This week, the Sonogram looks at lefty relievers in the system. It won't be a terribly in-depth look, as most lefty relievers in any system are largely similar. Fastballs mid-80's to low-90's with perhaps one other viable option. Why are so many like that? If they threw harder, or had better secondaries, they'd be starters. Among the reasons that the 'there are no shortcuts' meme is used so maddeningly often is that it's so frustratingly true. Teams that develop their own (regardless the position) don't have to buy it or trade for it. How are the Cubs doing with lefty relievers?
This will be an admittedly cursory and low-tech look. I could expand the size of the net, but with minor league pitching, the standard will normally be the same. Survive and advance. As there are four full-season league affiliates, the premise is, do well in Kane County, move on to Daytona, then Tennessee, Iowa, then Chicago. There isn't any interest in 'impeding progress', but each level provides its own challenges. And the hitters generally get better.
I wish I could accurately compare the guys 'now' to 'back then' but my accuracy data bank is rather short. For instance, I never even listened to (or saw) one outing with Donnie Veal in the Cubs system. He was as hard of a thrower (for a lefty reliever) that I remember hearing about recently. He was wild, though. Going back the few years I can, the pitching now (starters or relievers, lefties or righties) is on a general uptick.
Gerardo Concepcion, 6-2 ,180, born 3/1992. A big-money Cuban import, he has struggled to stay healthy and get hitters out. Not the one-two you want.
Nathan Dorris, 6-3, 185, born 12/1990. He is among the relievers Kane County goes to in 'holding the lead' situations. Which is where you want to be.
Andrew McKirahan, 6-2, 195, born 2/1990. Among the 'pitching surgery survivors club', McKirahan has advanced rather well for a 21st-round selection, and is styling a 1.59 ERA early on.
Hunter Cervenka, 6-1, 215, born 1/1990. Cervenka might be the best lefty in the lot. He has struggled with wildness on occasion, but has surprised to advance this far.
Austin Kirk, 6-1, 200, born 5/1990. Drafted by the Cubs out of high school, he pitched a no-hitter while with Kane County. Probably a lefty specialist if he gets that far.
Jeff Lorick, 6-0, 205, born 12/1987. Acquired in the Derrek Lee trade, he is an example why it's nice to get a lefty reliever in a trade. Making it to Double-A is a large part of getting that cup of coffee.
Jeff Antigua, 6-1, 205, born 6/1990. Antigua was the starter in the first game I went to in Kane County. He has matured since then, after being sent (briefly) back to extended spring training. He features a "Bugs Bunny" change-up.
There you have it. None are specifically hard throwers. None are cinches to make the majors. With relievers, you can never tell.
I left Jonathan Sanchez (Iowa) off the list. Also, I left off starters, who could well become relievers later. You really can't tell who will go Zac Rosscup (survive until and beyond Triple-A) and who will fizzle. You can claim to know these things, but really, you'd be guessing. It's survive and advance. Or get released. The Cubs lefty relievers tend to have better control/command than ones in the recent past. Though I will admit I enjoyed watching Sheldon McDonald throw 86 miles per hour fastballs by Midwest League hitters, I don't begrudge anyone for his departure.
Survive and advance. With hopefully some development and refinement along the way.
Three Up/Three Down
Javier Baez, shortstop, Iowa. Baez is hitting .146 since April 22. He has 17 strikeouts in 41 at bats.
Zeke DeVoss, outfield, Tennessee. DeVoss is 2-for-30 since April 22. That's a very cool .067 with a .243 OPS.
Albert Almora, center field, Daytona. He has 9-for-42 with an OPS of .484 since April 19.
Alberto Cabrera, righthanded reliever. Cabrera seems to want another chance in the bullpen. In his last five outings, which include a bit over seven innings, he's given up two hits and a walk with eight strikeouts. He hasn't given up any runs in the stretch.
Hunter Cervenka, lefthanded reliever, Tennessee. The PTBNL for Marlon Byrd has pitched just over 14 innings in Double-A this year. He has surrendered seven hits and two runs, while striking out 16.
Jordan Hankins, catcher/third baseman, Kane County. Since April 23, Hankins is hitting .412 with four walks and two strikeouts.
Jen-Ho Tseng, righthanded starter, Kane County. Tseng is 3-0. "But, but, but, wins and losses don't matter for a pitcher." Except, his team has won four of his five starts. That's awfully impressive if you're evaluating a starting left fielder or a back-up catcher. As it goes, he's striking out over a batter an inning in Low-A ball, and doesn't turn 20 until October. I'll take it, since this is his first year in the country.
Felix Pena, righthanded starter, Daytona. Pena hit the Cubs prospect radar by making a seven inning start for Boise two Septembers ago. In a win or go home game, he led the team to the finals. His experience in Kane County last year was less-than-hoped, despite being chosen as an All-Star. This year, he may have been the system's best pitcher. In six starts, his WHIP is 0.91. If he keeps this up, he may hit Tennessee before the summer rainy season begins.