Young bullpen options emerging for the Cubs

It's early in spring training and we can't make much of statistics right now.  The sample size is small.  Veteran pitchers work on certain things -- for example, Jeff Samardzija has yet to throw a splitter and Edwin Jackson threw all fastballs in his last outing.  It's apparent that both pitchers are working on locating their fastball early in the count.  Both pitchers have swing and miss level secondary pitches, but it isn't as effective when they're behind in the count.  So both pitchers are working on getting ahead in the count by locating their fastballs well.  That will go along way in their ability to better set up hitters.

Other pitchers are trying to impress and can't really afford to hold anything back.  This is their chance to get noticed and while it may not be enough for them to make the team, it's enough to get them on the radar if they continue to pitch well at Iowa or Tennessee.  Younger veterans like Blake Parker and Chris Rusin have struggled early on and that could open up some doors.

Here are the pitchers who I think have put themselves on the radar this spring...

Arodys Vizcaino

Vizcaino put himself on the radar this offseason when he was showing electric stuff but he has cemented that initial evaluation with a couple of solid outings this spring.  His last outing was most impressive as Vizcaino used all three of his pitches, including a fastball that touched 97 mph.  He has generated plenty of swing and miss along with some weak contact.  If healthy, it's not a matter of if with Vizcaino, it's a matter of when.  The Cubs still haven't ruled out Vizcaino as a starter because of his 3 good pitches (FB, curve, change), all of which he projects to throw with good command.  Because they are thinking long term with him, don't expect the Cubs to rush him to the big leagues.

Hector Rondon

You wouldn't think a pitcher who spent the entire year on the roster and gradually improved as the season went along would need to prove anything, but Rondon was and is no sure bet to make the 25 man roster this spring.  Rondon has picked up where he left off.  His breaking ball continues to improve.  Rondon is back in the mix for a spot on the Opening Day roster.

Justin Grimm

Grimm is on the edge of a big league job as it is and while he has struggled with command at times, his stuff out of the bullpen is overpowering.  Like Vizcaino, he has hit 97 mph and has shown a good breaking ball to compliment it.  Grimm has the pitches to be a starter, but he may re-start his career out of the bullpen as a power reliever.

Marcus Hatley

He's been one of my sleeper favorites for awhile on the strength of his excellent size, athleticism, and stuff.  Hatley can reach the mid 90s with his fastball and throws in a power curve.  The issue with Hatley has always been command.  He was an outfielder as an amateur and so is relatively new to pitching.  As such he has been a bit more raw and inconsistent than your normal 25 year old minor league veteran.  Things began to come together for Hatley as he improved his control while keeping his strikeout numbers high.  Hatley was a minor league free agent after last season and there is a reason the Cubs made it a priority to re-sign him.  I think he has a shot to be this year's Blake Parker.

Neil Ramirez

The PTBNL in last year's Matt Garza deal, Ramirez has had an up and down career as a prospect, reaching as high as #5 three years ago,  falling off the radar two years ago, then coming back strong again this year.  The major concerns with Ramirez have been some past shoulder soreness and inconsistency with his delivery.  That, in turn, has led to questions about his durability and command as a starter.  Some believe he can be an excellent reliever if he can work in short stints (where he can also reach 97 mph), concentrate on his top two offerings, and limit his workload.  He's had an efficient spring so far.  He's likely ticketed for Iowa, but with one option left, expect the Cubs to take a long look if he continues to pitch well.  He could be up sometime mid-season.

Eric Jokisch

One of the least heralded arms, Jokisch has come into camp and is showing he belongs.  His change-up is beginning to look like a plus pitch and he's going to have to continue to locate to have success.   He's a starter by trade but he also has a chance to challenge Zach Rosscup and Chris Rusin for a long term lefty role out of the bullpen.  Like most young pitchers, consistent command is the area he needs to work on most, but as a reliever that becomes less of a concern.



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  • One things for certain, we have a lot of depth that we didn't have just a year ago.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Quality arms -- just a matter of translating that to performance.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Oh yes, the quality is there. But the depth of that quality is what really jumps out to me. To assemble so many quality arms in such a short time is impressive work by Epstoyer. Remember last year about all we had to get excited about in young power arms was Trey McNutt?....

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Rondon was a starter with Cleveland system wasn't he? Does he have 3 serviceable pitches?

    Considering our shortage of starter prospects, especially #1's and #2's, I wish your idea of Vizcaino starting as a Starter in AAA, starting 2 innings, managing his use, and projecting him sometime in 2015 I think would be ideal. Secondly Grimm and Rondon I feel the same way if they have 3 pitches. I know Johnson and Edwards are down there, but the cupboard is not full by any means.

  • In reply to Quasimodo:

    His secondaries were pretty average but they are getting better and I like his chances better now. Health is a factor too.

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    Good stuff as ususal John.

    I don't see Parker making this team. He's been leap frogged on the depth chart.

    I think it's possible that Russell and Arrieta start the season on the d/l
    giving Ramirez and Jokisch a solid chance to make the team.

  • In reply to Dale Miller:

    Thanks Dale. Parker is no longer the sure bet he seemed to be when the spring started. It's good to have some competition for spots. Hopefully this turns into a steady pipeline of bullpen arms to cover the Cubs in the event of injury or poor performance.

  • In reply to Dale Miller:

    I agree-Vizcaino, Rondon and even Jokisch are starting to surpass him. Ive never been a huge Parker fan anyway, hes always seemed a guy where potential wasnt matched by performance.

  • I'm a Jokisch fan as well. He has lots of options for producing outs and the head to use them. I like that he doesn't rattle. His change is exceptional. I see him as starter candidate too.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Change-up is a quality pitch. Rest of the stuff is average at best so he's going to have to depend on command -- which I think needs to improve before he can be a starter, but if he does he can be a 5th starter type.

  • In reply to John Arguello:


  • In reply to 44slug:

    He gets overlooked because he has similarities to both Rusin and Raley. But Jokisch is clearly the best of the three IMO. The changeup is a legit pitch and gives him a clear advantage over Rusin, who doesn't have an out pitch.

  • If you had told me two seasons ago that there would be this kind of bullpen / potential starter depth in the Cubs AAA team primarily because of a wealth of equivilent or better depth on the Cubs ML team - I would have been highly skeptical.

    Last year - I started to get inklings of what was coming up the system.

    Next year - especially if Vizciano can stay healthy, or if Rondon can stay healthy, or if Grimm can find his command (or some of a few of these) we might have a couple of quality starters filling the roster even IF the team doesn't resign & extend Wood or Shark.

    And if 'all' we get out of Vizciano, Rondon, Arietta, Grim, Jokisch and Ramirez are a flock of bullpen arms,.... its a great place to find ourselves.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    Agreed. I think people sometimes undervalue the impact of the bullpen. Individually, bullpen pitchers don't hold a ton of value, but collectively they can have a big positive impact on a team. I think the Cubs have a nice group of arms here.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Look at the last few world series champions and why the pirates were so successful. It basically goes from a 9 inning game down to 6. That is hard to beat.
    I would rather have a bullpen that make every day a six inning game.

  • In reply to historyrat:


  • In reply to historyrat:

    This is especially true if you have an offense that can take the lead early and come back late. It looks like that is coming very soon as well.

  • In reply to KC Cubs Fan:


    Aces that can regularly go-7-8 innings and keep you a lead by shutting down the other team are few and far between. You are lucky (or have been very shrewd) if you team has more than 1.

    It always helps if you have 4-5 bullpen arms you can depend on when you need them for when the starters get worn down or start to get figured out.

    Couple that with a decent offense, and a defense that doesn't beat itself - and you'll far.

  • I expected to see Rosscup on the list. He looked really solid in his call up last September and has shown good stuff in his few outings this spring. I think he's got a good shot to be the second lefty in the pen either after Russell is traded in July or if Russell isn't ready to start the year.

  • In reply to North Side Irish:

    He's definitely going to be a factor. I was just concentrating on guys who have impressed early on this spring.

  • In reply to North Side Irish:

    you have to like his k/9 rate. Thats one thing he definitely has on Russell. who doesnt have swing and miss type stuff.

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    I expect Russell to be dealt at the deadline. Rosscup should get another chance then. He'll have to contend with potential conversions to the pen from Rusin (likely I think) or Jokisch (unlikely, he should remain starter) as well as reclaimation project Jonathan Sanchez. But Rosscup probably has the best chance to fill the role from that group (assuming Jokisch remains a starter). He just needs to fine tune command a little.

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    Good depth. 3 of tthe guys on this list can end up starters or power relievers.

    If I had my choice between Rondon and Parker I'm definitely going Rondon. He just looks better. Good to see Hatley flashing some promise. Love all the power arms.

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    Agreed Rodon has looked better. Parker has really struggled for whatever reason. But it's still early.

  • Things changed on a yearly basis when it comes to the bullpen... In 2012 I looked at the bullpen and didn't see anybody other than Carlos Marmol who could reach the mid 90's with hid fastballs and now the Cubs may have a surplus of hard throwers... Plenty of live arms... And that's not even counting those who may be in the picture for Sept or next year like Armando Rivero, Zach Cates and maybe even Corey Black.

  • In reply to Caps:

    Yep, plenty of new candidates to enter that picture as the season goes on.

  • The bullpen should be a lot more reliable this season. How about Alberto Cabrera???

  • In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    I think he's been okay so far. FB seems down and he's not missing bats. Definitely a guy to watch, but for me he hasn't been as impressive as the rest of the guys on this list -- but it is early.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    When do they start making cuts or assigning people? And isn't he out of options?

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    In reply to WaitTilNextYear:

    Speculation is they'll make the first cuts this weekend, after the SS games in Las Vegas. That timing seems to make sense

    Cabrera will definitely be a decision to watch, as he is indeed out of options. I don't think he would clear waivers; he probably has to make the ML roster, or he'll be with another club. Given the injuries to Arrieta and Parker's struggles, my money would be on him making the club, even if he pitches so-so.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I have a feeling Cabrera will be gone, John. Just has never improved signifigantly over his time in the Cubs system.

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    I'm starting to believe the same. Of course, if his fastball doesn't get any better than what it was his first couple of outings, it won't matter if we lose him because he won't be able to be effective at 90-92. He is a guy that needs to throw 95-97 becuase hhis command is not good enough.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    I'm disappointed. Cabrera was really mowing them down as a starter in Tennessee or a time.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    It wouldn't shock me to see Cabrera find a niche in the majors sooner or later, but he just isn't good enough right now to warrant a roster spot, and since he is out of options he will probably be lost. He flashes plus stuff, but not consistently and his command is just not good enough on the days when his stuff isn't popping to get away with it.

    Wouldn't be surprised to see him bounce around to a couple of teams the next couple of years and then eventually have a couple of good years out of the pen for some team.

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    Rondon was once considered a top starting prospect, IIRC. Is the stuff good enough to consider sending him to Iowa to stretch him out?

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    He was a top SP prospect. Played in the Futures Game too IIRC. I think the numerous arm problem and all the time he has missed might preclude him from becoming a starter. Just might not be able to hold up in that role. He isn't as young as Vizcaino where spending a little time to streth him out might be worth it in the long run.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I'm not all that confident about Rodon starting given his injury history. His secondaries aren't as good as Vizcaino and his command isn't there either. If Rodon drops into the low 90s as a starter then I'm not sure he can be more than a #4 type.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    John, you've got to stop dropping the "n" in Rondon's name. Everytime I read Rodon as if he's pitching for the Cubs, it makes my heart stop...

  • In reply to Quedub:

    LOL! Maybe it's my subconscious at work.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I like the way your subconscious works!

  • The bullpen is such a fluid situation. This will probably be an annual overhaul. Though some years will be less than others. Who saw the total BP collapse we had last year coming?... Who saw Greg being our closer when opening day rolled around? You're lucky when you have a consistent performer year after year. Which IMO, makes guys like Mariano Rivera all the more special.

    Epstoyer is doing the smart thing by stockpiling these young power arms. Odds are, all of these and a dozen more will be involved in some shape or form over the next couple of seasons.

    I still think Vizcaino can be a TOR SP. maybe not a #1, but a solid #2 anyways. Obviously, that won't happen before 2015/2016. Rondon is another possibility, but again not before 2015. They have to prove they can stay healthy first. Also, for Rondon, he has to prove his C/U (his 3rd pitch) can be average or better. This is where another year under Bosio will help. We all know about that FB. It helps that he has the bulldog mindset and wants to attack hitters with that FB. His Slider (looks more like a Slurve to me) really took off in the 2nd half last season. Maybe that's because his FB got even better too, IDK.... but the potential is there for both of these guys.

  • Derrick Goold ‏@dgoold 1m
    Initial estimates off. #Cardinals get Diaz for four-year, $8 million contract. Update shortly: @STLtoday #stlcards

    Holy crap…I had seen rumors of him getting 4 years/$20M+. Effing Cardinals voodoo.

  • In reply to North Side Irish:

    That was the crown jewel of a very weak Cuban class this year?...

    All that tells me is there's more questions about his impact than answers. Lots of teams need near MLB ready SS's.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Alexander Guerrero, the guy the Dodgers gave $28 mil to, may not beat out Chone Figgins for the Dodgers 2B job......that's pretty bad:!zcBzr

    Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, the Phillie's $12 mil signing, has been a disaster.

    Yasiel Puig probably inflated everyone's view (and Soler), but the market is crashing down to earth. It's real difficult to evaluate talent in Serie Nacional. I am really curious to see how Abreu performs this year for the White Sox....

  • In reply to Zonk:

    I'm curious to see how Abreu does as well. Anyone have any reports from Sox camp? Obviously, i meant Diaz was the crown jewel after Abreu... he completely slipped my mind.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Wonder why the Cards would sign decent-hit, cant -field Jhonny Peralta for? This guy is likely better with the glove than Peralta is.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to mutant beast:

    Reports are that Diaz is not a very good SS, and is likely more of a 2B.

    The early reports on Alexander Guerrero of LAD are not good; he could be beaten out by the corpse of Chone Figgins. And Gonzalez, the pitcher the Phillies have signed, has been awful. It will be interesting to see how Abreu turns out

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    I think most scouts were pretty adamant that Diaz was destined for 2B and couldn't stick at SS... that would reduce the value of his bat somewhat. Also, he's below average power so you get a high BA and not much else with the guy...

    Didn't Peralta just sign for $50+ Mil, IIRC?.... If so, he's not going anywhere for a bit...

  • In reply to North Side Irish:

    It's a nice deal -- but it also makes you wonder why other teams wouldn't bid higher for a young middle infielder with starting potential. The Yankees, for example, could use a long term starting 2B. One scout told me he wasn't impressed with this year's class so maybe he was on to something.

  • I see the cubs pitching to start the season like this:Arrieta & Russell on DL with the starting pitchers: Shark,Wood,Jackson, Hammel & either(Mcdonald,Grimm,Jokisch,Ramirez,Rusin or Hendricks as the 5th starter). The bullpen should be:Veras,Strop, Wright (even though he has looked bad) Rondon,Parker,Cabrera & Villanueva.

    So they will have lots of decisions to make in May & June. I could see Russell & Cabrera being on the trade block along with Villanueva Hammel & maybe Jackson.

  • In reply to bleachercreature:

    Why do people keep mentioning Hendricks as a possibility? You do realize that he'd need every possible star in the universe to align just perfectly for him to even sniff a MLB start before the deadline, don't you? I'm not banking on 5 guys going down to injury just yet.

    Also Arrieta is throwing off a mound, so it's not a given that he's not in the rotation to begin the season. Though he could miss a start or two, in which case Villanueva has proven to be able to fill in adequately.

    Grimm is being transitioned to the BP, even though they told him to show up to St ready/able to start.

    I'm worried about Cabrera's roster spot. He hasn't looked sharp yet, but he's not likely to clear waivers either so he may be gone. One of the negative realities of having depth all across the 40 man is we're going to lose some fringe/role players aka Brooks Raley & Marshall, etc... It'd be nice if we could package a few of those fringe guys up for a high level prospect... but that's just not how it works in reality...

  • John, which fairly young non-roster players with some value might go to AAA

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Well Baez is a non roster guy who will begin in Iowa. Beyond him, there is Ryan Kalish and Rubi Silva in the OF. Jae-Hoon Ha can play MLB caliber defense, but probably won't hit enough. For the pitching staff: Hendricks, Hatley, maybe a guy like Pimentel could be a middle relief candidate at some point.

    Just about everyone else who matters at Iowa is on the 40 man.

  • I see Bonafacio getting another start @ SS and batting lead-off.

    He's making some of the final spots on the 25-man awfully intriguing. I wonder if Renteria is going to go with 12 or 13 pitchers.

  • At the time he was drafted, I had heard reports that the Cubs viewed Rondon long term as a starter, and hoped to treat him as the Braves treated Smoltz after his injuries, (and how they may be treating Vizcaino) by using him as a reliever for a couple of years, and then returning him to starting. It also worked for Dempster, and may become a standard process for TJ surgery survivors.

    If Rondon is doing well in spring training, but is returned to Iowa anyway, I suspect it will be with the goal of converting him to a starter. And I wouldn't be surprised if they also try to continue Rivero as a starter.

    Just as you don't want to move someone from shortstop to another position until you have to, you probably want anyone with a possible shot at it to continue as a starter. A #3 starter is probably worth more in trade than any non-closer reliever.

    As mentioned above, Rondon, when with Cleveland, was considered to have all the tools and pitches to be excellent starter. And there are a lot of TJ pitchers who were able to come back as a starter effectively.

  • What is Jokisch's ceiling? Can he be similiar to Mark Buehrle?

  • In reply to JeremyR:

    He's not that good. He's actually a lot like Rusin. Rusin has the better slider and Jokisch has the better change.

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