Scouting the ‘Pen Arms in Iowa

Photo courtesy of Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Carl Edwards Jr. was just promoted to Triple-A Iowa this and many are speculating that he may eventually be an answer to the many issues facing the big-league bullpen. That unit has been a hot topic this season as it’s had its ups and downs, due to both injuries and ineffectiveness. As of Friday, the Cubs bullpen is in the bottom ten of all bullpens with an ERA of 4.08, and the advanced metrics back up that lowly ranking.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time recently watching the Iowa Cubs. With these ‘pen woes in Chicago, I was looking to see if there were any guys in Iowa who had the stuff to be promoted and help out this team. A few guys stood out to me, and below are the scouting reports for those I saw

Blake Cooper
The righty throws from a low side-arm angle. Mostly uses his upper body with minimal usage of the lower half. Loose arm action on the back side and showcases the ball allowing hitters to track the ball the entire way through the delivery. Huge ground-ball pitcher with an above-average sinker. Pitch-to-contact guy who nibbled the corners. Changeup was his out pitch. Middle relief profile with two average or better pitches in the sinker and change. Lack of velocity is a concern. Was hit hard a few times, but everything was on the ground. Good bullpen arm in double play situations.

OFP-40 Middle Reliever

Pitch Type Present Grade Future Grade Sitting Velocity Peak Velocity Report
SI 55 60 88-90 91 Good downward movement with arm-side run. Consistently pounded it in against righties and low and away against lefties. Worked low consistently. Best pitch. Increase in velocity could make this a plus pitch.
CH 50 55 79-80 80 Solid pitch. Tough to pick up. Late downward movement. Slight arm-side fade. Was his best out pitch. If he can add a little more arm-side fade, it could be a plus, otherwise an average pitch.
SL 35 45 79-81 83 Broke early  and was thrown very slow that hitters could pick it up early and sit back on it. Very weak pitch. Will have to increase velocity and get some downward break. Mostly a show-me pitch.

Now, a few guys who you have probably already heard of.

Gonzalez Germen
Germen saw some time in Chicago, and things didn’t go as hoped. He appeared in six games and threw six innings while sporting a 7.50 ERA and a 4.89 DRA. It doesn’t help that he had a BABIP of .500.  He currently holds a career big-league ERA of 4.58, and a 4.05 FIP.

The knock on Germen has been his control. It was a concern throughout his career, and the control issues showed up again this season in Chicago with a walk rate of 17.2 percent. Here’s what I saw from the few appearances he made at Iowa.

Germen has good stuff. His fastball is above average and sat 92-94 and hit 95 on occasion. It had slight arm-side run and he really worked low in the zone with it. He also had a plus change and it is his best pitch. The change consistently sat 79-80 with slight arm-side fade and good deception that really fell off the table quite often. The slider wasn’t effective, and he only threw it a few times. It sat 86-87, with more of an 11-5 break that he had trouble pulling through with loose spin.

Germen had two above-average pitches, with the change being his best pitch. However, he had command issues and was consistently getting behind early in the count. Had command issues with all three pitches that really allowed hitters to sit on the fastball. Improvement in command could make him an above-average arm out of the pen.

Brian Schlitter
Don’t boo me off the website yet. He was arguably the most disliked man among Cubs fans from April thru mid-May. In his nine appearances in Chicago, he put up a horrific ERA of 8.10 and an RE24 of -5.56. The numbers were pretty certainly unsustainable as his HR/FB percentage was through the roofs at 40 percent. His xFIP was substantially lower at 3.87. His Triple-A numbers look like a completely different player. Through nine appearances in Iowa, Schlitter holds a 1.93 ERA and a 3.30 FIP.

Schlitter throws  an impressive sinker that sat 94-95. It had slight arm-side run, but good vertical drop. The slider had good velocity with a hard bite, and very slight vertical drop. He threw a few four-seam fastballs that sat 95-96.

Schlitter worked fast and was extremely affective. He repeated his arm slot and release point on all pitches. He got ahead early in the count often and did a good job of getting hitters to expand the zone with two strikes. He has 70-grade velocity with a good sinker that results in a ridiculously high number of ground balls when he works low. He doesn’t have much movement on his pitches, and looks to heavily rely on his velocity. When his sinker works up in the zone, players are able to elevate it with plus power.

These three guys stood out in my time watching the Iowa Cubs. Although Schlitter really struggled with his short stint in Chicago, I think he has the velocity and sinker to be an affective one-inning guy in the big leagues. Germen has quality stuff. If the command is there, he can be a very productive big-league reliever. But if the command isn’t there, he just won’t be able to cut it. He needs to improve the command and ability to get ahead in the count to throw his plus change as an out pitch. Cooper has a middle-relief profile with two average or better pitches in the sinker and change. The lack of velocity is a concern as he won’t really over power big-league hitters. He was hit hard a few times, but everything was on the ground. I think he can be an effective middle reliever, especially a guy you can bring in double play situations. None of these guys look to be elite, but are serviceable options should guys like Zac Rosscup, Jason Motte, or James Russell struggle.

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