Carson Sands is part of the big boy pitcher’s club that will be invading South Bend beginning April 7. He joins Justin Steele, Oscar De La Cruz, Ryan Kellogg, Kyle Twomey, and Preston Morrison to bring some pitchability, flash, and something the Cubs lack: left handed starters. At 6’3” and 205, Sands is known for his command and control. The 21-year-old lefty was part of the prized high school draft class of 2014, along with Steele and Dylan Cease.
As a pro, Sands has had two very different seasons. He dominated Rookie Ball in Arizona in 2014 with a 1.89 ERA, striking out 20 and walking only seven. It should be noted, however, that those numbers were generated over just nine outings (four starts). At short-season Eugene in 2015, Sands was tested for the very first time. At one point, his ERA was 6.26 after giving up 9 runs in 1/3 of an inning. After that, Sands was solid outside of one start where he gave up 5 runs in 2.2 innings against Boise.
Sands continued working hard and eventually got his ERA down to 3.92. He made a total of 14 starts, during which he pitched 57.1 innings, struck out 41, and walked 21. Where opponents batted .221 against him in 2014, they tagged him for a .277 average in 2015.
The interesting thing to me is if you take away those two really bad starts, in which he gave up 14 runs in 3 innings, his stat line looks totally different. The ERA becomes a sparking 2.33 and he struck out 38 while walking 20. What I like most about Sands is that he did bounce back, he’s mature, and he takes criticism and advice well.
Heading into 2016, that sentiment is echoed by many in the industry. FanGraphs said the following:
He has a big body and throws enough strikes that the Cubs believe he ends up in the back of the rotation, with innings and durability being a greater contribution than his stuff. His fastball, curve and change all look like average pitches at best, but his consistency pounding the zone will be the key for him going forward. I think he needs a slight uptick in stuff or command to get there, but at 20 years old he has time to work things out.
While Sands is a workhorse and has three pitches he can throw for strikes at any time, he has not yet developed an out pitch. His fastball sits anywhere from 88 to 92, while his curveball is considered average, and his changeup is considered above average but not plus.
To improve, MLB Pipeline recommended the following:
Like most young pitchers, Sands needs to add strength and gain more consistency with his secondary pitches and command.
Young pitchers at the low-A level are still finding out who they are and trying to get better every start. As a lefty, Sands has a distinct advantage, but he’s still going to have to work to leverage it. Throwing left-handed is not a ticket to stardom. Without a put-away pitch, he will have to bring his lunch pail every day.
What I think most fans will like about Sands is his work ethic and baseball acumen. He knows how the game is played, what it takes to succeed, and what it means to prepare. He knows how to pitch and work the ball around the strike zone.
The key for Sands in 2016 is going to be consistency. He can’t give up nine runs, then three runs, one, then back to five. The Cubs are looking for dependability. That seems to be written in his pitching DNA, but now he just just needs to find where he put it and harness it in South Bend.
No one is asking Sands to go out and strikeout 10 a game, but he can get guys out with the perfectly placed pitch. After all, a grounder, pop-up, and fly ball all count the same as a strikeout. Plenty of guys made a career just on getting hitters out. Sands can be one of those guys. Based on last night’s tweet, I’d say he is ready to go.
So Ready to get this year started with the @SBCubs⚾️
— Carson Sands (@southpawsands) April 1, 2016