So who will it be? Last week saw three different Cub pitching prospects throw three very impressive games. On July 1 Daytona’s Dae-Eun Rhee pitched a seven-inning complete game shutout in the second game of a double header. On July 3 Jay Jackson pitched into the ninth for Iowa, allowing only one run. On July 4 (remember we’re adding Monday to last week for the sake of this week’s columns) Austin Kirk tossed a no hitter for Peoria.
Who gets the Line of the Week? Kirk had the more impressive performance, but was also pitching at a lower level. Rhee was almost as impressive, but only went seven innings because it was part of a double header. Jackson did give up a run on eight hits, but his performance came just when the Chicago Cubs were getting hit by more pitching injuries. His July 3 start could have an immediate impact in Chicago if the Cubs need another starter in a hurry.
So, who will it be?
Austin Kirk, LHP for the Peoria Chiefs.
Jackson pitched a great game. That is exactly the kind of game I’ve been expecting from Jackson all season. Unfortunately, he has not been pitching like that all season. If he can keep this up he could cement himself in the back end of a major league rotation next year. For Jackson, the key will be to string solid starts together. If he can do that, he’ll pick up a Line of the Week of his own.
Rhee is a highly regarded pitching prospect who had his career set back by an arm injury. His performance might be the most encouraging sign to come out of the Cubs’ farm system this season. If Rhee reaches his potential, he will challenge Cashner and McNutt for the top slot on Chicago’s rotation. His shut out is a good indication that his recovery is going very well, and that is very good news for the Cubs.
But there is no arguing with a no hitter at any level. Ten strikeouts. Two walks. Just twenty eight batters faced. Those numbers represent what will surely be one of the best nights of his career regardless of how long his career is or how high he goes. And signs are indicating that Kirk could have a very long career and go fairly high. Kirk is one of two high school pitchers the Cubs have taken higher than the fifth round under their current scouting director, and it is easy to see why the Cubs were willing to break with their pattern to grab him.
The Cubs have been patient with Kirk. He is in his third professional season, but at twenty-one he is about at the age where the Cubs have accelerated pitchers up the ladder. I’m not sure if he has time to join Struck and Whitenack (now injured) in Double A this year, but I think he should get a chance at Daytona.
In baseball, left handed pitching prospects are just about the most valuable asset you can have. In Kirk, the Cubs may have themselves a chunk of pure gold. And for whatever its worth, Austin Kirk has himself a Line of the Week.