Edited 4:00 PM
First of all, I want to thank everyone for their patience as I have been in full information gathering mode. It’s info I plan to use for the minor league recaps as well as some MLB roster moves. I haven’t been on the site to comment as much as I like, but I do read them all and things will calm down once the season starts — which is somewhat strange to say, but it is true in my case.
Don’t sleep on Pierce Johnson
Maybe we shouldn’t write off Pierce Johnson yet. I have seen Johnson pitch live more than any single pitcher in the entire organization. Earlier this spring, even when he was getting rocked, I’ve noted the quality of pitches are there — the 92-94 mph FB, a high 80s cutter, the 82-83 mph power curve, and the much improved change.
One thing that has become apparent to me more and more is it’s not always what you throw, but when and where. We tend to fall in love with velocity and pitch movement. That kind of data is available these days without ever having to see a game. The science of pitcher evaluation is becoming well-established. There is an art to pitching as well, particularly when you are a starter. Nobody exemplified this more in our lifetimes than Greg Maddux.
As good as Johnson’s stuff is, MLB level hitters have seen it all before. They’re pretty good too. If they couldn’t hit those kinds of pitches, they wouldn’t be where they are. Perhaps nobody exemplified this more than Jake Arrieta before he joined the Cubs.
Now Johnson doesn’t have the stuff that Arrieta does, few pitchers at any level do, but he does have a power repertoire. What he doesn’t have yet is consistent command and is still learning to sequence his pitches to maximize their effectiveness. It’s that part that gives him something in common with Arrieta prior to coming to the Cubs. In that light, it is appropriate that Arrieta has taken Johnson on as his pupil this spring. If anyone can understand what the talented but inconsistent Johnson is going through, it’s Arrieta.
The fastball and curve are swing and miss quality pitches. The change could become one as well if he learns to locate it better. If Johnson can get ahead off hitters consistently, he’ll be able to keep hitters from sitting on his FB and increase the effectiveness of his secondary pitchers. He’ll be able to control the AB because he can sequence pitches as he (or his catchers) want to and not be at the mercy of the count.
Johnson isn’t there yet but it is much to soon to give up on him — and by too soon, I mean too soon in the season and too soon in his career. If it all clicks for Johnson, the stuff is good enough to be a #3 starter.
Spencer Patton making a strong case to make team
I already knew how good Willson Contreras and Jeimer Candelario were. Given it takes him a bit of extra time to adjust to each new level, I am not surprised that Arismendy Alcantara put up a strong spring ether. If there is a spring training surprise for me, it has been Spencer Patton. As I’ve mentioned before, it started with his loose build and athleticism I noticed during PFPs. That loose athleticism has also manifested itself in terms of his delivery and Patton has used that to generate 96 mph heat, touching 98.
After an encouraging start, Neil Ramirez has fallen off a bit and the velocity isn’t making the progress many of us hoped it would. But Ramirez is out of options and the Cubs can’t simply option him to Iowa because they would need to pass him through waivers first. He would certainly be claimed if the Cubs tried to sneak him through. The other answer is the DL if the Cubs just feel Ramirez still isn’t quite 100% yet in terms of health.
Manny Parra is another pitcher who has done well albeit in just 3 innings so far. He could give the Cubs another lefty out of the pen to go with Wood and Richard.
Ramirez is a favorite among many Cubs fans because when he has everything working, he can flat out dominate — but that is not the Ramirez we have seen of late. There is still time for that to happen but right now, it’s been Patton who has been able to come in, throw strikes, and overpower hitters. Were it not for the options situation, I would say he has earned that last spot outright. Parra also is making his claim and would give the Cubs flexibility to mix and match with 3 lefties. As it is, the Cubs may have to make a decision on their pitching staff that many of us probably thought would have involved Rex Brothers or Carl Edwards, Jr. when the spring started.
More on Dylan Cease
I wrote a bit about his performance here but I went into a bit more detail on 2080 Baseball. You can read that here.
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