Ryan Jensen – Pic by Todd Johnson
Today’s question comes from longtime reader Jimmy@jimmynewdc :
A starting pitching question regarding the Cubs. Taking away Steele, Abbott, and maybe Thompson, what non roster starter do you see maybe coming up in ’22 to become part of the staff? Or if none next year, then who maybe could be called up in ’23.
For 2022, Caleb Kilian has to be at the top of the list. The right-hander the Cubs acquired in the Kris Bryant trade dominated the last four weeks of the Arizona Fall League as well as the league championship game as he threw six perfect innings. His willingness to adapt and change has taken him to a whole other level when it comes to Cub pitchers. He still needs some more experience as he’s only thrown 78 innings at Double-A. I’d like to see him go another 40 innings there before he goes to Iowa. Then again, the Arizona Fall League experience could have been those 40 innings needed to get him to Triple-A.
The next name is coming out of left field because he did not have a very good first half of the season. In fact, Matt Swarmer was terrible at Triple-A from May through June. But something began to click in the second half. Swarmer had ERAs of 3.32 and 3.14 in July and August as he was Iowa’s best pitcher at that time. I think most people in the Cubs blogosphere sort of missed that. And if he can get off to that kind of start next year, it’ll be interesting to see what the Cubs do. He’s got a little bit more velocity than Alec Mills and he’s got a nice curve and a nice change. The key for him is keeping that fastball somewhere around 93 to 95. I’m sure several people have written him off, there is still time for him to show what he can do.
For Ryan Jensen, he had a strange year in 2021. It was pretty inconsistent the first month of the season and then the Cubs began changing what he threw in June. They did this on the fly and he looked awful at times. However, by July, he was the Cubs Pitcher of the Month and he made his way to Tennessee in early August where he did not skip a beat as he had a 3.00 ERA in four starts as he struck out 15 in 18 innings. In the Arizona Fall League, Jensen went there to work on the slider and that’s all he worked on. It’s estimated he threw it close to 50% of the time and it got hit about 50% of the time. It’s still a work in progress. We’ll see what he does with it this spring and how many innings he gets with the big league club in spring training. He should be at Double-A to start the year and probably get a bump to Triple-A in the middle of the year.
Cam Sanders is a bit of a wild card here. I tend to think the Cubs could move him to a relief role to get him to Chicago a little bit quicker as his stuff is going to play up coming out of the pen. I don’t know if you want to see a guy throwing 98 to 99 with nasty breaking stuff in short stints, but I do. The Cubs, if they so choose, could stretch him out in Chicago depending upon the team’s success. Sanders has some nasty stuff that is needed to succeed at the major league level. It’s just a matter of commanding it and controlling it. Once he does that and gets locked in, just get him a ticket to Chicago as fast as you can.
When 2023 comes, it could be an interesting year for starting pitching as the Cubs could have several guys who could make it to Wrigley at some point in the season. It doesn’t matter if it’s June or September, there’s a good chance they could be there. In order for them to do that, they are going to have to dominate this year and next at South Bend and Tennessee.
Several arms who are close include DJ Herz, Jordan Wicks, Max Bain, and Chris Clarke. Who knows what’s gonna happen with Kohl Franklin and Jack Patterson as well as Riley Thompson. We could even see Daniel Palencia pop along with Drew Gray. Basically, two seasons of development is a lot of time for a pitcher. And who knows who the Cubs will take at number 7 this summer in the draft. If they get an ace like Kumar Rocker, Landon Sims, or Peyton Pallete, they could be ready in little over a year. Almost anything goes.
You never know.
So much more pitching depth than in the 2012-2014 run-up to the championship.
You mention Kumar Rocker at the end of your article. I am certainly intrigued! Do you really think the Cubs have him on their radar for #7? He’s certainly had success at a big time NCAA program. He’s got the size and stuff to be a top of rotation starter. Is his arm healthy? I think that’s the only question. Me, I’d put him in the top 5 candidates for #7 right now.
Rocker is probably one of the many pitchers they have their eye on a dead spot. I am sure the Cubs will do their due diligence when it comes to his medical reports There is still a lot of time left for other arms to get in the mix.