Cubs Down on the Farm Report – 11/21/13

Pitching Analysis

The CCO’s off-season look at the Cubs’ minor league system continues today. After viewing the possible pitching staff for Triple-A Iowa and Double-A Tennessee, it is time to take a look at the pitching prospects for High-A Daytona.

High-A Daytona Starters and Relievers

Daytona Cubs:

The Florida State League Champions stand a good chance in defending their crown in part because of the top flight pitching staff it looks to have, starting with C.J. Edwards. Despite the accolades garnered by Edwards this off-season Daytona looks like his first stop for 2014. One of several players acquired from the Texas Rangers as part of the Matt Garza deal, Edwards was a 48th round selection in the 2011 draft. Edwards began his pro career in 2012 and appeared in both the rookie league and Short-Season A Spokane. Edwards went a combined 5-3 with a 1.48 ERA and a 0.85 WHIP that included 85 strikeouts in 67 innings. Edwards showed that 2012 was no fluke in 2013. Edwards began the season with Low-A Hickory and was 8-2 with a 1.83 ERA and 1.03 WHIP before the trade. Edwards was assigned to Daytona and did not post a record in six starts (23 innings), but had a 1.96 ERA and a 0.91 WHIP. Edwards was a combined 8-2 in 2013 with a 1.86 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP (155 strikeouts in 116.1 innings). It is because of his lack of experience at the High-A level, along with putting some strength on his 6-foot-2, 155 pound frame, that he is expected back in Daytona, at least to start the season. Turning 22 years old just after the end of the season, Edwards throws a mid-90s fastball with cutting action that is considered a plus-plus pitch. Edwards also has a 12-6 curve that is considered a plus pitch, along with a slider and change-up. Mechanics are also considered a plus for Edwards, but his velocity tends to drop as the innings progress due to his slight frame.

Following Edwards in the order should be the Cubs’ 2013 second round pick, left-hander Rob Zastryzny. The 21-year old was considered a surprise by some, but with the lack of left handed pitching in the organization, Zastryzny could become a needed boost in that area. A junior at the University of Missouri, Zastryzny may have been flying under the radar after posting a 2-9 record in which the Tigers supported him with only 2.5 runs per game. However he did post a 3.38 ERA in 13 starts and struck out 82 batters in 90.2 innings. Zastryzny struck out 228 batters over three seasons at the University of Missouri. Zastryzny made 11 appearances between the Boise Hawks and Low-A Kane County after signing with the Cubs. Zastryzny went 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP that included 22 strikeouts in 24 innings. Zastryzny has excellent command of a low-90s fastball that he is able to change speeds on which gives the hitters different looks. Zastryzny is also said to have an above average change-up and slider, along with a curve.

Another 2013 draft choice that looks to also be a part of the D-Cubs’ rotation is fourth round pick Tyler Skulina. Skulina went 6-3 with a 3.36 ERA in 93.2 innings at Kent State University. Skulina was assigned to Boise where he made eight appearances and was 0-0 with a 1.20 ERA and a 0.80 WHIP (19 strikeouts in 15 innings). Skulina was promoted to Low-A Kane County and was hammered around in his four starts (0-2 with a 9.31 ERA and a 2.07 WHIP with nine strikeouts in 9.2 innings). A big man at 6-foot-5, 252 pounds, Skulina has the size you look for in a starter. However, his frame contributes to a breakdown in mechanics which causes him to lose control of his pitches. The 21-year old features a mid-90s fastball and a power slider, with a change-up that needs work. While some see Skulina as a reliever, he is in need of quality innings and will probably be used as a starter for now.

Lining up as a solid number four in the rotation appears to be 2010 seventh round pick Ben Wells.  A high school pitcher from Bryant, Arizona, Wells was assigned to Short-Season A Boise to begin the 2011 season. Wells responded the way one would expect a teenager in his first professional assignment. Wells was 4-4 with a 4.66 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP that included 53 strikeouts in 77.1 innings in 16 appearances (15 starts). Wells dealt with arm trouble in 2012 and did not pitch until well after the mid-season point. Wells made 12 appearances, eight starts, for Low-A Peoria and posted a 3-2 record with a 3.27 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP (36 strikeouts in 44 innings). It was somewhat of a surprise that Wells was placed on the High-A Daytona squad to start the 2013 season, and rumors surfaced that his contract predicated the move. Whatever the case, Wells appeared to be up for the challenge as he went 9-6 with a 3.28 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP (69 strikeouts in 112.1 innings). The 21-year old is a sinkerball pitcher, with a heavy fastball clocked in the low-mid 90s range with a slider and change. His age suggests that a return to this level shouldn’t be out of the question, but with the uncertainty surrounding his contract it’s unclear as to where Wells will be assigned next season.

Rounding out the rotation should be 23-year old Starling Peralta. Signed as an international free agent in 2008, Peralta bounced around the system before garnering some attention when the Arizona Diamondbacks selected him in the Rule 5 Draft last December. Peralta was returned to the Cubs after he failed to make the D-Backs squad out of Spring Training. Peralta pitched for three years in the Cubs’ Dominican Academy before finally receiving a promotion to the AZL Cubs in 2011. After appearing in three games in the rookie league and going 2-1 with a 3.46 ERA, Peralta was promoted to Low-A Peoria for the remainder of the season. Peralta was a combined 5-6 in 2011 with a 4.55 ERA and a 1.56 WHIP that included 58 strikeouts in 70 innings. Peralta battled some injuries in 2012, but when he was available, he established himself as a pitcher with a possible future. Peralta was 5-8 with a 3.44 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP (86 strikeouts in 99.1 innings) with Peoria. Returning to the Cubs’ system in 2013, Peralta did not seem right physically. Peralta was 0-1 with a 12.86 ERA in five appearances at High-A Daytona before going on the disabled list. Peralta then worked his way back through the rookie league and Low-A Kane County and was 2-4 with a 6.60 ERA and a 1.62 WHIP that included 53 strikeouts in 60 innings (17 appearances, nine starts). While Peralta brings a mid-upper 90s fastball to the table, his secondary pitches are lacking and need work. This is why some speculate that Peralta could eventually be moved to closer.

Should any of the above falter, the system will not be lacking in options with Jose Arias, Michael Heesch, Felix Pena, Jose Rosario, Ryan Searle, and Yao-Lin Wang available.

Of the above candidates, Jose Arias seems to be the closest to cracking the rotation, despite a lack of experience. The Cubs brought Arias in as an international free agent in 2010 and assigned him to the Dominican Academy. Arias pitched for two years in the Dominican Summer League and then was promoted to Short-Season A Boise in 2012. As the Hawks’ Opening Day starter, Arias went 4-2 with a 3.25 ERA with a 1.26 WHIP that included 46 strikeouts in 63.2 innings (14 appearances, 13 starts). Arias was the Opening Day starter for Low-A Kane County in 2013, but things were not right with Arias. He made only four appearances (two starts) before landing on the disabled list for the season. The numbers Arias put up were in no way indicative of his ability (0-0 with an 8.68 ERA, 2.89 WHIP, nine strikeouts in 9.1 innings). Arias recently competed in the Fall Instructional League and demonstrated he was physically sound. At 6-foot-5, 235 pounds, Arias has the build of a top of the rotation starter. The 22-year old features a mid-90s four seam fastball, along with a slider and a change-up.

A dearth of left handed pitching may give Michael Heesch an edge, even if most observers feel he is best suited for the bullpen. Selected in the eighth round of the 2012 draft, Heesch was quickly assigned to Short-Season A Boise after a couple of innings with the AZL Cubs. Heesch was handled gingerly and never pitched more than two innings per outing. Heesch was 3-1 with a 2.66 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP that included 19 strikeouts in 23.2 innings (14 appearances). Heesch opened the 2013 season with Low-A Kane County and moved into the rotation. Heesch was able to pitch 119 innings in 22 appearances (20 starts). However, he wasn’t as successful as he was in 2012 and posted a 3-9 record with a 3.78 ERA and a 1.39 WHIP (60 strikeouts). Heesch’s splits suggest a lefty specialist role could be in his future. Heesch has a low-90s fastball, a slider, and a change-up. The 6-foot-5, 245-pound southpaw is built to absorb innings, but the question is whether it will be as a starter or reliever.

The chances may be slipping away for 23-year old Jose Rosario, who has tantalized scouts with his stuff but has not been able to stay healthy. Signed in 2008 as an international free agent, Rosario drew attention as an 18-year old in 2009 when he jumped from the Dominican Summer League, to the AZL Cubs, to High-A Daytona and compiled a 4-3 record with a 3.24 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP (52 strikeouts in 41.2 innings). However, Rosario was back in the rookie league in 2010 and made only 11 appearances as he battled injuries. Rosario made it back in 2011 and was assigned to Short-Season A Boise. In a piggy-back system, Rosario was 6-3 with a 3.53 ERA with a 1.34 WHIP that included 50 strikeouts in 63.2 innings over 15 appearances (seven games started, five games finished). Rosario was promoted to Low-A Peoria for the 2012 season, and injuries played havoc again. Despite being able to pitch a career high 111 innings, Rosario posted a 6-8 record with a 4.22 ERA and a 1.43 WHIP (95 strikeouts). Things went from bad to worse in 2013 as Rosario continued to battle injuries. And he saw his career take a couple of steps backward. With Low-A Kane County, Rosario was 0-7 with a 7.38 ERA before he was sent back down to Boise. Rosario was a combined 2-8 with a 6.88 ERA and a 1.78 WHIP (53 strikeouts in 67.2 innings). Even when Rosario was injury-free, he didn’t seem to get a lot of production out of his mid-90s fastball since the 2009 season. The organization may not wait for Rosario to shake the injury bug.

Felix Pena, Ryan Searle, and Yao-Lin Wang are all somewhat similar in that they are all right-handers in their early 20s that the organization hasn’t quite figured out how to use. Searle, the oldest of the three at 24 years old, was a reliable starter for the 2011 Tennessee Smokies … and actually made it to Triple-A Iowa in 2012. In six seasons Searle has made 72 starts and posted a 33-35 record with a 3.85 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP (395 strikeouts in 511.1 innings). Searle dealt with arm injuries in 2013 and has yet to pitch in the Australian Baseball League this winter.

Twenty-three year old Felix Pena has been an innings-eater (312 innings while starting only 30 games over the past five seasons) and has a career 13-17 record with a 3.75 ERA with 237 strikeouts, and a very good WHIP of 1.28. The youngest at 22 years old, Wang has bounced between starting and closing in his career. Wang owns one of the best curveballs in the organization. Wang has made 36 starts while posting 16 saves in 28 games finished over his four year career. Wang has a career record of 12-16 with a 3.61 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP that includes 252 strikeouts in 247 innings. While Wang has moved up the chain, he hasn’t been given the opportunity to establish himself as either a starter or reliever. Expect Wang to return to Daytona for 2013 in order to further define his role.

With the lack of a reliable closer at Kane County last season, the position is wide open for Daytona in 2013. The first pitcher to possibly get a crack at the job is Zach Cates. A third round pick by the Padres in the 2010, Cates was included in the deal the brought first baseman Anthony Rizzo to the Cubs. After a 2011 season in which Cates was 4-10 with a 4.73 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP that included 111 strikeouts in 118 innings (25 starts) for Low-A Fort Wayne, he was assigned to High-A Daytona for the start of the 2012 season. However, Cates was overmatched and after going 0-6 with a 10.50 ERA was sent to Low-A Peoria. After nine appearances for the Chiefs, Cates developed arm issues and spent the majority of the rest of the season on the disabled list. For the year, Cates was 0-9 with a 7.16 ERA and a 1.87 WHIP (46 strikeouts in 65.1 innings). Cates returned to Daytona last season healthy and continued as a starter. But with the acquisitions of C.J. Edwards, Ivan Pineyro, and Corey Black as well as the promotion of Pierce Johnson, Cates moved to the bullpen. He was tested out as a closer in the final weeks of the season and posted three saves to go along with a 9-9 record, a 4.12 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, and 87 strikeouts in 109.1 innings. The 23-year old has a big fastball, clocking in the mid-upper 90s, but his change-up and breaking ball need work. Control has always been an issue for Cates as he seems to get himself in as much trouble as he gets the team out of.

Also getting a shot at closer could be Lendy Castillo. By now, most are familiar with the story of the former infielder and Rule 5 Draft selection. Castillo began last season as a starter with Kane County and struggled. Castillo was 2-5 with a 6.58 ERA and a 1.71 WHIP (55 strikeouts in 64.1 innings). Castillo was promoted to Daytona were he fared a little better, and was 2-0 with 21 strikeouts, a 3.60 ERA, and a 1.40 WHIP out of the bullpen. Castillo throws an “easy” fastball in the upper-90’s range. The only other pitch Castillo has in his arsenal is a curve, which he cannot consistently throw for strikes.

Cates and Castillo may end up taking a back seat to Juan Carlos Paniagua. The story of Paniagua is fraught with aliases, fraudulent paperwork, and visa issues which hide the fact that the 23-year old has an upper 90s fastball and plus slider. Because of his legal issues, Paniagua’s start to last season and it showed on the field. The Cubs tried to get Paniagua ready for 2013 in the Dominican Summer League and the rookie league after his visa problems were resolved, but he clearly wasn’t ready. Paniagua was 0-2 with a 6.08 ERA and a 1.85 WHIP (41 strikeouts in 37 innings). Paniagua is in desperate need of meaningful innings, which may have the organization look at him as a starter until he sharpens his game.

A pitcher that has an outside chance at the closer role would be the CCO’s 2013 Short Season Co-Pitcher of the Year Michael Hamann. The Cubs selected Hamann in the 16th round of the 2012 draft, and he made only eight appearances before going down with a severe ankle injury. Hamann worked his way back slowly in 2013 and was ready for action when Short-Season A Boise began their season. Hamann was effective in six appearances for the Hawks and allowed only an unearned run while striking out nine in 7.2 innings with three saves.  He was promoted to Low-A Kane County where he made 16 more appearances and went 3-4 with four more saves. For the season Hamann posted a 1.84 ERA with a 1.06 WHIP that included 26 strikeouts in 29.1 innings. Hamann turns 23 years old on Jan. 1 and brings a lot of poise along with a mid-90s fastball, slider, and curve. However, he will have to slap some muscle on his 6-foot-3, 165-pound frame in order to last a full season.

Where all these closer candidates leave Austin Reed is uncertain at this point. The Cubs selected Reed in the 12th round of the 2010 draft and he is coming off a 2013 campaign in which he may have been promoted a little hastily, but he was starting to adapt as the season came to a close. Reed pitched for the AZL Cubs shortly after he was drafted and was 3-2 with a 2.94 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP that included 34 strikeouts in 33.2 innings (12 appearances, five starts). Reed was promoted to Short-Season A Boise in 2011 and continued working as a starter. Reed was 2-7 with a 6.08 ERA and a 1.68 WHIP (36 strikeouts in 63.2 innings). Reed was then used exclusively as a reliever in 2012 for Low-A Peoria and made 38 appearances. Reed was 5-8 with a 3.65 ERA and a 1.48 WHIP (49 strikeouts in 61.2 innings). Reed was promoted to High-A Daytona for the 2013 season and was hit pretty hard. Reed made the right adjustments and ended up at 4-2 with four saves, a 4.07 ERA and a 1.46 WHIP that included 40 strikeouts in 66.1 innings. The 22-year old throws a low-90s fastball and a breaking ball. A little more time at Low-A Kane County to work as the Cougars’ closer might be the right developmental plan for Reed.

Righty Steve Perakslis and lefty Nathan Dorris should provide support in the pen. After being selected in the 21st round of the 2012 draft, the 22-year old Perakslis has put together two quality seasons. Perakslis was a combined 4-0 with two saves, a 3.42 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and 26 strikeouts in 26.1 innings (16 appearances) in his first year. Perakslis became the de-facto closer for Low-A Kane County in 2013 as several others relievers could not fill the role. Perakslis went 1-3 with seven saves in 37 appearances (2.93 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 44 strikeouts in 58.1 innings). Perakslis combines a low-90s fastball with a curve and a slider. Dorris, the Cubs 17th round pick in the 2012 draft, was a workhorse for Kane County last season. The 22-year old began his career splitting his time between the AZL Cubs and Short-Season A Boise and posted a combined 2-1 record with four saves, a 1.88 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP (21 strikeouts in 24 innings).  Dorris made 36 appearances for the Cougars last season and was 7-3 with three saves, a 2.87 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP (25 strikeouts in 69 innings). Dorris mixes a low-90s fastball with a curve.

The Cubs also have a bevy of slightly over-aged prospects in order to fill out the pen that includes 24-year old lefty Sheldon McDonald, and 23-year old Justin Amlung along with left-handers Matt Iannazzo, Andrew McKirahan, and Al Yevoli.

A wild card for the Daytona staff could be the Cubs 26th round pick from the 2011 draft, Michael Jensen. The soon-to-be 23 year old (December 10) is currently missing in action, and it is not clear whether he has been injured or has just stopped playing baseball.  Jensen signed late in 2011 and made four appearances between the AZL Cubs and Boise (0-0 with no earned runs and five strikeouts in 4.2 innings). An unknown commodity going into the 2012 season, Jensen was named Low-A Peoria’s Opening Day starter and went on to post an 11-5 record with a 3.47 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP (115 strikeouts in 140 innings). Jensen mixes a low-90s fastball with a plus curve and a change-up, and he was working on a cutter. The future looked bright for Jensen at this time last year, but for now, he’s just a mystery.

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Quote of the Day

"Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere." - Albert Einstein