The Rundown: Jimenez Nearly Ready, Cooking Rice, Fixing, Trevor K-Hill

While other big names like Ian Happ and Dylan Cease have been tearing up their respective levels of the Cubs minor league system, Eloy Jimenez has been laboring in relative obscurity at Extended Spring Training in Mesa. Not the best for fans who want to see how he performs against live competition, great for bloggers who live in Phoenix.

Our own Jon Strong caught some of Jimenez’s at-bats Thursday and even got the chance to talk to the big outfielder about his injured shoulder and when he hopes to get back to an affiliate. Not to prevent you from clicking on the link and driving tons more revenue, but the nutshell answers were “good” and “a few days.”

It’s been really interesting to not only follow the Cubs prospects over the last few years, but to follow how other people follow them. After seeing so many promising players flame out, a whole crop of guys came up and succeeded like a mug. Add that to the abiding faith fans have in the front office and you’ve got this pervasive idea that every prospect will make it to the majors and rake for the Cubs.

As we heard from Theo Epstein Thursday, though, the team is planning to pursue pitchers in both the present and future. He specifically mentioned positional depth at the major league level and how that results in a wealth of prospects that will then need to be flipped lest they languish in the minors.

I’ve thought for a while that Jimenez is the most untouchable of the prospects in the system, but I don’t think anyone will be off the table in the right deal.

Rice is nice

There’s more than one Ian making noise for the Cubs, as Todd Johnson laid out recently. And wouldn’t you know it, Ian Rice launched another home run shortly after that look at his early performance was published. He’s a long way from Chicago and has other catchers ahead of him on the organizational depth chart, but Rice is a name to keep an eye on.

Serious jokes

I thought someone was pulling my chain when I first saw the email, but it turns out the legal team involved in the Garber v. Major League Baseball suit actually quoted one of my posts in a legal filing regarding This is easily the coolest thing that’s happened to me since Len Kasper retweeted my retweet of a Cubs tweet a couple days ago.

For real, though, it’s pretty awesome to drop a line about a Wookiee living on Endor and have a lawyer use it, along with another paragraph or so from the post, in an actual legal document. Yes, I’m repeating myself. I just can’t believe it. I mean, it’s not simply that the guy used it, but that he even found it in the first place.

I joke about it a lot, but I pay close attention to our pageviews here and I know that we’ve actually become a relatively popular destination for Cubs fans. We’re not exactly Disney World, but maybe Indiana Beach or something. There’s that false modesty popping up again. Still, I’ve got this notion that the same 10 people just come to the site over and over.

What I’m saying is that the realization that a lawyer a) found my post, and b) dug it enough to use it in the manner he did was a real trip. It was so exciting, in fact, that I immediately donned the chinchilla coat I bought with last month’s earnings and wore it around the house to celebrate.

Trevor Cahill looks good

Who’da thunk we’d be sitting here in mid-May saying, “Man, I wish the Cubs still had Trevor Cahill”? The man who never really seemed to have a defined role in Chicago has found a spot in San Diego’s rotation and has performed really well in six starts. And his line of a 3.06 ERA, 2.80 FIP, and 3.09 xFIP suggests that it’s legit, at least to this point.

What’s really impressive is the 11.21 K/9 that far exceeds anything he’s ever done at the MLB level. In fact, he’s never cracked 10 K/9 before, with last year’s 9.05 standing as his previous career high. The funny part about all this is that he doesn’t really seem to be doing anything differently, at least not on a noticeable level.

The pitch repertoire is pretty much the same, with allowances for how different services track pitches. His velocity is actually down a little bit, so it’s not as if there was some revival there. Even FanGraphs’ Jeff Sullivan struggled to nail down the source of Cahill’s resurgence:

Cahill is still turning out plenty of grounders. But he’s also missing bats like never before, which I don’t think anyone was counting on as he shifted back to longer appearances. This isn’t a situation where Cahill has suddenly added velocity. It doesn’t even seem like a situation where Cahill has added a brand-new pitch. He’s just…better, better with his repertoire…

If there’s one thing that did stand out, though, it’s that Cahill appears to be throwing fewer fastballs and more curves. Though usage of his change, cutter, and slider vary greatly depending on who you believe, the knuckle curve is definitely up (and may actually be fooling some of the tracking). Sullivan notes not only the increased usage, but also the greater efficacy of Cahill’s bender, owing largely to when he throws it.

There’s another key buried in there. I mentioned that Cahill is better about getting to two strikes. That’s a function of a handful of things. But with two strikes — maybe that’s where the biggest adjustment has been made. Last year, with two strikes, Cahill threw 12% curveballs. For his career, with two strikes, he’d never before exceeded 20% curveballs. This year, with two strikes, Cahill’s thrown 43% curveballs. It’s become easily his preferred putaway pitch, taking the place of the changeup, and hitters have had a devil of a time. For five starts, Cahill has had that curveball working. Promising results have been closely linked.

The key for him will be whether hitters continue to swing at pitches out of zone. Cahill is generating a career-high 13.9 percent whiff rate, due mostly to a 35.3 percent O-swing rate and career-low 46.7 O-contact rate. If, however, his opponents start to figure out what he’s doing, Cahill may have to change tack. But he seems to have found something that works and he’s riding it right now.

More news and notes

  • Gerrit Cole is a name many expect to see involved in trade rumors
  • Trevor Story hit the DL after injuring his shoulder during an at-bat against the Cubs; that series was bad for shortstops and shoulders
  • Jeurys Familia has been diagnosed with an arterial clot in his right shoulder that may require surgery
  • Former Cubs media relations/baseball ops employee Chuck Wasserstrom takes a look at the 1992 expansion draft
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