zac rosscupConventional wisdom holds that the Cubs’ organization has an overall lack of pitching. As we’ll see when we cover the right handers in the organization, that is not entirely true. With regards to the lefties, though, the Cubs find themselves in serious need of a restock. Quality southpaws are far more rare than right-handed pitchers, but that also tends to make them a little harder to acquire. If the Cubs want some quality left-handed options in their future, they would be well served by finding and developing their own.

Fortunately, although they do lack in quantity, the Cubs do have some quality. Even though the Cubs have few options, it is easy to see a major league future for a few of them, and there are more deep in the system with potentially high ceilings. And, of course, there are some wild cards lurking here and there as well.

For the sake of this article I am not counting Chris Rusin as a prospect. He is a solid option at the back of the rotation or in an emergency starter role, and I suspect he would do just fine in a middle relief job should the Cubs need it, but this article is focusing on players a little deeper (or a lot deeper) in the system.

The Starters

Mainly due to luck, I have watched Eric Jokisch pitch in person more than any other pitcher in the organization, and every time I have liked what I saw. His stuff is not overpowering, but it is consistent. Although he isn’t much of a ground ball pitcher (his GO/AO last season with the Smokies was just 0.91), he does a nice job keeping the ball in the ballpark. None of his pitches grade exceptionally well, but he can locate them well enough to earn a K/BB ratio around 2.5 last season.

Ultimately Jokisch’s path to the majors may be via the bullpen, but I suspect the Cubs will keep him in the rotation until and unless that bullpen job opens up. At this stage he looks most like a back of the rotation / long relief type. He should begin the year as a key component of the Iowa rotation.

Rob Zastryzny, on the other hand, has a considerably higher ceiling. Zastryzny was the first pitcher the Cubs selected in the 2013 draft, and he quickly picked up notoriety due to his reported ability to throw his fastball at a wide range of speeds, ranging from the mid 80s to the low to mid 90s. That kind of variation, if actually part of his skill set, is both unusual and useful. The better news is that in addition to his fastball (which is a weapon at any speed), he also has changeup and a curve that projects to be average or better.

If he pitches near his ceiling, Zastryzny has the makings of a solid mid-rotation workhorse. He should open the season in either Kane County or Daytona, and could be a candidate to reach Tennessee by the end of the year.

Austin Kirk made a name for himself with a no hitter a few seasons back, but he did not fare nearly that well with the Smokies in nine starts last summer. He still has back of the rotation projections, but he may have a hard time finding starters innings as that very good Daytona 2013 rotation looks to move up a level.

The Relievers

Zac Rosscup is the most notable name among the bullpen prospects. The last Cub standing from the Garza/Archer trade, Rosscup spent much of last season dominating Double A to the tune of a 2.07 FIP and a 13.7 K/9. He won’t open the 2014 season in Chicago, but he should be ready just as soon as the Cubs need another lefty for their bullpen. He has a chance to carve out a very valuable niche for himself as a left handed setup man for the Cubs.

Also pitching well for Tennessee and Iowa last season was Jeffry Antigua. This lefty is younger than Rosscup and likely needs a little more minor league seasoning, but he offers some reason for optimism. Walks were an issue during his time in Tennessee last season (4.7 BB/9), but that number diminished nicely when he stepped up to Iowa (3.2 BB/9). Unfortunately, he also surrendered six homers in his 40 innings of Triple A work, good for a somewhat concerning 1.4 HR/9. If he can get a handle on those long ball tendencies while keeping the walk rate down Antigua could emerge as a second half option as a middle reliever for the Cubs. He could also be an attractive speculative throw when the Cubs start trading.

Hunter Cervenka deserves some mention here as well. He had a nice season for the Smokies last year, but like Antigua I suspect he’ll spend most or all of 2014 with Iowa.

The Potentials

There are some very interesting names in the lower levels of the systems, including a few who could yet emerge as prospects to be reckoned with. Most of them are very young and, in many cases, it is tough to put a hard upside on them yet, but it is not impossible that the Cubs have a future front of the rotation starter somewhere in this section.

The most well known name here, not entirely for good reasons, would likely be Gerardo Concepcion. The Cuban lefty was ineffective in his 2012 campaign after signing with the Cubs, and was shut down for most of 2013. He badly needs a good season in 2014 if he is going to stick with the organization.

There are a couple of southpaws from the 2013 draft class well worth monitoring, starting with Sam Wilson. Walks were an issue for him at Boise last summer, but the ingredients are there for Wilson to emerge as a quality bullpen arm in a few years. Tyler Ihrig was taken later in the draft, and in his 25 innings with the Arizona Rookie League he had little trouble (10.8 K/9, 7.50 K/BB, WHIP of 0.800). Look for both Ihrig and Wilson to appear in a full season league this summer.

The 2012 draft brought the Cubs Nathan Dorris, Michael Heesch, and Anthony Prieto, and of those Prieto is definitely the headliner. He was one of a handful of high ceiling high school arms the Cubs took that summer. Two summers in the Rookie League appear to indicate that he has some work to do on his control. That will be something to watch as he moves up the system.

Reaching back a little further in draft history, both Andrew McKirahan and Sheldon McDonald were moderately well thought of at one time, but neither has progressed out of A ball yet. Frank Del Valle, signed out of Cuba, has done some nice work for High A Daytona, including a K/9 of 11.3 last season, but 2013 also marked his third season at that level. If he can refine his control he may yet have late inning potential. He should open 2014 with the Smokies.

Still deeper in the system we find Carlos Rodriquez. The Cubs brought him to the Arizona Rookie League from his native Venezuela at the age of 17 after he mowed through the Dominican Summer League the previous summer. He will probably need another summer or two in short season ball before we really start to see what the Cubs have in this guy, but it is promising that the Cubs moved him to Arizona so young despite the lackluster results in 2013.

Wrap Up

The Cubs have assembled an interesting mix of left hander options, but this is far from a strength of the farm system. While acquiring pitching in general should still be a priority for the Cubs, acquiring left handed pitching would be particularly beneficial.

  • jh03

    So, with Rob Zastryzny having his FB that he changes speed with, do you think that will reduce the effects of his changeup? Unless of course it’s something like a circle-change that has movement.

    • Luke

      I doubt it. I have seen his change up praised specifically. I do not know off hand the velocity on it, though, or how the movement on it differs from his fastball.

      • jh03

        I’d imagine that it moves different, which would help.

        Now that I think about it, maybe the different fastballs could boost the effectiveness of his CH. If a hitter notices the change in speed, they could still be fooled by the different movements at the same velo. Kinda like how if they pick up FB, they don’t know the velo. It would always keep them guessing, no matter the pitch.

        • jh03

          Or maybe I’m talking out of my ass and I have no idea what I’m saying haha.

          • Edwin

            I think a lot of it depends on his command and control of the pitches, and how effective he actually is at changing velocity on his fastball. In theory, it could work well, with the idea being that hittting is about timing, and pitching is about trying to disrupt timing. If he can effectively change speeds while being able to hit 4 spots with his fastball, that would be huge. If he’s leaving 86 MPH fastballs in the wrong zone, though, even the change in speed might not be enough to keep good MLB hitters from adjusting and crushing it.

  • Jr 25

    That’s why you trade Shark, Barney and say Vogelbach to the Jays for Sanchez, Nolin (lefty), Norris (Lefty) and AJ Jiminez (catching prospect). We have close to zero lefties and no real catching prospects!

  • hoosiercub

    Luke, these positional writeups are awesome. Love the work you did on individual prospects over the past couple of months and I’m really looking forward to the RHP depth report coming soon.

    Keep up the good work

    • Luke


  • itzscott

    The Archer, Lee, Guyer, Chirinos and Fuld trade ultimately turned into Rosscup, Edwards, Olt, Ramirez and Grimm.

    Anyone want a do-over on that one?

    • Edwin

      Too early to tell.

    • gocatsgo2003

      We will probably need a couple more years to sort it out, but we stand a pretty good chance at ending up at least even on that breakdown.

    • CubsFaninMS

      You’re excluding have two years of a mid-rotation starter, Matt Garza. That’s alot.

    • FullCountTommy

      Not to mention the 2 and a half years of production the Cubs got out of Garza

      • DarthHater

        But the Cubs weren’t competitive during that two and a half years, so that production isn’t worth anything, right? 😛

    • hansman

      If you want to do that, then it’s DeRosa, Lee, Guyer, Chirinos and Fuld trade ultimately turned into Rosscup, Edwards, Olt, Ramirez and Grimm.

      Even then we can’t finish evaluating the trade until all of those players (and any subsequent players they are traded for) finish their careers. In reality, we can never be sure of the payout, if we are evaluating that way.

  • JB88

    Isn’t Leal a lefty? I’m sort of surprised you didn’t mention him.

    • Brett

      I always thought he was, too. According to everywhere, however, he is not.

      • JB88

        Well that’s just silly. Our memories should trump everything. I command that Leal and Castillo start throwing lefthanded just to satisfy my whims and memory.

        • DarthHater

          Every pitcher with two or more Ls in his last name should be required to pitch left-handed.

  • AA Correspondant

    I got to see jokisch, Rosscup, Antigua, Kirk and Cervenka several times last season in TN. A few thoughts on each:

    Eric Jokisch: I thinking mans pitcher. Whenever he pitched, you always felt like you had a chance to win. He was a true pitcher…..a thinker and executor. A competitor who battled every inning. He was a joy to watch, and I look for good things from him in AAA. I think his projection as a back of the rotation starter is right on. I’d be shocked if he ended up in the bullpen. But if that’s the path to the major leagues, I’m sure he’d welcome the challenge.

    Zac Rosscup: Came to camp with something to prove and was much more powerful than he was at the end of the 2012 season. He was clearly a step above others in the bullpen and as a lefty reliever with zip and control, he was rewarded with a late season callup to the show. I can definately picture him as a fixture in a bullpen for many years at the big league level.

    Jeffry Antigua: Absolutely no velocity. Looks like Jamie Moyer up their throwing eefus pitches. Just don’t think his stuff plays into a major league career. I am not nearly as high on him, and consider him organizational filler to float between levels to be a lefty in the pen. Nothing to see here.

    Austin Kirk: First go around in early 2013 with Smokies was terrible. But a return visit to Daytona and some work with pitching coach Storm Davis (who will serve as Tennessee’s pitching coach in 2014) served him well. When he got his 2nd look in TN in 2013, he looked much better and was solid. Not sure he is a AAA guy just yet…..would like to see him start 2014 in TN. Decent starter who wont overpower you, but can get outs.

    Hunter Cervenka: Finished 2013 strong after a pretty shaky start, but became one of the Smokies more reliable lefties out of the pen. He just looks like a big leaguer (someday) and I would not be at all surprised to see him in a MLB bullpen in 2015/2016. Again, like Kirk, not sure he is ready for AAA but a good start in AA could be just what he needs to jump start his 2014.

    Looking forward to see the next crop of pitchers come up to TN from Daytona. This could be a very exciting year.

    • Bilbo161

      Thanks AA, love first hand reports. Boy you are going to a fun this year with all those new pitchers. Cheers.

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  • Karl Groucho

    As always, awesome work Luke.

    • Brett

      Luke is the cat’s pajamas.