Casey Coleman has been something of an afterthought in the rotation competition, despite being one of the Cubs’ first rotation fill-ins last year (not that that’s a particularly high compliment). The 24-year-old former Minor League Pitcher of the Year struggled with his control last year, and did little to engender a belief that he could succeed long-term as a starter in the big leagues.
So maybe I shouldn’t call it a surprise that Coleman might be emerging as a bullpen candidate this year – and not the swing-man/long reliever type. Coleman recently pitched a scoreless ninth inning, during which he flashed a fastball that touched 94 mph. After a career of starting, could Coleman convert into a one-inning reliever? That velocity increase could certainly help.
And it turns out, Coleman’s happy to crank it up when he’s coming out of the pen.
“There’s a lot of bullpen spots open and guys competing,” Coleman said. “I don’t mind where I’m at. I can come in for one inning. As a starter I like to establish a sinker and throw different pitches. Out of the ‘pen, I can hit 93, 94 [mph] if I need a good fastball.
“I’ve developed a new slider where I drop down a little bit, and that’s a strikeout pitch. I feel [that] overall I can adapt better to the bullpen now with what I have. Last year, at the beginning of spring, I was throwing normal stuff, and I didn’t think I would be effective in the bullpen. Now I’m striking out a few more guys and making pitches when I need to. I think I could adapt to that very easily.”
If Jeff Samardzija makes the rotation, the Cubs will be even more pressed to find another reliever capable of taking a late inning from time to time, especially considering Kerry Wood’s advancing age and tenuous health, coupled with Sean Marshall’s departure. It still seems a long-shot that the guy could be Coleman, but it’s an interesting new possibility.