worst. At that doesn't even include a guy like Fujikawa who will presumably start the year on the DL, Rivero who probably starts in AA and spare part vets like Lim, Raley, Hottovy, Marshall, MacDonald and longshot guys like Zych or Batista.

    The Cubs actually have really good pitching depth for this season. If we could get a breakthrough from someone like Shark or Arrieta I don't think it is out of the question for the Cubs to have a very solid season. The offense will probably be terrible, but the pitching and defense should keep us in enough games where if we get some breaks .500 and maybe a sniff at the second wild card is not a delusional hope.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    Or maybe I am just sniffing the powdered Kool-Aid that they are spreading on the Spring Training grass.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    Now's the time when optimism should absolutely be considered!

  • In reply to Break The Curse:

    Ha! I'm with you. We'll have plenty of time for pessimism later. For now, it's all about the possibilities. Its spring!

  • In reply to mjvz:

    Vizcaino could be a TOR SP in a couple years if his arm holds up.

  • In reply to John57:

    I am a bigger believer in Vizcaino than most. I love his stuff and the Maholm trade was maybe my favorite trade this regime has made so far. Getting a guy with his stuff and control (unlike Arrieta who only has the stuff so far) in exchange for a 5th starter was a brilliant move. Vizcaino absolutely has TOR stuff. And if he had only missed one year from TJS I would give him a much better chance of reaching that ceiling, but he was always a guy that might not hold up physically to those demands given his smaller frame, and if you now combine that with the fact that he hasn't thrown any significant innings in a couple of years I think it will be difficult for him to work himself back into that mix and prove that his arm can withstand that much of a workload. I'm willing to give him the opportunity, but I think the chances are pretty small at this point. He will be a high leverage reliever at worst though.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    I am right there with you in my love of Vizcaino. I think they bring him back slowly in the bullpen this year with the thought of stretching him out over the winter so he is set to start in 2015.

    The article that this is in reference to, the STL Cards, fits exactly the plan for Vizcaino with the exception of the injury.

    Build his strength, get him some experience and bring him back for next season.

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    In reply to mjvz:

    Good point...and you even forgot James McDonald. I frankly wonder how the Cubs are going to have enough AAA rotation slots available.

    Part of the FO strategy seems to be to find some gold in minor league FAs. It worked last year; Sweeney, Bogusevic, Murphy all contributed. Who will contribute this year? Someone will

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    Our problems are over - randy wells is coming out of retirement. Best comment I read on this - "he's working on a new pitch, it's called a strike."

  • In reply to SKMD:

    Wells was hardly the worst pitcher we have used recently. He would actually have to be considered quite a success for the previous regime. He was a low round draft pick and a converted position players that made it to the majors and contributed. We like to pretend that the Hendry regime failed to develop any players at all, but Wells was a mark in the win column for them.

  • Seems that we have more players then roster slots. Many will get lost in the numbers.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    There are probably going to be at least 5 vet pitchers and 5 position players that get released at the end of ST. The Cubs have enough guys to fill two Iowa rosters right now.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Agreed, it will work itself out. I imagine it will be similar to last year where guys like Zach Putnam gradually faded away. You just hope you can find decent depth. If they can get a short term solution or two out of it then it's a big win.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I wonder if the Cubs can sweeten the pot in any trade (Shark?) by throwing in one of these major league ready bullpen arms.

    A Cabrera, Parker, Rondon, Grimm add on might be enough to sway someone to meet the return demands of the Cubs FO.

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    Rondon and Grimm might add some value, but not a whole lot. I would assume any team trading for Samardzija would be more of a win-now type team and wuold want a more established bullpen arm. If I see any bullpen arm getting paired with Samardzija, it'd be someone like Russell.

  • John,

    Great,great article with lots to think about.

    Especially liked your summary comment about IF the bullpen improves(really, only 1 way to go there) and the core gets better( I assume you mean Castro,Shark, and Rizzo), we could surprise.

    My big,big worry is looking at the starters and NOT seeing anyone close to a #1. I don't buy T. Wood as a 1 or a 2. I don't see him goin against other teams 1,2 and winning 60% like a true 1 should. It scares me. Add the thought of trading Samarj...and I really panic. To me, that's an automatic, wait a few more years more. (my ongoing effort to battle pessimism with optimism)

  • In reply to rakmessiah:

    I see many people complaining that the Cubs lack a true ace or TOR starter and my opinion is that it's not necessary to have one to compete or make the playoffs. First of all, there's probably only 15-20 pitchers that are still considered aces in the game right now if you define them as 4+ WAR pitchers on a regular basis. And teams like the A's and Braves don't have aces on their staffs but do have solid pitching throughout their lineup. Give me 6 or seven guys that can put up between 1.5- 4 WAR and I'd take that kind of pitching staff.

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    In reply to Paulson:

    For some time now I have held the belief that a rotation made up of all # 3 starters would get most teams into the playoffs. However, you need an ace, and preferably two, to win a playoff series, let alone the WS

  • In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    Agreed.

  • In reply to Paulson:

    ty it feeds the optimism side of my brain

  • Another thing to think about is that if many, or all, of our RPs have a good spring, then we suddenly have some interesting trade chips for other needs on the club.

    By the end of Spring Training, some clubs could be having trouble putting together a decent pitching staff, and as a result, might be desperate enough to trade for one of our pitchers in exchange for something we might need.

    I could see that happening this year (especially with all the pitchers who would not make it thru waivers).

  • In reply to DetroitCubFan:

    I could see that if we had any proven guys to deal. But Wright, Russell, Strop and Veras are the only veterans we have and I can't see the Cubs moving any of those guys in the spring. Trading one of those guys that early would give the impression (though not necessarily true in fact) that they were waving a white flag before the season started. You think Samardzija is discouraged right now, i would love to see his reaction to that.

  • Some other sleeper candidates that I like for SP in the future are Erick Leal and Corbin Hoffner. If they have another season like they did last year each should begin getting a little more attention.

  • I see people worrying about finding a number one pitcher, I think that it will play itself out. The cubs have to find talent at this moment, if its the position players or pitching in the minors. Lets get the rest of the question marks on the field solved first. Just give me five young good arms and develop an ace over time.

  • In reply to seankl:

    That is how I feel. We have a lot of talent coming up, but we don't know who is going to disappoint or surprise yet. We have no idea if we actually will need an ace in a couple of years. Maybe Shark/Arrieta figure it out. Maybe Edwards continues to dominate despite his size. Maybe Blackburn or some other lower level guy makes a sizeable leap. Maybe we get a polished college starter at 4th in the draft this year or maybe we take a guy like Kolek and he becomes Jose Fernandez and makes his major league debut at 20.

    So many maybes. Just keep collecting assets (whatever position they play) and then figure it out when the time comes.

  • Aside from the offense, I'm actually cautiously optimistic about the first half of the year. A lot of 'ifs' have to happen, but the front office actually addressed a major need of the ball club, putting the onus on the offense to pick it up a bit.

    One thing to think about - if the Cubs are close to contention, guys like Baez and Bryant who could get called up, might be as good as a deadline deal for the Cubs. While they lack experience, their offense could provide the missing link to what could be a surprising year.

    Fun to think about I guess.

  • In reply to 2015HereWeCome:

    Fun, indeed. I really hope -- and don't think its too unrealistic -- that Cubs can play about .500 ball into June and that Baez is not just knocking on the door, but kicking it down. I can just see how team doing decent and a Baez call up (and, while highly unlikely, even a Bryant call up directly from AA) will create HUGE BUZZ at Clark & Addison. That kind of buzz can spark at bolt of lightning that team catches in a bottle.

  • Whatever happened to Tony Zych? He seemed high on everybody"s lists last year but nowhere to be found this year. I know he had a so so year at Tenn. Also, whats up with Carlos Marmol? Any team biting on him with a minor league contract?

  • In reply to kevie:

    Zych just doesn't miss as many bats or get as many easy outs as one would expect with his stuff. I for one have been very disappointed by his progress. I expected more from him. Could be a lack of deception, a lack of late movement on his pitches, or a lack of command but so far the results he has produced seem to point to him being nothing more than a middle reliever at best at this point.

    Marmol may be holding out hope for a major league contract, maybe if a team loses a reliever or two in ST. A guy that still throws as hard as Marmol can get a minor league contract pretty much anytime he wants.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    That's my concern as well with Zych.

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