In the aftermath of the Wellemeyer signing, some corners of Cub Fandom are starting to question the depth of Cubs pitching. Admittedly, if the Cubs really are deep at starting pitching as many of us are claiming, why would they sign Wellemeyer?
That move makes sense, even if Wellemeyer never makes the roster. But let’s consider the guys who are on the roster. How much of the Cubs pitching depth is hype? How good are the prospects? In short, do the Cubs really have enough pitching?
The Cubs might have too much starting pitching. If we compile a list of all the Cub starting pitchers with major league experience or who had enough success in the high minors (AA or higher) to earn a look in spring training next month, the list would look like this: Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Randy Wells, Carlos Silva, Casey Coleman, Andrew Cashner, Angel Guzman, Thomas Diamond, James Russell, Jeff Samardzija, Chris Carpenter, Jay Jackson, Austin Bibens-Dirkx, Craig Muschko, Todd Wellemeyer, and maybe Trey McNutt. And I wouldn’t rule out Hayden Simpson, though he is a long shot. So, ignoring those last two, thats sixteen guys for five slots. Twelve of those sixteen have already had some success in the majors.
Assuming that Silva gets cut and that Wellemeyer doesn’t make the 25 man roster and leaves for another organization, the Cubs could look like this:
Chicago Cubs | Dempster, Zambrano, Garza, Cashner, Wells
Iowa Cubs| Coleman, Carpenter, Jackson, Russell, Bibens-Dirkx
Bullpen| Samardzija, Guzman, Diamond
And that would leave Muschko going back to Tennessee, and assumes the Cubs don’t want to move McNutt to Iowa. And if Simpson races up the system, it really gets hairy at the top. Now, what happens if Silva earns a starting job in spring training? Wells to Iowa and Bibens-Dirkx back to Tennessee? And if Wellemeyer earns a bullpen slot, we have to move Guzman or Diamond (probably Diamond) to make room. That’s assuming those guys even make the bullpen to begin with… that battle will be just as huge as the fight for the starting jobs.
The Cubs without Gorzelanny, Silva, or Wellemeyer, are loaded with pitching. What they don’t have is left handed pitching, but lefties are not required for success. Helpful, but not required.
By the way, I’ve made no effort to rank the pitchers in this section. I’m not saying that Jackson is better than Russell, or anything of that nature. This is just a list.
Can they count on the prospects?
There is only one way to find out; let them pitch in the majors. Historically, Cub pitching prospects tend to do pretty well in the majors, at least while they are with the Cubs. For every Rich Hill, there is a Randy Wells, Carlos Marmol, and Casey Coleman. Of course, even Rich Hill pitched pretty well with the Cubs for awhile. Of those prospects in the high minors, Jackson and Carpenter both look pretty good. Coleman has already done enough to earn a starting job on most teams. Samardzija is apparently looking very good in Arizona. That’s four guys not expected to make the rotation who probably could, and in the case of Coleman arguably should.
Why sign Wellemeyer if they have enough pitching?
It is a risk free shot in the dark. If Wellemeyer breaks out with a great spring, he can take a seat in the bullpen. If he doesn’t do well, he will be cut loose and the Cubs will keep right on going without missing a beat. He is simply an insurance policy and a shot in the dark, not an indictment of the minor league system.