2018, the Year of the Pitching Wave

In 2015 the Cubs saw their primary core all come up at around the same time.  Bryant, Russel, and Schwarber all came onto the scene to join the 2014 prospects of Baez and Soler.  This same kind of tidal wave of talent can happen with pitching in 2018 and 2019.

I provided some information on them below and these are the guys that are ranked in the Cubs top 25.  These guys all have 1-2 starter type potential, and if they flunk out of starting pitching they could become prime bullpen arms.

So when Arrieta and Lackey are no longer here, we will have a few of these guys to try out and see if they could stick in the 2018 rotation.  If all things hit, like they did with position players, we could see a staff similar to the Mets and the Indians, ripe with young arms that throw fast.

The below analysis can be found at MLB.com:

Dylan Cease, age 20, expected 2018

As one of the best high school power arms in the 2014 Draft, Cease projected as a possible first-rounder before he hurt his elbow that March. The injury ultimately required Tommy John surgery, though that didn’t dissuade the Cubs from paying him $1.5 million in the sixth round. That gamble could pay off big, as he has more upside than any pitcher in Chicago’s farm system.

Cease reached 97 mph with his fastball before he got hurt and hit 100 shortly after he returned to the mound last summer. He sits in the mid-90s with his heater, which also features life that makes it even tougher to barrel. He has turned what was a three-quarters breaking ball into a true power curveball that one club official likened to Dwight Gooden’s.

Like most young pitchers with rocket arms, Cease needs to refine his changeup and use it more. Though he’s not very physical, he’s able to generate premium stuff with athleticism and arm speed rather than excessive effort in his delivery. The Cubs have helped him clean up his mechanics some and he should be able to repeat them efficiently enough to fill the strike zone.

Duane Underwood, age 22, expected 2018

Though he flashed a 98-mph fastball and overpowering curveball as a high school senior, Underwood fell to the second round of the 2012 Draft because he lacked consistency. He had only sporadic success in his first two pro seasons after signing for $1.05 million, but began to take off in 2014 after dedicating himself to improved conditioning. He sat out two months in 2015 with elbow inflammation and has been less sharp this season, when he missed time with forearm inflammation.

Underwood’s fastball is notable for both its 92-96 mph velocity and its late life, which makes it difficult to square up for hitters. Both his curveball and changeup show signs of becoming plus pitches but neither is fully reliable yet. Getting in better shape has helped his control, though his walk rate spiked when he got to Double-A in 2016.

Underwood doesn’t miss as many bats as his stuff indicates he should, demonstrating his need to get more consistent with his secondary pitches and his command. If he can do that, he’ll reach his ceiling as a No. 2 starter. If not, he might find more success as a late-inning reliever.

Oscar De La Cruz, age 21, expected 2018

De La Cruz originally tried out for teams as a 6-foot-4 shortstop in the Dominican Republic before signing with the Cubs as a pitcher for $85,000 in October 2012. He spent his first two pro seasons in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League before making a huge leap forward in 2015, performing so well in extended spring training that he skipped a level to the Short Season Northwest League. He got off to a late start in 2016 after coming down with a sore elbow during Spring Training.

The most physical pitcher in Chicago’s system, De La Cruz is bigger than his listed 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds and still has projection remaining. His present stuff already is enticing, starting with a 92-95 mph fastball that can reach 97 and plays up because of its movement, angle and plane. His curveball lacks consistency but features power and shows signs of becoming a plus offering.

De La Cruz’s changeup is less refined but he exhibits some feel for the pitch. He has good athleticism and body control for a big pitcher, allowing him to repeat his delivery and pound the strike zone.

Trevor Clifton, age 21, expected 2018

Though he was extremely raw as a Tennessee high schooler in 2013, Clifton still earned a $375,000 bonus in the 12th round because he had a live arm and projectable body. Minor League pitching coordinator Derek Johnson (now the Brewers’ pitching coach) and low Class A South Bend pitching coach Brian Lawrence helped him simplify his delivery and make the transition from thrower to pitcher, and Clifton made significant strides in 2015.

Clifton has gotten stronger since turning pro, adding about 40 pounds to his 6-foot-4 frame, and his quick arm delivers consistent 92-94 mph fastballs that have reached as high as 97. He’s doing a better job of staying on top of his curveball, which features tight spin and could become a plus pitch. His changeup has improved into at least an average offering that helps him keep left-handers at bay.

Clifton is still developing his control and command but is making steady progress in that regard. He has the upside of a mid-rotation starter with the fallback of becoming a power-armed reliever. He might operate in the mid 90s in shorter stints, and there may be more velocity in his tank.

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