The Cubs system is known for the position players up and down the organization at each affiliate. There is more pitching in the system than is recognized by most publications.
Duane Underwood Jr., Carl Edwards Jr. and Pierce Johnson may headline the young arms in the organization while pitchers such as Ryan Williams, Jonathan Martinez, Oscar De La Cruz, Dylan Cease, Justin Steele and Carson Sands, just to name a few, took steps forward in their development.
- Duane Underwood Jr., RHP
- Ryan Williams, RHP
- Jonathan Martinez, RHP
- Oscar De La Cruz, RHP
- Pierce Johnson, RHP
- David Garner, RHP
- Michael Heesch, LHP
- P.J. Francescon, RHP
- David Berg, RHP
- Tyler Ihrig, LHP
- James Pugliese, RHP
Duane Underwood Jr., RHP
RHP Duane Underwood Jr. had his season derailed with an elbow injury. Underwood Jr. missed significant time but did not require surgery and he was very effective when he returned from the DL.
Duane Underwood Jr. has electric stuff and is the top starting pitcher in the system. Underwood Jr. concentrated on pitching this season rather than striking out batters.
Underwood Jr. made 14 starts for High-A Myrtle Beach and posted a 6-3 record with a 2.58 ERA and 1.04 WHIP. The 21-year old allowed 52 hits with 24 walks and 48 strikeouts in 73 1/3 innings.
Ryan Williams, RHP
Ryan Williams pitched his way from a little known 10th round draft pick in 2014 to the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year for 2015. The 23-year old Williams is a strike thrower, keeps the ball down and records outs. Williams has been compared to Tim Hudson and the big right-hander (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) opened a lot of eyes this season.
Williams allowed two home runs in 141 2/3 innings between Low-A South Bend and Double-A Tennessee while walking 18 batters with 98 strikeouts. Williams was 14-3 in 26 games, 24 starts, this season with a 2.16 ERA and 0.90 WHIP.
Jonathan Martinez, RHP
Its likely RHP Jonathan Martinez is the best pitching prospect in the Cubs’ system that receives the least amount of attention. Martinez has the best command in the system.
Martinez has done nothing but put up excellent numbers since he was acquired as the player to be named later in the deal that sent Darwin Barney to the Dodgers last year.
Martinez was 9-2 in 23 games, 21 starts, with a 2.56 ERA and 0.94 WHIP for High-A Myrtle Beach. Martinez allowed 82 hits with 27 walks and 66 strikeouts in 116 innings. Martinez turned 21 in June.
Oscar De La Cruz, RHP
RHP Oscar De La Cruz had quite the first season in the States pitching out of the Emeralds’ rotation. The 20-year old posted a 6-3 record in 13 starts with a 2.84 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. De La Cruz allowed 27 runs, 23 earned, on 56 hits with 17 walks and 73 strikeouts in 73 innings.
De La Cruz was third in the Northwest League in ERA, tied for first in WHIP and second in strikeouts. The 6-foot-4, 200-pound right hander should be part of South Bend’s rotation next Opening Day. De La Cruz possesses all of the tools to be a top of the rotation starter.
Pierce Johnson, RHP
RHP Pierce Johnson was lights out for the Smokies once he was healthy enough to pitch. Johnson made 16 starts for Double-A Tennessee and was 6-2 with a 2.08 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. Johnson struck out 72 batters with 32 walks and 76 hits in 95 innings.
Johnson showed improvement with his command but once again was limited by injuries in Spring Training. Johnson has the stuff to be a middle of the rotation starter in the big leagues, the big question is can he stay off the disabled list long enough to pitch his way to the majors. If Johnson can stay healthy and depending on the needs of the big league club, he could make his Major League debut by the middle of next year.
David Garner, RHP
RHP David Garner has the stuff to be a late inning reliever in the majors and he put up the numbers at High-A Myrtle Beach. Garner’s fastball and slider have a lot of movement, but he will overthink things at times.
Garner started the season with Low-A South Bend and posted a 2-0 record in 16 relief appearances with a 5.33 ERA and 1.46 WHIP. Garner was bumped up to High-A on June 28. With the Pelicans, Garner was 2-1 in 16 appearances with a 2.37 ERA and 0.89 WHIP. Garner allowed nine runs, eight earned, on 17 hits with 10 walks and 36 strikeouts in 30 1/3 innings.
For the season, Garner was 4-1 with a 3.72 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in 32 games with three saves.
Michael Heesch, LHP
Myrtle Beach unleashed the Heesch this season and he provided results out of the bullpen. LHP Michael Heesch has lacked consistency, and can be untouchable when he is on. He appeared in 33 games, made two starts, and saved three games for the eventual Carolina League Champs. Heesch allowed 19 runs, 16 earned, on 57 hits with 24 walks and 49 strikeouts in 64 1/3 innings (2.24 ERA, 1.26 WHIP).
P.J. Francescon, RHP
P.J. Francescon led the system in saves (22) after spending a majority of the year with Double-A Tennessee. The 26-year old right hander held teams to a .201 batting average while allowing 11 runs, 10 earned, on 38 hits with 17 walks and 50 strikeouts in 53 1/3 innings. Francescon pitched in three games with Iowa and finished the season with a 4-2 record in 45 games with a 1.47 ERA and 1.03 WHIP.
David Berg, RHP
RHP David Berg was drafted in June and by September was on the mound for the clinching game of the Mills Cup Championship Series. Berg put up good numbers during his first taste of pro ball. Berg allowed three runs on 18 hits with three walks and 14 strikeouts in 16 innings for the Pelicans (1.69 ERA, 1.31 WHIP). In 18 games between Eugene and Myrtle Beach, Berg was 2-1 with a 1.40 ERA and 1.09 WHIP (three runs, 18 hits, three walks, 18 strikeouts in 19 1/3 innings).
Berg is a submariner, reminiscent of Kent Tekulve and Dan Quisenberry.
Tyler Ihrig, LHP
LHP Tyler Ihrig pitched in four different levels in the system this year (South Bend, Myrtle Beach, Tennessee and Iowa). The 24-year old had a good season and made a total of 31 appearances with five starts for the four teams. Ihrig allowed 31 runs, 29 earned, on 87 hits with 20 walks and 67 strikeouts in 90 1/3 innings. Ihrig held lefties in check and could be a LOOGY in a big league bullpen. Ihrig has drawn comps to former Cubs’ starter then reliever Sean Marshall.
James Pugliese, RHP
RHP James Pugliese thrived in Myrtle Beach’s bullpen before a two-game call-up to Double-A Tennessee at the end of the year. Pugliese was 4-2 in 30 games with five saves, a 2.62 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP. Pugliese allowed 17 runs, 16 earned, on 52 hits with 13 walks and 49 strikeouts in 55 innings.
Pugliese pounds the bottom of the strike zone and is overlooked in the system.