It Was a Big Monday On The Mound for Cubs Pitching Prospects

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It Was a Big Monday On The Mound for Cubs Pitching Prospects

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs minor league system went just 4-5 yesterday in wins and losses, but those results are hiding one of the better days of prospect pitching the Cubs have had all season.

The starters at the four full-season affiliates were particularly fantastic:

Colin Rea threw eight innings for the Iowa Cubs for his 11th victory — lowering his ERA to second in the Pacific Coast League behind only Zac Gallen. Cory Abbott pitched a season-high seven innings himself for Tennessee, with only a solo home run as damage, before a rehabbing Allen Webster gave away the game in the eighth.

At the A-ball levels, Erich Uelmen was able to throw five scoreless innings (despite the Pelicans making him wait more than 45 minutes as they scored 9 runs in the bottom of the third). And Brendon Little – in just his fifth outing of the year, after missing the first half with a lat injury – struck out eight batters in five scoreless innings for arguably the best start of his career.

I spent the morning watching all four outings, and figured I would talk about each guy through the lens of the different pitch types they throw.

Fastball

While I know this will draw some cynicism, all four pitchers are in a similarly low range of velocity. Rea has added a little since the summer began, going from 89-91 early in the year to touching 94 mph several times yesterday. Abbott and Uelmen are consistently in the 90-94 range, while Little has a little more variance, showing us anything from 88-93 yesterday.

For movement, it’s not close: Erich Uelmen’s sinker stands out. Standing on the third base side of the rubber, Uelmen intelligently pounded right-handers inside (more than usual), and was able to sustain his mid-60s ground-ball rate for the outing. It’s a nasty pitch, and he is good at changing the eye level, throwing his four-seam to the letters.

Abbott’s fastball is of the high-spin variety, and you can see it with the late swings he generates up in the zone. Abbott leaned more on breaking ball when he needed a strike, and it’s worth noting the home run he allowed was on a 93 mph heater. Rea has the ability to run and cut his fastball, but last night the movement didn’t stick out. Little’s actually did more to me, showing solid late sink.

While Rea led the group with three walks, his fastball command was the most consistent; his misses were fairly intentional. Uelmen did a good job of staying out of the middle of the plate with the fastball. Little didn’t walk anybody for just the fourth time since turning pro, and was able to throw a fastball strike on numerous three ball counts.

Breaking Ball

I loved the game that Ian Rice and Cory Abbott called, as he pitched backwards more than I’ve ever seen from him. I don’t know how many times they went with the slider/cutter on the first pitch, but it was often, and Abbott can command it around the plate. His curveball had good bite, better than usual, and he was able to throw it in a variety of counts, as well.

If I’m correct, I also believe that Erich Uelmen featured two breaking balls last night, the first time I’ve seen that from him. Really, though, it was just two varieties of the same pitch: a frisbee slider in the 85 mph range, and a cutter in the 88 mph range with a bit less movement. Uelmen used the slider for three of his strikeouts, including twice to lefties as the ball came into their hands. His breaking ball did flatten on him in the middle of the zone a few times; he can’t afford that.

For Rea and Little, it’s just a curveball, but both are very good. Rea throws a traditional 12-to-6 curve in the low 80s with good depth and can command it all over the zone.

The highlight of the day was probably Little’s curve. It appeared to feature more horizontal movement yesterday than I’ve ever seen it, almost a slurve-like 2-to-8 action. His command was very inconsistent, but the wildness worked a bit in his favor with two strikes, drawing defensive swings.

If Little eventually moves to the bullpen, I’d love to see him transition to the first base side of the rubber (he went from the middle last year to third base side this season). This was a move that helped Kyle Ryan’s stuff play at the Major League level, and I imagine if Little could command the curve to his arm-side corner of the plate, it would be a devastating offering from a more first-base-side arm angle.

Change-Up

Little threw his change the most of the four pitchers by a pretty wide margin, and it flashed the best. He threw too many up in the zone, and was lucky to not face the repercussions of that, but I can think of two change-ups specifically that were true Major League plus pitches.

Rea threw one Major League change, for instance, but also had an 85 mph change hammered for extra bases. It doesn’t seem like he fully commits to the pitch like his other offerings, a true show-me offering. Abbott is much the same, generally, although I can’t find a change-up in my notes. He might have thrown a handful, but he was just so breaking ball heavy with good feel of it.

Uelmen doesn’t really throw a change in game. We’ve heard he’s working on it, and you’ll see it now and again, but he pretty much lives and dies on sinker/slider.

Future

Rea’s fantastic season has almost surely earned a 40-man roster spot in the offseason, a move that will prevent him from reaching free agency.

The other 3 all won’t be eligible for the Rule 5 until December 2020, so it’s unlikely any will see the 40-man before then. Abbott would be easily the most likely, as he’ll be in the Triple-A mix next year, and a hot streak could vault him into a spot start. I’m hoping Uelmen and Little will be Arizona Fall League participants this year to make up for lost injury time, allowing us to see their repertoires against the most advanced competition yet.

I’m not at the point of projecting any of these guys as big league difference makers, but there are good foundations and glimmers of hope in all four. Uelmen and Little probably still grade out as relievers, but both have starter upside (that Derek Lowe comp Uelmen received pre-draft last year was evident last night). Rea and Abbott are probably 5th/6th starter grades, with Abbott’s ceiling a little above that.


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Author: Bryan Smith

Bryan Smith is a Minor League Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @cubprospects.