Meet the Mesa Solar Sox: The Pitchers
This is the first of two articles highlighting the players from the Cubs organization who will be taking part in the 2012 Arizona Fall League, which starts on October 9. Today, the CCO will be looking at the pitchers the Cubs have assigned to the Mesa Solar Sox.
Completing his 2012 season for the Tennessee Smokies as a starting pitcher, the 6-foot-2 inch, 190-pound starter may be used in a variety of ways this fall.
Signed as an 18-year old from Seoul, South Korea in 2008, Dae-Eun Rhee saw his first professional action as he opened the season with the Peoria Chiefs in Single-A ball. However, Rhee was shelved at the end of June as he would need Tommy John surgery. In ten starts, Rhee was 4-1 with a 1.80 ERA in 40 innings, striking out 33 and walking only 10 batters. He spent most of the 2009 season on the disabled list, but saw action late with both the AZL Cubs in the rookie league and the Boise Hawks of Short Season-A, going 0-1 in 8.2 innings.
Dae-Eun Rhee started the 2010 season in Advanced-A Daytona and found things a little rough in his first full season back from surgery, as he posted a 5-13 record with a 5.27 ERA. Rhee also struck out 70 and walked 40, with a 1.44 WHIP. He was asked to repeat at Daytona for the 2011 season. Rhee has far more success the second time around. Rhee led the eventual Florida State League Champions with 117 strikeouts as he went 8-7 with a 4.02 ERA and 1.46 WHIP. After some impressive outings and a non-roster invitee to spring training in 2012, Rhee had a harder time with batters in Tennessee. For the season, Rhee was 9-8 in 142.1 innings with a less than 2:1 strikeout to walk ratio (78 strikeouts and 51 walks) and his WHIP rose to 1.53.
Rhee’s arsenal includes a mid-90’s four seam fastball and a “slow” curve. But his number one weapon is a change-up, once considered the best in the organization. Some scouts have likened his change to a splitter, giving him two pitches with a lot of movement. Opinions are that the wicked movement that caused Single-A hitters to flail away was less effective against more patient Double-A batters. Others feel that because Rhee’s best pitch is his change-up and he should be used in the bullpen where he probably wouldn’t face a lineup more than one time through the order. This figures to be where he is used in Arizona, but Rhee can also be used either as a starter, or tried as a closer.
Kevin Rhoderick, RHP
A late replacement for LHP Zach Rosscup, who is sitting out the AFL with some arm concerns, Kevin Rhoderick is looking for redemption after a disappointing season.
The 23-year old was first selected by the Detroit Tigers out of Desert Mountain High School (Scottsdale, AZ) in the 18th round of the 2007 draft. However, Rhoderick opted to attend Oregon State University where he was placed in the bullpen. He took over the closer role as a freshman and finished with a 0-1 record with a 2.39 ERA and 12 saves, and was named an All-American. As a sophomore, he went 3-3 with nine saves and a 4.18 ERA. Rhoderick was made a set-up man in his junior year, and was honorable mention All Pac-10 after going 2-2 and four saves with a 3.13 ERA, striking out 35 in 31.2 innings. The Cubs then selected Rhoderick in the ninth round of the 2010 draft.
Kevin Rhoderick started his Cubs career at Advanced A-Daytona in 2011, where he lost out on the closer role to Frank Batista. Roderick was 2-0 with a 1.26 ERA, striking out 19 and walking six in seven appearances (14.1 innings). But when Tennessee closer David Cales went down to injury, Rhoderick was called up to the Smokies where he was top notch set-up man. In 45 appearances, Rhoderick was 7-0 with a 3.47 ERA (58 strikeouts and 37 walks). However, returning to Tennessee in 2012, Rhoderick battled blister problems all season which caused him to lose the feel of his off-speed pitches. He ended up tied for second in the Southern League with 11 holds, and he had a career high eight saves. But Rhoderick ended with an ERA of 4.99 and a 2-8 record.
At 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, some scouts consider Rhoderick a little small for a closer, but they feel he has closer “stuff”. His sinking fastball is 94 MPH plus, and he has a plus change-up. However, his “out” pitch is a slider he can throw for strikes. Rhoderick figures to battle LA Dodger phenom Eric Eadington and Tigers prospect Tyler Clark for the closer role for Mesa, with the losers being top candidates as set-up men.
Nick Struck, RHP
The CCO’s 2012 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, Nick Struck is the “designated starter” the Cubs provided to Mesa.
The soon to be 23-year old (October 7) was 39th round draft pick in 2009 from Mount Hood Community College in Oregon. As a member of the Peoria Chiefs in 2010, Nick Struck was 8-8 with a 3.22 ERA in 25 games, striking out 84 while walking 40 batters. He earned a promotion to Daytona toward the end of the 2010 season and ended up with a 1-2 record with a 5.14 ERA for the D-Cubs. Struck started the 2011 season back in Daytona, but only spent a little more than six weeks with the club after going 6-2 with a 3.21 ERA (47 strikeouts in 50 innings). Struck pitched in 12 games for Triple-A Iowa in 2011, starting 11 and posting a 2-4 record with a 5.20 ERA in only his second season of professional baseball. However, Struck was back at Tennessee for 2012, where he was 1-1 in six starts with a 2.31 ERA and 28 strikeouts the previous season (2011). Struck led the entire system this season with a 14-10 record with 123 strikeouts, while finishing third in the organization with 3.18 ERA.
Nick Struck’s sinking fastball and slider have enough movement to make batters swing and miss, as he held batters to a .238 average and maintaining a nearly 3:1 strikeout to walk ratio in 2012. However, he has yielded nearly as many hits (421) as innings pitched (431.2) in his career, while serving up 28 homers in his three professional seasons.
Tony Zych, RHP
Potential seems to be the most frequently used term when speaking of Tony Zych. This year’s AFL will give him an opportunity to turn some of that potential into production.
Selected in the fourth round of the 2011 draft, Tony Zych had career totals at the University of Louisville of 11-4 with an ERA of 4.33 in 104 innings with 81 strikeouts and 29 walks. However, signing Zych proved to be difficult, as contract negotiations allowed him only four appearances between the rookie league and Short Season-A Boise. For 2011, Zych had a 2.25 ERA and five strikeouts in four innings of work. He was not asked by the organization to participate in any winter baseball.
The 2012 season saw Zych in Advanced-A Daytona, where he was a set up man to minor league veterans AJ Morris and Brian Schlitter. By the beginning of May, Zych was placed in the closer role, where he had a 3-3 record and six saves while posting a 3.19 ERA and striking out 36 in 36.2 innings (1.06 WHIP). He was promoted to Double-A Tennessee toward the end of June. With established relievers Frank Batista, Kevin Rhoderick, and Casey Harman already with the Smokies, Zych had more of a support role. He had some impressive numbers as he went 2-1 with 28 strikeouts in 24.2 innings but he was also hammered for 26 hits and 12 earned runs (4.38 ERA and a 1.54 WHIP).
The 6-foot-3, 190 pound has a mid-90’s fastball that can, at times, touch close to 100 mph, along with a power slider. The 22-year old is also in the mix to be Mesa’s closer with the Dodgers’ Eric Eadington and Tigers’ Tyler Clark, and fellow Smokie Kevin Rhoderick.
Follow ChicagoCubsOnline on Twitter: @TheCCO