The Chicago Cubs have reportedly signed lefty reliever Daniel Schlereth to a minor league contract, according to Baseball America. A former first round draft pick (26th overall), Schlereth has fallen on some tough times of late, and was released by the Tigers on April 13.
As you might expect for a college reliever taken in the first round of the draft, Schlereth rocketed through the Diamondbacks’ minor league system and made his debut in 2009 (just a season after he was selected), but had poor results in his small sample of 18.1 innings (5.89 ERA). That offseason, Schlereth was traded, along with Max Scherzer, to the Detroit Tigers in exchange for Ian Kennedy and Edwin Jackson.
Schlereth, 28, saw some success in the Tigers bullpen in 2010 (2.89 ERA) and 2011 (3.49 ERA), but always found himself outperforming his peripherals (FIPs of 4.20 and 5.03 respectively). Those underlying numbers caught up to him in 2012, when Schlereth pitched only 7 innings in the majors with a 10.29 ERA, though some of the ineffectiveness can be tied to early season trouble with tendonitis in his left shoulder. From there, Schlereth bounced between the Orioles and Pirates before ultimately ending up back with the Tigers last June in a trade for cash with the Pirates. He hasn’t been back to the Major Leagues since 2012.
In 17 games (18 innings) for the AAA Toledo Mud Hens (Tigers’ AAA affiliate) in 2014, Schlereth had a 4.50 ERA (4.47 FIP). Like many struggling relievers, his main issue seems to be with control. With the 2014 Mud Hens, Schlereth walked 12.8% of the batters faced (before that, he was at 18.6% with the Pirates’ AAA club). For his career, Schlereth has had a 14.4 BB% at the big league level.
As a lefty reliever, Schlereth has primarily relied on his fastball (thrown 53.5% of the time) and his curveball (thrown 45.8% of the time), but neither pitch is particularly devastating. His fastball tops out in the low 90s and his curveball comes in the upper 70s. Without a deep arsenal or a true wipeout pitch, Schlereth will have to improve his control dramatically, if he wants to recapture some of his early career success.
For the Cubs, Schlereth might first head to extended spring training to get in some work and to be reviewed by the Cubs, first-hand. From there, Schlereth will likely head to AA Tennessee or AAA Iowa to serve as emergency depth for the Cubs, and/or to see if there’s something correctable they can work on. While these types of signings are rarely sexy, they are always necessary, and there is virtually no risk. The bullpen has been fine lately, and Justin Grimm might be back earlier than expected, but if mid-April taught us anything, it was how quickly bullpen strength can quickly turn into a liability with just a few key injuries.