Talent in Cubs’ bullpen will offer some serious relief
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter March 7, 2014 11:47PM
Updated: April 10, 2014 6:55AM
MESA, Ariz. — Anybody tired of the slow pace of the Cubs’ rebuilding process should quit stalking A-ball prospects Kris Bryant and Albert Almora and take a look at what’s going on in the bullpen.
You want something that moves fast? Check out what Arodys Vizcaino showed off Friday in another powerful, 98 mph inning this spring. Or the mid-90s velocity of Justin Grimm, Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and $3.1 million former Cuban national team closer Armando Rivero.
Whether they’ve transformed their bullpen from a weakness to a strength, the Cubs have created an area of no-speed-limits power, if not a breeding ground for their core closer of the future.
‘‘When you’ve got guys with stuff, you’ve got possibilities,’’ said pitching coach Chris Bosio, who loves what the front office has done to add young power to a bullpen that was among the worst in baseball the last two years. ‘‘That’s what you want. We’ve got those guys. We want 10 more.’’
While the Cubs continue to look for long-term solutions in their rotation and wait for core lineup kids to develop, they can at least point to the bullpen as a potential area of power and depth with a chance to compete — assuming it gets any leads to work with.
‘‘That’s something we’ve made a priority,’’ general manager Jed Hoyer said, ‘‘and we’ll keep on drafting those guys and we’ll keep on trading for those guys because ultimately, you do want a bullpen with a bunch of guys that can potentially close. . . . This is the first time we enter a spring where I think we do feel we have a lot of those power arms.’’
To go with that growing stockpile of big arms, and to get the most out them, the front office brought in hard-throwing veteran Jose Veras on a one-year, $4 million deal as a closer and role model.
By next year, Strop could be the closer. Or Vizcaino. Or Rivero could be moving fast toward that job. All of them are new to the organization since a year ago.
Veras calls it ‘‘finding your path.’’
‘‘I was pushing and pushing to find my path, and then I found it last year,’’ he said of his opportunity to close with the Houston Astros before he became a playoff setup man after a trade to Detroit.
He doesn’t plan to teach classes in closing games, but he says the relief corps already has become a tight-knit group this spring. He sees a natural succession process coming behind him — a process he’s happy to help.
‘‘Veras has done it,’’ Hoyer said. ‘‘He’s a veteran guy who will teach those guys quite a bit down in the bullpen. It’s hard to have a really young bullpen. You’re putting a lot of really high-leverage situations [on less-experienced kids].’’
Veras knows what’s coming. He shares the vision of the front office of a day when a young core of Javy Baez, Almora and C.J. Edwards is getting leads to a bullpen that has somebody not named Veras closing.
‘‘Yeah, it’s gonna happen,’’ he said. ‘‘That’s how baseball is. They’re going to get experience, they’re going to get opportunity, like me. That’s what everybody’s here for. To push, to try to find the path.’’
So who’s it going to be? Which one will find the path and be that core closer for this wave of kids?
Is he even in that clubhouse yet?
‘‘Quite possibly,’’ Hoyer said, ‘‘or maybe in the minor leagues somewhere.’’
Strop seems sure that guy is here now, even if he’s not certain he’s the one.
‘‘Wooo, we got talent in that bullpen,’’ he said. ‘‘Rondon has great stuff, a great arm. . . . He can close. And Vizcaino. . . . Grimm, [Tommy] Hottovy. . . . It’s crazy. But it’s a good [problem], though.’’
Veras will be watching with interest when that day comes, from whatever clubhouse he’s in, and with pride if it’s one of these teammates.
‘‘That’s the best feeling that any player can have,’’ he said, ‘‘when you leave from here to another place and then you see those guys do what you were doing.’’