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cj edwardsAfter a steady run on hitters, it is time for Prospects Progress to pick up the first pitcher of the winter. Given his stellar performance in the postseason, soaring stock, and possible status as the best pitching prospect in the organization, I think C.J. Edwards is a good choice to be the first pitcher we cover.

But before we get to the details, let’s recap the purpose of the Prospects Progress series. The goal here is not to re-rank the prospects (that comes next year) or to assess the strengths and weaknesses of farm as a whole (that also comes next year). The goal for this series is to take each prospect individually, study the progress made so far, and see what we can learn about the future for that player.

A consensus seemed to be forming around Edwards as being the Cubs fifth or sixth best overall prospects (which is high praise in this system), and then Baseball America drops him in the three slot, arguably declaring him a Top 30 prospect in the process. With that ringing endorsement on his resume, there seems to be just one dominant question on Edwards.

Can he continue to start?

C.J. Edwards, RHP
Born: September 30, 1991
Acquired: Traded to the Cubs from Texas as part of the Matt Garza deal. Originally drafted in the 48th round in 2011 by Texas.

Season Summary

Edwards had a very, very good year. Then he was traded to the Cubs, promoted from the Low A South Atlantic League to the High A Florida State League. After that he had a jaw-droppingly good year.

First, lets look at the combined season numbers. Over a total of 116.1 innings he allowed just one home run while striking out 155, walking 41 and compiling a K/BB ratio of 3.78. It doesn’t matter if you look at his overall ERA (1.86), WHIP (1.006), K/9 (12.0), BB/9 (3.2) or GO/AO (1.41), the numbers range from good to excellent everywhere you look.

That might have gone by a little fast, so let me pause a second to give quick definitions of those acronyms. If you know your stats, feel free to move on to the next paragraph:

K/BB ratio: Strikeouts divided by walks. Higher numbers indicate a guy who strikes out many more than he walks.

ERA: Earned Run Average. The old standby of pitching stats. It is overused, I think, but still a nice stat for some purposes.

WHIP: Walks plus Hits divided by Innings Pitched. Another frequently used stat, but it has acquired a dubious reputation among many baseball fans. I still like it for minor league analysis, but many think it is too dependent on defense to be worth much at all.

K/9: Strikeouts per nine innings. Higher numbers are better. Numbers over 9.0 are quite good.

BB/9: Walks per nine innings. Lower numbers are better.

GO/AO: Ground outs divided by air outs. This measures how effective the pitcher is at getting ground ball outs. I like to see numbers over 1.30. Not as common as the other stats, but I am big fan of ground ball pitchers so I use this one a lot.

Remarkably, his numbers actually get better when he moves up to the more advanced Florida State League with the Cubs. The FSL is known for being a pitcher-friendly league, but even so I would not discount such a large degree of statistical improvement when moving to a more advanced league. These stats do come with a bit of a sample size alert (23.0 innings at that level).

With Daytona, Edwards put up an ERA of 1.96 with a GO/AO of 0.85 on K/9 of 12.9, a K/BB of 4.71 (no, that’s not a typo), a BB/9 of 2.7, and a WHIP of 0.913. He also pitched a pair of fantastic starts in the playoffs, allowing just a single hit between the two of them. Those are the numbers of an excellent pitching prospect.

But that is not in question. There is general agreement that Edwards has great stuff and that, if he can stick in the starting rotation, he could a candidate for the front of the rotation. That takes us back to the essential question:

Can He Start?

And here is the one true answer to that question: no one knows yet.

What we do know is that he has the endurance to pitch over 100 innings during the season and still have enough left in the tank to dominate the FSL playoffs. That is a good sign, but it isn’t conclusive of anything. His innings count was in line with what we would expect for a young pitcher in A ball who only threw 67 innings the year before. Pierce Johnson, for comparison’s sake, threw only 118 innings. We can’t conclude that Edwards threw only 116 innings because he was not capable of throwing more, but nor can we conclude that because he threw 116 he was capable of throwing more.

The internet is full of people speculating that Edwards is too thin to have a starter’s endurance, but that is all it is – speculation. No analysis of aerobic versus anaerobic muscle mass based on a few pictures and some internet video is going to settle this. The Cubs trainers have the best idea of where his future lies, but even for them it is an entirely moot point in the short term.

For the 2014 season Edwards, should he stay healthy, will almost certainly be a starter and pitch about 160 innings. And then, like any other young starter, he will remain in the rotation until he either pitches his way out of it, or the Cubs opt to move him out of it so as to speed up his promotion path, or he reaches Chicago.

C.J. Edwards will eventually tell us himself, with his pitching, whether or not he has the capability of remaining in the rotation long term. Until we see those 160+ inning results, we just won’t know. Until that time comes, though, the question will remain a valid one. There are concerns about the season-long endurance of slightly built pitchers despite any amount of anecdotal or statistical evidence to the contrary. Those questions may not be entire fair in all their phrasings, but they won’t be going away until Edwards chases them away with results.

Personally, I remain on the optimistic side. I think there is sufficient reason to think that he can stick in the rotation that we can continue to think of him in those terms until he demonstrates otherwise. But I’ll be watching his results as closely as anyone as his innings starts to mount in 2014.

Prognosis

I see no reason for Edwards to return to Daytona, so I think he’ll open the season as part of a deep and very talented Tennessee rotation. He will also likely open the season as one of the 10 best pitching prospects in the game for some analysts, and is almost a lock to be in the top 100 for nearly all of them.

Where will he fall in the Bleacher Nation Top 40? Good question. He’ll be very high, but I’m not sure I can quite get behind Baseball America’s ranking at Number Three. Not yet, anyway.

But after a few more months of admiring that High A K/BB ratio I might just change my mind.

  • Good Captain

    I was encouraged to begin w/ but you’re review w/ specifics I wasn’t previously familiar w/ have only served to stoke my enthusiasm. Can’t wait for next year.

    Thanks Luke!

  • Die hard

    He’s thin compared to the fast food fed behemoths grazing the mounds but he’s in good shape considering if he’s a kid who eats his veggies like he should … He will be fine if allowed to mature at his own pace whatever that turns out to be

    • EvenBetterNewsV2.0

      Thank you for that pearl of wisdom.

  • http://www.backingthepack.com Rynomite

    Chris Sale threw 214 1/3 innings this year, tied for 9th in MLB, and he is listed at 6-6, 180. That’s toothpickish. Everyone else in the top 10 in IP is more the typical 6-3 to 6-5, 215-225 lb range, but there is no reason other than conventional wisdom to think Edwards couldn’t be an outlier.

    Pedro Martinez wasn’t even six feet and weighed 170 soaking wet. Russell Wilson is too short to play quarterback…etc etc.

    I think Edwards ends up being the ace of the staff for many years.

    • Bilbo161

      Luke, are you old enough to remember Mario Soto?

  • Justin

    Good stuff on Edwards Luke, just getting him is a great haul for a Garza rental. Weird move by the Rangers for sure… I wonder if part of the reason Edwards is ranked above Almora has to do with Albert’s lack of durability. I know Almora is young, but man he gets banged up constantly it seems. Looks like he just got hurt again yesterday for the 5th time this yr.

    • aaronb

      Almora’s plate discipline is more of a concern than durability at this point. He’s also got a good defensive reputation without having great speed, or power projection.

      So he isn’t a slam dunk to be even a MLB regular at this point.

      • hansman

        “Almora’s plate discipline is more of a concern than durability at this point.”

        Taking into account his ultra-low K rate to go with his BB rate, he has an offensive profile of a less speedy Ellsbury. He is a guy who knows the zone well AND has an amazing contact ability.

        • aaronb

          That was the same excuse they used for Vitters atrocious walk rates. You can get by in the low minors expanding the zone to make contact.

          Rarely works out at the upper levels over an extended period of time. Especially if you aren’t blessed with awesome raw tools.

          • Kyle

            If Vitters played a potentially elite CF defense, he’d still be a star prospect too.

            • aaronb

              I don’t fully buy that line of reasoning.

              There are MAYBE 15 good 3rd basemen in baseball. There are close to 100 guys who can play a good defensive CF with a mediocre bat.

              • Kyle

                Vitters would still be a pretty good prospect if he could be a third baseman, too.

                • DavidC

                  Not to mention Almora walked nearly three times as much as Vitters did in the Midwest League.

                  • DavidC

                    Oh, and struck out 3.6% less than Vitters too.

          • hansman

            Vitters has had no problem dominating AAA and his low A walk rates make Baez blush.

            Hopefully he can be healthy and get a good look in the OF later this year, he is only 24 and still has a decent shot of becoming an MLB regular.

            Not sure why you qualified 3B and CF the way you did. Even if I think your numbers are nowhere near accurate.

            • cub2014

              I think for Vitters the key will be can he get the
              power numbers needed for a corner outfielder?

              • cub2014

                I looked up Vitters minors stats, his
                power numbers were actually pretty
                good for 2011 & 2012 (he was hurt
                in 2013) his OPS .869 at AAA Iowa
                was really good. I too am interested
                to see if his 100AB’s in Chicago was
                a fluke.

                • hansman

                  Even then he was on pace for 30 homers.

                  I geniunely think hes a dark horse in our system.

                  • mjhurdle

                    I have always liked Vitters.
                    His career has always shown that he struggles his first time through a level. I don’t think it is that surprising that he looked so bad his first taste of MLB pitching.
                    Im not saying he will be a stud, but i would like to see him get another shot. If he stays true to his career pattern, then he could still have a lot of value to the Cubs.

            • Bill

              Vitters probably doesn’t have enough power to be a starting corner OF. Reserve? Maybe. His bat would look best at CF or 3B, but he can’t play either of those positions.

  • SH

    Really pumped on this guy. Hope he can stay in the rotation.

  • Isaac

    Great article. The Mark Derosa…err, Chris Archer…err, Matt Garza trade is looking better and better. Nice job Jim Hendry.

  • CubChymyst

    I have read elsewhere (http://www.fangraphs.com/fantasy/what-can-we-expect-from-c-j-edwards/) that in a couple games his velocity had dropped by the 5th inning, but that his ability the retain his velocity was improving as the year went on. Have you heard or seen anything else about his ability to retain his velocity improving?

    • C. Steadman

      ive read on twitter that he has a cut fastball that he has which sits 88-91…maybe he uses that more later in games…who knows but I hope CJ shows he has the durability as a starter next year so we can end this debate

      • CubChymyst

        Him showing that he has the ability to be a starter next year would be ideal.

        • C. Steadman

          yeah, and once he shows that he’ll move into the top 20 of prospects, because that seems to be the only question mark…that fangraph article did mention he leaves his fastball letter high alot…wonder how much stock we can take into that because that could be another thorn on this rose

        • MichiganGoat

          Agreed if he can get to 140ish innings and not show major regression or problems then it will go a long way to silencing the fear that he doesn’t have the body to start.

          • CubChymyst

            Like to see most of those inning be in AA. As Luke mentioned, there doesn’t seem to be much of a reason for him to go back to High A even though he was only there for a short time.

            • MichiganGoat

              I’d expect he’d start at AA or at least be there after a few starts in A+ the only hold up would be if the AA rotation has a bit of a logjam there and they don’t want to add another arm in the picture just yet.

            • King Jeff

              I hope he goes back so I can see him pitch a few more times before he moves up. I have a feeling I’ve already seen the last of Soler and Bryant in Daytona.

    • MichiganGoat

      Yeah that has been mentioned and I’d love to see some comparisons to other pitchers his age and on his developmental plan. I’d think a drop in velocity would be expected from a younger pitcher after 5 innings, but I don’t have any way to compare and analyze this assumption.

    • SenorGato

      YES! The other day Manuel from BA was talking about how his velocity held up during the season, that’s fine and maybe even true. OTOH I definitely remember reading stuff about how he’d lose velocity into the 89-92 range as the game went on. Also I vaguely remember reading that he throws a ton of cutters already, a pitch that Rick Peterson (among others) believes takes away from four seam velocity the more you throw it.

      I have not yet jumped onto the Edwards wagon, though he is clearly the best of a weak bunch of SP prospects in the Cubs system.

  • Austin

    So two of our best pitching prospects, Edwards and Vizcaino, have high chances of not even being starters. Not very promising still. Hopefully 1 or both stay and become good starters in the majors.

    • C. Steadman

      at this point, I’d just be happy with Vizcaino being a reliever and just being healthy

      • willis

        I’d be happy just seeing him. Period. Does he actually exist? Or is he a Teo Girlfriend type?

    • Napercal

      Maybe the Cubs can have 13 pitchers with great stuff that can only pitch one inning – a staff full of relievers as interchangeable parts. The College of Pitchers.

      • MichiganGoat

        You know one day I’m waiting for a team to decide to do something like this, but egos get in the way and the best pitchers want to start and complete games so I doubt it will ever happen. Still if you have a handful of decent 3-4 inning pitchers I’d like to see a progressive manager try to set a rotation with a couple of piggybank starts vs. trying to get an average pitcher to go 7 innings just try and get two pitchers that can go 4 innings and let the closer do the closing.

        • Napercal

          It would likely decrease the amount you would have to pay pitchers.

        • Beauner

          Colorado tried it a couple years ago and it went poorly. They put everyone on a 75 pitch count. Now Jim Tracy is hardly progressive and the actual talent level left something to be desired, so somebody may give it another shot.

    • SenorGato

      Late inning relief is so valuable nowadays that I don’t see the big deal if these guys end up in the pen. They’re not big enough investments to have that be a knock.

    • AB

      I’ll be happy with one of Johnson, Vizcaino, Edwards panning out as a starter.

  • Die hard

    Turner Classic Movie channel fan— one of the most striking things is how thin everyone is extras included- sure there are exceptions few and far between that prove the rule– fast forward to today and one can’t help but notice how FAT this country has become including athletes– thank you Mr Roy Kroc of crap– so when a kid like Edwards shows up some want to fatten him up to be able to pitch in the bigs– I say leave him be and he will be ok

    • Edwin

      True, I evaluate every prospect based on how much they look like movie extra’s on TCM.

      • Die hard

        Missed the point again as usual

        • MichiganGoat

          Well nobody can really understand your mind

          • CubChymyst

            To quote an avenger: His mind is like a bag of cats, You can smell crazy on him.

            • MichiganGoat

              nicely done

        • DarthHater

          The point was idiotic again as usual.

          • MichiganGoat

            ummm duh Darth that IS the point… idiocy

        • Edwin

          It’s not my fault. As child, I was forced to play as the broken hungry hungry hippo, and I’ve never been the same since. I’ve become bitter and pessamistic about life.

    • Mick

      Get a job!

      • DarthHater

        God, no. The he might do real harm.

        • DarthHater

          *Then

          • MichiganGoat

            See the idiocy is contagious.

  • MightyBear

    I read he was consistently hitting 95 on the gun and was hitting it in the 5th inning as well as the first. When Wood, Hoyer, Epstein and McCleod all went to see him in Daytona this year, they all had the same reaction to him “easy”. The ball comes out of his hand free and easy. He’s going to be a star and your future number one, probably middle of 2015.

    • Edwin

      Scouts and prospect people said similar things about Trey McNutt after 2010.

      • SH

        [img]http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/assets_c/2010/05/this-time-is-different-thumb-228×344-19860.jpg[/img]

      • MightyBear

        CJ Edwards isn’t Trey McNutt.

        • Edwin

          Obviously. Let’s hope his career winds up better than McNutt’s.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

        For whatever it’s worth, if they said it about McNutt, they were saying it about Archer, too. There was very little to distinguish the two at that time.

        So … Edwards has a 50/50 shot, I guess. :)

        • C. Steadman

          heads or tails..

        • ETS

          If Edwards is really good then it for sure takes the sting out of losing chris archer.

        • Edwin

          True. They say it about any young pitching prospect. That’s why when I see a “scouting” report about a young pitcher, I try and take it with a grain of salt. Or sand. Whatever grain I have on hand, really.

  • When the Music’s Over

    I have no problems whatsoever if he can stay healthy enough / show enough stamina to be a 6-7 innings pitcher at the MLB level. If the Cubs were to also shave off 2-3 starts per year at the beginning of his MLB career (this is all assuming he makes it), that can also reduce the workload. Over the course of a full season, his IP can be kept around the 190 mark.

    If you can get 190 high octane innings out of a starter, you’d take it all day. So what if the reduction innings means people can’t label him a true #1 or #2 pitcher.

  • MightyBear

    How come I can post a link?

    • MichiganGoat
      • MightyBear

        No I tried several times. I’m using Google Chrome. Is that the problem? Let me try another browser.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Looks like the spam filter didn’t like the link you were trying to post – I’m guessing it’s a flagged site for some reason.

      • MightyBear

        Oh OK. It was video of CJ Edwards pitching but it was another baseball site. Maybe its virusy and the filter didn’t like it. No big deal. It just showed him consistently pitching in the mid 90s with a great breaking ball. Good to see.

  • The Dude Abides

    He’s listed as 6’2″, nothing wrong with that. Let’s see how much he weighs when he is dominating AAA in a couple of years. Sad part is we have no pitching prospects in AAA today. That’s why it sounds like Theo is considering a trade of one of the big four to Miami for pitching prospects, we need to move up the timeline on major league ready pitchers. Pitching and more pitching is what we need.

  • Blackhawks1963

    The specific rank number of one top prospect versus another is silly to debate. The point is the Cubs are blessed with a group of 6 or 7 blue chip prospects right now…all among the top prospects in baseball…that is the envy of baseball. To me Bryant is a special talent (and funny how all that talk of why didn’t they draft Jonathan Gray has vanished), Baez is exciting to contemplate, Almora might have the best long-term major league future of any prospect in the system, and Soler is a hi-skill diamond in the roof. Meanwhile a solid prospect in Alcantara almost gets lost in the discussion. And we have Edwards and Johnson solidly in the conversation as well…BOTH project as solid major league starting pitchers.

    It’s ALL good. What Theo, Jed and Jason have done in two years is mind blowing.

    • C. Steadman

      yeah that talk was silly, just look at the 2014 draft class…loaded with college pitching but not one prospect with the same power Bryant has…good selection at #2…i forget which baseball analyst on twitter said it but im paraphrasing…Cubs may lack a TOR type pitcher but they have loaded up on the most rare commodity in baseball post-steriod era…raw power

  • MichaelD

    I wonder if there is a tendency to overrate the Cubs’ prospect pitchers and underrate the position prospects. Edwards is clearly the best of the pitching prospects, while Alcantara is between the 3rd and 7th best hitting prospects. I think the same thing might happen with the overall lists where the best of the bad systems is more likely to be ranked in the 75-100 range instead of the 4th best from a slightly above average system.

    • C. Steadman

      i do think Alcantara is underrated, also think Christian Villanueva could be a solid 3B in the majors

      • jt

        C. Villanueva is underrated.

    • On The Farm

      ” Edwards is clearly the best of the pitching prospects, while Alcantara is between the 3rd and 7th best hitting prospects.”

      Alcantara did kind of slump to end the season so that could have effected where he was. Midseason he had certainly hit himself into the big 5 conversation (as evidence by his Future’s game starting nod), but kind of quieted down at the end of the season.

      “the best of the bad systems is more likely to be ranked in the 75-100 range instead of the 4th best from a slightly above average system.”

      Highly possible, but something to keep in mind the guys ranked 75-100 are fairly close in ranking and I am sure there 25 more guys that are top 100 worthy that in the end it came down to splitting hairs. So writers probably pick the smartest route (for them at least) and pick a someone from a poor system so each team has representation on the list. So while it could be because they are the best of a bad bunch, it could also be that someone like Johnson is probably equal to the other prospects in the 75-100 range, but the Cubs already have so many above him, its better to list another team for more clicks.

      • MichaelD

        I would agree with your points. I was just trying to give a big range for Alcantara.

        I think you suggest one of the two most likely reasons for the bias. The other one is that the fact that they are first on the list ends up being the tie breaker.

  • David

    Wow… Drafted in the 48th round!!! Just goes to show you how important scouting/ player development is to a system.

  • Blackhawks1963

    The Cubs have some definite quality and interesting pitching prospects. Johnson, Edwards and Vizcaino are all solid prospects. And all Hendricks has done is put up great performance at every stop in the minors…he’s one of those guys who gets downgraded because he lacks top notch “stuff,” but it is frequently the case that guys like him go on to produce quality 10 year plus major league careers (think a Jon Garland / Ricky Nolasco type). And Underwood, Blackburn, Maples, Pineyro, Cates and Zastranzy all are very appealing at this point.

    To quote Dick Williams, there is no such thing as a team or an organization having too much good pitching. But I do like what the Cubs have in the pipeline.

  • Jose’s Eyelid

    So easy to dream on CJ and the rest of the top products.

    Does anyone else think about what kind of team we would have if our top six guys hit their potential? Mind-blowing ….

  • Funn Dave

    “Originally drafted in the 28th round by Texas.”

    Awesome. I love when late picks turn into unexpected surprises.

  • Funn Dave

    Luke: props for including brief descriptions of the stats.

  • Senor Cub

    I wish he would have made a stop in Kane County. It would have been nice to see him there. I am gonna follow this kid, he sounds like a stud in the making!

  • Joycedaddy

    I think all the talk about Edwards not having the “endurance” or “body” to be a starting pitcher is complete bs. A lot of defensive ends move down the board in the NFL draft if they’re under 6 feet tall, like Elvis Dumervil. Dumervil was the most dominant DE at Louisville during his last season there, but dropped significantly because of his height. It’s apples to oranges, but I don’t really buy into athletes not having the body to succeed. If CJ was showing signs of fatigue while pitching, then sure I would believe in it, but I don’t think he has. If he keeps pitching like this, we won’t need to trade for a TOR arm.

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