I have some bad news for you. This list is not going to be anywhere near as talent rich and exciting as the second base and shortstop / third base lists were. In fact, other than corner outfielders, left-handed pitching is possibly the most barren sector of the farm system.
Despite that, there are some quality pitchers we could see in the majors in the near future, and there are some very intriguing pitchers in the low minors. Like first base a year ago, this is an area of the farm system that could improve very quickly.
1 – Jeff Beliveau. Age: 25. Major League ETA: 2012
Jeff Beliveau is the best left-handed reliever prospect in the Cubs farm system and among the best in all of baseball. He does not have overpowering stuff, but he is effective and efficient at getting outs. After dominating Double-A to the tune of a 0.877 WHIP and a 5.31 SO/BB ratio, he was added to the 40-man roster and invited to Spring Training. The Cubs decided he needs a little more experience, which he will gain in Iowa, before he comes to Chicago. Right now he looks like a likely candidate to take Sean Marshall‘s job as the late inning lefty over the long haul. [Brett: and he was the Cubs' Minor League Pitcher of the Year last year, to boot.]
2 – Chris Rusin. Age: 25. Major League ETA: 2012
Until the Cubs signed Paul Maholm, I thought Rusin would have a real chance to make the Cubs’ Opening Day rotation out of Spring Training. Instead he will go back to Iowa and await his turn, but that turn will come. When it does, expect to see one of the best control pitchers in the system. Rusin will never be mistaken for a power pitcher, but he takes full advantage of his off speed and breaking stuff by generating a lot of ground balls. John Arguello wrote a pretty good scouting report on the lefty earlier this Winter. When the Cubs do have a need for an additional starter in Chicago this summer, Rusin should be high on the short list of candidates.
3 – Brooks Raley. Age: 23. Major League ETA: 2013
Raley was a key starter on the Tennessee Smokies’ run to the Southern League Championship Series and is just behind Rusin on the list of potential left-handed starters for the Cubs. Raley is not the ground ball pitcher Rusin is, but he is also two years younger and improved quite a bit in that area last season. Like Rusin, he relies on his breaking and off speed pitches to get hitters out. He gave up too many hits last season, and that could be a problem as he moves up to Iowa and the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League. The Cubs will likely let him continue to refine his pitches in Iowa this season, but he could be a candidate for a September call-up. Otherwise, I think we will see him in Chicago for the first time next year.
4 – Frank Del Valle. Age: 22. Major League ETA: 2013
This Cuban defector might be the best power lefty in the farm system despite standing just 5’11″. There are several reports of him easily hitting 98 MPH while pitching for Peoria in the second half of last season, and he may already have a plus breaking pitch to go with that fastball. The Cubs jumped him up to Daytona for the playoffs, and after an initial rough outing he proved to be extremely effective. We should get a chance this season to see how his stuff holds up against the more advanced hitters of the upper minors. I think he will return to Daytona to start the season, but will finish the year with the Smokies. If he continues to look as good as he did in his playoff start against the Mets, he could prove to be the surprise of the farm system in 2012.
5 – Eric Jokisch. Age: 22. Major League ETA: 2013
Jokisch made it to Double A in just his second season as a professional, and from the numbers he seemed right at home. While not an exceptional ground ball pitcher, he does avoid giving up home runs. If he can continue to limit the hits and walks, I think he could have a nice future as either a bullpen arm or a back of the rotation starter. I suspect he will return to Double-A to start 2012, but an assignment to Daytona would not surprise me.
Others To Watch
Austin Kirk deserves some acclaim for pitching a no hitter for Peoria last season. He was inconsistent for much of last season, leading to him being bumped off the Top Five, but there are a lot of things to like about this guy. I would not be surprised if he has a breakout season in Daytona, similar to Robert Whitenack last year. Willengton Cruz is a very intriguing young lefty who jumped from the DSL to Peoria last year. He needs polish, but he is worth keeping an eye on. Jeffry Antigua had a nice season in Datyona in 2011. I’m not sure if he is a starter or reliever long term; if he does stay in the bullpen he could move up the system quickly and be a bullpen candidate in Spring Training next season. Kyler Burke is a former slugger working on converting to the mound. It is too early to say how that experiment will go, but we can’t forget about him.
And, of course, there’s recent 20-year-old Cuban signee, Gerardo Concepcion. Without a Stateside track record to go on, it’s hard to project Concepcion better than the prognosticators have (a future back-end of the rotation type, with a high floor but a low ceiling). It’s easy to see him shooting up this list in short order – indeed, within a half season, he might be number 1.
Tomorrow I will wrap up this series with a look a the right-handed pitching prospects.