Chicago Cubs face questions in Carl Edwards Jr. and his role

 

The Chicago Cubs have a late-inning asset in Carl Edwards Jr. But with Wade Davis in as closer and several other key bullpen pieces returning, what is his role this season?

Late in the 2015 season, a lanky right-hander made his big-league debut for the Chicago Cubs, bringing with him a high-90s fastball that was larger than he was. He pitched less than five innings, before returning to Wrigley Field again last year.

In 36 games for the Chicago Cubs, Edwards Jr. posted a 0.81 WHIP and 2.91 FIP. He also put up an impressive 13 strikeouts-per-nine for the North Siders, emerging as a key piece of Joe Maddon‘s relief corps.

The former 48th-round pick has silenced his critics to-date, overcoming his 170-pound frame on his road to vanquishing major league opponents. Heading into his age-25 campaign, Edwards Jr. still has much to prove, but in what capacity he will prove himself remains to be seen.

Aroldis Chapman, who held down the ninth in the second half last year, departed for the New York Yankees via free agency. In his stead, the Chicago Cubs traded for former All-Star closer Wade Davis to fill the void.

Davis will command the ninth unless injury arises this year. On just a one-year deal, his future with the Cubs past this season remains unknown. Given his makeup, Edwards Jr. may be an option moving forward for such a role.

What role will he play in the 2017 campaign?

As noted, velocity has been his friend to-date. In his first showing with the Cubs, his peak velocity came in at 96 mph. He upped the ante last season, raising the mark to 97.6 mph while lowering both his FIP and WHIP.

While questions linger about the years to come, the more pressing matter is the 2017 season. With Davis firmly entrenched in the ninth, it appears Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop will share the load in the seventh and eighth innings.

That makes sense, despite Edwards Jr.’s obvious potential. Rondon could be the closer on most big-league teams and Strop is no slouch, either. Both averaged more than 10 strikeouts per nine last year, combining for just over 1.0 WAR between themselves.

Middle of the pack?

Is Carl Edwards Jr. a future big league closer or is he more likely to get lost in the middle innings for years to come?

This seems to designate the String Bean Slinger to a middle-inning gig in 2017. Which, come October, may actually help the Cubs in their quest for another title.

Major League Baseball saw what a dominant bullpen can result in when the Kansas City Royals made back-to-back World Series in 2014 and 2015. With a starting rotation as solid as Chicago boasts, only needing six or seven innings from them would spell doom for opponents.

A bridge that leads from Edwards Jr. to the likes of Strop, Rondon and Davis isn’t a path many hitters would willingly tread. And, while the youngster is likely eager for a chance to prove himself in a larger role, he’s facing several roadblocks.

For now, expect Carl Edwards Jr. to see a lot of sixth and seventh-inning work. With some rare ninth-inning outings sprinkled in. He’s working up from the bottom of the totem pole – and it takes time to get to the top.