The Cubs announced Saturday that they had acquired 27-year-old righty Jharel Cotton from the Athletics for cash considerations. Cotton, who missed all of 2018 rehabbing Tommy John surgery, is exactly the type of high-upside hurler who could benefit from the Cubs’ new pitching development infrastructure.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) November 23, 2019
Before the 2016 season, Cotton was considered a “sleeper” by many baseball enthusiasts. I too bought Cotton’s hype because he showcased a disgusting changeup that was thrown slower than 95% of MLB righties and had a walk rate under 2.0 BB/9 as a prospect. FanGraphs rated Cotton’s changeup as a 70 on the 80 scale, and Pedro Martinez compared the former A to himself.
Folks, look how insane this changeup is…
But the talented pitcher never put it all together in Oakland, beginning with a disastrous 5.58 ERA and 5.68 FIP over 24 starts in 2017. For some reason, Cotton’s wicked changeup only translated to a league average 16% whiff rate. That 2017 season was the last time Cotton stepped on an MLB mound. Following the elbow reconstruction that cost him 2018, hamstring surgery took away his much of his 2019 season as well.
The former top prospect pitched 18.2 innings for Oakland’s Triple-A squad in 2019, turning in an impressive 11.57 K/9 despite walking 4.82 batters per game with a 7.71 ERA out of the bullpen. You have to dig a little for a bright spot, but Cotton actually led all righties on his team in swinging-strike rate (15.8%) as a result of that brilliant changeup.
The Cubs picked up a pitcher with disgusting stuff and loads of potential, but they were only able to do so because he has a major injury history and hasn’t produced in MLB. Maybe Craig Brewslow’s new pitching development crew can unearth what so many scouts saw four years ago.