Well, this is fun:
League source says Cubs have signed righty Ryan Weber to a minor league deal. Weber, 27, was a solid Braves prospect for a while (command/control/groundball swing guy), got a handful of starts for Braves and Mariners in 2015, 16, 17. Biceps injury derailed 2017.
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) January 3, 2018
According to a report from … our very own Brett Taylor on Twitter, the Chicago Cubs have signed right-handed pitcher Ryan Weber to a Minor League deal. So let’s see who this guy has been throughout his career, and what he might be for the Cubs.
Webber, 27, was drafted in the 22nd round by the Braves back in 2009, and took a long time to reach the upper Minors – he didn’t debut in Double-A until 2014. He did make five starts for the Braves just a year later, but was bounced back down to Triple-A in 2016. This past season, as Brett mentions in his Tweet, Weber pitched for the Mariners (they claimed him off waivers), but a biceps injury limited him to just six starts (five in Triple-A and one in the Majors).
Those five Triple-A starts, however, were really, really good. Over 31.2 IP, Webber compiled a 0.85 ERA with 19 strikeouts to just 4 walks. Opposing hitters managed just a .179 batting average against him, and he allowed just a single homer during that stretch. Weber has never quite been a top prospect/had a high pedigree, but you can definitely see why the Braves stuck with him for so long, and why the Mariners/Cubs have both taken a chance on him.
After the 2015 season, FanGraphs’ Dan Farnsworth evaluated the Braves prospects and ranked Webber fifth overall. In that post, he had some awfully nice things to say, including this crazy compliment: “I hate player comps, and I may enrage more people with this, but I don’t think there’s much separating Weber from a guy like Dallas Keuchel.” Obviously, that’s not quite played out, and clearly not everyone agreed with Farnsworth’s extremely bullish take on Weber, but his reasoning wasn’t completely out in left field:
He [Weber] has limited free passes throughout his professional career, racking up just enough strikeouts to be interesting, but never being fully recognized in prospect circles. This season helped put him on the map, with his excellent pitchability giving him a chance in the young Braves rotation during a losing season.
His stuff draws impressive marks for movement across the board, with the command he has of his full arsenal being his carrying tool. Projecting as a starter, he will need to continue developing his front-door two-seam fastball and further hone his command to be a weapon against opposite-handed hitters.
I don’t think it’s wrong to say that Weber still has starter-upside, even as a 6th/7th/8th starter in a quality Major League organization. And that’s all he actually needs to be for the Cubs.
In all likelihood, Weber was brought aboard to be yet another flyer/Triple-A depth type for the Major League rotation. If catastrophe strikes, he can be among the many options to fill in in a pinch. And if lightening strikes, and he somehow figures it out and stays healthy, then the Cubs have a quality, still young, very cheap rotation option awaiting them in Triple-A.
There’s always the chance, of course, that the Cubs could like his work as a reliever more than a starter – and, note that he has experience as both in the past – but that’s not clear up to this point, so I’m assuming he’ll serve as rotational depth for now. Perhaps, the Cubs even dream on a role similar to Mike Montgomery’s (hangs out in the bullpen, steps into the rotation as needed) at some point in the future. You never know what might happen with Montgomery, who has popped up in Manny Machado rumors and who also has expressed a desire to start full-time. Heck, if the Cubs don’t add another starter this offseason, Montgomery might be in the rotation anyway, requiring even more immediate depth behind him.
These sort of signings rarely ever realize their full potential, but when they do the value can be enormous. Given his excellent, but brief stretch in Triple-A as recently as last season, I can understand why the Cubs rolled the dice. Hopefully Weber is fully healthy now after the biceps issue, and the Cubs can see what they have in the spring.
If you missed it during the holiday, the Cubs also signed Kyle Ryan, a similarly-interesting upside arm, to a minor league deal.