The fifth starter competition (a phrase I use understanding that, given the vagaries of Spring Training and the fragility of pitchers, it could easily be a fourth AND fifth starter competition or more) got a couple small data points yesterday, with Travis Wood and Jacob Turner getting in a couple innings each. Wood was perfect with a couple strikeouts, while Turner was scoreless, one strikeout, one hit, and a couple walks.
It was interesting seeing those two guys go on the first day, because, if you were trying to decide which of the fifth starter competitors you’d want to see win the job, those would probably be two guys near or at the top of the list. Wood, because of his past success, his non-pitching value, and his potential trade value (if it came to that). Turner, because of his youth, cost-control, and upside. Obviously you just want the Cubs to land on the guy who will pitch the best for them, whether it’s Wood or Turner or Tsuyoshi Wada or Felix Doubront or Edwin Jackson or anyone else.
Speaking, for a moment, of Jackson, Joe Maddon had some things to say about the Cubs’ pricey starter, with whom he worked a bit back in his Tampa Bay days. Maddon says that Jackson, 31, is the rare veteran who still has untapped potential (you hear that, other teams?), and he’s never quite been as good as he could be (Cubs.com, CSN, Tribune). Maddon wonders if the way Jackson was rushed so early on in his career deprived him of an opportunity to really hone his craft before being expected to employ it at the big league level.
Interestingly, you could say the very same thing about Jacob Turner at this point in his career, but with no minor league options left, he’s either going to make the Cubs’ rotation or bullpen, or he’s probably going to wind up on another team that will give him a shot. He seems far too promising to clear waivers for an outright to AAA Iowa.
As for Wood, he’s motivated to make the team, and bounce back from a disappointing 2014 season. Not only did Wood not get the good fortune he had in 2013, he also didn’t have the same command or velocity. While hoping for a 2013 repeat, then, is probably not realistic, it’s easy to see how Wood could land somewhere in the middle with a slight improvement in his command, and better luck on balls in play – and that’s easily a guy you’d take in the fifth starter spot.
If all three of Wood, Turner, and Jackson look great this Spring, I think you’ll see the Cubs trying to find a taker for one of Jackson and Wood, with the other getting a spot in the rotation (preference going to Wood, I’d imagine), and Turner might head to the bullpen for the time being so that the Cubs can keep him. What that would mean for guys like Wada and Doubront – who are, themselves, very legitimate candidates for the fifth starter job – I can’t say for sure. You just hope these pitchers put the Cubs in that tricky position by the end of the Spring.
The Cubs have excellent depth at the back of the rotation (and in the bullpen), which is necessarily going to lead to tough roster decisions in the coming weeks.