One of the best stories in the Cubs minor league system this year has run into a serious hurdle as Tennessee RHP Robert Whitenack is scheduled to have Tommy John surgery next week. Whitenack started the season in High A Daytona where he was so dominate that he was promoted to Tennessee after just four starts. Between the two leagues, he is 7-0 with an ERA of 1.93. He was pitching as well as anybody on the Smokies roster, well enough to be considered for a promotion to Iowa, or even to Chicago late in the season.
This will shelve Whitenack for the rest of the 2011 season. We won’t know until after the surgery what the timetable is for his recovery, but I doubt the Cubs take any chances with him. If he recovers completely, he could be back in Tennessee by the end of the next season, but I don’t think there is any chance the Cubs would consider bringing him to Chicago until sometime in 2013.
But as we’ve seen on the Cubs, one player’s injury is another player’s opportunity.
In this case, the primary beneficiary is Nick Struck, the right handed starter called up to Tennessee from Daytona when Whitenack went on the disabled list last week. Struck has not been quite as impressive as Whitenack this season, but a 6-2 record with an ERA of 3.42 in the Florida State League is not bad at all. In his first Double A start Struck pitched six innings and struck out four in a no decision.
For the time being, Struck will likely remain in Tennessee. The good news is that Daytona still has plenty of starting pitching. Dae-Eun Rhee recently moved into the starting rotation for the Cubs, and so far he has been pitching pretty well there. I would not be surprised to see another starting pitcher jump up from Peoria in the next week or so, though, especially since Peoria may be getting some new arms from extended spring training or the draft.
When we hear the outcome of Whitenack’s surgery and have a better idea on his recovery timetable, we’ll bring that information to you as well. Hopefully he has speedy and complete recovery and picks right back up where he left off.