There’s been something about this week – I just can’t quite put my finger on it – that has made me extra curious about the relief arms in Triple-A Iowa. And in reviewing recent video, it has me here to champion Rowan Wick to be the next to get a try in the embattled Cubs bullpen.
Wick, 26, was brought in this offseason in a trade with the San Diego Padres for third base prospect Jason Vosler. The trade seemed strange; it seemed the Cubs were dealing from a position of weakness (power) for a position of strength (right-handed Triple-A relief). However, in hindsight, it now feels like a prescient opportunity to provide depth to the Major League roster’s largest weakness.
While we’ve seen Dillon Maples continue to struggle with command, while Allen Webster’s fastball just doesn’t seem quite enough, and while Dakota Mekkes is suddenly struggling to miss bats, Wick is suddenly looking like the Iowa option with the fewest warts. And I’m here to tell you, this is a guy on full rest coming off his most impressive outing (from a stuff perspective) in the Cubs organization. He’s a deserving Next Man Up.
First, let’s review Wick’s season numbers: 19 IP, 16 H, 2.84 ERA, 5 BB, 25 K, 2 HR-A. He hasn’t had a platoon split this season, though it’s noteworthy that his BB% against right-handed hitters is a mere 3.5% (against 31.6 K%). If we just take his last nine games, he’s ticked up, with a 1.88 ERA and 14/2 K/BB rate in 14.1 innings. The Cubs seem to be stretching him out a bit, as he’s recorded at least six outs in his last three appearances.
The good news is that his stuff is not suffering with the added workload, in fact, his last time out had his highest velocity readings of the season. Wick sat at 96, topping at a season-high 97 mph. His slider (or cutter, your mileage may vary) was 88-91 mph, also the highest of the year. I don’t think a hot gun is to blame, either, as I compared all Wick’s home outings this year at Principal Park.
Last year in his 10-game cup of coffee with the Padres, Wick threw 68% fastballs, 22% sliders and 10% curveballs. In my viewings this year, Wick has leaned harder on the curveball, as he’s confident throwing it for a strike in any count, including 0-0 and 3-2. However, the slider in his last outing was the best it’s been, and I’d hate for a 90 mph breaking ball to play second fiddle to anything.
My favorite at-bat he had in that appearance wasn’t a strikeout, but a 4-pitch at-bat that ended in a swinging bunt back to the pitcher. Wick started Bryan Holaday with a 76 mph curveball for a strike, freezing the catcher looking for a fastball. He came back on the next pitch with a sharp 91 mph slider headed for the dirt, getting a swing-and-miss for strike two. Wick then just missed with 96 mph on the outside corner. And right then, the whole arsenal was on the table, leading to a defensive Holaday swing on the next pitch, 96 again, leading to the little groundball. It was big league stuff.
The good news, the best news, is that Wick has above-average command. He throws his fastball to the corners, and in that cup of coffee last year, walked just one batter under the Major League lights. He doesn’t seem the type to get emotionally too high; I can already imagine Maddon calling out his poise.
The thing to watch here is velocity. There have been outings this year where Wick has been 92-94, with a slider in the 83 range, and he’s just not as interesting a Major League prospect. But bump those up 3-5 mph and we’re talking about maybe one of the best eight relief options in the organization. I don’t see him as someone you’ll want to dream on for future late-inning duties, but the Cubs need help in every inning, and Wick seems ready.
I won’t posit how to best make it happen, whether someone is demoted or sent to the IL. I will say that if there’s a feeling the Cubs could use an extra arm today, Wick hasn’t pitched since May 17, and I’d have no problem trusting him tonight. Notably, he is already on the 40-man roster.
Last, I’d also say that I’d welcome his promotion as an opportunity to promote Craig Brooks from Double-A to Iowa. The closer for the Smokies has posted absurd numbers, and his command is in a more manageable place after battling a bizarre regression in command in his first Iowa stint last year. Brooks is about 92-95 with one of the better sliders in the organization. It would make for a seamless transition with the hypothetical Wick exit.
Need to update Craig Brooks season numbers as the closer for Double-A Tennessee, because they are absolutely ridiculous.
16.2 IP, 8 H, 1 ER (0.54 ERA), 10 BB, 30 K.
In last 4 outings he’s made 15 of his 18 outs via the strikeout.
I know Iowa’s cramped, but: Promote. This. Man.
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) May 20, 2019