What makes a #1 starter? Looking at top Cubs pitchers through a scouting lens

A lot of times you’ll hear me refer to pitchers as a #1 or a #2.  Or maybe “mid-rotation” or “bottom of the rotation”.  Sometimes we don’t think a pitcher can be a starter at all, saying they’re likely to end up in the bullpen.  What’s the difference?  Where do I draw these lines?

Well, scouts have a system they use for determining where a pitcher slots in a big league rotation.  There are parameters for what they call a #1 starter all the way down to the bottom of the rotation and bullpen arms.  It isn’t arbitrary, though it can be somewhat subjective.

For example, a #1 starter is defined as the following…

  • Two plus pitches
  • A third MLB average pitch
  • Plus-Plus Command
  • Plus Makeup

There are intangibles that factor in as well, such as durability. You can see where someone like Greg Maddux once ranked well in each category, but what about current Cubs pitchers?  How do they measure up?

Let’s look at some Cubs pitchers.  I’ll weigh in on the different criteria and give a verdict as to the pitcher’s ceiling.

Matt Garza

  • Two plus Pitches?  Yes.  Both Garza’s fastball and slider rank as plus MLB pitches.
  • Avg 3rd pitch? Yes.  Garza has an MLB average curveball.  His change,however, is a bit below MLB average.
  • Plus-Plus Command? No. Garza has average to slightly above average command.
  • Plus Makeup? No. He’s getting there, but Garza’s makeup was once a concern.  I’d call it average now but he continues to mature.

Verdict:  The lack of plus-plus command and makeup drop him to a solid #2 when healthy.

Jeff Samardzija

  • Two plus pitches? Yes. Samardzija averages 95 mph and reaches 98 on his fastball.  His split-finger is flat out nasty.
  • Avg. 3rd pitch? Yes. His slider is at least average. In fact, sometimes it’s a plus pitch, at other times he struggles with it. Overall we can call it average.
  • Plus-Plus Command? No.  He has worked hard to make it average, however, and he still has room to improve.
  • Plus Makeup? Yes. He has great mound presence and is a fierce competitor on the mound.

Verdict: Another solid #2.  Only the lack of plus-plus command is holding him back from being a true ace.  On the occasions he does have plus command, he has looked very much like a #1 starter.

Now let’s look at their 5 top pitching prospects…

Arodys Vizcaino

  • Two plus pitches? Yes. Vizcaino has a plus fastball (94-97) and a hammer curve.  His change isn’t too far off from being a plus pitch as well.
  • Avg. 3rd pitch? Yes.  See above regarding change.
  • Plus-Plus Command? No, but the potential is there.  He commands his curve extremely well. Also remains to be seen how it holds up after TJ surgery.  I’m being conservative for now.
  • Plus Makeup? Yes. Vizcaino is a hard worker and has an intelligent approach on the mound.

Verdict: A solid #2 but he will look like an ace at times if he can stay healthy and regain his plus command. Those are big IFs however.  Durability may hinder his ability to stay in the rotation.  If he doesn’t, he immediately becomes the Cubs top closer prospect.

Juan Paniagua

  • Two plus pitches? Yes. Paniagua has easy mid 90s heat that peaks around 97.  His slider is a second plus pitch.
  • Avg. 3rd pitch? No. His change right now is below average but he’d flashed a decent one in the past.
  • Plus-Plus command? No, but the potential is there. His athleticism allows him to repeat a very clean delivery. It bodes well for having at least plus command down the road.
  • Plus Makeup? You have to question a guy who has had identity fraud issues, but there doesn’t seem to be concern in that area from the Cubs. We’ll call it average for now until we learn more about him.

Verdict: Right now I’d say he can be a good #3 unless he develops that change but can be more because of the potential to have very good command. If he doesn’t develop the change, he could even end up being a closer.

Pierce Johnson

  • Two plus pitches? Yes. Johnson has the potential for a plus fastball (91-95) and his power curve is his best pitch.
  • Avg. 3rd pitch? Yes. He has a good feel for change and it projects as an MLB average pitch.
  • Plus-Plus command? No. But it has a chance to be above average.
  • Plus Makeup? Yes. Johnson has a good approach and is a tough competitor.

Verdict: Johnson has the ceiling of a #2 starter if he can stay healthy but I think more likely he ends up as a mid-rotation guy.

Dillon Maples

  • Two plus pitches? Yes.  Maples rivals Vizcaino among Cubs pitching prospects for the best 1-2 combo right now with his mid to high 90s fastball and a wipeout curve.
  • Avg. 3rd pitch? No.  Maples change is a work in progress.
  • Plus-Plus command? No. Not even close right now.  He’ll have to work to just make it average.  His delivery may need some tweaking.
  • Plus Makeup? Yes. Maples has an aggressive mentality on the mound.

Verdict: Maples has a #2 ceiling but command issues may relegate him to the bullpen.

Duane Underwood

  • Two plus pitches?  Yes. Well, sometimes.  Sometimes he has one.  Sometimes he has none. But the potential is definitely there with his fastball/curve combo.  His fastball is the best among the 3 pitchers the Cubs drafted early in 2012, having reached as high as 98 with movement.
  • Avg. 3rd pitch? Yes. Underwood already has a solid change for a high school kid and it could even become a plus pitch.
  • Plus-Plus Command? No.  But he’s very athletic and could even have been drafted as a hitter, so that has a chance to improve but probably will be closer to average than plus-plus.
  • Plus Makeup? Yes. He’s a very coachable kid but some reports say he tries to overthrow when he gets into trouble, so he may need to change his approach with men on base.

Verdict: Underwood potentially has the stuff of a #1 pitcher but probably won’t have the command.  He can be a #2 who can potentially dominate when he’s locating well.

Paul Blackburn

  • Two plus pitches: No.  Right now only Blackburn’s curve projects as a plus pitch, though it has a chance to be a very good offering.
  • Avg. 3rd pitch: Yes.  Both Blackburn’s fastball and change-up project as MLB average.
  • Plus-Plus command: No, but he has potential for at least plus command which will help him play his stuff up.
  • Plus Makeup?: Yes. Blackburn is intelligent with an advanced feel for pitching.

Verdict: He’s a #3 type pitcher who will rely on one good pitch, two average ones, plus command, and his feel for pitching.

Conversion Candidate: Alberto Cabrera

  • Two plus pitches? Yes. Cabrera can reach 97 with his fastball with good movement.  His slider also graded as a slightly above average pitch.
  • Avg. 3rd pitch? Yes. Surprisingly.  He didn’t use it much but Cabrera flashed an average change.
  • Plus-Plus command: No, though he made big strides with it in AA.  It has a chance to be average.
  • Plus Makeup? No.  Cabrera has average makeup.

Verdict:  He has the ceiling of a #3 starter if he can develop average command.  Inconsistency with his slider makes it a slightly above average pitch overall.  It may be more accurate to say Cabrera has one plus pitch with two average pitches, but he does show 2 plus pitches on occasion.

Tomorrow: Closer candidates

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  • If Underwood is as coachable as it appears, he should learn to take a little off rather than throw a little harder when he's in a jam. Better location of his pitches is far more important than velocity, particularly when the hitter is sitting dead-red, looking for his fastball. If his normal fastball is 94, he should expect a poorly-located fastball at 96 to travel a long way. If he drops it to 92, the batter will either be out in front of the pitch and foul it off or miss it completely.

  • In reply to cubsin:

    Yes, I agree but I think he'll learn that eventually as he matures. He was still 17 for much of the time, so he's a kid and something they think they can there way out of jams by blowing the ball past hitters. I've seen McNutt do that in the past too.

  • I was mixed when the Garza trade went down (Lee was too much) but so far each team should be content with the outcome. But I have become a big fan of Matt, I really like his humor, chearleading, and his growing leadership, along with his on field performance (except his fielding). What scares the heck out of me is his health. Is their a senerio where the Cubs let him walk at the end of the year if he is unhealthy at the trade deadline (like this year) or does not pitch up to his capabilities where Cubs don't get fair market trade value? In these senerio's would each side be open to a friendly 3-4 year 10-12 mil a year contract?

  • In reply to Rock:

    There is no chance that Garza would accept that offer if healthy, and if not healthy there is no chance the Cubs would offer that deal.

    Garza will command much more than $10-$12M if he gets to free agency. I would say $15M per year is a more likely starting point, with the chance that just one team would go much higher.

    If the Cubs want to keep him (I don't think they will get the kind of return they would need to trade him) they need to extend him as soon as they think he is back to 100%, and use a large signing bonus and evenly distributed salaries to keep from his contract being bad down the road.

    My guess is 5 years @ $15M, would be where to start off or $75M. Pay $15M up front and in 2013's payroll, then salaries of $12M per year for 2014-2018. This would be structured team friendly, as there won't be hugh salaries at the end and will make it very tradeable down the road if needed.

  • In reply to Rock:

    I really like Matt Garza and how far he's come as a pitcher. This was Garza's first major injury so I'm hoping it was just a fluke. He seems healthy again based on recent news. I think if he does struggle, he'll be open to a team friendly deal, though I'm not sure he'd take as low as 10M. We'll see how the year goes.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Agreed, John. Let's see how the season starts and I believe both sides will do just that.

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    This type of article is the reason why Cubs den is the single best Cubs blog on the net! So informative and down to earth.

    If even two or three of the pitchers on this list reach their ceilings I will consider it a success. This list shows how far we've come, most of the names werent even here a year ago and we figure to add more in the near future and finally build those "waves"

    Wave 1: Shark, Cabrera, Panigua, Vizcaino
    Wave 2: Johnson, Maples, Wells, Blackburn
    Wave 3: Underwood, Stanek/Appel, other 2013 picks

    John, if Ben Wells regains the velocity we saw from him last spring and Starling Peralta(sp) develops a starters repetiore what would their assessments be on this type of list?

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    As I was reading this article, Marcel, I was having the same thoughts about how articles like this one set Cubs Den head and shoulders above other baseball blogs in general. Thanks John for a well written and informative article. Look forward to the next one.

  • In reply to Moonlight:

    Thanks Moonlight! Your words (and Marcel's) were a great thing to wake up to this morning!

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    Wow Marcel! Thanks! As I was writing this I was hoping it was something people would like to read about. Was just realizing I throw these terms around and Ive never really defined what I meant :). So thanks for that feedback, I'll write more articles from this kind of perspective in the future.

    I'd rank Wells when healthy above Peralta. Two plus pitches (FB, Slider), avg. 3rd (the change was getting there), command is advanced for his age so nice potential there and his makeup is solid.

    Peralta needs a 3rd pitch right now and better command. I think reliever is still more likely with him, but there's time.

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    Appel would probably be a wave 2 guy , JMO .

  • In reply to Bryan Craven:

    I thought about adding Appel, but there's so much time right now. Stanek could emerge as could Manaea. But if it is Appel and he improves on his last season than I'd say he could be up as soon as 2014, which would put him firmly in that 2nd wave.

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    The most important element to sustained success is top-flight starting pitching, IMO. Get 3 stud starters, and you have the foundation you need. The Giants are Buster Posey, 3 stud starters, and every other player is complementary.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Agreed an no team has proved that more than the Giants of late. The last generation it was the Braves. They only won the WS once but they were legit WS contenders for about a decade.

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Watch Sandoval on a regular basis and you'll include him in that group.

  • John, to echo the chorus, you really help raise the level of discourse with this type of value-added work.

    Most Cub blogs devolve into a mess of ridiculous personnel ideas and name-calling among participants. This place really stands out.
    John & Co. , you really provide a nice refuge for SERIOUS Cub fans who are looking to broaden their baseball knowledge.

  • In reply to Carl9730:

    Thank you! I really do appreciate how readers sustain a high level of discourse and enhance the article with either great additional thoughts or great questions. I receive many emails on how people really like our comments section.

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    John. Might be a dumb question but how exactly do you define Pitching Makeup? Knowledge of when to throw what? Stuff like that?

  • In reply to Demarrer:

    That's actually a very good question. Makeup is a broad term that encompasses all those things you mention. It's work ethic, competitiveness, coachability, intelligence, emotional stability and that often translates to one's approach and presence on the mound. Maddux is the prototype because he scores high on all of that. To use recent examples of talented Cubs pitchers who didn't, we can look at Zambrano and Volstad. There's a reason these guys have plus stuff but never quite lived up to expectations. And not sure if you remember Ben Christensen, a former 1st round pick of the Cubs. Nobody defined great stuff and horrific makeup better than he did.

    If you think about it, if you have all the intelligence and work ethic in the world, but lose you cool when things get tough, it costs you. If you have a great arm out of high school but don't put in the time and effort to learn your secondaries or work on your command, you probably won't make it out of the minors. Likewise, if you have great stuff but are stubborn about learning how to use it properly (or just don't have the aptitude to apply coaching), then it negates that natural, physical ability. Which reminds me...Once heard a scout say about a certain pitcher: "Million dollar account, but doesn't know how to write a check."

  • I think Samardzija could be a no. 1 for the next half decade or more. He just has that 'I can do this' mentality and the frame to go with it.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    If Shark takes that next step and closes in on being a #1 then the Cubs need to extend a Healthy Garza , assuming He throws like pre injury.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Agreed. He absolutely has the makeup of a #1 starter. The only question is plus-plus command. If you look at his raw stuff, it's as good as any pitcher in the game but guys like Verlander can put it exactly where they want to with remarkable consistency. If Samardzija can take another leap with his command, then it's possible he can be a #1. As it is, he can still be the ace of the Cubs staff with what he has now.

  • The biggest thing that Samrdzija has going for him is the change of attitude he's brought to the mound. You really began to see it in the 2nd half of '11.

    Unfortunately, I get a real sense that Vizcaino will end up in the pen , which isn't the end of the world but it'd be nice to get 200 innings out of him.

  • In reply to Carl9730:

    He has a great mentality and has developed a real presence up there. He can be intimidating when he's on. Can't forget the command and how much that's improved too.

    The bright side is that If Vizcaino ends up in the pen, he has the stuff, command, makeup to not just be a closer, but an elite one.

  • These kinds of pieces are the types I like to bookmark for future reference. Thanks, John!

  • In reply to cubbie steve:

    You're welcome! Will have 2 more similar to this piece coming in the near future. The next one is tomorrow on closers and the third will be Monday on 5 tool players.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Thank you, John, for putting so much thought and effort into everything that you so graciously share with us.

  • In reply to ifandorbut:

    I want echo that. I do not always comment and sometimes comment when have little to add, but I always read this blog. It has in fact improved my quality of life in retirement. I also would to note other contributions from the other bloggers and those who comment.

  • In reply to ifandorbut:

    My pleasure and thanks for the kind words. I'm glad that I have the kind of knowledgeable readership that appreciates the game the same way I do!

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    John, I agree with several posters here on how I really like this article. I consider myself decently knowledgeable about baseball but I'm definitely not well-versed on stuff like this -- some of the more technical but concrete scouting definitions, as well. I like how the article is in a sense a class in "Baseball 401" (as opposed to "Baseball 101") but then relates things back to the Cubs' situation. Definitely appreciate the variety in the articles here and I'm looking forward to the next similar pieces.

    Question for you - could you effectively trade some traits and still be a #1 in your book? For example, what if a guy has average control but three plus pitches, or perhaps only one plus pitch but it's really a plus-plus? Keep up the good work!

  • In reply to mosconml:

    Thank mosconml! I like that Baseball 401 analogy :) I feel like I can take that liberty here. And I think we're all such huge Cubs fans that it makes it so much easier to compare it with the guys we've watched for years.

    Great question and I wish I had more time and room to devote the response it deserves, but I'll do the best I can here...

    I think there's some wiggle room but I think plus-plus command is essential for a true ace. It's what separates the Verlanders from the pack. But I do think there is some interchangeability with regard to one's pitches. I'll give another Cub as an example. Mark Prior had an ace-like year in 2003 by locating his fastball with Maddux-like precision. His other pitchers were really just average (maybe a bit more), but his ability to locate his FB really set everything else up. It played up his secondaries and made them more effective than they would have been otherwise.

    If I had more room and time, it'd be fun to look at examples too of non-Cubs like Dwight Gooden and Kevin Brown, who were aces for brief periods and didn't exactly fit the mold. Gooden's command wasn't plus-plus (though it was good considering the incredible movement he had). Kevin Brown relied almost exclusively on one of the best 2-seamers in recent memory and when he commanded it well, as he did in 1998, he was a bona fide ace.

  • John, what is Vizcainos injury history? We know that he had Tommy John surgery, but have there been other injuries before that one? I thought that TJ was a fairly common procedure now and that most guys come back stronger than before surgery. Is there something other than TJ that puts a question mark on his durability?

  • In reply to Larry H:

    He had missed time with an injury to the same elbow a couple years prior to this injury but he didn't have TJ surgery. It's probably just an extension of the same injury so hopefully the TJ procedure fixes the problem for him.

  • Definitely looking forward to reading the rest of these scouting features. It's interesting that a lot of #2 pitchers can be aces of their staffs. I'd be interested to see if there were even 30 #1 guys in the majors. Samardzija I agree is a #2 right now, but if you look at his xFIP, it was in the top 15 of baseball which to me says he could be the ace of about 15 teams despite being a #2 talent (using xFIP may not be the best metric, but I think most will agree it's not a terrible one).

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    In reply to Andrew:

    I think we are all jumping the gun on Samardzija. Could he be a number 1 or a number 2? Absolutely, but it has only been one year. Obviously as a Cubs fan I am on the optimistic side here, but I want to see Jeff do it for another year before I proclaim him a top of the rotation starter when the Cubs are competing. I guess that is the pessimistic side of me being a Cubs fan. Everything is bad until it is consistently good.

  • In reply to Demarrer:

    You're right, but I can't help but be excited. That kind of year as his first real chance to be a fulltime starter just screams to me that it will only get better from here. Unless the Cubs get Anibal Sanchez or Greinke, Samardzija is the ace of this staff even though im guessing Garza will be the opening day starter (if he's healthy) because of seniority.

  • In reply to Demarrer:

    Agreed Demarrer. You have to be able to sustain success over a period of time to really be considered an ace. Some pitchers have been true #1s for only a year or two and then reverted to something less than that. (i.e. Mark Prior)

  • In reply to Andrew:

    Thanks Andrew. I do want to differentiate what I mean by #1, however. Samardzija could definitely be the #1 on quite a few teams, including the Cubs. But I'm referring to more of the scouting definition here and when you talk about "true" #1s, we're talking about just a handful of pitchers throughout baseball.

  • Also, kind of random question but what would your scouting report of Dempster been? He seems like an enigma because even when he was pitching like at least a #2 since 2008 (taking out 2011), he never seemed to have plus anything. My guess was that he had incredible makeup because he never lost his cool under pressure. If there is a "clutch" tool in baseball, my guess is Dempster has it, although I'll probably be disproved when I actually look at the stats.

  • In reply to Andrew:

    Dempster has one true plus pitch and that's his slider. His other pitches are average and his command is average, which makes him a #3 in my book. He did show plus command last year until he was traded and so you could say he was more than that in his partial season with the Cubs. Overall though, he's a #3.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I think we saw that reflected (about Dempster) in the playoffs with the Cubs. He fooled us into thinking he was a #2 or even #1 with the years he had, but when he got to the playoffs he just didn't have the pitches to put hitters away when it counted most.

  • In reply to TheFiveYearPlan:

    Yep. Or the command. He gets a lot of flak for not coming through under pressure, but the truth may be that he was put in a situation that was above his actual talent level.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    dont you think his performance in 33 regular season starts in 2008 is a better indicator of his talent than one postseason game? He had one bad game, but we all know that the playoffs are a crapshoot and how you do once youre is largely luck.

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    It's interesting that command is an issue for every one of these guys. (Maybe that's natural for top starters, since you can learn command but two plus pitches is just a gift from God.)

    It might explain why they grabbed Kyle Hendricks when they could -- start to get some guys with plus plus command in the organization, even if their ceiling isn't all that high.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    And Carreno too. Good command can make your stuff play up significantly.

  • Very rare where a team has a #1 starter in these times....there are 30 MLB teams.....hard to come up with 15 #1 starters ..........The Phillies has two of them in Lee & Halladay....with Hamels near as a #1......we have better hitters today, mound height is down, managers pulling pitchers earlier in games, pitch counts involved.......

    The game has changed when it comes to #1 starters due to the use of middle relievers, and set-up guys and the save man.

    What we have many #2 starters, but a few #1 starters.....best #1 starter in the game today....Felix Hernanadez.

    List of #1 starters in MLB today....

    F. Hernanadez
    J. Johnson...when healthy.

    For us older fans out there, think back in the late 70's of #1 starters...there were 26 teams back then.

    P. Niekro
    JR Richard
    G. Perry
    R. Jones

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    Hamels is definitely a #1

  • In reply to Andrew:

    Does not have the innings count, high career BAA, high career ERA, and not a good enough Win / Loss ration yet.

    Also, I look at CG and shut outs for a good #1 starter.

    Hamels need a few more years to show he can be a #1.

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    Agree. There are usually only a handful of true aces in any given year or generation. Nice list, too.

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    Great list. What about J. Weaver?

  • In reply to KSCubsFan:

    Weaver - Seven full years in the majors, only 11 CG, and 6 shut outs....Career ERA over 3.00.....pitched only 188 innings last year.....very good pitcher, but he needs to step it up.

    Ask me this question again in three years.

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    Felix has a career ERA over 3.00 for his career as well(including the last 2 seasons) and I'm certainly not going to debate his name on the list. ERA is overrated. The 188 innings was in only 30 starts. Weaver has had 3 very good years. Weaver's WHIP is significantly lower than Felix's over the last 3 years. I would prefer to have Felix, mostly because of age. (Although, Felix has more career mlb innings on his arm than Weaver.) However, I would argue they have to be considered on the same tier.

  • Love this piece, this is the kind of stuff you can't find anywhere

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    Thanks Tom!

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    did you forget matt cain? and before this year tim lincecum.

  • In reply to Matt Mills:

    Main Cain and Hamels are very strong #2 starters......Lincecum would have been consider if he did not have two bad years in a row.....I look at record, K's, IP's and quality starts.....injuries also play in factor.

  • In reply to Matt Mills:

    I know you're referring to Cubs Talk's list there but I personally don't really consider Cain an ace. He has that killer slider and a full repertoire of average to above average pitches. He can dominate at times because of his one dominant pitch and a good fastball, but I'd be more inclined to call him a #2.

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    I'm very excited for this list after the draft as well.

  • In reply to Matt Mills:

    Me too. The Cubs should get at least one more guy who's front of the rotation quality. Appel the closest to a #1 right now, but we'll see how the year goes.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    I know this is crazy, but I'm starting to think that one of the big 3 pitchers will distinguish himself and earn an all-expense paid trip to Houston. So the Cubs are left to choose between two college pitchers with huge question marks, or start to fill in another hole in the organization -- power hitting corner outfielders. (If you make a list for the Cubs you have Jorge Soler and, uh.... Rock Shoulders?) Meadows or Fraizier could fill that hole in pretty nicely.

  • From what i remember this past year, scouts said Appel could fit that #1 starter role for any team.

    A #1 starter has to be a guy who pitches into the 8th inning, throws shut outs, shows great command of his pitches. Stops team losing streaks with a well pitched game. Not only beats bad teams, but can beat the other team #1 starter in a pitching match up. Can both dominate and show intimidation on the other team's batters.

  • John, of all these qualities to be a #1, can any be coached? If so, which one(s) is the easiest to coach/developed in a player?

    Just curious as to which ones a scout might overlook a deficiency in. Simply put, on what order would you overlook a lacking in, or average ability in? You've said in other comments that plus-plus command is the most important to have. Can that be coached at all? Is t realistic to exect a pitcer with plus-plus command but three average pitches could develop three plus pitches, etc?

  • In reply to cubbie steve:

    Developing command is a combination of a lot of hard work, good coaching, and natural ability. You may have heard me say on a few occasions that athleticism is often a key to good command. The reason is that good athleticism makes it easier for a pitcher to repeat his delivery well, and repeating your delivery in turn translates to consistency with command and location. I don't think you can be completely taught to be a #1, you have to have a great deal of it in you from the start.

    With regard to the last question, I don't know if you read my response regarding Mark Prior, but for one year he showed that if you have one plus pitch you can command, you can play the other pitches up quite a bit. Prior was no slouch with his other pitches, they were at least MLB average when taken in isolation, but put the whole package together and they performed as plus pitches because of how he was able to set them up. You can certainly improve the quality of your secondaries, especially as a prospect, but you're also looking to improve the consistency and the command as you move up.

  • What a great article. Where else on the intrawebs can you go and find this kind of in-depth how-it-works kind of info. Nope, nowhere.

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    Thanks Carne! Can't tell you how much I appreciate that.

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    I know we can see what we talk about here back on "CCO" a day later.

  • Jim Riggleman, Blue Jays next manager is the rumor.

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    I think that's the better choice than the other rumored finalist, Jim Tracy. Good to see Rigs get another shot.

  • Just to make the A.L. East even more powerful division, Josh Hamilton is moving towards Baltimore.

    Mark Buehrle will not be able to bring his pitbull dog to Canada.

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    Is that for real on Hamilton? That's going to make things real interesting in the AL East. Wonder if it's a response to Toronto's moves.

    Wouldn't it be something if the Jays and O's topped that division with Yanks, Rays, and BoSox fighting for 3rd?

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    GM Dan Duquette cannot afford Hamilton to sign with the Yankees, and is pressing Hamilton to join the Orioles. Hamilton will sign with a team with a contract beyond five years, and Orioles are the ones willing to offer one.

    Hamilton wants out from Texas due how the front office treats him like a child.

    Do not be surprise if something big happens before Thursday.

  • I've been following the blog for about a year now, back when it used to be just John and Tom had the Cubs insider blog. Used to be cubs.com reader, but once I found this site there really was no point in having to go back. I've seen a couple of other blogs as well, but the thing that sets this blog above and beyond everyone else is your extensive knowledge of the minor leagues and prospect scouting notes. Just to echo what everyone else has said you don't get this type of information from any other site but the Den. Of course several of them address player profiles and prospect notes, but the information compiled into every player as well as the first-hand notes really does set this above every other site.

    It's gonna be really interesting seeing how some of these guys develop now that we have Derek Johnson. IIRC, he had a lot to do with preventing injuries and shoring up command problems, which in Maples case could be just what the Dr. ordered. Also Ryan McNeil isn't up there, and he probably isn't a front-line starter, but do you see him as #3 ceiling guy or more of a back-end guy?

  • In reply to Furiousjeff:

    Thanks Jeff for that wonderful feedback. I'm going to go back and read all these comments when I'm having a bad day!

    Great point about Derek Johnson as a guy who can shore up some of the weaknesses. There's certainly a pattern as to what needs to be addressed with pitching in this organization.

    McNeil is a tough guy to evaluate. He's still pretty raw and growing into his body. Most scouts seem to think he's a #3 type starter if he reaches his ceiling. Will have a heavy sinking fastball and a good slider if he develops as hoped. Change needs some work but that's no surprise at this stage of his development.

  • John, who makes your list of current true #1 pitchers in MLB? Also, who tops the list? Verlander tops my list. Which current player in the Cubs organization has the best chance of being a true #1? Samardzija?

  • In reply to KSCubsFan:

    Off the top of my head, I'd go with Velander, Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw, David Price, Cole Hamels, Greinke (I know that makeup is a question with some), Strasburg, maybe Wainwright, Johnson and Halladay when they're healthy. Can make an argument for Cliff Lee too.

    A few others close, maybe a 1.5.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I think you mentioned Weaver earlier. He's definitely a guy who's right there in that 1.5 range, for example.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Gotta add Sabathia to that list, right?

  • In reply to Eddie:

    Yes, I thought I had typed him in. Oversight. Thanks.

  • I just want to echo what these other guys are saying. This is the only Cubs blog that I check everyday.

  • In reply to KSCubsFan:

    Thanks for that KS!

  • I haven't as of yet seen a scouts breakdown on Appel but I would think he rates as a # 1 SP coming onto the MLB scene and hope the Cubs draft him,your thoughts John would be nice but maybe this will show up come the 2013 draft ?

  • In reply to TheRiot2:

    We had a breakdown here before the 2012 draft. One of our contributors, Kevin, has seen him personally and has talked with some scouts about him. Here's the piece...


    I think he has the pitches, command, and makeup to be a #1. Right now he's the only one that profiles that way to me in the draft. I think he throws too many changes at times. Maybe he's trying to develop it? But I'm hoping that if the Cubs get him that he'll go FB, slider for the most part and use the change as needed.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I don't completely disagree with what you about Appel but I am a big believe in both Stanek and Manaea. I think Manaea may end up being the better of the two in the end and Believe Manaea will be better then Appel in the end too. I have notes on Manaea from video over the Cape league but I am planning on making a trip to see him during the season.

  • In reply to WickitCub:

    That could well be, but right now there is less to project on Appel, you have to call that FB around a 70 on the scouting scale as of right now. That change is already above average and could end up being a second plus-plus pitch. If he tightens up the command and the curve, you've got yourself a #1.

    Both Manaea and Stanek have two plus pitches, but neither has a change that's as developed and both have a bit further to go with command. Thats not to say they can't catch or even pass him next year, but if the draft were held today, you'd have to take Appel.

    If they do catch him, I'd seriously lean toward taking either one of them over Appel for a number of reasons, one being the possible wear on Appel's arm and another being that you have to be wary of his signability.

  • Gotta say I'm surprised that durability questions aren't one of the scouting criteria for determining whether a guy is a #1 pitcher. IMO, a #1 starter pitches 200+ innings, season in and season out. Of course, you did say this was subjective.

  • In reply to Eddie:

    It's a factor, but it seems it's always added in later, When you scout amateurs and prospects, it's probably too early to determine whether a guy is going to be injury prone. And you can't always tell from their body type. Sometimes they're built like Halladay or Sabathia,sometimes they're built like Maddux.

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    I agree with everyone else, great post John. Very helpful. I'm looking forward to the next two.

  • In reply to Just Win:

    Thanks JW!

  • I can't say it any better than previous writers above : GREAT article, John.

    One more aspect of "makeup": how well can the #1 handle receiving little or no run support? He's always going to be matched up against the other team's top guy so there's a really good chance he'll throw a gem and have nothing to show for it. Remember Ryan Dempster this year : 5-5 with a 2.25 ERA (and a big chunk of that was from his last start as he was being pushed out the door). Two years ago, Matt Garza was 10-10 with a 3.32 ERA.. We called them "tough luck" pitchers, yet (from all accounts) they are GREAT team mates, suck up their disappointment, and are on the top step of the dugout next game.

    And my all time list of #1's always starts with Fergie Jenkins, Bob Gibson, and Steve Carlton.

    Looking forward to your next article, John!

  • In reply to DropThePuck:

    Thanks DtP!

    Good point. I think that goes along with that competitiveness and emotional maturity.

    I just missed Gibson and didn't catch Jenkins in his prime, but my dad's stories about those two matching up was one of the reasons I fell in love with baseball from the time I was a little kid.

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