Author Archive

A Look at the 2016 Cubs Bullpen

Thursday, February 11th, 2016

As we moved to the off-season there was a pressing need to increase impact pitching and depth. The Cubs started off the winter by signing multiple bullpen arms to strengthen and already great bullpen. The signings included Rex Brothers, Trevor Cahill, Spencer Patton, Andury Acevedo and Edgar Almos. A nice mix of young and experienced relievers with varies degrees of success and pitches they throw. I think there will be one open spot in the Cubs bullpen after a majority of the below names are added.

Adam Warren – Warren was a jack of all trades for the Yankees last season appearing in 43 games (17 starts). He pitched in 131 and 1/3 innings striking out 104 batters while only walking 39 batters. It was good enough for a 2.6 K/BB ratio. It showcases that Warren has a firm command of the strike zone and be put in a starter’s role or high leverage situations. I firmly believe he’s going to give Kyle Hendricks and Jason Hammel all they can handle when battling for the final starting spots.

Andury Acevedo – Acevedo pitched at three levels for the Yankees last season. The three level included: High A, Double A and Triple A. He combined to pitch 59 innings in 41 games and it was split about 1/3 of that total for each level. He limited hitters to a .233 average while pitching to a 1.25 WHIP as he gave up 53 hits and 21 walks. His earned run average for the season is 2.59 while he’s only 25 going into the 2016 season. My guess is that he’ll compete for a bullpen spot in spring training but will head to Iowa to start the season.

Spencer Patton – Patton is 27 years old and is from Illinois. He was recently acquired in November and pitched to a 1-1 record with a 9.00 earned run average. He gave up 24 runs in 24 innings and had a spike in flyball percentage vs groundball percentage in 2015. It could have contributed to his increase in earned run average as well as more exposure to big league hitters.

Clayton Richard – Richard is an interesting case as he was acquired before the July 31st deadline as starter depth from the Pittsburgh Pirates. He had three early starts in the month of July before becoming a long man reliever and then most notably an intriguing option out of the bullpen. He looks to be an interesting potential addition once again as he pitched 42 and 1/3 innings with a 3.58 FIP and 22 walks to 7 walks. Richard seems like a no brainer addition but we’ll have to see how the roster shakes out these next few weeks. Richard should get a bigger role in the bullpen and can spot start if needed although that role probably will go to Warren.

Travis Wood – Wood has a bigger skill set then Richard in the pen as he can effectively pitch well to lefties and righties. He was the main piece in the Sean Marshall deal with the Reds and has pitched adequately as reliever while showing some signs a starter. He’ll slot into a shared seventh inning role with either Grimm or one of the other high leverage relievers. Wood will be a name to watch as to see if he can continue his great success the past two years.

Pedro Strop – Strop came via the Arrieta for Steve Clevenger and Scott Feldman deal. They both have performed very well with the team. He’s been a dominant eight inning reliever seemingly only to struggle a bit with control and the St Louis Cardinals. If Strop can keep the walks low he can continue his dominance of National League hitters. It seems like a theme as three of the pitchers on this list have showed great dominance over a 3 year period. In terms of going forward he should slot right in front of Rondon and won’t become a free agent until 2018.

Hector Rondon – This man has been an underdog his entire life starting from when he was Rule 5 pickup. Rondon has been the closer the past two seasons. In the past three years with the Cubs at the major league level he has pitched to 3.04 earned run average and a 2.88 FIP with 59 saves. He also chipped in 188 innings only surrendering 59 earned runs and 159 hits while striking out 176 hitters. Rondon looks to stay as the closer continuing throwing his high velocity fastball with great movement and his devastating slider to use as his wipe out pitch.

Justin Grimm – Grimm is fairly inexpensive and looking to continue to build on a strong 2015 campaign. As you all remember Grimm was a part of the Matt Garza deal along with Carl Edwards, Neil Ramirez and Mike Olt. So far in the 3 years with the Cubs he has contributed a 2.99 earned run average in 145 games and 33 games he’s finished. He’s enjoyed great success as a reliever as the strikeouts have increased while the innings have decreased as he was primarily a sixth inning/seventh inning guy. His 10.2 K/9 ratio and 3.13 FIP through his time with the Cubs almost has assured him his leverage role once again.

Like what you see here? Never miss new content. Follow Us:

A Quick Look at Duane Underwood

Monday, January 25th, 2016

Duane Underwood the next young start to potentially hit the majors. Underwood was a second round draft pick out of Pope High school in Georgia. He’s officially listed at 6’ 2” and 215 pounds while throwing right handed. In his first season within the Cubs system he pitched just five games since he was drafted mid-season pitching to a 5.19 earned run average and seven strikeouts to six walks.

His arsenal consists of a plus fastball that sits in the mid-90’s and has arm-side life down in the zone. His best secondary pitch is a curve that has the presence of a put away pitch. His third complementary pitch is a changeup that he uses to keep hitters honest with his three pitch mix. If he can keep the walks down and develop his changeup and curve a bit more as he moves through the minors. He has a real shot at being a very good number three starter and a quality two.

His breakout year came in his third season with the Cubs as he spent the entire year at Kane County (Midwest League Low A Affiliate). He pitched in 22 games (21 Starts) it was his first completely healthy season with the Cubs system. He had a 6-4 record with a 2.50 earned run average for the season. He achieved 84 strikeouts to 36 walks. This was good for a 2.3 K/BB ratio although you see the walks are a bit higher than you would like from a frontline starter. As mentioned above if he can cut down his walks to around 20 to every 80+ strikeouts then you’re looking a 4+ K/BB ratio.

In his time with the Pelicans he looked very impressive although he couldn’t stay healthy only pitching in 14 games. He dominated hitters but also did have a high number of walks compared to his strikeouts. He went 6-3 with a 2.58 earned run average to go along with his 48 strikeouts and 24 walks.

As he enters his age 21 season it’s a big step for Underwood. I would imagine he starts at Myrtle Beach for at least the first month of the season. If he shows his great stuff and can limit walks I think he get the call up to Tennessee. Double A is big step for many major leaguers as it’s the most competitive levels of the minor leagues. It’s filled with many top prospects on the offensive and pitching side. I’m projecting around 25 starts for Underwood with a 3.10 earned run average and having 132 strikeouts to 38 walks. I think he’ll make the Double A all-star game and have a shot at being in the Futures game.

Like what you see here? Never miss new content. Follow Us:

Watching Ryan Williams

Tuesday, January 19th, 2016

In 2016, I’m taking a look at Ryan Williams who I think has a chance to do great things for the Cubs in the future. He could be a future back end rotation member of the 2017 rotation.

Williams was a 10th round draft pick for the Cubs in 2014 out of East Carolina. He’s from Morgan Hill, California and played high school baseball at Ann Sobrato. After attending West Valley College for two years he then went to East Carolina for his junior and senior seasons. In his junior year he appeared in 18 games in which 15 we’re starts and pitched to a 6-2 record. He tied fellow draftee Jeff Hoffman in wins that year and was poised for a big senior season.

He features a fastball that sits in the 90-93 range while also featuring a curveball and a slider. The curveball is a 12-6 and sits around 82-84 mph and is quite devastating to hitters. He’s pitched in both the closers and starter role and definitely has the demeanor of a closer on the mound.

In Williams’ senior season he broke out by having the 11th best strikeout to walk ratio in the nation.  He pitched 99.1 innings and had a 1.81 earned run average. He accounted for a save or a win in 18 of the 33 Eastern Carolina games. After Eastern Carolina Williams took his talents to the Cubs minor league system. At age 22 he dominated at the Cubs Short Season Affiliate by pitching in nine games giving up only four earned runs in 24 and 2/3 innings.

In 2015, Williams was due for a promotion and began the year at Low A Affiliate South Bend where he finally got his chance to start. He pitched in 9 games (8 starts) and had a 1.17 earned run average to go along with 37 strikeouts to 2 walks. The strikeout to walk ratio is 17.5 absolutely ludicrous and a common theme occurred that Williams was too advanced for the league. He then got promoted to Tennessee the Cubs Double A affiliate where he outperformed expectations once again.

Williams then pitched in 17 games (16 starts) at a 2.97 earned run average clip. He pitched 88 innings with 61 strikeouts to 16 walks or a 3.81 K/BB ratio. Williams has had success everywhere he’s been and I look for him to continue to do that in 2016. He’ll most likely be at Triple A Iowa for the majority of the 2016 season. In other words, I look for him to develop and showcase his skills in Triple A and look to build up his arsenal going forward. I’m projecting 25 starts at Triple A with a earned run average under three with around 135 strikeouts to 38 walks for the season.

Like what you see here? Never miss new content. Follow Us:

Understanding the Playoffs and Offseason

Thursday, January 7th, 2016

After seeing the Chicago Cubs play 162 regular season games they placed themselves in a one game playoff. It could have went two ways one the season ended right there against a 98 win Pittsburgh team or the Cubs would pull out a road win and move on. The Cubs prevailed behind another dominant performance by National League CY Young winner Jake Arrieta. Arrieta shut out the Pirates only allowing four hits while striking out 11 on 113 pitches.

After that performance it felt like you were playing with bonus money for the season. The Cubs had notched their first playoff win since 2003 almost 12 years in time went by. Next was the St. Louis Cardinals the National League Central champions and the Cubs nemesis for many years. Their biggest rivals faced off for the first time in the playoffs in history. The drama ensued when the Cubs went down early 1-0 to John Lackey after seven shutout innings from him. After not starting the first two games Jorge Soler finally got his chance to do some damage and boy did he. Soler would reach base in his next nine plate appearances and a huge two run homer in the second game to even the series.

The Cubs on strength of their offense would win the next three games in a row to win the series three games to one. Although, two things we’re still questions after Addison Russell’s injury how would that effect the Cubs and their starting pitching. The offense ran out of gas against a very good Mets team and unbelievable staff. I had tickets to game five but we never got there as the Cubs were swept in four games.

As we moved to the off-season there was a pressing need to increase impact pitching and depth. The Cubs started off the winter by signing multiple bullpen arms to strengthen and already great bullpen. The signings included Rex Brothers, Trevor Cahill, Spencer Patton, Andury Acevedo and Edgar Almos. A nice mix of young and experienced relievers with varies degrees of success and pitches they throw.

The big day came on December 8th when the Cubs bolstered their starting pitching landing the former Red Sox, Angel and Cardinals veteran right hander John Lackey. He provided a short term average value for a starting pitcher to help bridge the gap between Lester and Arrieta to Hendricks and Hammel. The first priority was complete grabbing a veteran starting pitcher to pair with Lester and Arrieta.

The Cubs then at the Winter Meetings made a big splash signing free agent utility man Ben Zobrist. Zobrist had been with Joe Maddon for a number of years with the Rays. He’s a very versatile player but will play a majority of his game this season at second base. Of course when adding another infielder the Cubs had to make a decision. They ended up trading Starlin Castro to the Yankees for Adam Warren and Brendan Ryan. Ryan was eventually released while Warren looks to have an important role battling for the fifth rotation slot, being a swingman and a high valued bullpen arm.

Now at this point the Cubs upgrade their rotation, bullpen, contact hitting and versatility. You would be smart to say that this was already a great off-season while being aggressive to upgrade positions. We heard early in the off-season they would be in on Jason Heyward but for how much was the question. On December 15th the Cubs signed Heyward to a 184 million for an eight year deal. It included two opt outs but wasn’t the most money offered to him as the Cardinals and Nationals each offered at least 200 million.

Like what you see here? Never miss new content. Follow Us:

The interesting case of Albert Almora and the second wave of prospects

Monday, January 4th, 2016

Albert Almora is 21 years old and is in his fifth season with the Chicago Cubs system. He was drafted in the first round out of Mater Academy Charter, Hialeah Gardens, FL sixth overall becoming Theo Epstein’s first draft pick. Almora was a highly decorated player on the U-18 team in 2011 being named tournament MVP of the 9-0 team. Almora began his career where most of the high draft picks begin at Boise, Idaho for short season ball and also spent time with the Arizona Rookie League. He combined for a .331.464/.795 line over 140 at bats while only striking out 13 times and walking twice.

After an impressive opening campaign in 2012 he earned a promotion to the Kane County Cougars the Cubs Low A team at the time. It became another breakout year for the youngster as he hit .376/.466/.842. He also should great plate discipline as he struck out thirty times and then walked 17 times. The interesting thing for that season was that Almora couldn’t stay healthy having a wrist injury and some leg injuries. He was limited to 61 games and while he performed adequately actually better than his 1st campaign he wasn’t able to be promoted to Daytona that season.

In 2014, Almora took a step back as he played his most games a pro 125 games to be exact but he struggled after his midseason promotion to the Tennessee Smokies. The Daytona Cubs got a huge boost from Almora as he posted a line .306/.406/.712 but as mentioned above he struggled with the advanced pitching in Double A. It was a small sample size but only 36 games but 141 at bats as his line of .255/.355/.605 was his lowest as a Cubs minor leaguer. One thing about Almora that stood out was his strikeouts for that portion of games. His groundouts vs airouts percentage rose to the highest as a minor leaguer 1.68 where on average 1.25 was around where Almora sat the past three season.

As 2015 hit he spent the entire season at Tennessee looking to rebound on the end of 2014 struggles. In 106 games he moved his line to .327/.400/.727 and looks poised to start the 2016 season at Iowa and a potential call up after the all star break. I’m projecting around 85 games at Iowa with a similar line .345/.400/.745 while limiting the strikeouts and getting his walk to strikeout rate around .75. I would like to see Almora to get a shot at the centerfield job later on this year but at worst be a fifth outfielder if he continues to improve.

Some interesting cases to watch besides Albert Almora are Jeimer Candelario, Billy McKinney and Wilson Contreras. Contreras had the best season of the group combining to go .413/.478/.891 and unreal season while winning the batting title. He’s only 23 years old and is certain to start this season at Triple A after dominating with the Smokies in 2015. It will be interesting to see him in action handling a staff that will have a lot of diversity. At Iowa we’ll see some rotational depth guys as well as some prospects that will be looking to make it to the majors soon. A few names that can possibly be there for Contreras to catch are Ryan Williams the Cubs minor league pitcher of the year, Pierce Johnson potentially mid-season, Edgar Almos and Andury Acevedo. The latter two would be bullpen arms if they can’t make the Cubs roster out of Spring Training. If Contreras can continue to hit at such a high rate and continue to develop as a game caller the Cubs may have found a long term catcher. As mentioned above since the Cubs signed him so early and he got to start in rookie league at 17 he’s had ample time to develop his game.

Candelario is an interesting case because like Kyle Schwarber at the time he really doesn’t have a position. In Candelario’s case it’s that he is blocked by the Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant at third base. He’s on the 40 man roster and like Contreras will probably start the season at Iowa or have a short stay at Tennessee and then be called up to Iowa. He’s only 22 years old and was one of the youngest players in the Midwest league in 2013 at age 20. I have interviewed Candelario before and he comes off as a very determined baseball player. He’s admitted he had struggles adjusting to Daytona in 2014 but rectified those changes last year by shortening up his swing. In reality a demotion can go one of two ways for a player it can shut them down and they’ll continue to struggle or it revitalizes them and we see them make changes and come back better than ever. His power numbers have been very consistent the last three years averaging around 10 home runs while driving in around 60 runs while his extra base hits jumped to 49 including 35 doubles. It gives me hope that he’ll continue to drive the ball to the gap with his new and improved swing and drive to all fields. An impressive stat for Candelario at Tennessee was the strikeout to walk ratio he walked 22 times to 21 strikeouts. It reminds you of a Joey Votto approach obviously in a smaller capacity at lower levels but he’s not swinging at pitches out of the zone and when it’s in the zone he’s not missing.

The Iowa Cubs should be once again and interesting place to watch the next wave of Cubs prospects. I make an annual trip to visit Tommy Birch the Iowa Cubs beat reporter for the Des Moines Register and I recommend making the trip to the stadium. The owner is still very involved while the staff showcases a great experience for fans of all ages. I’m excited to see Williams, Candelario, Contreras, McKinney and maybe even Duane Underwood if he advances quickly through the season. Thanks for reading as always!

Like what you see here? Never miss new content. Follow Us: