Let’s finish up our end-of-season team. The hitters came last week, and now it’s time for the pitchers.
Starter: Cory Abbott, 23, Tennessee, 146.2 IP, 112 H, 3.01 ERA, 52 BB, 166 K, 15 HR-A.
Please do check out our profile on Cory, his amazing season, and the work behind the scenes that helped produce it. The Cubs pitching infrastructure investments have started to pay dividends in both the Major and minor leagues this season, and it’s the singular most exciting thing happening within the organization.
Starter: Brailyn Marquez, 20, South Bend/Myrtle Beach, 103.2 IP, 85 H, 3.13 ERA, 50 BB, 128 K, 5 HR-A.
Amazing how quick the narrative shifted. On June 7, Marquez couldn’t get out of the second inning in a road Midwest League start. His ERA was 4.83, his WHIP at 1.63. After that, Marquez became the top prospect we all knew his 100 mph fastball said he should be: 2.01 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and a 10.9 K/9. There was some talk that this was behind an improvement on his breaking ball, perhaps to tunnel better off his fastball, but I think it was upping his fastball usage more than anything else.
Starter: Colin Rea, 28, Iowa, 148 IP, 142 H, 3.95 ERA, 60 BB, 120 K, 17 HR-A.
The numbers might not stick out to you, but when you consider the Pacific Coast League’s average ERA was 5.49, Rea was really spectacular, and deserved the league’s Cy Young award. I’m hoping the Cubs add Rea to the 40-man roster in November, thus protecting him from minor league free agency, and use him (with Kendall Graveman) as a depth rotation option for their 2020 rotation. Rea’s season, to me, was about execution at a level we don’t see much in the minor leagues.
Starter: Jeff Passantino, 24, Every Damn Affiliate, 89 IP, 84 H, 3.03 ERA, 14 BB, 104 K, 10 HR-A.
Just the weirdest and most fun season. Begins the year as a piggyback reliever for South Bend, pitching three inning stints every four or five days. At the All-Star Break, dude gets promoted to Myrtle Beach, where he piggybacks for one game before the Iowa Cubs rotation goes razor thin. Makes two spot starts there, allowing two runs over nine innings. Then he’s moved to the Tennessee rotation, where the Cubs were managing the workloads of that staff, and allows zero walks against 10 strikeouts in two starts. Finishes the year as a rotation regular in Myrtle Beach, with a 2.18 ERA in his final six starts. I’m exhausted just typing it.[Brett: If you’re wondering why a guy with those results and peripherals is used this way, and doesn’t get more prospecting attention, it’s because Passantino – the absolute final draft pick in the 2017 MLB Draft – is 5’9″ and his fastball sits in the mid-80s. He gets results, though, and it’s a great story. Also, Happy Birthday yesterday!]
Starter: Jack Patterson, 23, South Bend / Myrtle Beach / Tennessee, 79.2 IP, 48 H, 1.69 ERA, 32 BB, 80 K, 1 HR-A.
The diamond in the rough in 2019. Patterson did not make a full-season affiliate out of Spring Training. Then he didn’t allow a run from June 12 in South Bend to his Double-A debut on August 7, one of the most ridiculous stretches of the season. I’m really bullish on Patterson going forward.
Reliever: Ryan Lawlor, 25, South Bend / Myrtle Beach, 55.1 IP, 33 H, 1.95 ERA, 26 BB, 85 K, 1 HR-A.
Absolutely insane numbers, and I have to say, I was pretty frustrated the Cubs didn’t allow him to finish the season in Double-A. Opponents hit .169/.276/.226 off Lawlor for the year, with a whopping 37.6 K%. Lawlor was signed out of independent ball a year ago, throws in the low 90s and has a big, plus curveball that he commands well.
Reliever: Ethan Roberts, 21, South Bend / Myrtle Beach, 59 IP, 55 H, 2.59 ERA, 10 BB, 54 K, 1 HR-A.
I am guilty of underappreciating Ethan Roberts’ fantastic first pro season. The 2018 fourth-rounder was locked into the strike zone in the second half, walking just TWO of the 120 batters he faced. He posted 30 strikeouts in 29.2 innings during that time, allowing just a 2.73 ERA despite a .356 BABIP. Roberts has great command of a dangerous cutter, and is a bulldog out there coming after hitters.
Reliever: Wyatt Short, 24, Tennessee / Iowa, 58 IP, 50 H, 2.95 ERA, 26 BB, 66 K, 3 HR-A.
There are a few players in honorable mention section below that had Iowa stints that derailed their numbers enough to just miss the team, but I couldn’t note include Short, even despite a – gulp – 10.80 ERA in 8.1 innings with the I-Cubs. He was so dominant in Tennessee – a 1.63 ERA, including just one allowed in his final 11 appearances – that three bad outings in Juiced Ball Land can’t change his season’s narrative.
Reliever: Manuel Rodriguez, 22, Myrtle Beach, 47 IP, 43 H, 3.45 ERA, 17 BB, 65 K, 1 HR-A.
A personal favorite. I saw Rodriguez in Mesa in Spring Training, making teammates look foolish on mid 90s heat with a good curveball. His strikeout numbers have always been good, but the command has never been there. It was there most of the year, including this stretch from July 11 to August 23: 16.2 IP, 13 H, 1.62 ERA, 0 BB, 29 K. Not a typo. Rodriguez allowed a .372 BABIP this year. When that comes down, expect more people to know his name.
Reliever: James Norwood, 25, Iowa, 57.2 IP, 40 H, 4.21 ERA, 31 BB, 81 K, 9 HR-A.
Norwood’s strikeout numbers jumped way up this year, and I think I have a handle on why. First of all, his slider is much improved, the likely result of a spring in the Pitch Lab. Secondly, in the outings I watched, Norwood was much more likely to pitch backwards. I saw a lot of at-bats with first-pitch sliders, second-pitch change ups, and then the batter was so on his heels, that anything thereafter will confuse him. A good recipe to build on going forward.
Reliever: Ben Hecht, 24, Myrtle Beach / Tennessee, 58 IP, 47 H, 2.79 ERA, 28 BB, 71 K, 6 HR-A.
Hecht had a pretty forgettable 2018 in South Bend, a league he probably should have dominated as an older college guy. He could have let things go south, but he got a lot better over the winter, adding a little velocity and spin, and looked downright nasty in Mesa. He built on that, becoming the Pelicans best reliever in the first half, and then totally fitting in at Double-A. I think he’ll return there in 2020, but if things continue to progress, will be one of the first up to AAA, with a chance to make an impact going forward.
Starter Honorable Mention: Cam Sanders, Tyson Miller, Riley Thompson, Kohl Franklin, Faustino Carrera, Luis Lugo.
Reliever Honorable Mention: Michael Rucker, Craig Brooks, Dillon Maples, Sean Barry, Jesus Camargo