Yesterday’s trade for Coello adds yet another good arm to the already deep mix of Cub pitching prospects fighting for spots in Chicago. Even though it is very early in the spring, it seems most observers have narrowed the battle for the last two rotation slots to Silva, Wells, Cashner, Russell, and maybe Coleman. While there are certainly other players in the mix, including some non-roster invitees, the advantages seem to lie with those five. With the possible exception of Cashner, non of those players are likely to figure into the Cubs bullpen this spring should they lose a starting job. Russell, Coleman, and Wells will likely go to Iowa and continue to start while Silva would be traded or waived.
That does simplify the bullpen picture a bit. Assuming the Cubs start the season with a seven man bullpen, that leaves perhaps two open slots. There are a lot of names to consider for those slots.
Assuming the five starting candidates are not in the picture, the following list covers most of the prospects who will be looking for a job this spring. It is in no particular order.
– Jeff Samardzija. He’s out of options, meaning he would have to clear waivers to go back to Iowa, but I don’t think that will be a consideration. For the first time, Samardzija is coming into camp knowing his job. He isn’t being considered as a starter at all. All his preparation this off season as been to be a reliever. He has the stuff to succeed in the majors. I think think this is the year he finally does.
– Scott Maine. Other than Russell, he has the best shot of any lefty in camp of winning a job. He pitched well for the Cubs last year, and if he starts out in the minors it probably won’t be long before he comes back to Chicago.
– Kyle Smit. Acquired in a trade last season, Smit has had plenty of minor league success as a reliever. While the Cubs are clogged with right handers, Smit has a good shot of breaking out of the pack.
– Esmailin Caridad. I recently talked about Caridad as one of the forgotten names in bullpen battles. Not so long ago he was considered the Cubs’ setup man. If he can shake off the elbow trouble that haunted him last year, he could take the seventh inning over.
– Angel Guzman. It is starting to be hard to see where Guzman fits in with the Cubs. He will need a fast injury recovery and a great spring to sneak into this bullpen. If he has a good spring or looks good in extended spring training, Jim Hendry will probably receive lots of phone calls asking about him in trades.
– Chris Carpenter. When a pitcher hits 101 MPH during the Arizona Fall League, you take a hard look at him in spring training. Carpenter has good stuff, but as a starter he has had a hard time turning his stuff into wins. If he doesn’t make the bullpen out of spring training, he might be given a chance to close in Iowa. I think we’ll see Carpenter in Chicago at some point this season.
– Jay Jackson. He probably deserves a shot with the Cubs as much as any other pitcher in the minors, but I can’t see turning him into a reliever. Jackson has done almost everything the Cubs could ask for as a starter, and it should just be a matter of time before he finally gets a shot.
– Robert Coello. Coello has some compelling stats. He strikes out just over one guy per inning, but walks just under one guy per two innings. The walks aren’t terrible, but he really needs to bring them down a bit. He is certainly in the mix for a rotation spot, but I think Iowa is more likely.
– Rafael Dolis. Loads of talent, but I think he will be in the minors to start the season. Whether he is starting or relieving in the minors remains to be seen. Add him to the list of names that could make it up later this year.
And this list does not include some of the staples of the 2010 pen, such as Thomas Diamond, Marcos Mateo, Justin Berg, or Jeff Stevens. Any of those guys could get shuffled back to Iowa if they slip up this spring.
How will it shake out? Right now I lean towards Samardzija, Maine, or Carpenter. If Cashner isn’t starting for Chicago, add his name in there as well. That could change quite a bit in the next few weeks. Spring training is the time to impress the big league coaches, and the Cubs have a small army of guys trying to do just that. A lot could happen by April first.