When it comes to publicity, I think Duncan Robinson has been badly overlooked this year. I find the lack of press especially odd because he was the Cubs minor-league pitcher of the month for May while at South Bend.
Robinson might not be the sexy type of pitcher who throws in the upper 90s, but he does have one of the best curveballs in the system. Add in a sinker and a 91-93 mph fastball with command and run, and it is easy to see why he’s been so successful this year. He is different than any other pitcher the Cubs have. He’s not a soft tossing righty, as one could think coming from Dartmouth. Instead, he attacks hitters and the strike zone.
In early July, he was promoted to Myrtle Beach where he got off to a rough start but has since righted the ship. For the month, he had a 2.19 ERA in 5 starts and struck out 18 in 24.2 IP. He has not given up a long ball yet for the Pelicans after giving up seven in South Bend.
On the year, he has thrown 106.1 innings with a 2.20 ERA and struck out 82 while only walking 22.
Basic facts: 6’6”, 220 lbs., 9th round pick from Dartmouth in 2016.
Strengths: Throws strikes, fastball command, plus curve, pitches inside, and durability.
I recently had the chance to talk to Duncan about his routine and how he is trying to improve as a pitcher.
TJ: How much of your routine do you come up with and how much do the Cubs come up with?
DR: The Cubs are not a “This is the routine we want you to have.” They want you to have a routine you are comfortable with but one that’s also productive. They’ll step in if your routine isn’t working for you and try to figure out ways that they can help. If you got a routine that allows you to have success, they’re going to let you do it. They’ll just help when they need to.
TJ: What kinds of things are you working on in your side sessions right now?
DR: Fastball command as always is the most important thing for me. If I have good fastball command, the other pitches build off of that. But more specifically, I’m working on developing a cutter, which has been a very good pitch for me when it’s been consistent. There’s that and a consistent changeup to use in all counts is something that I want to have down to a “T” every time I go out there. So every time I go out on the mound, inside I’m just focusing on executing each pitch.
TJ: Is Jim Brower (Cubs Minor League Pitching Coordinator) helping you with the cutter or is Anderson Tavares (Myrtle Beach Pitching Coach)?
DR: Actually, I learned it from Brian Lawrence down in South Bend. So naturally, Anderson and Brower have helped me with it just making sure I don’t turn it into a slider and have it as consistent as possible to have it play off my sinker.
For me, Double-A is the biggest test for any prospect. Every level has its challenges, but Double-A has the best pure collection of pitching and hitting talent. As a result, Robinson will face his toughest test next year.
Robinson acknowledged that every level gets harder, but that you have to continually make adjustments while sticking to your routine. The fact that he could have 5-6 pitches in his back pocket for next year is nice, but he said it best that everything works off of his fastball command.
In watching him pitch, the thing that stuck out to me the most was his ability to use the whole zone. It is rare to see at this level a pitcher who can move the ball in and out and up and down. His curve, which I think is his best pitch, has a beautiful 1 to 6 break that gets some ugly swings. He is one of the rare Cubs pitchers who looks more comfortable pitching in on the hands vs. low and and away. His fastball tends to tail in on right handers. Add in his sinker, and now a cutter, and the hitter has to struggle with eye levels on where the ball could go.
Everything about what Robinson does is unique. Even though he went to Dartmouth, the similarities between he and Kyle Hendricks end there. Robinson is his own pitcher with his own style and his own way of doing things. So far, it’s working and working very well.
Lead photo courtesy of Stephanie Lynn