Position: Relief Pitcher
2015 Stats: 4 2/3 IP, 6.24 DRA, 3.86 ERA 21.1 K%, 15.8 BB%
Year in Review: When it comes to Carl Edwards, Jr. and the 2015 season that he just had, stats are sort of beside the point. Oh, he threw 4 2/3 innings of regular-season ball? That’s interesting. I’ll leave it to you to draw whatever you want from those brief moments in the limelight. If you really want to know what Edwards did in 2015, you’ve got to take a step back and look at the career arc that brought him here. And so here’s what he did in 2015: he made the major leagues. That, for Edwards, is quite a remarkable accomplishment, and it’s what I want to talk about a little bit here today.
Let’s start with this: Edwards was drafted in the 48th round of the 2011 Major League Draft out of high-school ball in backwoods Carolina, which is notable insofar as the 48th round of the draft does not exist today (the draft now concludes, for the most part, after Round 40). Nearly 1,500 players were taken before Edwards that year alone, and just three players from the preceding ten rounds (in which 300 players were drafted) have yet made the majors. Edwards has beaten the odds to get here, and that’s worth celebrating.
A lot of big-league players adopt a “me against the world” mentality. That’s good—it fires them up in a way that allows them to achieve their potential to its fullest. But let’s be honest: Kris Bryant was always going to make it to The Show, even if he wasn’t guaranteed success there. A “let me prove you wrong” attitude might have helped him a little bit, but the fact is that there weren’t a whole lot of people betting against his success. The same can’t be said of Edwards; for him, the “embattled” narrative was real. Here, for example, is last year’s BP comment on Edwards:
After a breakout 2013, Edwards missed a large chunk of last summer with a minor shoulder problem. The rail-thin righty has a four-seamer that can touch the upper 90s, but leans more on his two-seamer while using a plus curve as his swing-and-miss pitch. Edwards’ build leads to questions about his ability to survive the rigors of a big-league rotation, although lack of fastball command may be just as big an obstacle. Last year’s injury left him ill-placed to prove doubters wrong, but if he can deliver a hush-your-mouth 2015, he profiles as a mid-rotation starter. More likely, he ends up a high-leverage reliever who could be ready in the second half this year.
Let me summarize that, for those of you who skipped past it: “He’s been pretty good, but we’re not sure how, given his build, and we’re not sure if he can keep it up.” That’s the kind of thing that ends up tacked on kitchen fridges, and I’m sure it means something to Edwards. And so I’m not too concerned about how Edwards did in his brief time with the Cubs in 2015. The important thing is that he made it, and that he’ll get a shot next year to make it stick. I love that kind of story. This guy is a human being who’s done a very hard thing already, and that’s worth celebrating.
Looking Ahead: Edwards is, for the most part, a two-pitch pitcher, featuring a fastball and a plus curveball. He’ll work a sinker in there as well, and a changeup every so often just to keep hitters honest, but the challenge he presents to batters is pretty simple, for the most part: try to hit this. Can’t? Try this instead. The fastball sits in the mid-90s, with nice late movement, while the curveball (which is a pretty thing) features about seven inches of vertical break. Those are two nice tools to have in your arsenal at any level, and particularly useful if you’re a reliever rather than a starter.
And there’s the question: Can Edwards be a starter long-term? That’s what I asked a long-time scout who’s familiar with Edwards. Here’s what he said:
Edwards is very narrow in the hips and a small bone type, so I don’t think he’s a candidate to add much in the lower half, as time has shown, so this is what it is. He’s angular and extremely long, which is both a positive and negative attribute in his game. The strength and consistency weren’t there for the rotation, and consistency is what could still limit him in a relief role. He’s long and loose, and easy with his release, but inconsistent getting to that release point, which is why that CB will show plus but can’t sustain such a grade. He can spin it. No doubt. He just can’t always get to it, and when he does, he can’t command it very well. The overall command/control components need big steps forward, but I think he has the potential to be a Rangers-era Alexi Ogando type, with slightly lighter stuff, so he’s a 7th inning guy for me when he can improve the strike throwing. Not a bad arm at all, but not a safe bet to help a bullpen until you can trust him more, and trust comes from consistency.
Now, I’m #notascout, and not in a position to dispute that. Even if I were, it’s consistent with what I’ve heard from others, and comports with common sense. I am confident that Edwards will be brought up as a reliever in 2016, and if he shows promise there might one day be asked to stretch out again. So don’t expect him to figure in the Cubs’ rotation plans in 2016, even in the back end.
To be honest, I don’t even think it’s a lock that Edwards will make the big-league bullpen out of spring training. There’ll be a lot of competition for what’s likely going to be just eight spots, and so Edwards’ remaining options (he has two) make him a likely candidate to spend some time getting seasoned at Triple-A. I do think he’ll spend some time with the big club next year, but it’s likely to be as result of injury or ineffectiveness at the big-league level, and not right out of the gate.
In any event, the future is brighter than ever seemed possible for a kid who was signed out of the Carolina countryside. If he can turn into a “Rangers-era Alexi Ogando,” the Cubs will be extremely happy. And he might: I’ve heard no concerns about his makeup from anyone I’ve spoken to about him, and the stuff—as we’ve noted before—will play. Keep this kid on your radar.
Lead photo courtesy David Kohl—USA Today Sports.