Ready for more prospect rankings?
Today we talk about the left-handed pitching, and it will be a much shorter list. Short though it is, it does contain one of the safest pitching prospects in the system, one of the highest ceiling pitchers, and one of the most interesting. And just as we saw in the right handed list, there are some candidates who did not make the list simply as a factor of the sheer depth of this system. Greyfer Eregua, Carson Sands, and Ryan Kellogg are probably the three most prominent, but they are not alone. In a very deep farm system, good prospects sometimes don’t get ranked.
One note before get dive into the list: you are used to seeing additional information about each of these prospects in the Top 40, ages and when the Cubs acquired them in particular. That data will all be baked into the final summary list that will run after each positional breakdown.
That said, let’s start of the lefties with…
Zastryzny is the correct answer to a good Jeopardy question; he was the first pitcher drafted under the Epstein/Hoyer front office to reach the majors with the Cubs. He is also one of the lowest risk prospects in the organization.
Mostly a starter in his minor league career, the Cubs kept him in the bullpen in the majors and then sent him back to the bullpen to start the season in Iowa. Short term, that may be his best path to the majors. Should the Cubs need a lefty in the bullpen, Zastryzny is likely to be the first guy up. But if the Cubs need a starter, his name may still be in the hat, given that he’s been making long relief appearances.
Zastryzny pitches primarily off his fastball and curve, and does a pretty good job getting strikeouts. His K/9 with Iowa last year was 8.56, and in his brief time with Chicago it climbed to 9.56. Walks have been a problem at times (3.44 BB/9 with Iowa) as have home runs (13 in 135.2 IP in the minors last year). Oddly, despite that elevated home run rate, he also did a nice job getting ground outs in Iowa and Chicago.
For now, Zastryzny just needs to pitch anywhere the Cubs need him. I do think he’ll head back to the rotation one day, though, and I think he has a chance to turn into a good Number 4 starter. He should get an opportunity next spring, if one does not open up before hand.
14. Bryan Hudson
The stats do not yet support it, but I remain high on Hudson. The Cubs drafted this 6’8″ lefty out of high school in the third round in 2015 thanks to a curve that was already grading out as plus in some books. Add in a good fastball with plenty of sink and a changeup, and you have the makings of a fantastic ground ball machine.
And that is exactly what we have seen from him so far, even though he has struggled. For example, in 13 starts with Eugene last summer he had an inflated ERA of 5.06 and walked exactly as many as he struck out (41). Any way you slice it, it was a rough year. And yet his GO/AO was a stunning 2.81.
Now, imagine what Hudson could do once he harnesses his very tall frame and starts repeating his delivery consistently. Imagine the walk rate plummeting as that consistency allows him to find the strike zone with more regularity. Imagine hitters facing sinking fastballs to both sides of the plate, then swinging through a double plus curve. Imagine a guy who can post a GO/AO of nearly 3.00 in a bad season pitching in front of a very good infield defense.
That is upside of Hudson. He has a very long way to go to get there, but this is a guy that I honestly think could have front of the rotation potential (even if a mid-rotation future is more likely). Step one is continuing to clean up his mechanics, and I doubt we see him in a full season league until he’s cleared that step.
16. Jose Paulino
Paulino has been in the Cubs’ organization since 2012, but it was not until last season that he suddenly broke out in a significant way. In six starts with Eugene, Paulino allowed just two earned runs and three walks while striking out 37. He then went to South Bend where hitters gave him a harder time, but by the end of the season he was starting to adjust.
At his best, Paulino has been clocked into the mid-90s with the fastball. He pairs that with a pretty good breaking pitch, but both offerings could use some more consistency. There is talk of a changeup, a pitch he will need if he’s going to stay in the rotation.
It is as a reliever, though, that he has my interest. Typically velocities tick up a bit when pitchers move to the bullpen full time; that extra MPH or two in Paulino’s case would definitely qualify him as a power lefty. And in that capacity, I could see Paulino moving through the system fairly quickly with an eventual future as a setup man or closer.
Starter or reliever, the important thing for now is that Paulino continues to get innings and continues to refine his approach against right handed hitters. If he can add the third pitch the Cubs will probably try to aim him at a mid-rotation future, and if not he could be fated for the back of the bullpen.
24. Jack Leathersich
Leathersich, this season, could probably be a Major League lefty specialist. With a little more control, though, his low to mid-90s fastball and good curve could make him a bonafide super utility pitcher, possibly a candidate for a closer job one day.
Leathersich came over from the Mets in a waiver transaction after the 2015 season, the same season in which he had ligament replacement surgery. The Cubs brought him back slowly, first in Tennessee, then Iowa, and then in the Arizona Fall League, but totaling only 23.1 inning across all three stops. He returns to Iowa to start the 2017 season, but if the arm holds he should be one of the early candidates for a call to Chicago should a bullpen job appear.
Despite the rust from the surgery-induced layoff, Leathersich was very effective last season. Across all three stops he struck out 34 over those 23.1 innings, and did not allow a homer. His GO/AO varied wildly in the small sample sizes, from a 0.50 with Iowa to a video-game-esque 6.00 in the AFL; we will have to see how that develops in 2017. The walk rate also varied wildly, but was always in the high range.
And that will be the thing, if anything, that holds Leathersich back. Control is not his strong suit, and a reliever who walks too many is a reliever who has a hard time holding on to a job. That said, a lefty who strikes out batters at a 10.0 K/9 pace is probably going to have job offers anywhere, and that is what Steamer projects for Leathersich in 2017: 3.50 ERA, 10.67 K/9. So long as the elbow holds up, that projection bodes very well for his future.
38. Justin Steele
Signed for a million dollars alongside fellow high school lefty Carson Sands (formerly of the Top 40, now recovering from elbow surgery) in the 2014 draft, Steele has entering his fourth year in the farm system. At times he has looked very good, pitching into the mid-90s with his fastball and getting swings and misses with his breaking stuff, but consistency has not been his strong suit.
If he can find that consistency, Steele has the upside of a mid-rotation starter. And that’s what we’ll be looking for in High A this year. I would not go so far as to say that this is a make or break year for Steele, but it is a big year. By the time a pitcher hits High A, I generally like to see potential translating into results.