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.
- 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.
- 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…
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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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