The Top 50 (ish) Prospects: The Best of the Rest: Bullpen Arms

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.

  1. 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..
  2. 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.
  3. 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)
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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).
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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


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  • I like how the parent club's bullpen is setting up for next year already.

    I think you can pencil in Strop, Russell, Villaneuva, and Parker. I think Grimm is a strong candidate to join them along with Cabrera simply because he will be out of options.

    That is 6 and the Cubs would need another LH which could be Rosscup, Rusin, Raley or a trade/FA signing.

    All in all, not a bad group behind a solid if not spectacular starting rotation.

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    Agreed -- I think we might see the most immediate results of the improved farm in the bullpen. Don't forget Rondon, who has been pitching really well at the end of the year -- and hitting 98 mph.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Wow, totally forgot about Rondon. There really is some depth for April of 2014.

  • John, great job on all of these reports. I liek the way you segmented the past half because really, once you get past the top 20 or so, it's all speculation and matter of personal preference.

    The thing that stands out at me is I don't know if we have ever had a farm system that had both, the blue-chip impact guys at the top and went this deep with guys have a chance.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Thank you and agreed. I think it works better this way and I think the depth is pretty impressive.

  • I can't remember. Where did we get Zack Cates? Was it the Colvin/Stuart trade?

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    In reply to John57:

    Nope, it was in the Rizzo trade. Pretty nice secondary piece.

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    It would be nice if we hit on a few of these later round draft picks. The Cardinals bullpen seems to be filled with fireballers drafted pretty late. That Freeman guy who pitched against the Cubs either yesterday or the day before was a 32nd round pick.

  • In reply to Jason Pellettiere:

    Cubs took Colin Kaepernick with a 43rd round pick. He turned out pretty good.

  • I wasn't surprised to see Masek that high. He really has a presence on the mound. Hope he stays healthy.

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    Unless I wiffed here....I think Michael Hamann is a significant omission.

  • In reply to Jason Sprague:

    I'm with you. Hamann impressed me

  • In reply to Jason Sprague:

    It is. Oversight.

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    Also, i think Masek and Frazier get the chance to start next year. We'll see from there.

  • In reply to Jason Sprague:

    I am a big Frazier believe but his has problem with repeating is mechanics. He is most likely a late inning reliever.

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    In reply to KGallo:

    Very, very possible, but from a straight rep standpoint I still think they start for now. Giving them a chance to be a future "wave" of starters. I don't think it's smart money to automatically throw high draft picks that were college starters in the pen, especially until after DJ and others get their hands on them.

    I'm also a huge fan of Hamann and think he'll continue to fly through the minors

  • In reply to Jason Sprague:

    I agree I don't see them putting him into the Pen just yet. But I think that is his MLB future.

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    In reply to KGallo:

    I can definitely see that and I think that was the mentality when these big bodied college starters were drafted. I also can see guys like Skulina, Masek, Frazier, and to a lesser extent even Wagner and Wison starting for the majority of their minor league careers, with an eye on them succeeding in that role. The optimist in me says DJ and co. work their magic on a few guys from this last draft class and at least 2 end up starters at the big league level.....and not necessarily for the Cubs. Value, value, value right?

  • I thing Wagner should have been in the top ten. He knows how to pitch and is a GB machine.

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    In reply to KGallo:

    Sam Wilson and Kevin Brown are the two from this last draft I'm keeping an eye on. They both just scream ball player to me. Wilson has that bulldog attitude, and both are exactly the type of players I would have wanted to share a field with or coach. Really can't help rooting for them.

  • In reply to Jason Sprague:

    I like Wilson as a SP still.

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    A little off topic here but Tom Loxas seems to really feel Sveum is getting the axe. And reports that Girardi's people have indeed contacted the Cubs to indicate that the Cubs job may be his preferred destination.

    It should be an interesting winter for Cubs fan. I see the following things to look forward to:

    1. Sign Tanaka!!!
    2. Looking for a big trade (Cargo?)
    3. New manager?

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    In reply to bocabobby:

    The signing of Tanaka could set up my 2nd item. With so much talk of Baez possibly playing 2nd base, I could see a simple clean trade of Shark and Alcantara for Cargo. We would be taking on so much salary that I really don't see the Cubs offering up a bigger package than that.

    The Rockies get a guy that feels he's a #1 starter and very well may hit that potential someday. But his age could start to be a factor. Alcantara would be an upgrade at 2B for the Rox with DJ LeMahieu being listed as their top guy on the depth chart.

    Any thoughts?

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    In reply to bocabobby:

    I think the Rockies would insist on Wood over Shark. And to me it's hard to see the Cubs escaping that deal with Soler.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    My guess it would be Arrieta.

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    In reply to KGallo:

    Also quite possible. Personally, I'd rather hold Wood than Arrieta, but it's close.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Would you do Arrieta or Wood + Soler? I think the biggest variable in their willingness to move one of the Big 4 is how they view Olt. If they still really believe , it opens up a ton of flexibility.

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    In reply to Carl9730:

    I would do that. I'd also fight hard to hold Soler and try to make it Alcantara and Vogelbach, instead.

    They are going to have to win without one of the big 4 even in the most optimistic circumstance. If you keep Castro and Castillo, that gives you 6 of the 8 as right handed hitters. If you put Bryant in right, where his athleticism plays best, that means you have to find a left-handed hitting third baseman. Or, you can find a lefty in left field, which is probably the simplest situation.

    But, even in this situation, you only have 2 lefties on the team. That's a bit low -- so moving one of the righties for an impact lefty must happen. It's probably not going to be Castillo, so it needs to be Castro or one of the big 4.

    But, obviously, you don't have to do it this winter. You can wait to see which of them make it and then fill in your left-handed holes.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I agree with you in that you don't have to do it this winter. Wait until we know better what we need.

    Also to fix being too right handed in the batting order you want to trade Alcantara a switch hitter and Vogelbach a lefty?

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    Vogelbach has no position -- assuming there is no DH.

    Alcantara is kinda stuck. His bat really plays best at short or second, and we appear to be pretty stacked there. Center field could work, but Almora's defense is so good that it's tough to see him there long term.

    The alternative is to trade Baez or Castro. But I've learned not to advocate one of those things.

  • In reply to Carl9730:

    I just don't see the Cubs trading for CarGo type players now. We are still in asset collection mode. If we had most of our rotation/bullpen set and most of the position players set, and we needed an outfielder with CarGo's skill set then yes we should trade for him but not now.

    Right now I see our biggest weakness as starting pitching and you guys start by trading one of Shark/Wood/Arrieta. And then add Soler to that. Theo has been really good at finding and getting undervalued OF. First it was DeJesus then Schierholz and finally Sweeney. I would imagine Theo can do it again and get a player that plays solid for a fraction of what CarGo will cost in dollars ($63,500,000.00) and talent (Wood + Soler).

    Add to that, CarGo has a huge Coors field split with results. If he doesn't play half of his games in Colorado, I expect his offensive results to drop.

  • In reply to John57:

    We need to get over this " muddle through" mentality with respect to the OFers. All of the players you mentioned are basically 4th OFer. CarGo's contract is very reasonable for his production.

    I kind of dispute the notion that we're still in asset accumulation phase. We have 4 A prospects and a crapload of depth. IMO, we are in "go" mode. The everyday lineup, as currently constituted, is laughable right now. At minimum, we need one more viable bat. Whether it's a significant trade or TACTICAL FA signing , the offense is in need of improvement. I think you'll see Baez & Bryant up next yr but I can't see the next competitive lineup consisting of the Big 4 + Castro, Rizzo , and Castillo. At some point, fairly soon, they'll mix in some estabilished talent(s). The real world isn't BA hypothetical '16 lineups of all prospects.

  • In reply to John57:

    This is in reply to Carl9730. I didn't see a reply button on your comment.

    I don't think what I envision happening is "muddle through" mentality. I remember Theo, when he first got hired, said to be competing for sustained playoff appearances would take 4 to 5 years. We just finished year number 2. With my math that means we still have 2 to 3 years to go according to Theo's plan. I also remembered he said the team would go for veteran players to fill in the holes in the team when we are close. The team record is 66 - 96. I don't think we are close yet.

    To me you seem to want to speed up Theo's plan. I am willing to be patient and see how his plan works out.

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    Off topic but I'm not convinced Shark wants to stay in Chicago. Body language, some his comments, etc

    I think he gets moved off season

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    In reply to Dale Miller:

    We'll know pretty soon. If he doesn't sign an extension by the winter meetings, I think a serious push to trade him will start.

  • I'm not really sure where people think CarGo's contract is going to reduce his trade value. For what he does , his contract is pretty modest and it doesn't extend to the dangerous part of the aging curve. I'm interested but not expecting a bargain, in terms of talent cost.

    Also, Felzz mentioned Eithier this AM. What kind of haircut would we see on either his deal or Crawford's. They have to move one of those guys; you have to figure they keep Kemp. Would you guys be interested in either CC or Eithier?

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    In reply to Carl9730:

    I can see something along the lines of some form of Arrieta, Alcantara, Cabrera, Vogelbach with Theos' obligatory PTBNL and Cargo coming back.

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    In reply to Carl9730:

    I still for some reason think Crawford has some goods years ahead of him. If he comes at a sizeable discount then i think it could be worth while.

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    Alright, that train wreck of a season is over. On to 2014!

  • And Cubs wrap up 4 pick in draft. shutout in 26 of last 27 innings.

  • John GREAT Lists !!

    Thanks again for all your hard work.

    Question ...were pitchers Godley and S. Wilson left off the lists because of stuff or were they just missed ? If so what do you think of them ...starters or relievers ?

  • I don't get the desire to acquire CarGo. He is getting worse production away from Coors every year except this injury-shortened one, and speaking of injuries, the dude is soft and could possibly be coming off of a serious hand injury. I don't want any part of him.

    Lots of people point to Holliday's success away from Coors as a reason to disregard CarGo's away splits. But if you look at the numbers, Holliday's performance since joining the A's/Cardinals follows the natural progression from his away splits while a Rockie.

    If CarGo's production as a non-Rockie follows it's natural age-related progression from his career away splits, it won't be pretty.

  • In reply to Quedub:

    His home/away splits in previous years was pretty dramatic, but he had nearly 400 ab's this year so his injury season wasn't just sss, and he ops'd .987 away from home this year.

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    I have no desire to see Cargo in a Cubs uniform especially if we have to give up as many prospects that half the commenters on here believe we would have to part with to land him. He is definitely not what we need to contend for a WS.

  • I am not huge on CarGo either. The Cubs do want to get a veteran outfielder who gets on base, so I believe the Cubs will try for that , but not for CarGo if the Rockies want too much.

  • Do we still have hope for Kyler Burke? Obviously as a converted OF, he is older and less polished, but he is a lefty that (I thought) threw pretty hard. Assuming nobody takes him in Rule 5, do we think he can develop into, at least, a decent lefty reliever?

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