We have seen the rotation options and the depth the Cubs have compiled over the course of this season, but this front office apparently wasn't quite satisfied. Perhaps the old adage that "You can never have enough pitching" applies. Perhaps it was just opportunity. It's probably both.
It started with the Dan Straily acquisition, though he was considered more of a throw in to help the Cubs depth and to even out the roster exchange at the time. Since then he has pitched extremely well and has put himself in the picture to compete for a spot. The Cubs followed up over the next 30 days with the acquisitions of LHP Felix Doubront and RHP Jacob Turner, Both were acquisitions of opportunity, talented former prospects who have exhausted the patience of their former organizations. The Cubs picked them both up at low cost (though the compensation for Doubront has yet to be determined) with the hopes that a new environment and a fresh pair of eyes can help them reach the potential many observers think they have.
Straily burst on the scene in 2012. He basically came out of nowhere. He was a 24th round pick who signed for $12,500. There is nothing that stands out about Straily. He's a 4 pitch guy with average command and control. He gets some swings and misses with his slider, which he uses primarily vs. RH hitters and has an effective change that has some tail to it, making it a useful weapon vs. LH hitters. He uses the 4 seam FB as his primary pitch but he also features a 2 seamer, neither is more than an average pitch at best, though he does generate more swings and misses from the 2 seamer, so perhaps there is greater potential there. He is durable and he does hold his velocity late into games, so there is potential for an innings eater if he can throw strikes and work efficiently. Perhaps Chris Bosio could add a wrinkle somewhere and find a way to keep hitters from sitting on his fastball, but until then he looks a lot like a 5th starter and with the Cubs having a few pitchers fitting that profile, he could find himself as the 6th man.
Doubront pitched last night and like Straily, he has a high 80s/low 90s fastball and a full repertoire (Fastball, Change, Curve, Cutter). The curve is an effective pitch, one that he uses against lefties and he uses his good change and a cutter to combat RH hitters. The change is more effective, more of a swing and miss type while the cutter is one he uses to try to draw weak contact.
If there is criticism of Doubront, it's that he doesn't always trust his stuff and starts to nibble and either starts walking hitters or falls behind and then has to come in with his fastball and gets hit hard. Bosio's task here is to get Doubront to attack the strike zone so that he can limit getting himself into fastball counts.
Doubront is basically a bottom of the rotation type who has the ceiling of a 4 starter considering his stuff and command. The Red Sox had him in the bullpen where he could potentially be very effective because he can use his curve to neutralize lefties, but he definitely has the profile to start. He will get a second chance with the Cubs.
Turner is perhaps the biggest enigma of the three mentioned so far. The Marlins have developed talented pitchers in the past but they have been unable to get Turner over the hump. He has the best fastball of the group, working in the 92-95 range and maxing around 97 mph, but curiously doesn't get many swings and misses from it. The two-seamer may be the better pitch as he is able to generate groundballs consistently, something that should play well at Wrigley, especially on a Cubs team with a good infield defense.
Turner's primary breaking pitch as a prospect was a 12 to 6 curve but he has favored a slider of late, which has been an effective pitch for him this year, generating more swings and misses and weak contact than his other offerings. On the other hand, his curveball was a tough pitch for hitters in 2013, though he has more trouble throwing it for strikes.
There's been some bad luck with Turner this year as he has yielded a .368 BABIP despite a line drive rate that has remained constant. His groundball rate has increased however and perhaps that number should go down with the Cubs infield. The strand rate has been unusually low as well at 64%.
The Cubs believe they saw something with Turner that they can tweak and it will be interesting to see what that is. We will follow the pitch usage and movement to see whether that is a change they want to make to his overall approach or to an individual pitch. It's also possible he's tipping off pitches or is easy to pick up when it comes to his delivery (which might explain why his good fastball is so hittable).
It's difficult to project where Turner fits in a rotation but my guess is his ceiling right now is more mid-rotation than top of the rotation while his floor would be a bullpen arm. In that role he could increase his velo and perhaps make that fastball a little tougher to hit. Bosio will need to work his magic here and see if he can get Turner to get his results to match his stuff. If so, the Cubs will have themselves a steal and be one starting pitcher closer to filling out the rotation.
Jokisch isn't a newcomer but he is definitely on the outside looking in because at this point he lacks a roster spot. Jokisch is cut along the lines of Chris Rusin and Brooks Raley in that he complements an average fastball (88-91) with a very good change-up, in Jokisch's case it is a circle change, notable in that it will break down and away from opposite hand hitters.
Because of that pitch, Jokisch projects more as a starter than a reliever because he is able to work with 3 pitches effectively and with good command. He can attack lefties with the breaking ball and righties with the circle change. He can work inside and out to either side hitter, setting up hitters to either chase or make weak contact on pitches off the outside corner.
He's a fifth starter type but this rotation will be tough to break, especially if the Cubs acquire a starter from outside the organization this offseason.
Jokisch is rule 5 eligible, posing an interesting dilemma for the Cubs. He isn't a high ceiling guy but he is productive at the highest minor league level and he is lefty. It seems certain the Cubs will lose him if they leave him unprotected. Given that they have openly said they like Jokisch and have protected lefties like Jeff Beliveau, Brooks Raley, Chris Rusin, and Zac Rosscup in recent years, it seems like a pretty good bet they will protect Jokisch despite the deeper roster. The guess here is that he will stay within the organization and provide depth in AAA, but that will depend on how well the other pitchers we've talked about the last two days work out.
- Pierce Johnson is making progress in the 2nd half and has a shot to open next season in AAA but given his low innings count, he may not be of much help late in the season when we expect he would be ready.
- CJ Edwards is in the same boat though he hasn't made the same kind of progress. I consider him behind Johnson in terms of proximity to the major leagues.