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cj edwards daytona cubsPitching prospects in the Cubs organization have become somewhat legendary creatures over the past few years. After the Cubs traded Chris Archer, only to watch Trey McNutt fade in Double A, the general thinking seem to be that pitching prospects were extinct in the Cubs system. Of course, sometimes rumors of extinction prove to be premature.

To put it simply, there are a lot of right-handed pitching prospects in this organization that have major league potential. There are not a lot with star potential – at least with obvious star potential anyway – but the sheer volume of prospects creates a good foundation. If the Cubs can acquire a pitcher or two via trade or the draft, and if one or two of the current mob breaks out, suddenly the Cubs could be in possession of a nice stash of high quality pitching talent. There are a lot of ifs in that sentence, but considering that the Cubs have done quite well trading for pitchers over the past two seasons, and have focused on drafting pitching outside of the first round, those parts of the equation do not seem unlikely. Breakouts are harder to project, but in a way they are like lottery tickets. The best way to increase your odds is to buy a lot of tickets, and the Cubs have a lot of breakout potential pitchers hanging out in the minors now.

I am not going to be able to cover all the Cubs right-handed pitching worth monitoring in this article. I’ll hit many of them, with a focus on the starters, but there will be some I omit just to keep this article from rivaling a Russian novel in length.

Youth Movement

We’ll start things off with some of the youngest pitchers to make it higher than the Arizona Rookie League during the 2013 season. Duane Underwood, who will turn 20 in July (and who is hopefully healthy), made 11 starts for Boise and produced the results we’d expect from a teenager playing in a league with a lot of former collegiate hitters. He walked too many, didn’t strike out enough, and gave up a few too many hits. He got progressively better as the season went, though, and as one of the youngest pitchers in the league that in-season improvement is notable. He needs to refine his control and cut back on the walks, but Underwood has quite a bit of upside.

As does Paul Blackburn. Blackburn, who turned 20 in December, also spent most of the season in the Boise rotation, and his results were similar to Underwood’s. I suspect both of these pitchers will head to Kane County to start the 2014 season.

Corbin Hoffner is one of the taller pitchers in the system, and even though he pitched exclusively in relief for the Hawks, the lengths of his stints makes me suspect he was a piggyback guy who may yet be groomed as a starter. Unlike his fellow 2012 draftees Blackburn and Underwood, though, Hoffner dominated Northwest League to the tune of 1.74 ERA and a K/BB ratio of 3.23. He should also report to a full season team this spring.

James Pugliese, of the 2011 draft, is not a name you hear a lot about.  Last season with Boise he threw strikes and did not give up a lot of walks. He got rocked in a short stint with Kane County, but he should return to that level this season.

Erick Leal did not make it out of Arizona last season, but while with the AZL Cubs he struck out 9.6 per nine innings and compiled an impressive K/BB ratio of 6.50. He just turned 19 this March, and I suspect he will be one of the youngest pitchers in the league when Boise starts up play later this summer.

Daury Torrez belongs on this list somewhere. He reached Kane County at the age of 20 (he turns 21 in June), if only for five innings, but the numbers from his Arizona campaign last season are impressive. He struck out 49 in 49 innings, and walked just 5 (and one of those was intentional). He also gave up 49 hits. His favorite number? I’m guessing it’s 49. He will likely report to either Kane County or Boise for the 2014 season.

More Prospects

Reaching back to the 2010 draft we find Ben Wells. Even though he has been pitching in the Cubs organization for three seasons now, Wells just turned 21 last summer. He was not overpowering in Daytona last season, but he did not give up a lot of hits, either. I think he still projects as a back of the rotation guy, and he will likely be one of the younger pitchers in Double A should he report there to start the 2014 season.

At this stage Tayler Scott is probably more famous for being from South Africa than for his results on the diamond, but he has enough upside to stay on our radar. He’ll need to cut back on the walks to have any success above A ball, and could return for a second trip through the Midwest League this summer.

Trey Masek, Scott Frazier, and Tyler Skulina were all taken in the 2013 draft by the Cubs, and I suspect all three will open the year in Kane County. All three were well-regarded at the time of the draft, and while the early looks make me think Frazier is ticketed for the bullpen, all three are likely to get plenty of chances to claim a starting job. They were taken from college, so the potential exists for them to move fairly quickly once they get established. Finishing the season in Daytona for any or all of the trio would not be surprising.

Although he did not make quite the splash that other members of the Daytona pitching staff did last season, Yao-Lin Wang finished with a K/BB ratio of 2.21 and allowed just 4 home runs in his 71 innings of work. Though he pitched both as a starter and out of the pen, his final two appearances of 2013 were both as a starter, and in those games he combined for seven shutout innings. I think he will move to Tennessee, probably as a reliever, but I think the Cubs try to get him 100+ innings regardless.

Matt Loosen split his season between Tennessee and Daytona, and then went on to pitch pretty well in the Arizona Fall League. He was old for High A (age 24), and he’ll be on the old side for Double A when returns there this season, but when he is consistently throwing strikes he can be very effective, as his July no hitter demonstrated. His late season trip to Double A went much better than his early season stint, and he’ll likely have a chance to build on that success this spring.

Two members of the 2013 Tennessee bullpen to keep an eye on going forward are Frank Batista and Tony Zych. Batista has racked up 43 Double A saves over the past two seasons, and has 74 for his minor league career. I’m not sure he has closer stuff long term, but I like his chances to stick in a bullpen. Tony Zych, who also made a brief major league appearance last fall, has more conventional closer stuff. He significant reworked his delivery between 2012 and 2013 and lost a lot of the jerkiness that he was known for coming out of college, and while his K/9 numbers fell off quite a bit, his overall effectiveness improved markedly. He should join Batista in the Iowa bullpen this summer.  I would not be surprised if his strikeouts start to return as he becomes more comfortable in his new pitching motion.

The Headliners

Kyle Hendricks cruised through Double A, went to Iowa, and cruised some more. He does not strike out a lot of guys, but, even in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League, batters have a very had time making clean and consistent contact off him. He gives up few walks, few hits, and very few home runs by pounding the bottom of the strike zone and using his impressive command to attack most hitters on both corners. What he lacks in raw stuff he makes up for to a great degree in game planning and understanding how to get hitters out. At worst he should do well in the back of a major league rotation, likely starting sometime this year.

And coming along just behind him, likely all hitting the Double A rotation at once this spring, is that FSL Championship rotation of C.J. Edwards, Pierce Johnson, Corey Black, and Ivan Pineyro. The first two on that list are Top 100 prospects, with Edwards appearing on some Top 50 lists and being credited in some corners with true front of the rotation status. Johnson is not far behind him. Black, due to his height, is seen by some as a reliever, but I suspect the Cubs will give him every chance to stick in the rotation. He blossomed with Cubs after being sent over in a trade and continued to maintain his hard stuff into the playoffs. Also blossoming post trade was Ivan Pineyro. After being dealt from Washington his K/BB ratio jumped from 1.60 to 4.22.

There is a lot of upside in that quartet of hurlers. You can convince yourself (with some backing from national prospect analysts) that they have major league potential as a No. 2, a No. 3, another No. 3, and a No. 4. A more skeptical analyst might say two back of the rotation starters, a set up man, and a middle reliever, but few would argue that all four have major league potential. Combined with Hendricks, Eric Jokisch (discussed in the left-handed pitching article), and the under-appreciated Neil Ramirez (who had a Double A season nearly as good as Hendricks did), this group represents the Cubs first sizeable wave of notable pitching talent to reach the upper minors in quite some time.

You could fit Arodys Vizcaino in here, too, but, given his unique story and proximity to the big leagues, he’s kind of in his own class at this point. Obviously he’s already been discussed a great deal this year throughout Spring Training.

Wrap Up

And even after that swift pass through the farm system, there are several names I have not yet discussed, including interesting prospects such as Dillon Maples, Jasvir Rakkar, Felix Pena, Lendy Castillo, Kevin Rhoderick, Juan Paniagua, Armando Rivero, Zach Cates, Carlos Pimentel, Dallas Beeler, and more. The myth may be that the Cubs are lacking in pitching prospects, but the reality is actually that the Cubs are loaded with potential. Just as Edwards and Hendricks broke out this season, I suspect next season we will see two or three more pitchers move their prospect stock up significantly. The Cubs enter this season with two league Top 100 pitching prospects, and I would not be surprised if they finish the season with more than that. Factor in the returns of another summer of trades, and it is not impossible that right-handed pitching could be a strength of this organization by the end of the summer.

One final name to watch, one that has been in the headlines a bit lately, is Jen-Ho Tseng. It is still a little early to be certain what the Cubs have in this guy, but the early returns are very good. When Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America watched him pitch recently, all their analysts came away very impressed with the quality of his pitches. And after watching this video it is easy to see why. For now I would pencil Tseng’s name in with Black and Ramirez a notch below Edwards and Johnson, but keep that pencil handy. After a year under the tutelage of minor league pitching coordinator Derek Johnson, Tseng could be the next guy to see his stock take a jump.

If you only keep track of one minor league story this summer, apart from the Baez and Bryant Home Run Show, that is, make it the developing pitchers. It looks like it could be a very fun story to watch.

  • King Jeff

    I was pretty impressed with Pineyro after he came over last year. I think he’s got a chance to open some eyes and move up the rankings quickly this year. I’m excited with the way the Cubs are handling their young pitchers, especially the staff at Daytona.

    • MattyNomad

      And to think, we got him for Hairston! I’m beginning to like that trade more and more. Did we ever figure out who were those PTBNL included in that deal? Or can we assume both sides just worked it out with cash…

      • King Jeff

        Nothing that I can find. I think they worked out the DeJesus deal for cash, but I never heard anything more on the ptbnl in the Hairston deal.

        • MattyNomad

          I really still cant swallow practically giving away Dejesus…and not near the same level, but still a giveaway in Trevor Gretzky. Our farm is deep, but we’ll never recover from the loss of Kim Dejesus and Paulina Gretzky. Definately gotta be one of the largest mistakes from Theo&Co…

          • InTheoWeTrust

            Agreed Dustin Johnson is one lucky guy.

  • DarthHater

    Another BN/Amazon purchase made. CHA-CHING! :-P

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      *lights cigar with $100 bill*

  • Darth Ivy

    Anyone have suggestions for under-the-radar power guys to pick up after the draft? I need a little more power on my team, already have good batting average.

    Chris Carter?
    Ibanez?
    Byrd?
    Dunn?
    Moreland?
    Lind?
    Venable?

    • BT

      If your SOLE concern is power, and you don’t care what else they give you, then Dunn and Carter are your best bets. But they are going to kill you in BA.

      • Darth Ivy

        thanks.

  • itzscott

    I’m getting the impression that lacking a true consensus #1 stud pitching prospect in their system, Cub pitching doesn’t bode well for the future….

    HOWEVER, if the Cubs suddenly draft or develop a consensus #1 stud pitching prospect, they suddenly have a great future pitching staff.

    It’s either/or and their entire future rests on finding that one premier pitching prospect?

    • Chad

      What if they can sign a guy like Scherzer for 6 or 7 years? He instantly becomes a number 1. I agree that they need to get a guy that can be a #1 developed and be young and controlled, but that could happen in this draft or next year or via trade even. But we have a lot of middle to back end types which you need as well. Hopefully the cubs can get a few #1 types in place that can make a good top 3 in the rotation. That would be swell.

  • Myles P

    Great stuff as always, Luke. I always learn something.

  • Edwin

    It’s nice to see some arms that actually show some upside and actually have a chance to miss some bats at the MLB level.

  • DocPeterWimsey

    Ah, the coelocanth: our closest “fish” relative!

    • itzscott

      Yes…. The living fossil.

      Just like some of the people I know.

      • DocPeterWimsey

        heh, we in the “biz” tend to dislike that term (modern coelocanths are very derived compared to the things that were common in the Paleozoic), but it’s still pretty darned cool that a species or two is left.

        As for the human version, well, you know the old phrase “it takes all types?” I tend to have them in mind when I reply “No, it really doesn’t.”

        :-)

        • itzscott

          I’m more of a Pleistocene guy, having studied climatic fluctuations of that period, but I’d have to agree about any species still around (and virtually un-evolved) since the Paleozoic.

          • DocPeterWimsey

            Ah, my wife studies extinction patterns in the Pleistocene! Such recent stuff….

            This might be a scale issue. Extant coelacanths (Latimeria) retain obviously a general coelacanth form typical of Mesozoic coelacanths. (Paleozoic coelacanths showed much greater diversity of forms: that’s a very common pattern.) However, they actually differ from Mesozoic coelacanths by a bit more than most Mesozoic coelacanths differ from each other. The most recent study that I have handy (I’ve been using the data for other reasons) shows about 5% of the anatomical characters have changed, whereas most Mesozoic taxa differ from their closest relatives by only 2-3% of characters.

            You could get a very similar pattern with mammals if, for example, you wiped out all of the ones bigger than rat-sized. Most rat-sized and smaller mammals look like, well, mice: and thus look a lot like most Mesozoic mammals. Of course, to someone who studies mammal anatomy, there are lots of “important” differences. (I study snails, so how important is any mammal, anyway?) To a hyper intelligent dinosaur calling pest-control, they’d all be pretty much the same.

            What makes them much more “special” is the fact that they are the sole survivors of a clade that was once much more diverse.

  • JCubs79

    Completely forgot about James Pugliese. I was really impressed with the numbers he put up in Boise. Another sleeper for me to watch this year.

  • MattyNomad

    I’m truly amazed at how deep our system has become rather quickly…Scold me for saying this but I have no problem with competing with the Astros for that #1 spot this year. Give us the best opportunity to stack up yet another drafts worth of top tier talent to send us into 15-16 with depth at all levels. Another season of non-playoff contention isnt gonna kill us, as long as we can continue to see development of our young players and depth increasing even more in the farm.Hell, that Wrigley renovation would be the nicest cherry on top of this whole rebuild sundae. A couple mid season trades, another very good and loaded draft and we could be in a FANTASTIC place to start by next season.

    Btw, great write up Luke! Always enjoy these minor league spotlights.

  • Tyler_31

    I thought Kevin Rhoderick was released

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      You are correct. Good catch.

  • MightyBear

    Great article Luke. When Theo and the boys took over, the Cubs farm wasn’t devoid of pitching prospects but they had no impact prospects. Now you see both. The pitching is coming (Thank God) and while Baez and Bryant and the rest are fun to watch, it will be the pitching that gets them that elusive World Series championship whether home grown or FA.

  • Paddy26

    That’s gotta be the best coelocanth reference I’ve seen all day.

  • ssckelley

    This is why I keep saying this will be the “Year of the Pitcher” in the minor leagues. The Cubs have done a very good job of stocking up young pitching talent, acquiring them via trades or through high draft picks. The odds are good that a few of them will step up and turn into legitimate prospects. There are names that are missing from this article, I am surprised 2012 draftee Josh Conway was not mentioned.

  • Zak Blair Fan Club

    Nice work Luke. Spent 2 days at the Cubs minor league complex a little while back. Excellent facility and I was struck by the collection of arms. Saw Tayler Scott pitch in a scrimmage and was impressed by his approach. Saw Paniagua and was not impressed with his command. He labored pretty hard. CJ is a thin guy but there is definitely some muscle there. I obviously can’t tell if he’ll hold up but loved talking to him as well as some of the other guys. Maybe this is just a byproduct of how cool it was to watch these guys at the complex, but I left with some optimism regarding the future pitching outlook. Both Hendricks and Beeler were quite impressive in the games I watched. I won’t go on about the young hitters. Had a chance to watch guys in both major and minor league camps and I walked away a very happy guy. Not breaking any new ground here though. I will say that Zak Blair is one of the nicest athletes I’ve ever met and Stephen Bruno has some pop. I’ll also say that Eloy is a big dude, and great to interact with, but Torres looked a bit overmatched (small sample size warning).

  • Espy

    Luke,

    I think you are mistaken in regards to “the cup of coffee” in the majors last fall for Frank Batista and Tony Zych. I am fairly certain that they have not made their major league debut yet. What are you referencing for their “cup of coffee”?

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