After breaking out this year in his first year with the Chicago Cubs, Rowan Wick could bear even more responsibility next season in the late innings.
Last November, the Chicago Cubs sent minor leaguers Jason Vosler to the San Diego Padres. In return, Rowan Wick – a 25-year-old with an inflated 6.48 ERA in just 10 big league appearances – joined the organization.
Little did we know, that move wound up being the steal of the offseason for Theo Epstein. Chicago relied on the hard-throwing right-hander quite a bit down the stretch in 2019 – and appear to have a long-term asset on their hands in Wick, who is under team control for the better part of the next decade.
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Fangraphs‘ David Laurila actually penned an insightful piece on the Cubs’ young right-hander this weekend. While talking with Laurila, Wick gave a ton of credit to first-year pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, who helped him re-tool his arsenal heading into the season.
"“Working with [pitching coach] Tommy Hottovy has been big, and there’s also the new grip on my curveball,” Wick told Fangraphs late in the year. “We worked on it in the lab this spring. Pretty much right from the get-go it was, ‘Come in here and we’ll see what we can do to can make this better.’ Spiking it has really helped me.”"
After throwing his curve ball just 9.8 percent of the time in his first taste of big league action with San Diego in 2018, that usage skyrocketed with the Cubs to 27.6 percent. The right-hander made 31 appearances for the Cubs, working to a 2.43 ERA and 2.82 FIP on the year.
As longtime late-inning staple Pedro Strop faltered – really for the first time in his Cubs career – Wick stepped in without missing a beat. It remains to be seen if the Cubs bring Strop back on an incentive-laden, short-term deal (definitely not out of the question given his age/struggles – it’s hard to see many clubs having a ton of interest in him this winter) – but regardless, Wick will play a critical role in 2020.
Why Wick? Apart from the results, which were very encouraging – he seems to have what it takes mentally to, as former manager Joe Maddon might say, keep the pressure from exceeding the pleasure when he’s on the mound.
"“For me, one of the biggest things in his transformation was the confidence,” Hottovy said. “That’s in any situation we put him in. A lot of guys who come up feel pressure, while others thrive, and he really wants to be in the game. High-leverage doesn’t bother him. He just goes out there and pitches.”"
As balls flew out of the yard at a record pace across Major League Baseball, Wick did not allow a single long ball – something few relievers can say in this day and age. He held opponents to a .183/.295/.233 line and showed that under Hottovy’s tutelage, he’s ready to lock down the late innings for the next Cubs manager in 2020 and beyond.