Intriguing Relief Arms Aplenty Throwing Today and Other Bullets

arodys vizcaino cubsYesterday was Jorge Soler’s birthday (22) and Ron Santo’s (would have been 74). If the former can match the overall career success of the latter, I think we’d all be pretty happy.

  • Today’s six-inning intrasquad game, started by pitching prospects Kyle Hendricks and Eric Jokisch, will also feature the following pitchers: Arodys Vizcaino, Armando Rivero, Chang-Yong Lim, Neil Ramirez, Tsuyoshi Wada, Brian Schlitter and Marcus Hatley. It’s an interesting collection of guys whom I would argue are “next tier” bullpen candidates, behind the guys we tentatively expect to make the pen (i.e., guys like Jose Veras, Pedro Strop, Justin Grimm, Hector Rondon, Blake Parker, Carlos Villanueva, Wesley Wright, and James Russell). Wada and Ramirez are potential starters, but, generally, these are guys with some solid bullpen upside.
  • All eyes will be on Vizcaino, who will be pitching in a competitive Spring Training setting for the first time in two years. He’s reportedly looked like a beast in side sessions so far. That’s also true for Rivero, whom the Cubs signed last year out of Cuba for $3.1 million, and who could be a very good reliever in the near-term future. Schlitter always seems to pitch well when healthy, and Hatley is a guy with obvious swing-and-miss stuff, but who has to improve his control. And then you’ve got Ramirez, one of the pitchers received in the Matt Garza trade, whom many have said could be a back-of-the-bullpen arm if/when starting comes off the table. Finally, there’s Chang-Yong Lim, the Korean side-armer the Cubs signed last year while he recovered from Tommy John surgery. He’s full recovered now, and, pre-surgery, he was one of the most dominant relievers in the NPB.
  • You can see the lineups for each team today here, and I’ll have a little more on the game as the appointed hour approaches (2pm CT).
  • You saw the unbelievable picture yesterday, as well as Gordon Wittenmyer’s associated write-up, and today there’s another piece on Dan Vogelbach’s new physique from Carrie Muskat. It’s a great read to really get into just how hard Vogelbach worked, and how much dedication he showed (changing his diet, too). Evaluators in the organization, and Vogelbach, himself, say that the weight loss won’t negatively affect his power, and will actually improve it by strengthening his core. His bat speed is still where it always was.
  • Kyuji Fujikawa threw off the mound for the first time during his Tommy John rehab, and all went well. A late May return remains plausible, though June is more likely (that’d put him 12 months clear of his surgery).
  • Anthony Rizzo on the desire to keep the team together throughout the year – players don’t love seeing guys they’ve become close with dealt away in July. But that’s obviously the reality now.
  • Jesse Rogers argues that Travis Wood, not Jeff Samardzija, should be the Opening Day starter, given the lefty’s performance last year.
  • A profile from Patrick Mooney on C.J. Edwards.
  • A fun read on Junior Lake from Bruce Miles.

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

74 responses to “Intriguing Relief Arms Aplenty Throwing Today and Other Bullets”

  1. Javier Bryant

    Will Cabrera make the team out of spring training, or will they let him go to clear a spot on the 40 man?

    1. ced landrum

      I hope they don’t. He has as much upside as any pitcher in the minors not named Edwards and Johnson.

    2. CubFan Paul

      I’d like to see if Cabrera’s new-found AA starting success would translate to AAA early &MLB midseason or 2015

      1. C. Steadman

        would we even see Cabrera in Iowa though? he’s gonna have to pass thru waivers, and i’m guessing another team will submit a claim unless he implodes this spring…i wish he wasnt out of options this year

        1. Javier Bryant

          I wouldn’t be surprised if Rondon or Grimm start in Triple A, just to keep Cabrera for a little bit. Or they could deal him for a ptbnl and clear up the roster spot

    3. bnile1

      Depends on his health, but assuming he stays healthy, it’s hard to imagine a spring bad enough to not make the team if he’s out of options. Most of the rest of the competitors have options so all things being equal I suspect he’s given the last spot in the pen, with the abiltiy to move up if does well, or out if he doesn’t. I still think they will trade villanueva before the regular season begins, which would “clear” a spot for him.

  2. Kyle

    If he’s throwing off a mound already, I can see Fujikawa back in May for sure. Maybe not even late May. Relievers can recover a lot faster than starters. Might explain why I don’t believe he’s been 60-day DL’d yet.

  3. Jon

    I think the key for Dan is going to be keeping the weight off during the season. His time to do cardio etc, will be limited and after night games I’m sure there will be temptation to not eat as healthy, grab a quick meal(pizza’s, burgers, beers) etc.

    1. gocatsgo2003

      Probably at least somewhat counteracted by being around the team’s coaches and training staff full-time.

  4. Patrick G

    I feel starting wood over shark on opening day would incline him more to not sign an extension. I could be reading into it more than I should, but if he wants ace money, he’s going to want to be the ace, Hence opening day starters are usually the ace of the staff. I think he’ll be pissed off with not being opening day starter and then receiving much less than he really wants.

    1. Jon

      I never understood the hand wringing over who the opening day starter is. Is it really the “status” thing? They are all going to pitch, plenty.

      1. Napercal

        Totally an ego thing. It matters for one day. Given the likelihood of rainouts early in the season, the rotation will get juggled around any way.

      2. frank

        Yup–as Napercal says–ego. It matters only for that one day.

    2. C. Steadman

      yeah, i think its all but guaranteed(inury/trade) that Shark is Opening Day starter

  5. V23

    Hendricks should succeed today.

  6. Jon

    re: Rizzo….Young players, pillars, you have asked to assume leadership are also tired of the tanking(Good for him!). More collateral damage for the tanking plan that often isn’t accounted for. You don’t want your leaders to just accept losing.

    1. MichiganGoat

      Wow you really see dots nobody else does and connect them with some curvy lines.

      1. Jon

        Don’t you think of these young players are sick of going to every season with team, that even best case scenario, can win in the low 70′s? Team being gutted in July, a triple A roster in Sept? The blowouts, This is Rizzo’s 3rd year in it, this is Castro’s 4th. It has to wear on them.

        1. MichiganGoat

          Maybe but that is you connecting dots that don’t exist but instead you connecting dots to fit your narrative. Rizzo is doing what yiu expecting saying that he loves his teamates and hopes he spends the entire year with them. That’s what you want from a leader.

          1. Jon

            Rainman also connected dots nobody saw, but he was a genius.

            1. MichiganGoat

              Oh my ummmm he was a FICTIONAL character. FIC… TION… AL as is most of your analysis.

              1. DarthHater

                Video of Jon and Goat discussing the Cubs:


                1. MichiganGoat

                  I was actually trying to reference this

  7. ssckelley

    If Vogelbach looked like that before he was drafted I think he would have been a high first round pick. Reading that article makes me more optimistic that Vogelbach can hit and play first base well enough to stick. He has a very good chance to elevate his status as a top prospect this season.

    1. Noah_I

      He still wouldn’t have been a high first round pick. All Vogelbach’s weight loss does is increase the odds he’s an at least serviceable defensive 1B, maybe even an average one.

      Only 3 first basemen have been drafted in the first round since 2010, with Dominic Smith being the highest pick at 11 last year. Smith was in a weaker draft class, scouts are higher on Smith’s bat (he was rated by many as having the best pure bat in his draft) and is rated as an excellent defensive 1B. The other two first basemen picked were C.J. Cron, who was a college draftee that was supposed to be ready for the Majors fairly quickly, and has disappointed thus far, and Christian Yelich, who was athletic enough to be moved to LF.

      Had Vogelbach been the size he is now for enough time for it not to just be a pre-draft weight loss, had shown at this size that he could project to be a MLB first baseman defensively, and the offense had otherwise been similar, I’d say odds are pretty good he could have been a back end of the first round pick or a pick in the sandwich round.

      While I love Vogelbach’s approach at the plate, he’s the most consistently overestimated prospect in the Cubs’ system to me. To become a top prospect, a true top prospect, he either has to magically become an above average fielding 1B, or he has to start hitting for big power as well. If Vogelbach hits 30 home runs next season (he hit 19 last year), that will increase his prospect status far more than any weight loss.

      It’s great to have an approach where you hit like John Olerud or Mark Grace, but it helps if you field like Olerud or Grace as well.

      1. Noah_I

        I should edit, Dominic Smith was rated as having the best pure HIGH SCHOOL bat in his draft.

      2. Jon

        (for a lack of a better comparison) he could be John Kruk, for the Cubs or someone else, and that wouldn’t be bad.

        1. Jon

          *Kruk w/ less walks but more power.

        2. Napercal

          That’s the name that immediately jumped to mind this morning when I read the article in the paper.

        3. Noah_I

          That’s actually a pretty good comparison, but Kruk level value could be ceiling.

          I’m rooting for Vogelbach, but I just think that he’s someone a lot of fans are prone to overrate.

          1. ssckelley

            Actually I think Vogelbach is under rated because of the weight and how he has been perceived as athletically challenged in the field. If this weight loss translates to better defense and has made him stronger these ratings will go through the roof.

            John Kruk did not come up that big, he turned into a softball slugger later in his career. Kruk came up as an outfielder and never had the power Vogelbach had even in the minors.

            This baseball card is of Kruk when he was 22 and playing in AA.


            Although Vogelbach does have similar facial features as Kruk.

      3. bnile1

        There’s a difference between draft status and prospect status. In the draft position flexibility is much more important, and defense abltiy is a lot more important when a guy is purely projection. In the draft a 1b can’t be projected to another position, so you can’t fall back on him being a utility player if he can’t hit. After a guy has proven he can hit in the professional ranks, then that becomes less of an issue. I do agree that his hitting 30 hr would have the biggest effect at moving him up the prospect boards, but IF he shows more athletic ability, it would remove a lot the “ceiling” on his projection. More importantly for our puposes it would allow him to stay at 1b and possibly even be considered for LF(though that’s a long ways to go to cross that bridge), which would make him much more “tradable”, or if he could even the differential with Rizzo enough to make Rizzo expendabe in a trade. In other words, this does nothing but help his value which is good news.

  8. Senor Cub

    I watched Kyuji a few times last year and he looked awful from day one!!!

    1. C. Steadman

      he had three bad outings out of 12…his K/9 was 10.5 and FIP was 2.80…I cant wait till he’s healthy again, I’m glad he wont be counted on as closer though

      1. MichiganGoat

        Oh those silly stats mean nothing when compared to a few observations.

        1. C. Steadman

          haha i know, i was at the SF game which was a terrible outing and I couldve easily judged him on that…thank goodness for a Navarro HR and castro walkoff double…i was singing Go Cubs Go on my way out!

        2. Jason P

          The stats don’t really mean anything, either. 12 innings is a tiny sample.

          1. C. Steadman

            exactly, i was more so just tryin to counter his “Kyuji is awful” statement by showing he wasnt that bad in the few outings he actually had

            1. Jason P

              Yeah, I think the stuff at least looked pretty good. He has a nice splitter.

              1. C. Steadman

                yeah, it was filthy at times…it’ll be a good doubleplay pitch if he comes into the game with Runners On

  9. dabynsky

    We expect the team to carry 8 relievers? The point raised in the bullets is that the Cubs really do have some tough roster calls with some intriguing arms that will be tough to sort out without injury and trade opening some spots.

  10. kridertr

    So lake in CF like everyone has been wanting!!

  11. C. Steadman

    Wish i was in Mesa today for multiple reasons, Chicago temp right now is 4…and I would love to see this game(especially for free)…Brett do you know if there will be a running box score somewhere, so i can click to refresh furiously throughout the afternoon?

  12. Kyle

    Already annoyed that Vitters isn’t starting in either lineup.

    1. DarthHater

      Yea, like you weren’t already annoyed before that. :-P

    2. Blackhawks1963

      The Vitters shipped already sailed. TheoJed wrote him off over a year ago. He needs to learn how to play the outfield at Iowa to have any chance of getting another big league audition. If not for being a former 1st round draft pick, there would be little if any talk about his major league future.

      1. Kyle

        Still not true about needing time in Iowa to learn the outfield. And he *is* a former first-round pick who hit very well in Iowa at age-appropriate levels the last two years.

      2. Jon

        One would think if they wrote him off, he would have been left off the 40 man roster.

        1. Blackhawks1963

          He is filler at this point. Triple A filler. Think Donnie Murphy type. For now the presence of Vitters isn’t blocking anybody.

          1. Jon

            Brett Jackson is done. That contact rate isn’t going to play. There is a chance with Vitters. I know you hate to play the % game, but I’d say there is a 20-30% chance he could be a productive corner outfielder(20-25HRs) with acceptable defense that won’t kill you. The #’s in AAA prove that.

            1. Blackhawks1963

              Brett Jackson is officially toast. He may not make the Iowa starting outfield picture assuming that Szczur and Andreoli are there to start. Josh Vitters probably gets put at 1st base at Iowa to fill a void. For all intents and purposes, Vitters is done as a prospect. He’s devolved into the realm of a Donnie Murphy type who will fight for a sporadic cup of coffee at the big league level. The Cubs have the ugliest outfield situation in the majors right now…even with that I can’t see Vitters going north with the big club unless Lake implodes down in Arizona.

      3. Jason P

        If not for being a former first round pick, I think he would a lot more highly thought of. Baseball America has Matt Szczur and Rubi Silva ahead of him.

        1. Sacko

          Vitters or Mcdonald? Don’t see any explanation on that..personal ties to FO..stupid, Please get rid of that guy.

          1. Blackhawks1963

            Every team, to include St. Louis and Boston, has 40 man roster filler types stuffed at the Triple A level. The current presence of Vitters and McDonald on the roster isn’t hurting a damned thing. When / if something better comes along within the system, then guys like Vitters / McDonald simply get whacked.

            1. Sacko

              I meant Mcdonald taking anytime away from Vitters

  13. Blackhawks1963

    Cubs might be able to flip a reliever or two in trade at the end of Spring Training. That would be a good thing.

    Right now, barring a trade or the unforseen with ineffectiveness or injury….

    Rotation…Samardzija, Wood, Jackson, Hammel, McDonald
    Pen…Veres, Strop, Russell, Wright, Villenueva, Rondon, Cabrera (he won’t survive waivers, hence the Cubs keep him for now)
    Iowa…Vizcaino, Rivero, Ramirez, Grimm, Lim, Parker, Schlitter

    1. Jason P

      Parker>Russell, Rondon, Villanueva

      1. Blackhawks1963

        Parker doesn’t throw hard and has options. He will have to look very good in spring trainign to overcome Rondon on the depth chart. Villenueva and Russell are under contract and the only way they don’t make the pen is if they get flipped prior to April 1st. Villenueva will likely be kept as insurance for the starting rotation, especially given the presence of the less than inspiring trio of Jackson, McDonald and Hammel to start the year in the rotation.

        1. FullCountTommy

          Use the options as an excuse, but don’t say Parker won’t be in the pen because he doesn’t throw hard. Last year in just about 50 innings, he put up a 2.63 ERA with a 2.70 FIP with a K rate of 28% and a walk rate of 8%. Velocity or not, Parker should be in the bullpen.

      2. another JP

        I agree Jason. Parker will definitely be on the 25 man roster to start the season.

  14. Lou Brown

    I wonder if the front office is set on Visciano in the pen? It seems with the whole service time thing, and his TOR stuff, the route to go might be to stretch him out in the minors this year. Like they did with Albert Cabrera. I know the durability is a question, but he essentially had TJS, and then a complication from that TJS. Just spit-ballin.

    1. willis

      I think you have to be, for now. IF he can go through this season and pitch roughly 50-55 innings, staying healthy, then maybe you consider bumping him back to starter. Durability is such a huge concern, and the kid can be a huge asset to the organization and this rebuild. Play it very conservatively and safe this year, then go back to the drawing board if he can prove his health is there.

      Really looking forward to watching him.

      1. Lou Brown

        That was kind of my thought, what is more conservative than having him spend the year in the minors under a managed work load? A front line starter in 2016, is a lot more valuable than a back end reliever in 2015. This FO seems to have no problem sacrificing the present for the future.

        1. willis

          If he’s healthy…going to be very tough to hold him back with the type of stuff he has (probably the best of all bullpen arms). I’d rather see him in the minors on a very tight schedule but that’s just going to be tough to expect.

  15. willis

    Over/Under for wins this year on Bovada (and other places I’ve seen about the same) is 69.5. I say under by a couple.

  16. Funn Dave

    Dammit, Brett–first you remind me that our team sucks, and now you remind me that I won’t even get to listen to Ronnie complain about how much our team sucks. I demand uplifting news! If there isn’t any to report, make some up!

  17. Diehardthefirst

    If Cards Garcia on 60 day DL to start season and Cubs get to a fast start maybe Cubs in 1st at All Star break?

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