Live young arms in minors give Cubs hope
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter September 9, 2013 10:05PM
Updated: September 9, 2013 10:43PM
CINCINNATI — The key to any winning baseball campaign?
It’s the pitching, stupid.
So what does that say about the Cubs?
If you’re looking for a State of the Pitching address from the Cubs for what lies ahead in this rebuilding process, look no further than what played out in three cities over the last two days.
Monday in Cincinnati, the here and now took center stage as 2013 All-Star Travis Wood, 26, had one of his top performances, going seven innings in the Cubs’ 2-0 victory over the Cincinnati Reds — the division contender coming off six wins in seven games against the St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers.
At the same time, 1,200 miles away in Port Charlotte, Fla., a potential glimpse into a powerful future was on display as C.J. Edwards — the key pitching prospect acquired from the Texas Rangers in the Matt Garza trade — continued a dominant postseason run for advanced-A Daytona to clinch the Florida State League championship.
Four Daytona starters combined for 33 scoreless innings in six combined starts during their two-series playoff run.
“I’m looking forward to [the pitching future] a lot more than I was a year ago at this time,” manager Dale Sveum said. “Not to be too brash about it, but the trades we’ve made and the guys we’ve got in return, along with a few guys we’ve gotten in the draft the last few years, they’re all obviously pitching very well — and power arms. …
“You’re excited about all that stuff that’s going on with some of our pitchers that really wasn’t happening a year ago.”
For now, the Cubs have three locked in for their 2014 rotation, barring a trade: Jeff Samardzija, Edwin Jackson and Wood (9-11, 3.05).
Even with the big loss of the traded Garza, they added overall pitching depth with the July trades that netted Jake Arrieta, Pedro Strop and Justin Grimm, and the strong performance of left-hander Chris Rusin since taking over for Garza.
The prospects such as Edwards are especially intriguing.
“He’s not a thrower,” Cubs scouting executive Tim Wilken said. “He has a great feel for pitching. That’s the thing. He’s in more of an advanced stage as far as controlling his fastball.”
That showed in two victorious playoff starts, when he struck out 11 and allowed one hit in his 10-inning limit of scoreless pitching against two opponents. He didn’t allow a playoff hit until his ninth inning.
Cubs officials and teammates used words like “electric” and “crazy” to describe the mid-90s velocity and movement of the skinny right-hander who often gets compared in body size and type to 1980s Red Sox pitcher Oil Can Boyd.
“I would say in their prime, if they got in a fight, [Edwards would] win it,” Wilken said. “He’s got more physicality than Oil Can.”
Edwards, 22, is one of nine pitchers the Cubs acquired in trades in July, most of them power pitchers. All of the prospects suddenly are staring at advancement opportunities that weren’t nearly as wide open where they were before the trades.
“Everybody says they’re looking for young starting pitchers that can be the face of the Chicago Cubs,” Edwards said. “I tell everybody it’s a pleasure being in my shoes and having the success I’m having now. I don’t know. … It happened so fast.”
That’s the idea.
“There’s a long way to go still,” said Edwards, who is starting to envision Chicago and “playing at that legendary stadium” — but with several of his teammates on the Daytona staff.
“If you give [us] like three years, four years, [the Cubs] could probably have one of the best pitching staffs in the league,” he said. “Just because of our dedication, and from what I’ve seen.”