Stewart obviously and rightly netted most of the attention over the next few days. But it’s worth discussing Weathers a bit, because it looks like he’s a legitimate prospect, even if he is a bit older and has control issues sufficiently bad that it’s fair to wonder whether he’ll ever be able to make the bigs.
Weathers, 26, is obviously a few years older than you’d like to see a prospect who’s not yet pitched above AA. But, as a college reliever, his track in the minors was always going to be a bit delayed (college relievers are frequently “old” for their minor league levels because they rarely seem to skip levels, and they start their professional careers in their early 20s). Throw in a Tommy John surgery that cost him a year and a half, and his 26 years start to become more understandable. (For reference, the Cubs’ own Chris Carpenter – another hard-throwing reliever who was drafted out of college (a starter at the time) – will turn 26 in two weeks.)
The other initial-reaction-ding on Weathers was his striking lack of control. Even last year, two years removed from Tommy John surgery, Weathers walked an almost unimaginable 48 batters in 45.2 innings. His career mark isn’t much better, having walked 107 in 135 innings. But, mitigating some of the damage from the walks: Weathers has always struck guys out. In those same 135 innings, Weathers has struck out 169 batters, which, like, whoa. When you look at minor league pitchers, you love to see high strikeout numbers. Not only because strikeouts are, in and of themselves, valuable, but also because it indicates great stuff. And, whether that translates to strikeouts at the big league level or not, it can at least translate to an inability of big league hitters to really square that pitcher up.
That the Rockies took Weathers with the eighth overall pick in 2007 (five spots after the Cubs took Josh Vitters) suggests the makeup of Weathers’ arm has long impressed scouts.
Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein’s take on Weathers squares with the narrative described above.
Weathers represents the risk in taking that college closer who is expected to move quickly and assume a late-inning role. The eighth overall pick in the 2007 draft, Weathers has yet to make the big leagues; instead of making his major-league debut as expected in 2009, he had Tommy John surgery. He was a fun scouting story, as he came up as an outfielder and didn’t take the mound until he won a bet with another position player over who could throw harder. Command and control has always been an issue with Weathers, and like many Tommy John survivors, Weathers has gone backwards in those areas since the procedure. He features closer-level velocity, but his slider is not as sharp as it once was, and after walking 48 over 45.2 innings in 2011, all the Cubs can do is send him to Iowa and hope for more strikes, which we’ve never seen out of him as a professional. The velocity at least gives you something to dream on.
So, there’s another way to explain the slow progress and control issues: Weathers isn’t a lifetime pitcher. Control is often one of the last things to come to a converted pitcher, particular one whose most obvious ability lies in raw arm strength – a kid who can throw hard, will throw hard. That doesn’t always translate to great, repeatable mechanics. So, control comes late – if it comes at all.
In the end, Weathers is a nice lottery ticket. He’s a kid who could finally get his control issues under wraps, and develop into a great bullpen option. One hidden benefit of his slow development: if he does put it together within the next few years and make the Cubs’ pen, he’ll be in his prime with the Cubs before he even hits arbitration. Knowing the way the new front office things, I can’t help but wonder if that factored into their choice of someone like Weathers to be thrown into the “Ian Stewart trade.”
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