With the arrivals of three new relievers, and the exit of two others, the Chicago Cubs’ bullpen looks mighty different now than it did on Sunday. If you need a reset:
Carl Edwards Jr.
That’s the group. It’s a fine group. It’s a group in a state of flux. It’s a group with a lot of questions. It’s a group with loads of talent. It’s a group that makes you confident. It’s a group that makes you nervous.
That muddle mix of things is kind of how it is with bullpens, no matter how good they look on paper coming into a season, and no matter how much quality depth there seems to be behind them. Dudes get hurt. Others underperform. Random guys break out. There are pivots after pivots after pivots.
It’ll happen much more for the Cubs this year.
For now, the headline is struggling relievers Adam Warren (optioned to AAA to stretch out and start (more on that later)) and Clayton Richard (DL with blister/nail issue) out, AAA arms Gerardo Concepcion, Spencer Patton, and Carl Edwards Jr. in.
What does it mean for the bullpen? How will these guys make an impact? Will they make an impact?
I thought Gerardo Concepcion handled the moment of his big league debut nicely last night, and did not appear overwhelmed by the situation or anything like that. And he got results.
To be fair, though, I have to admit he was probably not quite as good as his perfect 1.1 innings and 2 K line looks. I am #NotAScout, but it looked like he has a delivery that hides the ball well from lefties, while doing the exact opposite against righties. That might not be an issue, as the Cubs may only need him for LOOGY duties anyway, but it’s worth pointing out. Further, it seemed like the hitters were very comfortably sitting back on his long, looping curveball, which you’d expect to be his out pitch. He worked deep counts, and the two outs he recorded that weren’t strikeouts were both very well struck. Also, one of his strikeouts came against Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright. This is all nit-picking the tiniest of samples, but I know that this lefty reliever spot in the Cubs’ bullpen has been an obsessive focus for some, so I wanted to make sure you had my thoughts on his performance, especially after he was putting up such brilliant numbers in the minors.
All that said, Concepcion’s fastball had decent velocity (averaged 92.5 mph), and did look like it would be somewhat difficult for lefties to pick up. If Concepcion’s improved command is here to stay, he might be a perfectly adequate LOOGY for the big league team for a while.
Spencer Patton is up for the second time this year, but if you blinked, you missed the first one (he appeared in one game against the Nationals, giving up a hit and a walk, before promptly being pulled and sent back to Iowa). At AAA, though, his numbers are like the minor league equivalent of those elite Yankees relievers we love to discuss: 1.04 ERA and 1.74 FIP over 26.0 innings, with a 40.0%(!) strikeout rate and an 8.6% walk rate. He’s not going to do that at the big league level, but the guy clearly has excellent stuff. I’d like to see him get a shot to show what he can do. The front office traded for him in the fall for a reason.
Also with excellent stuff is Carl Edwards Jr., but you’ve known that for years. That’s not the issue. His 31.8% strikeout rate at AAA this year nearly matches Patton’s, and in 25.1 innings, he’s given up just 17 hits. Minor leaguers cannot hit Edwards. The problem is that they often don’t have to try, as he’s posted an unacceptable 15.5% walk rate (after being at 18.2% last year … so … progress?). The biggest problem for Edwards is commanding his fastball, and, if he can’t, not only will that yield walks in the bigs, it’ll also lead to a lot more hard contact as he misses his spots and/or has to lean more heavily on his curveball (on which hitters can sit).
Traditional scouting – and the #NotAScout eye test, if you’ve seen all three – will tell you that Edwards is definitely guy to dream on in this trio as an impact arm, but quality relievers come out of nowhere all the time. Hopefully at least one of the three breaks out, earns Joe Maddon’s trust, and sticks around after the next two weeks, making a real impact the rest of the way.
And, even if they don’t, there’s always the trade market. (Heck, even if one of that group sticks around, there’s always the trade market for MOAR PITCHING.)
Furthermore, it’s worth reminding folks that the Cubs have a ton of reclamation options working their way through the minors right now, including Joe Nathan, Jack Leathersich, Aaron Crow, Joel Peralta, and Brian Matusz, any of whom could very realistically make a significant impact in the second half of the season.