Every spring, there is a guy looking to make an impact. For the Chicago Cubs, that player is Mike Zagurski, who is looking to make the most of his opportunity.
Last season the Chicago Cubs bullpen dealt with much adversity. Closing pitcher Brandon Morrow missed the final three months of the season due to injury, Carl Edwards Jr. struggled to find consistency, and Brian Duensing got lit up like a Christmas tree. It was not all bad, though. Veterans Steve Cishek, Jesse Chavez and Pedro Strop all turned in phenomenal years.
In December, the Cubs brought in left-hander Mike Zagurski on a minor league contract. While it is a deal that did not turn heads, relief depth is always an essential part of a club makeup and thus could not hurt anything. The big southpaw reliever from Nebraska has been around. Now, at 36 years of age, he looks to take advantage of his current situation.
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This time of the year is fun because it gives teams the chance to find their diamonds in the rough. Whether that is a prospect who blows the competition away or a veteran presence who arrives at camp bringing long lost quality production, it is all the same. Now, the Cubs hope they have their diamond in the rough.
The early days and beyond
Zagurski first made his debut in 2005, after being drafted in the 12th round by the Philadelphia Phillies.
In his first season, he finished with a 4.60 ERA at Low-A Batavia, across 15 games to include eight starts. In year two, Zagurski showed off his ability by posting a 3.51 ERA across 56 1/3 innings at Class-A Lakewood. Most impressively, Zagurski struck hitters out at a 32.5 percent rate.
Jumping forward a couple of years to 2007, when Zagurski made his major league debut for the Phillies. It was not the best showing, as he posted a less than stellar 5.91 ERA, a 20.8 percent strikeout rate, and a 4.79 FIP. The season came to a crashing halt following a torn hamstring, requiring surgery which ended his campaign. After undergoing Tommy John surgery, Zagurski missed the entirety of 2008, and it wouldn’t be until 2010 when he would return to the Show.
In the second time around, Zagurski was worse. Over just seven innings, he pitched to a horrendous 10.29 ERA and a 14.7 percent walk rate. The positive takeaway was his strikeout rate, as it jumped back up to 32.4 percent. At the tail end of 2011, Zagurski was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The lefty spent just one season in the desert. In 37 1/3 innings, he posted an improved, but still not great, 5.54 ERA. The strikeouts were down once again, but so were the walks. In 2013, Zagurski spent time with the Oakland Athletics, New York Yankees and Pittsburgh Pirates.
In 2014, Zagurski pitched for the Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays, both at Triple-A. Over that span, he recorded a 2.08 ERA in 60 2/3 innings. During the 2015-16 seasons, Zagurski was out of Major League Baseball, pitching in Japan. He fared decently across the ocean before returning stateside. Moving ahead to 2017, Zagurski worked 27 1/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A for the Detroit Tigers.
Last year, the big Nebraska lefty was in Milwaukee and, once again, fared well in the minors posting a 3.20 ERA across 45 innings. His single inning in the majors resulted in three earned runs and two strikeouts.
One more chance
Looking at Zagurski, he does not ring true to the nature of your typical pitcher. Standing at 6’0”, 240 pounds, he is closer in stature to ‘Messmer,’ the catcher from ‘Angels in the Outfield,’ but fits the journeyman bill perfectly.
Zagurski will probably not crack the Opening Day roster in Chicago. Nevertheless, there is a good chance he stays with the organization given his track record at the minor league level. Over the weekend, in the Cubs’ inaugural spring training opener, Zagurski pitched a scoreless frame, giving up one hit, two walks and striking out one.
Following the journey of Zagurski across spring training will be fun, and maybe, just maybe, Theo Epstein and the Cubs have found a hidden diamond in the rough for 2019. It could happen.