Are the Cubs' Pitching Prospects Underrated?
If you mentioned the phrase “Cubs prospects” to most who follow baseball prospects, the first players you’d hear in response would be the Cubs’ high tier offensive talents: Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, Arismendy Alcantara. Sure, you have C.J. Edwards and Pierce Johnson there, but you have to get past the Jeimer Candelarios, Dan Vogelbachs and Christian Villanuevas of the system before you see other starting pitching prospects in the rankings. But is the Cubs’ system really that devoid of pitching talent?
The Best Cubs’ Pitching Prospects
The Cubs lack one very big item among their pitching prospects: the clear top of the rotation arm. The guy who something doesn’t have to really break right for to be a number 1 or number 2 in a good rotation, but just needs to stay healthy. The Cubs’ most talented starting pitching prospect is C.J. Edwards, who has excelled in three Double A starts this season (2.45 ERA, striking out more than 1 per inning) after dominating both full season Single A levels in 2013. But the caveat on Edwards is, and has always been, his size. He is a rail at 6’2″ and about 160 pounds, and there are legitimate questions regarding if someone like him can hold him to the rigors required of a MLB starting pitcher. With that said, to this point Edwards has a clean injury history.
Pierce Johnson is more a solid mid-rotation type with number 2 ceiling if everything breaks right. Johnson has yet to pitch this season due to a minor injury in spring training, but should make his first starts in Double A soon.
Arodys Vizcaino is in a similar boat as Edwards, but a couple years older and after having dealt with injuries, including Tommy John Surgery. Vizcaino’s stuff is electric, top of the rotation stuff, but his arm may only survive being a late innings reliever. The Cubs sent the right hander, who they received in a trade for Paul Maholm in July 2012, to Daytona to start the season in better weather, but he will be up in Triple A once the weather warms up in Iowa. Vizcaino will only be considered in a relievers role this year, and likely next as well. If his arm holds up, the Cubs may reevaluate whether to try to convert him back to a starter at that point.
Other Interesting Arms
I wrote about Kyle Hendricks during spring training, and he remains what we thought he was (that is a phrase I will never grow tired of hearing, by the way): a potentially solid back end of the rotation arm.
The Cubs’ Double A affiliate, the Tennessee Smokies, has three additional interesting pitching prospects. Corey Black and Ivan Pineyro, who the Cubs received in the Alfonso Soriano and Scott Hairston trades, have pretty good stuff, but their repertoire and health may hold up much better in the bullpen in the long run. Armanda Rivero, a Cuban right hander, is also an interesting bullpen option with late innings potential. For those of you waiting for a mention of Tony Zych, however, he has not continued to impress as he moved up the system, has somewhat stalled out at Double A, and is now viewed as nothing more than a potential middle reliever.
The Cubs drafted a host of arms from the second through tenth rounds in 2013, highlighted by second round pick Rob Zastryzny, a left handed pitcher out of the University of Missouri. His likely track and projection reminds me of Pierce Johnson.
The Cubs also drafted a few of high ceiling lottery tickets in 2011 and 2012, highlighted by Dillon Maples, Paul Blackburn, and Duane Underwood. Maples has struggled in his limited time on the mound, also dealing with injuries, while Blackburn and Underwood are in the midst of their first tastes of full season ball in Kane County.
The Top of the Rotation Prospect Is (Likely) Coming
The strength of this year’s coming draft? College starting pitching, and the Cubs are highly likely to add an elite college arm with the fourth pick in the draft. Next time, we’ll look at the most likely players the Cubs could take in the first round.
In short, while the strength of the Cubs’ system is definitely its bats, its pitching is not as devoid of talent as some believe.