Hottest Cubs Prospects of the Second Half, Part 1 – The Pitchers
August can be the hardest month for a prospect. What began in spring training is finally coming to a close. Some will be worn down by the grind of a 140+ game schedule and their performance will taper off in the dog days of summer. Others will surge. As a result, their standing in the organization increases as they show they can get through the rigors of a long season and excel doing so.
In the second half, there are many pitchers who fit this description.
Rob Zastryzny – One new grip has totally changed this young pitcher’s future. He will likely become the first starting pitcher drafted in the Theo Epstein era to make it to the majors in September. I would not have said that two or three years ago, or even a month ago, for that matter. In fact, I have never been a fan of his pitching or his ranking as a top prospect. I admit it.
Zastryzny is a nice guy, his teammates love him, and he has a great Twitter account, but there was always the pesky matter of the 4+ ERA attached to his name for years. To me, he had done nothing to merit being labeled a top prospect in 3+ seasons except for one month at Daytona in 2014. Now, however, he’s thrown 16 consecutive scoreless innings for the I-Cubs and my mind is starting to change. Tommy Birch and others in Iowa have been raving about the young man’s changes in development.
So what exactly are those changes? I will let Zastryzny tell the tale:
“I talked to my pitching coach, Rod [Nichols], and we were working on a cutter in my bullpen a couple days ago. He said it was getting a little too much like a slider, so we kind of worked with the grip to get more of a cutter action on it instead of coming off the side of it. It was really effective when I was down in counts. I was able to bring myself back into counts by throwing that cutter for a strike.”
Sometimes, one pitch is all it takes. Zastryzny has a 2.05 ERA, he’s struck out 22, opponents are only hitting .151 off him and his WHIP is a paltry 0.91 over 22.1 innings pitched in the second half. I am glad I was wrong about him.
James Pugliese – The college starter-turned-reliever is now starting again at Myrtle Beach and it agrees with him. He’s gone 16.1 IP with 3 ER’s and 14 K’s.
Wyatt Short – I really like the former Ole Miss closer, who is now doing the same at Eugene. He has yet to allow a run in 8 games, during which he has 7 strikeouts and 4 saves.
Dillon Maples – I didn’t see him coming back this year after his first game at Myrtle Beach resulted in an injury. He’s been lights out since July in South Bend, though, with a 1.32 ERA and 6 saves in the second half.
Jose Paulino – He went 7 strong innings with 7 K’s and a single run allowed Monday after being named the Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Month for July. He had a 0.72 ERA in 25 IP with 27 K’s for Eugene before being promoted. He has a nice slider that is deadly to left-handers.
Oscar de la Cruz – Since returning from injury, he’s thrown only 21 innings across three levels. However, he’s struck out an amazing 32 batters over that span. Opponents are hitting only .173 against him overall and that is down to .152 at South Bend. His fastball speeds have varied, but his plus curve has been on point.
Preston Morrison – I had Preston as my pitcher of the month in July, when he had a 0.43 ERA at South Bend. Since going to Myrtle Beach, he hasn’t skipped a beat, posting a 1.38 ERA in 2 starts.[beautifulquote align=”left” cite=””]McNeil has 24 K’s in 18 innings pitched and the mid-90’s heat he had before surgery three years ago is back.[/beautifulquote]
Ryan McNeil – This dude just rocks it. In 16 second half games, he has 11 saves on the strength of a 1.00 ERA with 24 K’s in 18 innings. McNeil is one of my favorite stories. The mid-90’s heat he had before surgery three years ago is finally back.
Zach Hedges – This young man worked his butt off last winter and added some muscle, not to mention velo to his fastball to better complement his plus slider (which is probably the best in the Cubs’ system). He earned a promotion to Tennessee in late July and has a 2.50 ERA in three starts at AA. In his last 12.1 IP, he’s struck out 9 and has only given up one run. I really like Hedges a lot; he’s always gone deep into games and is a workhorse.
It is nice to see so many young arms doing well in the wake of injuries to some of the top prospects. Myrtle Beach’s staff of Erick Leal (on the 7-Day DL), Trevor Clifton, Jeremy Null, the aforementioned Pugliese, and fellow Pelican Jonathan Martinez is on a roll right now. Winners of eight in a row, the rotation has been coming out every night working deep into games. At the rate they are going, this would give the Cubs three teams at Class A in the playoffs in September.