Only one pitcher drafted by this front office, Rob Zastryzny, has made it to Chicago in the last five years. The tide is turning, though, and there will be waves of starting pitchers hitting the shores of Chicago by the end of the 2018 season. As many as six right-handed starters could soon be ready to test their mettle in the big leagues.
When I look at the Cubs’ right-handed starting pitching prospects, I set them up in tiers. The first tier, understandably, contains players who are at AA and AAA. The second tier is at low- and high-A ball, and the third wave is coming from the lower reaches of Eugene; rookie-level Mesa; and the Dominican. Some are more ready than others at this point, but development isn’t linear and we could see a lot of movement among those players in the “other” section.
I had initially planned on doing this in just one post, but I decided to split it up after putting it all together. This first half will look at five pitchers on the fringe who could make it to Chicago by the end of 2018 but who are not considered to be in the top 5 RHSP prospects in the system.
Don’t sleep on Jen-Ho Tseng, Jake Buchanan, Erick Leal, or Brad Markey. All have had their moments and I think Leal and Markey could surprise the most. Leal is a tall, lanky pitcher who seems to improve slightly every year. Markey is a command specialist who had a good year in terms of stats despite giving up a lot of solo shots. I am sure correcting that is at the top of his to-do list for 2017.
Buchanan is actually, believe it or not, someone who could spot-start in Chicago before any of his minor-league counterparts. Tseng is the only starting pitcher left from the vaunted Kane County team who has a viable shot of making it as a starter. The problem for him is that they have made so many changes to him, I’m not sure he knows who he is as a pitcher anymore. I’m sure we’ll find out once 2017 gets underway.
11. The first pitcher profiled today is Jake Stinnett. If you’ve ever seen him take the mound, you know that he gets massive movement on all his pitches. He just has not been able to control the quality stuff he has. Last year at Myrtle Beach, Stinnett got off to a great start and began to fizzle in July before recovering in August. I am beginning to wonder if the pen is the spot for him.
10. Preston Morrison is blessed with incredible control but does not have overpowering pitches. He gets a lot of movement and is able to command his pitches to do what he wants. The question is whether those pitches have enough giddyup on them to succeed at the major-league level. Morrison moved to the third-base side of the rubber last year and his career really took off at South Bend and then at Myrtle Beach.
9. Erling Moreno just pitched his first full season of A-ball after two injury-plagued seasons. The 19-year-old was dominant at short-season Eugene as he flashed a plus curveball to go with his low-90’s fastball. He was pretty much devastating all year long and is one of my favorite pitchers in the system. Still, I’d like to see what he can do in South Bend in 2017. He’s only 20 now and I think his arm strength will continue to develop, which means we might see more on his fastball than we did last year.
8. Out of all the arms the Cubs drafted in 2016, Bailey Clark might be the most special. He can throw in the upper 90’s and he was excellent in five starts for Eugene after completing a full college season. Even though his final campaign at Duke was a little disappointing, Clark took some direction and took off as a member of the Emeralds. I think he is going to be ready to shine in South Bend after a full spring training.
7. What I love most about Ryan Williams is that he attacks the bottom part of the zone relentlessly. He has a closer’s mentality in a starter’s body. Although he missed most of the last year and has only one full year in the system, I am still very high on him. If not for the injury issues, Williams could have made it to Chicago last year. Although he is being used as a starter, he does have experience in the bullpen from college when he was a closer. He’s not overpowering, but he has great command and control of his pitches.
6. Zach Hedges could make it to Chicago in 2017 if necessary. Wow, it felt really strange typing that. After spending last offseason working on his conditioning, Hedges gained 3-4 mph on his fastball. This put him consistently in the 92-95 mph range to go along with a plus slider and what looks to be a developing change. He goes deep into games, pitching to contact and working quickly to keeps hitters off balance. He is a ground ball machine and should be at AAA to start the year. Working in the Pacific Coast League this summer will present Hedges with challenges he’s not seen, as it’s predominantly a hitter’s league.
I will be back next week to examine the top 5 righty starters in the system and even some dark horses in the lower reaches for 2017. You can help the time between now and then go faster by clicking below for previous breakdowns: