Chicago Cubs: Could Carl Edwards Jr. join starting rotation in future?

Jun 24, 2017; Miami, FL, USA; Chicago Cubs relief pitcher Carl Edwards Jr. (6) delivers a pitch in the eighth inning against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 24, 2017; Miami, FL, USA; Chicago Cubs relief pitcher Carl Edwards Jr. (6) delivers a pitch in the eighth inning against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /

Carl Edwards Jr. is dominating as a reliever this season. What are the chances that he becomes a starting pitcher for the Chicago Cubs in the future?

A year removed from leading Major League Baseball in ERA, the Chicago Cubs starting rotation took step back in 2017. In 2016, the rotation owned a 2.96 ERA; this season, that number has risen to 4.28, tenth-best in baseball.

On the one hand, there could be a multitude of factors to blame for the rotation’s dip in performance. Pitching into November en route to winning the World Series was bound to have some effect. Instead of Cubs pitchers resting, they pitched a month more than usual.

Contrary to popular belief, professional athletes are just as human as fans. Athletes need rest after going through extensive physical exertion, just as any other person does. This is especially true for the Cubs starting rotation; three of the pitchers have tremendous mileage on their arms.

Jon Lester is 33 years old and is pitching his 12th MLB season; Jake Arrieta is 31 and is in his eighth season, while John Lackey is 38 and in his 15th season. Between a long 2016 season and the ages of the starting pitchers, a regression was inevitable.

One pitcher that has not regressed after a long 2016 campaign is setup man Carl Edwards Jr. Edwards, 26, had a 3.75 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 36 appearances in 2016 (36.0 innings). In 33 appearances this season, he has a 1.72 ERA in 31 1/3 innings, striking out 44 batters.

Chicago Cubs
Chicago Cubs /

Chicago Cubs

One way or another, Edwards likely will have a different role with the Cubs in 2018. Current closer Wade Davis, 31, will become a free agent at season’s end. The Cubs very well could re-sign Davis, as he has been dominant in his first season with the team.

Edwards could have a different role next season

In 28 appearances, Davis is 2-0 with a 2.00 ERA, converting all 15 of his save opportunities. By resigning Davis, the Cubs would keep their dominant late-game duo intact beyond this season. If they do not resign Davis, Edwards would likely take the job.

Having an electric arm like Edwards closing games would not be a mistake by any means. What could be a mistake, however, is not giving Edwards a look as a starting pitcher. Edwards has two things going for him that members of the rotation have not had thus far in 2017: strong numbers and young age.

While he is extremely valuable as a late-game reliever, one has to wonder what he could bring to the table as a starter. Before his MLB promotion, Edwards dominated the minor leagues as a starter.

Past domination as a starting pitcher

In 14 appearances (13 starts) in 2012, Edwards went 5-3 with a 1.48 ERA; the next season, he went 8-2 in 24 appearances (all starts) with a 1.86 ERA. During his last minor league season as a starter, Edwards went 1-2 with a 2.35 ERA in 12 appearances (all starts).

Edwards has proven he is capable of starting, although the minor and major leagues are quite different. What must be considered, though, is how Edwards would fare pitching extended innings.

By pitching more than one or two innings, Edwards’ fastball velocity would surely take a dip from its usual 95-97 MPH speed. This is not to say that he would never throw as hard, but his fastball velocity would likely slow due to fatigue as a game went on.

Fortunately, Edwards has more than one dominant pitch in his arsenal. Along with his fastball, Edwards has a nasty 12-to-6 curveball used as his strikeout pitch. In fact, he used his curveball Monday night against to strike out the side against the heart of the Washington Nationals’ lineup.

Such instances like Monday’s game show why it would be tough to move Edwards from the bullpen to the starting rotation. The Cubs were clinging to a 1-0 lead with Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and Daniel Murphy looming. For the season, all three are hitting .321, .344 and .340, respectively.

At 25 years old, Edwards could have folded under the pressure and given up the Cubs slim lead. Instead, he dominated the inning and kept the lead intact. This is a prime example of why trying Edwards as a closer or starter is so tempting.

Next: Cubs' Javier Báez dazzles amidst a solid season

Regardless of what the Cubs do, Edwards surely will continue to play a big role for the Cubs moving forward. If the Cubs give him an opportunity to start, they could have a potential ace-in-the-making for years to come.