Spring Training NRI’s….The Pitchers

There will be plenty of storylines to keep an eye on this spring and each of those will be discussed in detail over the next week. Position players report one week from today with the first full squad workout scheduled for February 19th. With pitchers and catchers reporting to Fitch Park in two days, the CCO will begin its coverage of Spring Training by taking a look at the pitchers that received non-roster invitations to camp last month.

The Cubs still have holes to fill and baring any possible trades that are rumored to still be on the table, there is always a surprise or two that emerges during Spring Training.

Ed Campusano

The left-handed reliever turned 25 on July 14th and originally signed with the Cubs as a non-drafted free agent in July of 2001. He missed a good portion of the 2005 season with an arm injury but had a solid season in 2006. The Midwest League Guide named Campusano the best player on the 2006 Peoria Chiefs. He saved 21 out of 22 games with a 1.21 ERA and 47 strikeouts. He showed very good control in his last full season. Between stops with Class-A Peoria and Double-A West Tennessee in 2006 he combined to save 25 games and finished 34 with a 1.47 ERA (2-1 record in 44 games with 71 strikeouts in 55 1/3 innings with a .188 opponents batting average). His fastball reached into the low 90’s (consistently topping out around 94 MPH) and Campusano threw a sharp slider with a good changeup.

Many liked his mental make-up and Campusano has been described as having a “short memory” which is essential for a relief pitcher. He was named to the Midwest League All-Star team in 2006. The Cubs thought he was finally done with all of the injuries that had plagued his career.

Campusano was selected by the Brewers in the 2006 Rule 5 Draft from the Cubs then traded to the Detroit Tigers for cash in a prearranged agreement. He missed all of the 2007 season while recovering from left elbow surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament on March 27th. Campusano showed a lot of promise last spring before being shutdown.

Campusano was returned to the Cubs on October 10, 2007 for $25,000 and according to a report in the USA Today he could be used as a lefty specialist in the second half of the season if he can rebound from his latest surgery.

2008 Outlook – Health questions have been the main concern for Campusano over the years. When he has been healthy, he has been very effective….the numbers do not lie. Depending on how his elbow responds, Campusano should start the season in Iowa and could end up being a factor for the Cubs as the season progresses.

Video of Ed Campusano

Esmailin Caridad

The 22-year old right-hander signed with the Cubs as a non-drafted free agent on December 19, 2007. Oneri Fleita spoke very highly of Caridad at the Cubs Convention but questioned if he is ready for the Major Leagues. Caridad pitched for the Hiroshima Carp in 2007 and was 1-2 with a 4.02 ERA in 25 games out of he Carp’s Dominican club before pitching in two Central League games.

2008 Outlook – With Fleita’s comments during the Cubs Convention, Caridad will likely start the season in Double-A.

Jose Ceda

Jose Ceda has most in the Cubs’ organization very excited about his future. The 21-year old flame thrower was acquired from the Padres on July 31, 2006 for Todd Walker and cash….and if Ceda’s career progresses the way it did last year, trading Walker for Ceda could end up being one of Jim Hendry’s best moves.

Felix Francisco and Randy Smith of the Padres signed Ceda as a non-drafted free agent in the Dominican Republic in November of 2004 at the age of 17. A short time after at the age of 18, Ceda’s fastball was reaching 99 MPH on the gun. In his first season of pro ball in the Dominican Summer League in 2005, Ceda struck out 83 batters while holding opposing hitters to a .174 average in 60 innings. He posted a 1.50 ERA with 2 complete game shutouts in 9 starts….in his first 83 innings of professional baseball he struck out 115.

Along with a fastball that reaches the high 90’s (has hit 100 MPH on the gun), Ceda has what is described as a “nasty slider” and a good changeup. Ceda dropped 25 pounds during the 2007 season and did not allow a hit in the last 25 innings he pitched in 2007. Ceda did make 7 starts last year but his future figures to be in the bullpen. Oneri Fleita has compared Ceda to Lee Smith and Jose Mesa.

Ceda is ranked in the top 10 in most of the Cubs top prospect lists…. #4 by Baseball America, #9 by John Sickels, #4 by Baseball Prospectus and #7 by Deric McKamey.

2008 Outlook – Look for Ceda to make noise this spring but he will likely start the season at Double-A Tennessee along side of another hard throwing reliever, Rocky Roquet. If Ceda continues to progress like he did in 2007, he will pitch for Lou Piniella before the year is over.

Chad Fox

Most figured Chad Fox’s career was over in April of 2005. Fox entered the 9th inning of a game against the Reds with the Cubs up 10-3 after pitching the day before. Dusty Baker had just named Fox the team’s new closer. Fox appeared to throw out his arm that night and was soon placed on the DL.

The Cubs signed Fox to a minor league deal on January 11th and he wants another shot at the big leagues at the age of 37. When healthy, Fox has been effective but has had three elbow surgeries in his career.

The last time he pitched was in 2005. Fox recorded one save in 11 games with a 6.75 ERA. His best season was in 2001 with the Brewers. Fox was 5-2 with 2 saves and a 1.89 ERA in 65 games. Fox was very effective for the Marlins down the stretch in 2003 after signing with Florida in August….he was 2-1 with a 2.13 ERA.

2008 Outlook – Fox could push a couple of the young arms this spring, namely Jose Ascanio and Michael Wuertz but figures not to be a factor after the Cubs break camp….hey, stranger things have happened, just ask Jim Morris.

Geoff Jones

The 28-year old southpaw was drafted in the 32nd round by the Padres in 1998 and signed with the Cubs as a minor league free agent in December of 2006. Jones spent most of the 2007 season with the Tennessee Smokies in Double-A where he went 4-2 in 39 games with a 1.02 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP. In one 25-inning stretch he struck out 33 and walked just 4….in 477 2/3 career innings in the minors, Jones has 461 strikeouts to just 182 walks. He earned a spot on the Southern League All-Star team and later his first promotion to the Triple-A level. Jones was 0-2 with a 5.87 ERA in 11 games for the I-Cubs.

Jones throws sidearm, similar to Clay Rapada, and is mainly a sinkerball pitcher with a good slider and changeup. He tries to get ahead of batters and is usually in the strike zone and is not afraid to pitch to contact….Jones is willing to put the ball into play instead of walking batters. Jones started throwing sidearm in 2002, he threw over the top when he was drafted in 1999. Jones had Tommy John surgery and missed most of 2003 and 2004.

Jones was nicknamed the “Big Nasty” last year by someone in the Smokies press box; one of the announcers heard the nickname and used it on the air.

2008 Outlook – Jones figures to start the season at Iowa but if Neal Cotts and Carmen Pignatiello struggle, he could earn a promotion to the show….but at this point of his career it could be a stretch.

Mike Smith

Mike Smith spent the 2007 campaign with the Memphis Redbirds in the Cardinals organization. The 30-year old right-hander was drafted in the 5th round by the Blue Jays in 2000 and signed with the Cubs as a minor league free agent on November 20, 2007. While in Triple-A last year he finished second in the Pacific Coast League with 127 strikeouts in 159 2/3 innings and earned a PCL Pitcher of the Week award in July.

Smith was ranked the 21st best prospect in the Blue Jays system by Baseball America following the 2002 season. Smith has pitched in 15 big league games, 7 starts, with the Blue Jays in 2002 and the Twins in 2006.

Smith throws a low 90’s fastball, a power sinker and his off speed stuff has been described as ordinary at best.

2008 Outlook – Mike Smith figures to be in the Iowa Cubs rotation.

Shingo Takatsu

The 39-year old former White Sox reliever signed a minor league deal with the Cubs on January 18, 2008. Takatsu is a 15-year veteran with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows (1991-2003, 2006-2007) and pitched for the White Sox in 2004 and 2005. Takatsu finished second in the American League Rookie of the Year voting in 2004 after posting a 6-4 record with a 2.31 ERA and a 0.88 WHIP.

Shingo was DFA’d by the White Sox in July of 2005 after converting 8 of 9 save opportunities (1-2 with a 5.97 ERA) and signed with the Mets. He pitched 9 games for New York before filing for free agency and returning to Japan. He was 0-5 last season with Yakult and posted a 6.17 ERA in 25 games with a 1.67 WHIP.

It was revealed during the Cubs Convention, Takatsu is a close friend of Kosuke Fukudome.

2008 Outlook – Takatsu does not figure into the Cubs’ plans for the upcoming season. It appears the Cubs signed Mr. Zero to help Fukudome with his transition this spring.

Les Walrond

The 31-year old lefty will make his third consecutive appearance in the Cubs’ big league camp. Walrond signed with the Cubs as a minor league free agent in 2006 and made his first start at the highest level during the injury plagued 2006 season. Walrond pitched in 10 games for Dusty Baker that season and made 2 starts.

Walrond was 11-5 with a 4.77 ERA in 27 games, 24 starts, with the I-Cubs last season.

2008 Outlook – Walrond will be a staple in the Iowa Cubs pitching staff once again.

The CCO will take look at the catchers that received non-roster invitations on Tuesday.

Quote of the Day

"Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow." - Albert Einstein