Cubs’ prospects report: Blackburn, Underwood, Tseng, Vizcaino

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Last week, we featured several Chicago Cubs’ prospects who were excelling this season as they were promoted to higher levels within the Cubs’ system.  Today, we feature a handful of Cubs’ prospects who could boost the pitching staff in future years. Offseason rankings by most professional scouting services rate the Cubs’ minor league system as one of the best in professional baseball.

Let’s get to work.

RHP Paul Blackburn, a first round selection in the 2012 draft, is pitching at his third level in three seasons. He is now with the Kane County Cougars of the Class A Midwest League.  Blackburn, 20, made thirteen appearances, twelve starts, last season for the Boise Hawks of the short-season Northwest League.  He compiled a record of 2-3 with an ERA of 3.33 in 46.0 innings.  He yielded 41 hits (three home runs) and 29 walks, leading to a below average WHIP of 1.522.  Opposing batters averaged .241 against him.

blackburn

Through six starts this season, Blackburn is 3-1 with a 3.16 ERA covering 31.1 innings.  He has allowed 26 hits (two homers) and just six walks, leading to a significantly-reduced WHIP of 1.021.  He has fanned 23 and held opposing hitters to a .223 batting average.

Scouts laud the lanky Blackburn’s changeup and sinking 90-93 MPH fastball, predicting that it will induce a lot of groundballs.  They also believe his athleticism will allow him to complete his delivery repeatedly without deviation.

RHP Duane Underwood, 19, joined the Cubs as a second round selection in the 2012 draft.  He is also pitching for Kane County after struggling immensely his first two seasons for the Arizona Rookie League Cubs and Boise, respectively.  In 2012, Underwood made five starts and produced an ERA of 5.19 and a WHIP of 1.500 in 8.2 innings.  He allowed seven hits and six walks and struck out seven.

In 54.1 innings for Boise last season, Underwood’s ERA was 4.97 and WHIP 1.638.  He allowed 62 hits and 27 walks while fanning only 36.

duane underwood

Yet Underwood could be on the precipice of a breakthrough this season for Kane County.  In four starts, Underwood has tossed 16.2 innings, his ERA down to 3.26 and WHIP to 1.246.  He has yielded 13 hits and eight walks while striking out 15.  Opposing batters are averaging just .213 against him.

At the time he was drafted, Underwood was praised for having a fastball that could reach the mid 90’s, a solid curveball and an above-average changeup.  At just 19, time is on his side to continue honing his skills.

RHP Jen-Ho Tseng, 19, was ranked the 29th best International prospect last summer when the Cubs inked him to a $1.625 million signing bonus.  He is pitching for Kane County in his first year in the Cubs’ system.  In five game, all starts, Tseng has produced a 3-0 record and a 2.73 ERA covering 26.1 innings.  While he has yielded 30 hits (no home runs), he has walked only five batters and fanned 30.  His WHIP is a respectable 1.329.  On the downside, opposing hitters are averaging .294 against him.

tseng

Tseng is armed with a fastball between 92-95 MPH, an above-average curveball and his best pitch, a straight-changeup that, at 81-82 MPH, “drops off the table”, according to scouts.

RHP Arodys Vizcaino, 23, is pitching for Advanced A Daytona of the Florida State League after missing the last two seasons because of injury.  In 2012, the Cubs acquired the flamethrower whose fastball can exceed 100 MPH from the Atlanta Braves for LHP Paul Maholm and OF Reed Johnson.  At the time of the trade, Vizcaino was recovering from Tommy John surgery on his throwing arm and the Cubs were aware that he would miss the remainder of the 2012 season.  However, a second injury and subsequent surgery to his throwing arm while rehabilitating last season cost him the 2013 campaign as well.

vizcaino

The Cubs are taking a cautious approach with Vizcaino with the expectation that he will join their bullpen at some point during the season.  They are using him sparingly and in only one inning stints thus far.  He has dominated within these parameters.

In nine games covering the same number of innings, Vizcaino has allowed six hits (zero home runs) and four walks while fanning ten.  His ERA and WHIP are an identical 1.00, and opposing hitters are averaging just .194 against Vizcaino.

The Braves were dabbling with Vizcaino as a starting pitcher because he had two outstanding pitches, a curveball and changeup, in addition to the blazing fastball, but given his injury history and the Cubs’ desire for power arms in their bullpen, it appears that the hard thrower is ticketed for the Cubs’ relief corps if he can remain healthy and continue to dominate minor league hitters.

Check back next week as we continue our weekly features of Cubs’ prospects.

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