While Jeimer Candelario and Ian Happ are dominating the headlines with the Iowa Cubs, starting pitchers are drawing rave reviews at Tennessee, Myrtle Beach, and South Bend. At this rate, there will be more pitchers than hitters on the top Cubs prospects lists by the end of summer. And based on the number of pitchers the Cubs selected in the draft the past three years, those numbers are only going to increase the next few years.
Here are some of the pitching stat lines from the first week of the season:
Dylan Cease -South Bend – 9 IP, 15 Ks, 1.00 ERA, 1.22 WHIP
Manny Rondon – South Bend – 9.2 IP, 13 Ks, 3.72 ERA, 1.14 WHIP
Tyson Miller – South Bend – 9.2 IP, 13 Ks, 0.00 ERA, 1.03 WHIP
Justin Steele – Myrtle Beach – 9 IP, 7 Ks, 1.00 ERA, 1.33 WHIP
Oscar de la Cruz – Myrtle Beach – 10 IP, 9 Ks, 1.80 ERA, 1.40 WHIP
Thomas Hatch - Myrtle Beach – 9.2 IP, 7 Ks, 2.79 ERA, 1.14 ERA
Preston Morrison – Tennessee – 5 IP, 3 Ks, 0.00 ERA, 1.20 WHIP
Duane Underwood – Tennessee – 5 IP, 8 Ks, 3.6 ERA, 1.00 WHIP
Alec Mills – Iowa – 11 IP, 7 Ks, 3.27 ERA, 0.91 WHIP
Eddie Butler – Iowa – 12.2 IP, 7 Ks, 0.71 ERA, 1.18 WHIP
There are several other Cubs top pitching prospects not listed because they have not made their debut yet this year. These include Jose Albertos, Bailey Clark, and Bryan Hudson.
The Cubs’ recent strategy has been to acquire pitching in bulk through the draft and international free agency, most recently in Mexico. In the 2016 MLB draft, the Cubs took 27 pitchers with their 38 selections. The Cubs also selected 18 pitchers in 2015 and 21 in 2014. This means that in 2017, most of these players will be in short season Eugene, South Bend, and Myrtle Beach—all Class A levels.
Who could move to the top of the prospect list?
Two pitchers who have impressed me so far in 2017 are Manny Rondon and Tyson Miller. Rondon, a lefty, throws in the low-to-mid 90s with a solid changeup and a curve, though he is working to regain his feel on the breaking pitch in the early stretch. Miller throws his fastball in the mid-90s and has a nice tight curve that acts more like a cutter. When I saw his start this week for South Bend, I came away extremely impressed with his athleticism and the fluidity of his release.
Extended spring training began this week and several pitchers arrived from the Dominican Republic complex who could also make it to a prospect list this summer if they play for Mesa or Eugene. Lefties Faustino Carrera and Brailyn Marquez both had excellent seasons last summer. Carrera posted an ERA of just over one while the 6’4″ (rumored to be more like 6’6″) Marquez had an ERA of 1.48. Both are just 18 years old, so they project to fill out even further.
Who could move the most this year?
In 2015, Justin Steele had an excellent year pitching for Eugene has he posted an ERA of just about two. He was near the top 10 on most prospects lists. In 2016 at South Bend, everything that could go wrong did as his ERA ballooned to over eight at some points during the season. As a result, his rankings plummeted. Now he looks to be in 2015 form this season as he has used an effective three-pitch mix liberally in attacking hitters in the Carolina League thus far.
Has this pitching immersion been by design?
In 2012, Jed Hoyer often talked about how the Cubs wanted to have waves of pitching hitting the shores of Chicago. That hasn’t happened. Yet. The main reason is that the Cubs’ system was bereft of pitching in 2012. A second reason is that those first few drafts only produced one major-league pitcher (reliever or starter), and he is now back in Triple-A Iowa. Dillon Maples, Duane Underwood, and Pierce Johnson are all still in the system, but those arms are running out of time and the 40-man roster is running out of space to keep two of them for very much longer.
The last three drafts saw a definite uptick in pitchers, but that has more of a “Jackson Pollock painting” feel to it as if the Cubs selected a ton of arms just to see which ones would stick to the canvas. Those arms are now flooding into the class A levels creating intense competition for spots at all three affiliates. I think we’ll see the payoff for those pitchers in a couple of years. And then there are others who could be ready sooner, like Eddie Butler.
As for the prospect lists, it would not surprise me to see up to twenty arms on the list at the end of this year. With two hitters extremely close to the show, the odds of Ian Happ and Jeimer Candelario being replaced by pitchers on the list is almost a certainty.
Lead photo courtesy Larry Kave—Myrtle Bach Pelicans