The Chicago Cubs could use another pitcher or two. Some recent short games from starters and rocky performances from some relievers have left the Cubs’ bullpen in need of some attention. Getting Justin Grimm should certainly help, and the return Neil Ramirez (hopefully next month) will help more, but even with those accounted for the Cubs are probably considering looking for some help.
After the weekly survey of the organizational standings, we’ll take a quick look at the top of the minor league system to see what help might be available from within.
Iowa : 14-15, 3rd place.
The Cubs made it back to .500 before losing last night, but they remain in third place. Iowa trails Oklahoma City by 7.5 games and second place Omaha by one half. The Cubs do spend most of May at home, so they have a chance to make up some ground. The needs of Chicago outweigh the needs of Iowa, though, so the Triple A Cubs are likely to have to work around a fairly dynamic roster as the major league club manages injuries and works out some bullpen quandaries.
Tennessee : 15-14. 2nd place.
The Smokies have slipped out of first place, but they remain just slightly behind Chattanooga for the division lead. The Smokies have a chance to make up some ground, though, as they play their next eleven games at home. Tennessee is two games under .500 on the road (where they have played 20 games this season), but three games over at home (where they have played just 9).
Myrtle Beach : 18-12, 1st place.
The Pelicans have played a lot of games in the past week, thanks to some doubleheaders, and they have won most of them. In fact, the Pelicans not only lead their division, they currently have the best record in the Carolina League.
They don’t have a large lead, though. Carolina, a division rival, trails the Pelicans by just half a game. Chicago area readers might also be interested to note that the White Sox affiliate in Winston-Salem currently resides in the basement of the Pelican’s division, 4 games behind the Cubs’ affiliate.
South Bend : 15-15, 4th place.
The Cubs are a game over .500 at home, a game under on the road, and an even 5-5 in their last ten games. That places them in a tie for fourth place, four games behind leading Bowling Green.
Fortunately South Bend is not in the other Midwest League division. That one is currently led by Quad Cities, a Houston affiliate that has a record of 24-6 and would have a commanding nine games lead over the Cubs.
Unfortunately, the Cubs do not have the Kris Bryant equivalent of pitching sitting in the farm system right now. Fortunately, they do have some possible options who could help them out. Here a few of them in no particular order.
Carl Edwards, Jr. RHP, Tennessee.
You probably know him better as C.J. Edwards.
Edwards did not start the season smoothly, but lately has been pitching pretty well. Control caused him some early problems as he walked 2 batters per game in each of his first five games, but he has not walked anyone in his last three appearances. His ground ball rate has been up lately as well, and for the season he has struck out 20 over 14.2 innings.
He has gone at least two innings in most of his games this season, and in that capacity he could help bridge the middle innings in the majors. On the other hand, the Smokies have only used as frequently as one out of three games. He has never pitched on back to back days, and given the shoulder trouble he had last year that may be a deliberate measure to limit his innings.
Still, he is already on the 40 man roster and I think his stuff, when he is controlling it, is easily good enough to get major league hitters out. Edwards would certainly be a good option.
Frank Batista. RHP, Tennessee
Batista has a ton of bullpen experience, but this season he has been stretched out as a starter and has proven to be very stingy in that capacity. Batista is not a top prospect type, but he is a veteran pitcher who can pitch multiple innings and has experience working in high leverage situations. He also happens to be, for now at least, one of the most effective pitchers in the Cubs’ upper minors.
His stuff is not great, but he knows how to use it well. I don’t see Batista as a long term solution to the Cubs’ bullpen issues, but more as a transition option to help buy sometime while Ramirez returns or until the Cubs start to get some more consistent innings out of the starting rotation. He would have to be added to 40 man roster, though.
Donn Roach. RHP, Iowa.
Roach has been starting this season for Iowa, and he has been doing a very good job of it. Over 37 innings he has posted a WHIP of just 1.07 and a completely ridiculous ground out to air out ratio of 4.11. He is not striking out very many, less than one batter per two innings in fact, but he is getting hitters out.
Roach has two games in which he went six innings without allowing a run this season, and two more in which he pitched six innings and allowed just one run. Twice he has not walked anyone in a start, and on three occasions has allowed one or fewer base runners per inning on average in a game. He also has some bullpen experience in the majors, appearing in 16 games as a Padre last season.
Like Batista, Roach would be more of a bridge piece for the Cubs, and like Batista he would need to be added to the 40 man roster. Still, given that the Cubs’ infield defense is a tremendous strength of this team, adding an extreme groundball pitcher like Roach might not be a bad move. He could possibly slot into the rotation and allow for the Cubs to perhaps try Kyle Hendricks in a relief capacity as a means of working out the current hiccups in his stuff. Eventually, when the bullpen is back at full strength and Hendricks has regained his feel, I think he would head back to Iowa. But for now, and now is when the Cubs need help, I think he could help.
Blake Cooper. RHP, Iowa.
Cooper is an extreme ground ball type who typically works one inning stints out of the bullpen as often as every other day. All five of his allowed walks this season came in consecutive appearances in April; he hasn’t walked anyone in his other eight games. Not surprising for a ground ball guy, he has the stuff to generate quick outs. On April 30 he needed just nine pitches to retire the side, and on May 3 he needed only 11.
Also, he hasn’t given up a hit since April 24.
Roach has not yet had a chance at the major league level, and he would need to be added to the 40 man to get a chance with the Cubs. Other than perhaps Edwards, though, I think he has the best chance of the prospects on this list to come up and claim a permanent position in the bullpen. He doesn’t allow many walks, strikes out roughly a batter an inning, and when he does give up contact it is probably going straight onto the ground where the Cubs have a fantastic infield defense to handle it. I could easily see him taking on the role of seventh inning guy, at least until Ramirez returns.
Cole Hamels. LHP, Philadelphia.
You were thinking it. Don’t bother denying it, you know you were. I was thinking it. Every Cubs fan who is both sober and has been paying any kind of attention lately has thought about it at least once. There are other trade candidates out there besides Hamels, but for the purposes of this article the conversation about any of them is similar so I will let Hamels stand in for them all.
Yes, the Cubs have enough left in the farm system to trade for Hamels (or someone like him) without completely gutting the system and without trading any of their young hitters who are currently in the majors. I am not sure which team they best match up with (for example, if the Philies were dead set on getting a left handed front of the rotation starter in Double A or higher the Cubs just wouldn’t match up at all), but someone out there will be all too happy to deal a very good pitcher, perhaps with a less good contract, to the Cubs in exchange for some combination of the Cubs prospects. I am not going to go into specific possible trade packages now (that could be another article), but there is no doubt in my mind that the Cubs have the prospects to make the deal provided there is a match.
That does not mean that a mega-trade is the best use of the Cubs’ resources, though. After all, even with the pitching issues that have plagued the team lately, the Cubs remain right in the thick of the Wild Card chase despite playing a very difficult schedule and being hit with several pretty nasty injuries. If they can just hold on until Wada and Ramirez return, they might be back to having a bullpen that is a strength of the team.