Javier Assad Blew Team USA (and the Radar Gun (and Me)) Away, and Other Cubs Bullets

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Javier Assad Blew Team USA (and the Radar Gun (and Me)) Away, and Other Cubs Bullets

Chicago Cubs

No Cubs game today. So weird. Off-days in the spring are exceedingly rare, so it always catches me off-guard on the rare day it arrives. At least we have the World Baseball Classic going on …

  • Welp, Team USA got smoked 11-5 last night by Team Mexico, which has definitely been one of those underrated clubs in the tournament. Unlike USA and some of the other offense-heavy clubs, Mexico has some decent pitching.

  • In the game, Chicago Cubs pitcher Javier Assad got the 4th, 5th, and 6th innings against the STACKED United States lineup, and he dominated. No runs. No walks. One hit (a Mike Trout single). Two strikeouts. Four groundouts. He has been off our radar in the 5th starter competition because he’s been away from camp for the WBC, but let’s call this outing his reminder: Hey guys, I’m still worth paying attention to!
  • Here’s the part that is blowing my mind. BLOWING my mind. Javier Assad last year sat 92-93 mph, sometimes touching 94-95, and that was a pretty big bump for him over his earlier prospecting days. It’s what put him on the map as a possible big leaguer. Last night? Statcast had Assad SITTING 95 MPH AND TOUCHING 97 MPH. He had a cutter that TOUCHED 92 MPH. These are bonkers numbers, and if they were an accurate reflection of what Assad could do as a starting pitcher, it would FUNDAMENTALLY reframe how we think about his future with the Cubs as something quite a bit more than a mere “depth guy.”
  • … the question is, are those numbers an accurate reflection of what Assad could do as a starting pitcher? Think about how pumped up Assad must have been last night, and knowing that he was going to throw only 30 to 40 pitches, he was almost certainly really airing it out. In some ways, it makes me mildly concerned to see him hitting new velocity highs in mid-March, in some of the highest intensity moments he’s ever faced. As long as he gets through the WBC unscathed, though, an Assad who sits 95 mph with the sinker and the four-seamer, and whose cutter can get into that 89-90 mph range from time to time? You would be wrong NOT to start thinking about how he could be a very good back-end starter in the big leagues.
  • Brandon Hughes is locked in as maybe the only lefty in the bullpen to open the season, but it’s easy to forget that he has only a partial big league season under his belt. He feels a lot more established than that, but in reality, he still has more to learn, as do so many of the Cubs’ young relief arms. I’m glad the Cubs think about that when constructing the bullpen, even as they have an almost overwhelming volume of internal arms coming (via Cubs.com):

This season, Hughes will be able to keep learning his way in the big leagues from veterans like Fulmer and Boxberger. Last year, the lefty said experienced relievers like David Robertson, Chris Martin, Mychal Givens and Daniel Norris played a key role in his learning curve.

Robertson, in particular, took Hughes under his wing before the veteran was traded to the Phillies at the Deadline.

“D-Rob was huge for me,” Hughes said. “He was always in my ear, because he knew I was young and he knew I was an inexperienced pitcher, knowing that I only had three years under my belt pitching.”

  • It would be easy for the Cubs to look at their coming wave of relievers and decide not to go out and add guys like Michael Fulmer and Brad Boxberger this year, or others like them next year. But the value those guys can provide goes beyond stability (relievers are notoriously fickle year to year, so you love to have some veterans with a baseline of performance expectation). They are also valuable for the example they can set for the younger pitchers. The questions they can answer. The pitches and the match-ups they can discuss. The experiences they’ve had transition into the bullpen. So on and so forth. You should expect the Cubs to continue adding short-term veteran relievers to their bullpen every year, even if the majority of the bullpen becomes increasingly home-grown.

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.