[This is a guest post, written by friend of the program, Sean Carey. Few knew the Chicago Cubs' minor leagues better than Sean, so, when he wants to talk about Cubs' prospects, I'm all too happy to oblige him, with but a few edits here and there.]
If there’s one thing the 2011 Chicago Cubs can pride themselves on, it’s success in the bullpen. And, going forward, there’s plenty of hope that the Cubs can continue to sustain that success thanks to some very strong bullpen prospects. Among that group are Rafael Dolis, Kevin Rhoderick, and Jeff Beliveau (pictured, right).
Rafael Dolis, 23, is probably the most recognizable name of the three relief prospects discussed here. The converted infielder was a preseason top 10 Cubs prospect in Baseball America’s eyes.
This time last year, there was hope for Dolis being a starter, but it seems the Cubs have settled him into a late inning role. AA affiliate Tennessee had Dolis coming out of the bullpen from the start of the season, mostly as their closer. While Dolis was starting during the 2009 and 2010 seasons, he averaged less than 5 innings pitched per outing. It seems to have been an appropriate switch.
Dolis’ stats do not tell a very favorable story. His ERA (3.86) is just OK, and his peripherals are mediocre. However, scouts praise his stuff, and an upper 90s fastball tends to turn heads. It’s been less about production and more about scouting with Dolis.
In November of 2009, the Cubs were forced either to put Dolis’ on their 40-man roster or expose him to the Rule 5 Draft. They chose the former, and with good reason. Jim Callis of Baseball America later said, “if Dolis were left unprotected, he would go #1 in the Rule 5 Draft.” Still, at some point, Dolis is going to have to start producing on a consistent basis. More strikeouts and fewer walks, please.
Kevin Rhoderick, 22, came to the Cubs in the form of a well-seasoned college closer in the 9th round of the 2010 draft. As the Oregon State closer, Rhoderick was a freshman All-American and earned 14 saves in 16 opportunities as a Beaver.
Though Rhoderick has a slight build for a pitcher, standing 5’11″ 185lbs, he mows down batters. In his one year with the Cubs, he’s climbed the ladder quickly (currently playing for AA Tennessee), while collecting 58 strikeouts in 51.2 innings pitched. Of course, he’s totaled 29 walks in this time, too. Fortunately, he’s modeled his game after Carlos Marmol in that he seldom is hit with a hits per nine at a miniscule 6.1.
Jeff Beliveau, 24, is going to be a major league pitcher. My bold statement may not seem so bold when you realize he is a lefty who can light up the radar gun at 94 miles per hour, and can get both righties and lefties out.
In the first few years of his pro career, Beliveau was striking out batters at a ridiculous rate – 52 strikeouts in 35.1 innings pitched in his first league alone. The only problem is he was handing out free passes at an equally ridiculous rate – almost one per inning pitched. However, every year he’s been with the Cubs, he’s reduced this walk rate, doing so as he’s climbed the minor league ranks. His most dramatic improvement with control has been last year to this year. Beliveau’s walks per nine innings dropped from 4.1 last year to a sparkling 2.5 this year, even while adjusting from A+ hitters to AA hitters after an early season promotion.
Beliveau credits his increased control this year to an offseason workout regimen with his brother Dion, who practices mixed martial arts. In total, Beliveau lost 20lbs in the offseason, after doing various calisthenics as well as wrestling exercises. He stated in a recent Florida Atlantic University news article that the regimen has helped him to better control his body and repeat his delivery. “Once I got control of my fastball everything else pretty much came along. My change-up is 10 times better this year.”
Beliveau has accumulated a 1.69 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 2.5 BB/9, and 11.4 K/9 in 54.2 innings pitched between A+ Daytona and AA Tennessee.
All three of these relief prospects will have an opportunity for a late season call up, and will also get a chance to make the bullpen out of spring training next year. So, even if this season has been a nightmare at the big league level, it will be worth sticking it out to see the fruits of the farm system in the near future.