Relief Pitchers are hard to rank. Many of the best relievers start out as starters and are able to maintain that until they get into the upper levels. The reason? It’s simple. The most talented pitchers — even if they have just two good pitches — can stay as starters longer. But that’s not to say there are no exceptions. The Cubs have some very talented arms that are already in the bullpen and one of them — Zach Rosscup, is already in the majors and made our top 30. Here are the other bullpen pitchers with a shot at the majors.
- Armando Rivero, RHP, Tennessee (AA): Rivero made his debut last year after signing out of Cuba. He started off poorly, struggling with his mechanics and losing velocity. By the time he left Kane County, he was throwing 95 mph consistently with a slurvy type breaking ball that got some swings and misses..
- Juan Carlos Paniagua, RHP, Boise (A-): Paniagua had some visa nightmares but when he is on the mound, he can bring it at up to 98 mph and has reportedly hit triple digits in non-games. He also has a solid change-up and a slider with some potential — if he had more time he could still be a starter, though his slight build is also a concern. The biggest concern right now is his lack of reps. He’ll be 24 and has pitched just under 40 innings since signing 2 years ago. He’ll need to shoot up through the system the way Rivero did this year.
- Tony Zych, RHP, Tennesee (AA): Zych was a reliever all the way out of college on the strength of a good fastball that sits around the mid 90s. He didn’t have a great year as his strikeouts went down and his walks went up, but he did manage to post a solid 3.54 ERA (3.41 FIP)
- Zach Cates, RHP, Daytona (A+): Cates moved to the bullpen and he reminds me a bit of Hector Rondon in that his velocity increased steadily throughout the year, eventually peaking at 96 mph. He has a pretty good change-up but his breaking stuff is average. Like many on this list, he needs to throw more srikes.
- Hunter Cervenka, LHP, Tennessee (AA): A big bodied lefty with a low 90s FB with tail and sink. Also throws a cutter in the mid to high 80s. A rare power lefty but gets into trouble with walks at times.
- Trey Masek, RHP, Arizona (R): Some thought Masek had an outside shot at the supplemental first round but size questions combined with perhaps some overuse at Texas Tech that led to some rotator-cuff tendinitis scared some teams off and the Cubs may have gotten themselves a steal in the 5th round. He is a 90-93 mph guy who can reach 95 in short stints. He also mixes in a slider and a good change. Less than ideal size and less upside than Frazier, but he’s more likely to get there as long as he stays healthy.
- Trey McNutt, RHP, Tennessee (AA): McNutt is down this far not because of stuff or ability, but because he is a big question mark now that he has hurt his shoulder. It’s hard to say if he’ll be the same pitcher so we’re playing it safe. He never quite reached his potential after being ranked as high as the Cubs #3 overall prospect. When healthy he has a mid 90s fastball and a hard slurvy breaking pitch. He lacks command but is athletic enough to develop that over time. It’s going to be a tough road ahead for McNutt.
- Austin Reed, RHP, Daytona (A+): Reed is the anti-Batista, who is #12 on this list. He looks the part. He can hit the mid 90s with a good slider and change — yet he sometimes gets hit pretty hard, doesn’t miss a ton of bats, and has been terribly inconsistent throughout his career. The good news is he still young (21) and there is room to improve, develop consistency, and tinker with a few things to get his stuff to play up as it should. His middle of the road 4.07 ERA is more of a median between very good performances and very poor ones than it is a measure of his day-to-day effectiveness.
- Michael Hamman; RHP, Kane County (A): Hamman works in the low 90s (touches 95) with a good curveball and solid command. He has a slight build and doesn’t project to put much more weight on it, so it’s likely he’ll stick in the bullpen.
- Frank Del Valle, LHP Daytona (A+): Cuban signee Del Valle has round a niche in short relief where he plays up his high 80s low 90s FB with a good change and solid breaking stuff. He’s wild (5.29 BBs/9 IP), but he gets a lot of swings and misses (11.29 Ks/9IP).
- Corbin Hoffner, Boise (A-): Hoffner is a tall, big bodied kid (6’5″, 235 lbs) who slipped through the cracks in the draft. He was a pure projection pick who is starting to grow into his build. He has seen an uptick in velocity and can now sit in the low 90s with the potential for more as he continues to mature physically. He also mixes in a developing slider and change. Some upside here and a sleeper to watch for next year.
- Scott Frazier, RHP, Boise (A-): Frazier was once considered a possible 2nd round pick but he slipped to the 6th round because of his lack of command, high effort delivery and concerns about how that would affect his durability. He’s a tall kid and it can be take a while to get all those parts working together. The arm strength (94-96 mph FB) is there and Frazier mixes in a curve, but the aforementioned issues will relegate him to the bullpen. Good value in the 6th round, but lots of questions. Some good upside and showed some potential at Boise. A nice project for Derek Johnson.
- Frank Batista, RHP, Tennessee (AA): Batista is enigmatic. There is nothing that stands out. He’s undersized (5’10”, 170 lbs). He has a high effort delivery that results in a low 90s fastball, an average slider, average command — yet he gets the job done. He posted a 2.60 ERA (3.39 FIP) to go with his 19 saves. Despite the good results, he profiles as a middle reliever.
Marcus Hatley is a big athletic, hard-throwing right-hander who often got hit harder than he should, but he improved on that this year, striking out 11 batters per 9 innings and allowing hitters to bat just .238 against him. Walks are the remaining issue for Hatley, who will be 26 next season. Josh Conway was a steal in the 4th round and was throwing extremely well in instructs but re-injured himself and did not pitch. Trey Lang is still relatively new to pitching and is still raw but has the potential for a plus fastball and slider. Michael Wagner was an underrated college pitcher who may be a bit undersized and doesn’t have a blazing fastball, but he knows how to pitch. The Cubs may still give him a shot to start. The Cubs converted one time #7 Mariners OF prospect Johermyn Chavez to the mound where he’s high 80s to low 90s with a good breaking ball. LHP Michael Heesch is a starter right now but has potential as a LH specialist in the majors, he throws a high 80s two seamer with good plane and some run in on LH hitters. LHP Nathan Dorris throws a high 80s FB but his bread and butter is a big breaking curve. RHP Justin Amlung is a polished pitcher with a 4 pitch repertoire whose velo played better out of the pen (low 90s, touched 93)
Filed under: Top Prospects Lists