The Cubs have added to their pitching depth, signing former Rangers righty Adrian Sampson to a minor league deal. He’s already joined the Iowa Cubs.
Sampson, 29, was a Pirates 5th rounder back in 2012, and was traded to the Mariners in 2015 for JA Happ (remember how good he was that year for the Pirates?). Unfortunately he tore the flexor tendon in his arm a year later, and it took him another year to get back to pitching a full season at Triple-A for the Rangers, who’d claimed him off of waivers for the rehab process. So then, at 27, he finally got a chance to stick in the big leagues, lasting all year with the Rangers in 2019 in a swing role, but getting crushed in the process.
For the 2020 pandemic season, Sampson was one of the guys who headed over to the KBO to pitch a full year, and that, too, was mostly unsuccessful:
So basically, you’ve got a guy who only just had his first two years to really show what he could do at the highest level, and it didn’t go well. At 29, he’s not too old for you think a tweak here and there could turn him into a serviceable swing guy at the big league level, but this is certainly one of those low-risk depth moves.
If I had to guess on what might’ve intrigued the Cubs, it’s that Sampson features and extremely low spin-rate fastball. It’s got just average velocity, but when the Cubs have made this moves at the margins on reclamation guys, they tend to look for something extreme (i.e., something that makes the guy very unusual, and offers up the bones with which to work). Extreme low spin-rate guys are odd ducks, but sometimes it can work. Mike Montgomery, for example, was an extreme low spin-rate guy, and he obviously had some very successful years as a swing guy with the Cubs. You have to figure out how to harness it, though, because obviously – all else equal – a well-deployed high spin rate is going to be more effective.
Sampson also appears to have, at times, had a really good slider, so there’s that to work with, too.
Interestingly, one of the most similar 2019 pitchers to Sampson, according to Statcast’s metrics? Trevor Williams.
Given his many years in the Rangers’ system, you can’t help but wonder if the Cubs had some extra familiarity with him, both from their own scouting efforts – so many trades between the orgs – and also with some contacts in the Rangers’ front office to provide trusted feedback.