We’ve all seen this question get asked in some iteration or another. The Cubs have prospect bats in spades, their position player minor league talent list is obscene. But, who’s gonna pitch tho? With Jeff Samardzija gone there seems to be a lack of pitching both at the major league level and in the minor leagues. Let’s review the arms I deem worthy of reviewing and see if that’s the case.
Jake Arrieta – He’s been magnificent for the Cubs so far. Heading into his start on Friday Arrieta has a 28.3 percent strikeout rate to a 6.8 percent walk rate in 70.2 innings of work. On Friday he showcased the entire arsenal and pitched a solid and efficient game using a deep mix of fastball/sinker-slider-curveball. He got 8 whiffs on the slider and showcased a huge part of why he’s been so successful in 2014. Command and inconsistency has been an issue in the past; he’s going to have to repeat his mechanics and remain consistent with his command and pith mix this year. He’s using his slider a ton this year which is concerning with pitchers going down with the frequency they’ve been going down in 2014.
Can he pitch tho? I’m going to open this up with a caveat, all pitchers are injury risks and that will hold true throughout this write up. He has a changeup he shows every so often, I’d like to see a bit more than that and more emphasis on the sinker. That said, yeah I think he’s in the rotation when the Cubs are ready to compete.
Travis Wood – Ah Travis, darling of 2013 and enigma of 2014. He’s added strikeouts, walks and hits to his rate numbers. He has a really weird home/road split as he’s almost 3 runs better at home than he is on the road. He has a 6.05 ERA on the road and a 3.08 ERA at home. That’s, weird. Wood survives on pitch location and sequencing. He’s a high 4 starter that can give you solid 3 performance for long stretches when he’s right. I’ve touted Wood along with Jose Quintana and Mark Buehrle as pitching savants. Wood still has that in him, and unfortunately his profile is prone to years like this one.
Can he pitch tho – Yes, and I do believe he rights the ship and is on the next Cubs contender. Wood is athletic, fields his position, and he can handle the bat. That’s valuable in the NL and it only augments his value. He can pitch, you guys.
Edwin Jackson – Edwin has been a FIP darling since putting on a Cubs uniform. The peripheral numbers say that he should be much better than this, but he isn’t. Jackson’s contract looks as bad in year two as it did in year one. The stuff is there, but the command has left him and he’s getting hit now. Whatever the reason, it’s just not working with Jackson.
Can he pitch tho – Yes, but I doubt he’s on the next Cubs contender. Jed Hoyer and company seem to like the command/control profile a lot and Jackson doesn’t fit that mold. On the other hand, I didn't think Juan Uribe would win two rings as a starting shortstop and I thought Barry Zito would never be relevant in a Giants uniform in the playoffs. Oops.
Dallas Beeler – You’re going to notice a similar type when reading through these blurbs. The Cubs seem to have a style in pitcher that they actively scout out and pursue. Beeler is a command control type guy who can locate and if you squint and forget what Roy Halladay’s stuff looks like he kinda sorta looks like Roy Halladay from a delivery / arm slot perspective. The Halladay comp is beyond unfair to the kid, so let’s move past that and concentrate on who Beeler is. I think he’s a fringe guy with a 4 starter ceiling. He doesn’t have an out pitch, a true swing and miss offering that he can go to when he’s in trouble. He has a nice skillset, one that can play at the major league level, but ultimately he relies on people getting themselves out.
Can he pitch tho? Yeah a little bit. I don’t think he’s in the rotation when the Cubs are competing but he’ll have a major league career of some sort.
Tsuyoshi Wada – The first I heard of Wada he was reported to have a baseball in the 88 MPH range and possess a, you guessed it, command and control profile. He’s a short lefty who popped 92 a few times in his July 8 start against the Reds. He throws the kitchen sink out there, his slider is ok, the curve is meh and he does have a good change which is vital for a lefty. Ultimately, his handedness will buy him looks but he’s fringe for me.
Can he pitch tho – Might be an up and down guy for a first division team. Doesn’t have bullpen stuff, he’s a fringe 5 starter for me. I don’t think he’s in the Cubs rotation when they plan to win.
Kyle Hendricks – Probably the most interesting guy of the recent pitcher call ups, Kyle Hendricks debuted with a shaky 1st inning where he walked two batters on eight straight pitches. He gave up three runs in the first and then settled in, showing a fastball-cambio combo that shows promise of working at the major league level. He hasn’t impressed like Beeler did stats wise, but I think Hendricks has the higher ceiling and might be the better pitcher. Oh, and Bosio loves him. I’m trusting that guy when it comes to pitchers.
Can he pitch tho – I think he can. He’s got a lot of things to work out and we’ll get a real look at him when he gets a run of starts as an audition at the major league level. I don’t know if he’s on the next Cubs contender. If his breaking ball comes around that gives him a solid 4 pitch mix of Fastball Cambio Cutter Curveball. That’s a starting pitcher starter kit.
Dan Straily – We’ve seen this profile before, I think. Slider reliant pitcher with command issues who tends to leave the ball up and get tagged for long balls sounds like a very familiar case. In any event Straily has a four pitch mix and gets overly reliant on his slider. He’s in AAA right now trying to sort his issues out. He has the stuff to be a starter but it all goes back to his command issues.
Can he pitch tho – I mean, he has good stuff, but his tendency to leave fat pitches in hittable zones is a concern, to say the least. Straily will need to cull his homer tendencies to survive at the Major League level. Bosio has worked wonders with pitchers like Straily in the recent past (see Arrieta, Jake), but it’s unfair to expect everyone to be a success story. I don’t think he’s on the next Cubs winner.
Chris Rusin – I…look. He had a minor league no hitter and it was cool and all, but he’s not a bat misser and he gets hit. A lot. And hard.
Can he pitch tho – No.
Jen-Ho Tseng – Tseng is my favorite Cubs pitching prospect. He’s got a solid, 6’3 frame with square shoulders and a lower half that can add some good weight. There’s not much projection in the body but there’s enough to envision a starting pitcher body. He uses a ¾ delivery with some drop and drive in the lower half. Tseng features a fastball that’s 92-94 with some life, a good breaking ball that has 10-4 movement and a changeup that can develop into a major league average offering. He’s 19 and has a refined approach to pitching. I’ve seen him move the ball around all quadrants of the zone and I’ve seen him pitch backwards and out of trouble. He had an arm scare this year, so the risk is real but I REALLY like Tseng.
Can he pitch tho – Yes. God yes. Look, there will be some developmental pitfalls and his arm might fall off and we’ll never hear from him again but that’s just about all pitchers. Development isn’t linear and he’s very far away from being a major league contributor but I believe in Tseng.
CJ Edwards – Arguably the Cubs’ best pitching heading into the year, Edwards has been dealing with shoulder issues and is close to returning from them. Even so, the question marks about his frame and his ability to handle the workload have gone unanswered as of yet. He’s got a big fastball and a good curve, but he has yet to really showcase it for a full season.
Can he pitch tho – Yes, but probably as a mid rotation starter/reliever at this point. Shoulders are a legitimate scare. He has big stuff but he has to survive a starters workload for him to be legitimately considered a rotation piece of the future. He’s got the stuff, but I want to see more development from him.
Pierce Johnson – From a mechanics standpoint Johnson is a bit of a throwback. He has a full wind up and a high leg kick to go along with a ¾ delivery that looks straight out of the 80’s. Johnson has a straight fastball that he commands well to go along with a slurvy breaker and a change that I only saw twice. The new development with him is a cutter that flashed plus against Beloit. That’s a solid 4 pitch mix with command on all of his pitches.
Can he pitch tho – Yes, but he’s likely a 4 who can be like Travis Wood in that sometimes Johnson can look like a mid rotation guy. There’s not a lot of major league swig and miss stuff here, but if he’s commanding the strike zone and utilizing his stuff properly dude can fool you into thinking he’s something more. Pierce Johnson is a player.
Duane Underwood – Underwood is turning in a solid season for Kane County this year. He’s a 6’2 20 year old who has a good fastball, a promising curve and a good changeup. I’ve yet to put eyes on him this year but I’ve heard good things from people who have. Risk is extreme here.
Can he pitch tho – He’s showing a lot of positive signs this year. It’s way too early in his development to tell honestly. There’s a lot of risk and unknown with him. I’m going to waffle here and give you the lone maybe.
Paul Blackburn – Blackburn worked in the 88-91 MPH range when I saw him. Fastball had some run on it and he commands it well. He also has a loopy curve ball and flashed a decent changeup. The arm slot and spin are there for the curve to get better. Doesn’t mean that it will but it could. He’s got a limited ceiling as he’s another number 4 type with good command.
Can he pitch tho – I think it’s realistic that he’s a tweener pitcher, a guy who’s up and down and fills in when you need a spot starter. He has a 4 ceiling and a lot has to go right for him to get there. I don’t think he’s on the Cubs when they contend, but he’s a pretty solid prospect in all honesty. He’s just not a great one.
Daury Torrez – This is a tough one to figure. Daury Torrez is a tall, skinny Dominican with a good fastball, a solid change and a developing, sweeping breaking ball. He works out of a low ¾ delivery. The fastball operates in the mid 90’s and it has some life to it, but the command isn’t there. I suspect that he’s learning control right now and just throwing strikes as they are working on his command throughout the year. The fastball flashed some nice fade and it work well in tandem with the fastball. The curveball is a work in progress, it’s a show me pitch at this point but if he makes some tweaks it can be a major league average pitch.
Can he pitch tho – It depends on a few factors. Torrez is very far away both in age and development. If he starts to hit the black with his 94 mph fastball that has some nice wiggle to it, everything plays up. If he can similarly pitch through his breaking ball better, he’s a major league starter. Those are big ifs though. I think he can pitch, I think he has an outside shot at being on the Cubs when they’re winning. Might be as a reliever, though.
Rob Zastryzny – I saw Zastryzny in a backfields game during spring training where he took advantage of inexperienced hitters. He showed a solid fastball-change tandem and an ok breaking ball that looked like it wanted to be more. He’s had his issues at High A Daytona. The strikeouts are there but he’s getting hit a lot. I liked the velo (92 MPH) and life he showed on his fastball in the spring, but without much of a curve (it only flashed) it becomes difficult to turn over lineups efficiently. I don’t know if that’s the case in High A but I speculate that it might be.
Can he pitch tho – He’s 22 and he’s shown some promise. It’s unlikely that he makes it as a reliever as his second best pitch is the change and well, I can’t think of many fastball-changeup relievers. Can you? He has the arm slot for the curve to get better. It all depends on that pitch for him. I’m giving him an outside chance, but it’s unlikely he’s in the Cubs rotation when they’re ready.
Corey Black – He’s a short right hander with a high effort delivery and a really good fastball. He’s got a curve and a slider and has been known to drop a change from time to time. Considering the frame, the delivery and the repertoire, I think we know where this is going.
Can he pitch tho – Black has had a really good season this year, but I think he’s a reliever. He’ll get to the major leagues, but his ceiling is limited.
Tyler Skulina – Ahhh Skulina. I kinda pumped Skulina up in the preseason based on size and reports out of instructs. I was wrong here. Skulina has a starting pitcher frame. He’s 6’5 and listed at 255 lbs. It makes his 88 MPH fastball very unsatisfying. He leaks energy all throughout his delivery and does not maximize his size. He’s got bad command, a nothing fastball and the breaking pitches are pedestrian at best.
Can he pitch tho – No.
Jake Stinnett – Didn’t add the draftees here, haven’t seen enough of them to give you a reasonable assessment on their abilities. Stinnett is a name that people keep telling me to remember, though. He outdueled Carlos Rodon in college when they faced each other. He has a heavy fastball and works in the low to mid 90’s which works well off his slider.
Can he pitch tho – Don’t know.
So, what’s the Cubs rotation look like in my mind’s eye? That’s a question that has different answers depending on what time frame you’re asking about. I can see:
1 – Open
2 – Jake Arrieta
3 – Travis Wood
4 – Edwin Jackson
5 – Kyle Hendricks
For next year, pending what they decide to do before the break. Down the line? Who knows. I can only tell you who I think will make it to the major leagues and a loose estimate of their ETAs. The Cubs do not have an ace in the making in their system. Not a lot of teams do. They don’t have a solid #2 in the making in their system. Again, not a lot of teams do. What they have is equity. As a front office they’ve shown an ability to acquire pitching and return value on said pitching with a relatively high degree of success.
This isn’t to assume that they’ll just go out there and find an ace, that’s an irresponsible assumption. Rather, what I’m saying is that I trust Jed Hoyer and company to find a solid top of the rotation arm and acquire it however they see fit. This is the hard part. This is where self-scouting comes into play and they’ll have to be right in who they trade away over the next few years.
But, they have options. Both internally and externally.
Filed under: Analysis