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Cubs Prospect Perspective: Alexander Vizcaino

There’s a lesson to be learned here about tracking pitchers.

Alexander Vizcaino pitches for the Tampa Tarpons in 2019
Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Sometimes, as I write these, the allegories write the articles. I know what I want to talk about, and who I want to talk about, and they align quite closely. The clasp to combine them can be as pliable as the twist piece on the end of a loaf of bread. Other times, the similarity is less obvious. Or the better comp has already had an article. I opt to need a different level of twist tie. As is the case today. Whether my topic needs discussion or not is debatable; but I think it ought to be discussed. Such is the case with today’s topic: Alexander Vizcaino.

I’ve been listening to quite a few games on You Tube recently, often in the 1967-1972 range. For those of you who miss 2 hour, 23 minute games, I encourage it. Hitters didn’t step out after every pitch to readjust their batting gloves. They often had no battle armor, outside of a helmet. “Hit the first hittable pitch” was the default. Announcers talked about batting averages and RBIs because they were what was talked about. Listen to a game from then, literally any one, and you might learn something.

I’ve listened to quite a few Yankees games in the 1967-1969 era. They weren’t a good team, but the twilight Mickey Mantle years give a tale of players late in their careers. Advertisement are hilarious, as announcers shill for smoking products and automobile manufacturers plug “special features” like radios and seat belts. It’s either a different world, or a trip well back in time in this world.

In one of the Cubs games I listened to, I was jarred by a “gamble” the Cubs made. While free agency was years away in 1970, calling up players “too soon” was still a gamble. While arbitration was still over half a decade away, option seasons played then as they do now. If a player was hurried to MLB, a clock still existed, his options clock. And, yes. I saw some of you roll your eyes at that.

In 1969, the Cubs selected Larry Gura out of Arizona State. A lefty, he’d won 19 games in his draft year. As a collegiate, he’d been the goods. If you have a history of the Cubs from 1969-1973 down, the Cubs were close, but not close enough in all five of those years, to winnng the division.

Alexander Vizcaino, righthanded pitcher

Born May 22, 1997. San Cristobal, Dominican Republic
Signed internationally by the New York Yankees for the 2016 season.
Acquired by the Cubs in the Anthony Rizzo trade.

After writing to the preceding paragraph, I shut down for the night. Before resuming, I came up with the key point for the rest of the article. Whether you like the rest of the article or not,this article is about “tracking” pitchers.

“The Cubs should fast-track their first rounder from July, Jordan Wicks.” is a popular term.

What in the (game-thread word) does that even mean? Wicks is being tracked as a starting pitcher. When he’s better than South Bend, he’ll go to Tennessee. When he’s better than Tennessee, he’ll go to Iowa. It would be useful to get Wicks to interact with Kyle Hendricks, but if the lockout lasts until Wicks is starting in South Bend, is there any real benefit in having Wicks (who already has an article in this series) in Mesa for MLB spring training? Would that be fast-tracking Wicks? Or slow-tracking him?

When the Yankees signed Vizcaino, he was tracked as a starting pitcher. Not fast-tracked or slow-tracked. He pitched in 11 Dominican League games, with six as a starting pitcher. He won no games in the DSL. In 2017, promoted to the Gulf Coast League, he pitched in 12 games, with 11 as a starting pitcher. Was that fast-tracking him or slow tracking him? He signed for a $14,000 bonus, which puts him in the “afterthought” range. Once deemed a starter, the goal for Vizcaino was to teach him to be effective with his entire repertoire of pitches, not lose heavy amounts of stress tablets over he was on a faster or slower “track” than anyone else. A starting pitcher ought to get good at throwing three pitches (at least) well enough to remain a starting pitcher. Once the “three-pitch arsenal” thing goes away, he ceases to be a starting pitching candidate. And, ironically, as a relief pitcher, has a much quicker tracking than any starting pitcher does.

The above link told me Vizcaino was at the Yankees alternate site in 2020. This was reserved for the more-elite prospects, whether on the 40-man roster or not. Per Arizona Phil, who remains my default, Vizcaino has two or three option seasons remaining. As he isn’t clearly ready for MLB, that likely made him “more easy to part with” for the Yankees, who will be competing in 2022 for a playoff spot, and figure to do the same in 2023 and 2024, as well. Vizcaino served as “talented clutter,” a term I coined 35 seconds ago. Worth a roster spot, Vizcaino made sense as a 40-man roster spot swap for Rizzo, along with the highly respected Kevin Alcantara.

Look for Vizcaino to head to Tennessee as soon as permitted under the CBA, to get in innings against appropriate pro hitters to develop his game. While the Cubs likely consider him a reliever longer-term, they almost certainly want to “track” him as a starting arm. Which would get him a second spin around opposing lineups every five or six days in his appearances. I have no divining rod as to how he will do, but if he’s tossing on a certain night, I’ll be monitoring it.

Back to Larry Gura: The Cubs used Gura, after he won 19 games in college in 1969, for 140 more innings in the minor league that season. It’s amazing his left arm still worked. It’s how teams often did things. Fast tracks, and all. After starting 14 games in Triple-A in 1969, he started 10 more in there 1970, around being called up to Chicago, where he was primarily used as a reliever. Which started his options clock. He was adequate in 1970, but slumped as a reliever in 1971, 1972, and by 1973, he was at the “now or never point.” Because the Cubs were impatient. Had they let him crush Triple-A before yo-yoing him like a player like Michael Rucker is nowadays, he might have been a useful starter for the Cubs, as he became for the Royals. Instead of being “forced traded” (a la Vizcaino to the Cubs) for Mike Paul.

Listening to a Cubs game on You Tube from 1970 (I can’t remember which one), I heard a rival announcer talking about Gura being called up on a bit of a test-run. That was what sent me down this track. If you like to learn about how baseball was presented 50 years ago, listen to games from the 1970s. Some of us old farts like baseball presented that way. Perhaps despite the lack of advanced statistics, or perhaps because of that. While I think teams probably blanch at how pitchers were misused back then, many teams now are looking for newer uses of pitchers than many fans are comfortable with. Change can be hard, but I think the Cubs because they thought they had most of “it” figured out in 2015 and 2016, it harmed them in 2017 and heading into 2018.

Change is hard. For most people or organizations. Here’s to the Cubs finding a proper role for Vizcaino, and a proper flight path to get him there. Regardless of the revolutions per minute on said tracking.