Cubs Down on the Farm Report – 12/05/13

Pitching Analysis

The off-season season series focused on the Cubs’ minor league position players and pitchers concludes today. After taking a look at the possible pitching staffs for Triple-A Iowa, Double-A Tennessee, High-A Daytona and Low-A Kane County, the pitching analysis wraps with an overview of the prospects in the lower levels of the Cubs’ system.

Lower Levels of Minor League System – Starters and Relievers

Predicting just who will end up where and in what role on the pitching staff at the lower levels of the Cubs’ minor league system is quite difficult. Players develop at different rates, and as a consequence can move around very quickly. Here is where some of the prospects could begin the 2014 season.

Short-Season A Boise Hawks:

There should be a spirited competition this spring for the Hawks’ Opening Day starter’s job between Duane Underwood and Daury Torrez.

Taken by the Cubs in the second round of the 2012 draft, Duane Underwood was a high school player out of Marietta, Georgia. Underwood was signed in time to make five starts for the AZL Cubs, where he went 0-1 with a 5.19 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP that included seven strikeouts in 8.2 innings. Even with the small sample the year before, Underwood was promoted to Short-Season A Boise to start the 2013 season. Underwood experienced some of the hard knocks that young players often have and went 3-4 in 14 appearances (11 starts) with a 4.97 ERA and a 1.64 WHIP (36 strikeouts in 54.1 innings) for the Hawks. Underwood turned just 19 years old in the middle of last season and features a mid-upper 90s fastball that has been labeled as “easy heat” due to his clean delivery. Underwood also throws a curve and a change-up which scouts feel can develop into plus pitches. Underwood is considered a good athlete and garnered as much attention as an outfield as he did as a pitcher prior to the 2012 draft.

Signed as an international free agent in 2011, Daury Torrez burst onto the scene in 2012 and was named the CCO’s Short-Season Pitcher of the Year. Torrez showed some promise in his initial season and posted a 1-2 record with a save in 16 appearances (one start). Torrez notched 25 strikeouts in 40.2 innings and finished with a 3.54 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP. Torres was switched to a starter for the 2012 season and took the Dominican Summer League by storm. Torrez went 6-3 in 14 appearances (13 starts) with a 1.21 ERA and a 0.82 WHIP that included 50 strikeouts and four walks in 74.2 innings. With a multitude of players migrating to Arizona in 2013 to rehab for the organization, playing time was hard to find for Torrez. He made the most of his opportunity (12 appearances, one start), and earned a promotion to Low-A Kane County to finish the season. For the year, Torrez was 4-3 with a 3.50 ERA and 1.11 WHIP (51 strikeouts in 54 innings). The 20-year old can use a little more muscle on his 6-foot-3, 170-pound frame, which is why scouts feel the his low 90s fastball can gain in velocity as he matures. Torrez also has a hard slider and a change-up which he commands well, as noted by his 15 career walks in 169.1 innings.

Returning to Boise in some capacity should be 2012 sixth round pick Trey Lang. Lang is relatively new to pitching after converting from the outfield while he was in college, and some of his inexperience showed last season. Lang was assigned to the AZL Cubs following the draft and was a promising 0-0 in 13 appearances (seven starts) with a 3.29 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP (11 strikeouts in 13.2 innings). Lang was assigned to Boise to start the 2013 season, but was sent back to Arizona after a few weeks with control problems. Those issues did not get much better in the rookie league, but Lang was brought back to the Hawks following the end of the rookie league. For the season, Lang was 0-3 in 17 games, four starts, with a 7.81 ERA and a 1.92 WHIP that included 32 strikeouts and 16 wild pitches in 27.2 innings. The 21-year old possesses a mid-90s fastball and one of the hardest biting sliders in the system. But throwing the pitches for strikes has been the main concern.

Because of the timing of the MLB Draft and the beginning of the Northwest League season, there is never a certainty as to the make-up of the squad. But if the draft is a little shy of starting pitching, Alexander Santana will probably get a crack at the Boise rotation. Signed as an international free agent in 2011, Santana had an impressive debut in the Dominican Summer League. Santana went 4-2 in 15 appearances (14 starts) with a 2.67 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP (36 strikeouts in 67.1 innings). Santana posted similar numbers in 2012 that included a 2.88 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP. While Santana’s strikeout ratio improved to 51 in 59.1 innings, his record dropped to 1-3. Santana did his best on the crowded AZL Cubs roster last season. Santana made five appearances (two starts) and went 0-1 with a 4.58 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP (16 strikeouts in 17.2 innings). The 20-year old has always had good control and is on the cusp of promotion, but the winter will tell whether he’s added any muscle on his 6-foot-1, 170-pound frame.

The present front office seems to prefer having someone with a little experience and maturity in the bullpen, and Boise will find that in both Josh Davis and Tyler Ihrig. The 23-year old Davis was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2013 and pitched well in middle relief for the AZL Cubs. David went 3-1 with a 4.50 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP (10 strikeouts in 20 innings). Left-handed Ihrig looks as if he will have the inside track to the Hawks closer role. Drafted with the 23rd pick in the 2013 draft, Ihrig was 2-0 with a 0.72 ERA and a 0.80 WHIP that included 30 strikeouts in 25 innings (12 appearances) for the AZL Cubs. The 22-year old will remind some of former-Cub lefty Sean Marshall with his cut fastball and big, slow curve.

Support in the pen should come from David Garner. Selected in the 17th round of the 2013 draft, the 21-year old Garner has an electric mid-90s fastball with a hard slider that is considered his out-pitch. Garner made nine appearances, including three starts with the AZL Cubs last season and was 0-2 with a 7.98 ERA and a 1.91 WHIP (16 strikeouts in 14.2 innings).

Rookie League Arizona Cubs:

As with Boise, it is difficult to predict just who will assigned to the rookie league come late June 2014. Here then, are seven pitchers who stand a good chance of being a part of the AZL Cubs next season.

Acquired from the Diamondbacks in exchange for Tony Campana, 18-year old Erick Leal will be entering his third professional season next year. Leal made 14 appearances for the D-Backs in the Dominican Summer League after signing with them in 2012. Leal went 6-2 with a 2.44 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP that included 70 strikeouts in 70 innings (12 starts). Leal moved to the AZL Cubs in 2013 and made six starts in 13 appearances. Leal was 3-2 with one save and a 2.77 ERA with a 1.19 WHIP (52 strikeouts in 48 innings). When he was acquired by the Cubs, Leal had an upper-80s-low-90s fastball along with an advanced curve and change-up. Many believe that Leal’s velocity will increase as he matures, which is why he may be held back, at least for the first part of the short season.

Selected in the fifth round of the 2012 draft, 20-year old lefty Anthony Prieto has been developed at a very deliberate pace. A 5-foot-11, 170-pound frame and a history of injuries have caused the Cubs to be cautious with Prieto. After signing in 2012, Prieto made seven starts in 10 appearances with the AZL Cubs and went 0-1 with a 2.33 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP (11 strikeouts in 19.1 innings). Prieto made four starts in six appearances in 2013 before being placed on the disabled list. Prieto went 1-2 with a 4.29 ERA and a 1.48 WHIP that included 17 strikeouts in 21 innings. When he is physically sound, Prieto features a low 90s fastball that can touch the mid-90s, as well as a curveball and change-up. Showing that he can hold up over the course of a season will be Prieto’s biggest challenge.

One the Cubs’ youngest prospects, 18-year old left-hander Carlos A. Rodriguez has an advanced feel for pitching for his age. Rodriguez was signed as an international free agent in 2012 and at 17 years old was one of the best pitchers in the Dominican Summer League. Rodriguez started 12 games in 14 appearances and went 5-3 with a 2.01 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP that included 73 strikeouts in 71.2 innings. Rodriguez made three starts in 13 appearances for the AZL Cubs this past season and went 1-4 with a 6.97 ERA and a 1.90 WHIP (30 strikeouts in 31 innings). Despite his small build (5-foot-11, 178 pounds), scouts feel Rodriguez has a strong frame and will fill out as he matures. Rodriguez has an upper-80s fastball that he commands well, along with an advanced change-up and a curve he can throw for strikes.

The pitcher that may advance the quickest could be 2013 12th round selection Trevor Clifton. The Tennessee high school player has a projectable frame (6-foot-4, 170 pounds) and was assigned to the AZL Cubs after signing. Clifton started one game and finished two in eight appearances and was 0-0 with a 6.97 ERA and a 2.03 WHIP (15 strikeouts in 10.1 innings). The 18-year old throws a low-90s fastball that has been clocked in the upper-90s, along with a mid-80s curve, a slider and a change-up.

Also in the mix for positions on the staff should be three pitchers from the Caribbean Leagues. In his first year with the organization, 20-year old Jose Zapata was dominant in the Dominican Summer League this past season. Zapata made nine starts in 13 appearances and was 4-0 with a save. Zapata posted a 1.93 ERA and a 0.80 WHIP that included 49 strikeouts in 56 innings. Eighteen-year old Adbert Alzolay led the Venezuelan Summer League with a 1.07 ERA this past season. The 6-foot-0, 179 pounder was also in his first year with the Cubs, and went 5-3 in 15 appearances (12 starts) with a 0.88 WHIP (61 strikeouts in 67 innings). At 6-foot-2, 203 pounds left-hander Frailin Figueroa has the sturdiest frame of the bunch. The 18-year old was signed in 2012 and went 2-1 with a 5.40 ERA and a 1.86 WHIP (13 strikeouts in 18.1 innings) that season. In his second year in the DSL, Figueroa showed improvement and posted a 5-1 record in 13 appearances (five starts), along with a 1.27 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP (53 strikeouts in 49.2 innings)

ChicagoCubsOnline Minor League Position Analysis

Follow ChicagoCubsOnline on Twitter: @TheCCO and @TheCCO_Minors

[amazonjs asin=”1932391509″ locale=”US” tmpl=”Small” title=”Baseball America 2014 Prospect Handbook: The 2014 Expert guide to Baseball Prospects and MLB Organization Rankings”]

[amazonjs asin=”1118459237″ locale=”US” tmpl=”Small” title=”Baseball Prospectus 2014″]

Quote of the Day

"People who write about Spring Training not being necessary have never tried to throw a baseball." – Sandy Koufax