Meet the Mesa Solar Sox: Pitchers
This is the second of two articles highlighting the players who will be taking part in the 2015 Arizona Fall League, which begins on Oct. 13. The first report focused on the position players and manager Mark Johnson. Today, the CCO will be looking at the pitchers the Cubs have assigned to the Mesa Solar Sox.
Corey Black, RHP
It will be a make or break performance for 24-year old Corey Black in the Arizona Fall League. Acquired from the New York Yankees at mid-season in 2013 for OF Alfonso Soriano, Black had a lot of promise. A main cog in the rotation for the 2013 Florida League Champion Daytona Cubs, Black has seen his numbers dip the past two seasons.
The 5-foot-11, 175-pounder logged 284.2 innings and 61 starts prior to the 2015 season, in which Black was transitioned to the bullpen. Black started nine times at Double-A Tennessee before the move was made permanent, going 2-2 with a 3.09 ERA and 1.072 WHIP. The shift to the pen did not seem to sit well with Black, as he posted a 1-3 record with no saves the rest of the way. Black also had a 7.09 ERA and 1.81 WHIP as a reliever. Overall, Black went 3-5 with a 4.92 ERA and a 1.41 WHIP.
With a fastball that can reach 100 mph, Black has always been a good strikeout pitcher, as he fanned 101 in 86 innings this past season. Eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, Black will have to show that he can adjust to life out of the starting rotation in order to be protected by the Cubs.
David Garner, RHP
The Cubs seemed to have a lot of pitchers at the Low-A level that blossomed after a role change. One such pitcher was 23-year old David Garner. A seventh round selection in the 2013 draft, Garner had been relegated to middle relief behind Francisco Carrillo and James Farris on the South Bend Cubs and struggled at times. But when Carrillo was ineffective, Garner split the closer duties with Farris and had a much better showing.
Both Garner and Farris were promoted in late June to High-A Myrtle Beach, and it was there that Garner began to emerge. With established closer Jasvir Rakkar floundering down the stretch, Garner and David Berg became the go-to pitchers out of the bullpen for the Pelicans. His numbers do not so justice to what a shutdown performer Garner was, as he went 2-1 with two saves, a 2.37 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 36 strikeouts in 30.1 innings (16 appearances) in the regular season for Myrtle Beach. Garner also pitched five scoreless innings with eight strikeouts, and picked up a save in the playoffs.
Garner has a mid-90s fastball with some wicked movement, along with a change-up and a breaking pitch. The biggest problem Garner has to this point is command of the strike zone. If Garner can show better control and stop leaving pitches up in the zone, he has the stuff to close out games.
Pierce Johnson, RHP
There has never been a question as to the ability of Pierce Johnson. The biggest concern has been if he can ever make through a season in one piece. The 24-year old has missed time in every full season since he was the first pitcher selected by the current front office in 2012. What has been just as frustrating is that many of the injuries appeared to be minor in nature (hamstring, oblique), but seemed to linger. It has not been clear whether this has been deliberate on the part of the organization, or if Johnson is a slow healer. It has also called into question some of Johnson’s preparation and maturity level.
When he is ready to take the mound, Johnson has shown to be quite an effective pitcher. Johnson has a career 2.91 ERA and 1.23 WHIP in 53 starts through four minor league seasons. After a prolonged time on the disabled list, Johnson took the field for Double-A Tennessee in early June of 2015 and showed that he was more than ready to move on from the Southern League. While Johnson’s record was only 5-4 in 18 games (17 starts), he had a 2.55 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, and 91 strikeouts in 91.2 innings.
Johnson has some top of the rotation qualities in make-up, along with a 95 mph-plus fastball, a hard curve and a change-up with downward action. What Johnson needs to work on is control, as he still has times where he can be hit hard. Also eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, Johnson will most likely be placed on the 40-man roster following the World Series. What Johnson needs in the AFL is innings in order to prepare for a 2016 season in which he could see a mid-season call-up, if he remains injury free.
Rob Zastryzny, LHP
Once seen as a potential workhorse, Rob Zastryzny will have to show that he can get out of his own way in order to tap into that ability. Selected in the second round in 2013, Zastryzny has missed significant time the past two seasons after getting struck by batted balls. As a member of the Daytona Cubs in 2014, the 23-year old missed a start and was on the disabled list for two weeks after being hit on wrist by a line drive. This past season, Zastryzny was out for two months when he struck on the foot by a ball that was hit back through the middle.
In between those times, it has been a mixed bag for Zastryzny. The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder can shoulder a load, starting 45 games in what amounts to two and a half seasons. Zastryzny is also able to make batters miss as he recorded 184 strikeouts in 198.2 innings. But Zastryzny can also be hit hard as he has given up 225 hits over that same period. For the 2015 season, the big lefty went 2-5 in 14 starts with a 6.23 ERA, 1.73 WHIP and 48 strikeouts in 60.2 innings.
Zastryzny has a four seam fastball that he throws in the low-90s, as well as a two seam fastball. Some scouts now believe that Zastryznys’ slider is his best pitch, with his change-up giving him four pitches to work with. While it is obvious that Zastryzny is in the AFL to pick up innings, learning how to field his position, or how to get out of the way, would also be nice.