Dear South Bend Cubs, Myrtle Beach Pelicans, and Eugene Emeralds Fans,
Your pitching staffs will be stacked in 2016.
Todd and Teddy
While the upper minors do have a few starting pitching prospects who could help the Cubs in the next year or two, the lower minors are stacked with a variety of arms. There are about 23 pitchers who could make some noise on their way up the ladder in the next few years. Most of them are 19 to 20 years old and filled with piss and vinegar (not to mention talent) in their arms. We don’t think we have enough space to go over 20 pitchers in detail, but we do have time to profile nine in depth.
Likely Starting Staffs in 2016
These lineups could easily change depending on the development of each pitching prospect over the winter. Performance in spring training could also affect the placement of many of these pitchers. And there is always an injury or two to throw a monkey wrench into the best laid plans.
The Devine Nine (in no particular order)
Dylan Cease – Cease went under the knife immediately after being drafted last year, but he recovered quickly and went on to pitch 24 innings for the Cubs rookie league team. In his brief time on the mound, he showed off his upper-90’s heat that even touched 100, as well as a decent curve. His control of both pitches was all over the place, but it was nice to see the velocity come back. He should make it to South Bend at some point next season (may stay behind at extended spring training), where he’ll continue to develop his control and changeup while proving that he’s truly past his surgery.
Oscar de la Cruz – The big pop-up pitching prospect for the Cubs this season, de la Cruz was signed for $85,000 as a 17-year-old in 2012 and made his stateside debut this year. And what a season it was for the big-bodied Dominican (6’5”, 200 pounds), as he jumped from the Arizona complex to the Emeralds staff. There he attacked hitters with his 90-93mph fastball with sink and a curveball that flashed plus. He struck out exactly one batter per inning (73 K’s in 73 IP), and showed tremendous growth and potential. If he’s able to develop a solid changeup and improve the consistency of his curve, watch out.
Trevor Clifton – The talent has always been there and he began to develop some consistency with his fastball and curve later in 2015. His goal for 2016 should be to develop the ability to throw any of his top three pitches at any time at any count for a strike. When Clifton was drafted, he weighed 170 pounds; he’s about 215-220 now. It could be a breakout year for him if comes out commanding his fastball in the low-to-mid 90s.
Jake Stinnett – The Cubs’ second-round draft pick in 2014, Stinnett had an up and down season at South Bend. He was able to log 117 innings, but had an ERA of 4.46 and often struggled with control of his fastball. That pitch sits in the low 90’s and he has a plus slider to go with it. The downside with Stinnett is that he’s going to be 24 years old for most of next season, but if he can improve his control he could take a big step forward. The most likely role for him now is in the bullpen.
Preston Morrison – The Cubs may have gotten a steal with Morrison. He has a great feel for how to pitch, specifically how to control the zone. It would not surprise me to see him go to high-A to begin the year. Word is he is turning into a weight room rat and has gained 4-6 mph on his fastball since college (85 to 89). Last summer in a limited starting role at Eugene, he had a 0.81 ERA in 22.1 innings and struck out 30. At only 22, he likely is too old and advanced for low-A ball.
Justin Steele – The results of his first full season of A-ball should delight us; well, make that his tight, breaking curve will delight us. At only 20, he has been relatively healthy and relatively successful. More consistent than fellow lefty draftee Carson Sands (see below), Steele’s breaking ball has a very tight spin that has a devastating drop late in its flight path.
Jeremy Null – The former Western Carolina Catamount breezed through the Midwest League but hit a bit of a bump in his time with the Pelicans. The 6’7” Null struggled putting batters away at Myrtle Beach, as neither his slider nor his changeup are swing-and-miss pitches at the moment. However, the command of his 89-91 mph fastball with downward plane allows him to get ahead of hitters. If his breaking pitches improve next season, he could have a future in the rotation.
Bryan Hudson – The organization took it very slow with Hudson after he was drafted, only sending him to the mound for 6.2 innings with the Rookie League Cubs. Look for them to ramp up his workload next season, as the 6’8”, 220-pound pitcher has the body and athleticism to throw over 100 innings in his first full pro season. In high school, Hudson’s fastball sat 86-90, but he has the chance to add a few more ticks. Also, the depth of his curve led to it being rated out as one of the best prep breaking balls in his class. Look for him to stay back and start the season with Eugene, where he’ll hopefully log innings and develop a changeup.
Carson Sands – The Cubs are taking their time with the lefty from Tallahassee. Sands, who turns 21 soon, will be at South Bend next summer. He seems to need to develop some consistency in his starts. Mentally, he is tough as nails and very poised and in command of his emotions, a plus for a low-A pitcher. Sands has a fastball around 89-91 range and a bender curve around 79-81 mph area. There is some deception to his delivery, as the ball seems to explode out of his hand after the release.
There is a good video of his delivery here.
Todd – Scott Effross – The former closer from Indiana University will begin getting stretched out in Spring Training. The fact that he can throw four pitches for strikes should make his transition easier. It’s likely he’ll stay at extended spring training and he could to South Bend or Myrtle Beach from there.
Teddy – James Norwood – He may have also been my breakout pick last year, but hear me out. The former St. Louis Billiken is 6’2”, 205 pounds and filled out. He was only able to pitch 50 innings between the Arizona League and the South Bend Cubs, but in his best starts he showed a plus fastball with a solid slider. If he’s able to stay healthy and pitch a full workload (has had elbow problems in the past), he could jump onto the radar as a starter, though a position in the pen is most likely for Norwood.
For more on some of the pitching prospects in the upper levels of the minors, check our our earlier post.