The Cubs, the Padres, Wick and Wieck, and the Power of Transforming a Curveball

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The Cubs, the Padres, Wick and Wieck, and the Power of Transforming a Curveball

Chicago Cubs

Early last offseason, when teams were in the process of setting rosters for the purposes of the Rule 5 Draft, we talked about the Padres as having such an egregious glut of rosterable talent that they made sense as a possible trade partner for the Cubs.

Soon thereafter, the Cubs swapped infielder Jason Vosler for reliever Rowan Wick, a guy with legit talent, but squeezed out of the mix on a Padres roster loaded with young arms. From there, Wick developed rapidly with the Cubs, including the shift to a knuckle curve, which helped him become one of the most dominant relievers at AAA, and now one of the most trusted relievers in the big league bullpen.

On his big league season, Wick has posted a 2.96 ERA over 24.1 innings, with a 26.3% K rate, a 10.1% BB rate, and a beautiful 59.0% groundball rate.

And he’s not the only former Padres pitcher who was caught in that same roster crunch, who also was traded to the Cubs, who also reworked himself at AAA, who also started throwing a knuckle curve, who also dominated thereafter at AAA, and who was also called up to the big league team and immediately used in important spots. Oh, and his name is also Wick. Well, Wieck, but it’s pronounced the same way.

Unlike Wick, Brad Wieck is a huge lefty, standing 6’9″, and he didn’t get traded to the Cubs until the deadline this year, when the Cubs sent Carl Edwards Jr. out west. Wieck, 27, was a quality relief prospect all the way up through the Padres’ farm system, and got a successful cup of coffee last year. The Padres decided to keep him on the 40-man roster through the offseason, but he got absolutely destroyed by the long ball in MLB and at AAA this year. It was so bad that, for example, despite a 46.0% K rate (not a typo) and an 8.1% BB rate at AAA, he still had a 6.11 ERA. In the big leagues, the story was essentially the same, except the K rate was under 30% and the walk rate was over 10%.

Thus, the Padres decided to swap him out for a similarly-talented, but wart-laden arm in Edwards.

With the Cubs, as noted, Wieck switched to a knuckle curve, and dominated in limited duty with the Iowa Cubs. From a scouting perspective, what he was doing must have been crazy impressive, because he was getting multiple mentions of love from Theo Epstein after just 5.2 innings at Iowa, and he was an immediate September call-up who was inserted into competitive spots twice in the first three days of the month. That includes yesterday, when he was tasked with pitching the 9th in a four-run game.

He was perfect in the inning, with one of the highlights of the year coming on a strikeout of Kyle Seager:

That’s what it looks like when a 6’9″ dude is coming at you crossfire, throwing one at your face … and then it breaks fast and hard like a perfect 12-6 curveball.

That curveball was the focus of the Cubs’ work with Wieck after the trade, when he headed to Arizona to work in the team’s Pitch Lab, per the Tribune. Wieck had always trusted his fastball (94 mph from a huge lefty is a nice weapon), but he wasn’t there with his offspeed stuff, and the Cubs are helping him get over that hump.

Of note on Wieck’s apparent transformation with the Cubs, peep the data after he picked up a new knuckle curve grip:

That is some Houston Astros-looking sh*t right there.

It’s far too early to say Wieck is going to be an impact arm in the Cubs’ bullpen this week, much less down the stretch, into the postseason, and into next year. But it’s fun to think about the Cubs developing a talent pipeline from the Padres.

Step 1: Find a quality relief arm at AAA being squeezed out of the Padres’ 40-man roster;

Step 2: Confirm his name is Wick or some close variation thereof;

Step 3: Change his curveball;

Step 4: PROFIT!!!

(Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)

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Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.