Pitching Analysis – Triple-A Iowa
After covering every position in the Cubs’ system, it’s time to move to the position analysis series to pitching side of the organization. Today, the focus is on the pitching staff at the Cubs’ highest minor league level, Triple-A Iowa.
Triple-A Starters and Relievers
Iowa Cubs: The Cubs’ organization is in a precarious situation with the parent club in need of pitching, but the current front office’s best prospects are still far down the chain. What is left at Triple-A are the remnants of the previous administration and stop-gaps brought in from outside the organization.
In between both of those extremes is the reigning Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year Carlos Pimentel. The soon-to-be 26 year old (December 1) dominated the hitter-friendly PCL, finishing second in ERA (2.95) and victories (12), third in strikeouts (118) and eighth in WHIP (1.319). Pimentel was also durable, making 27 appearances (26 starts) and pitching 143.1 innings. While on most teams that would be enough to get a long look in Spring Training, on a Cubs team that is considered an odds-on favorite for the World Series Pimentel would be far down the list of considerations. Pimentel is a free agent and still could re-sign with the organization in which he’s spent the last two seasons.
Thought to be the backbone of the 2015 Iowa staff, with a mid-season shot at the parent club’s rotation, it was pretty much of a lost season for lefty Eric Jokisch. After a productive 2014 in which Jokisch saw action in four Major League games, this past season was being seen as a tune-up for a role on the big league staff. Instead, Jokisch battled injuries that limited his effectiveness. Pitching less than 155 innings for the first time since 2011, Jokisch was 5-8 with a 4.18 ERA and a 1.337 WHIP that included 70 strikeouts in 122.2 innings. The 26-year old has some impressive numbers over a six year minor league career, so a place somewhere in the majors should not be pout of the question. But it is no longer certain whether he fits in the plans for the Cubs.
Another pitcher whose ship has seemed to sail is Dallas Beeler. The 2015 season started in typical fashion for Beeler, as the 26-year old was unable to answer the bell to begin the season, needing more time to build up his arm strength. When Beeler did join Iowa, he was shelled in seven of his first eight starts, giving up 36 earned runs over that span. Beeler righted his course during the rest of the season, yielding only 24 earned runs in his remaining 13 starts. Making three emergency starts for the parent club, Beeler was able to total only 8.1 innings and a 9.72 ERA. For Iowa, Beeler went 8-5 with a 4.07 ERA and a 1.364 WHIP that included 83 strikeouts in 110.2 innings. Beeler’s pitch-to-contact approach is out of step with the organization’s power pitching philosophy so his future likely lies elsewhere.
Fearing that their pitching might need some help, the front office stashed veteran Felipe Paulino at their training complex in Arizona for extended Spring Training. When Jokisch and Beeler had injuries, the 31-year old was called upon in the beginning of May and was underwhelming. Even with six years of big league experience, Paulino went 5-9 with a 4.93 ERA and a 1.538 WHIP (83 strikeouts in 104 innings). The 6-foot-3, 260-pounder has always been seen as an innings-eater throughout his career, he just hasn’t pitched well enough to fulfill that role.
Leading the staff in a spot-starting role was Boston cast-off Drake Britton. Trying to restart his career after a series of personal problems, Britton found a sympathetic ear in the Cubs’ front office, who signed him to a minor league contract. The lefty began in the bullpen, but moved to the starting rotation late in the season. Britton rarely showed glimpses of the form that had him rated as a top prospect a few years ago. In 83.1 innings, the 26-year old was 7-8 with a 5.08 ERA and a 1.356 WHIP that included 45 strikeouts. There is no indication that Britton will be back for next season. But with his ties to the front office, you can never be certain.
Also performing as swingmen were Frank Batista and left-hander Jeffry Antigua. Both pitchers saw time at Double-A Tennessee along with I-Cubs. After amassing 80 saves in the past four seasons, the 26-year old Batista returned to starting and went 7-2 with a 1.73 ERA for the Smokies and was named a Southern League All-Star. Moving on to Iowa, Batista wasn’t as lucky, going 1-5 with a 5.71 ERA. For the year, Batista was 8-7 with a 3.43 ERA and a 1.297 WHIP (73 strikeouts in 118 innings). The Cubs have recently re-signed Batista, so they do think there is still something there to work with.
The 25-year old Antigua’s 22 starts this past season were his most since 2010 when he pitched for the Low-A Peoria Chiefs. An oddity for Antigua is that he actually pitched better at the Triple-A level than he did in Double-A, posting a 2.61 ERA for the I-Cubs but a 4.40 ERA in Tennessee. Combined, Antigua went 6-6 with a 3.85 ERA and a 1.298 WHIP that included 77 strikeouts in 133.1 innings. Antigua has the look of a valuable system player, but his potential as a major-leaguer seems limited.
The back end of the pitching staff has a lot of uncertainty as most of the pitchers that were with Iowa in 2015 have either been released or are no longer under contract. Among the players gone is saves leader Brian Schlitter, along with Joe Ortiz, Gonzalez Germen, and James Russell. Signed late in the season, lefty Ryan Buchter is a free agent, while Blake Cooper is eligible for the Rule 5 Draft. If they can be retained, both Buchter and Cooper could be valuable to next year’s staff due to their consistency and experience. The 27-year old Cooper appeared in 50 games and went 7-4 with five saves, a 2.63 ERA, a 1.273 WHIP, and 63 strikeouts in 68.1 innings. Buchter, a 28-year old, got into 16 games and was 2-0 with a 2.00 ERA and a 1.000 WHIP that included 23 strikeouts in 18 innings for Iowa.
Acquired in a mid-season trade, Yoervis Medina came over for Seattle and was, well, awful. A veteran of three Major League seasons, the 27-year old just had a tough time getting the ball over the plate. In 28 appearances with the I-Cubs, Medina was 0-2 with a save, a 6.29 ERA, a 1.777 WHIP, and 35 strikeouts in 34.1 innings. Medina also saw five games with the parent club in which his was worse, with a 7.00 ERA and 1.778 WHIP in nine innings.
If neither pitcher makes the trip north with the Cubs after Spring Training, Iowa’s closer role will be a battle between Armando Rivero and Carl Edwards Jr. The 27-year old Cuban national Rivero was somewhat of a disappointment as it was felt that he would be in the majors at some point in the season. Instead, Rivero looked a little more human than the 1.56 ERA and 10 saves he posted in Double-A the previous season. Rivero did not record any saves for Iowa, as he went 2-2 in 48 appearances. Rivero also posted a 3.16 ERA, a 1.351WHIP, and had 53 strikeouts in 57 innings.
Converting from starter to reliever, the transition was a little bumpy for Edwards Jr. The numbers weren’t that bad, but they were not as dominant as in the past. Splitting his time between Double-A Tennessee and Iowa, the 24-year old was 5-3 with six saves in 36 appearances. Edwards Jr. had a combined 2.77 ERA and a 1.211 WHIP that included 75 strikeouts in 55.1 innings. A September call-up, Edwards Jr. was okay in five appearances for Chicago. Pitching 4.2 innings, Edwards had a 3.86 ERA, a 1.286 WHIP, and four strikeouts.