Clearly the most significant development in the universe of Cubs’ prospects this week was the promotion of 2013 first round pick 3b Kris Bryant to AAA Iowa. Bryant’s meteoric ascent through the system takes some of the sting away from the spate of injuries that have sidelined several top prospects this season, including RF Jorge Soler and RHP’s C.J Edwards, Piece Johnson and Dillon Maples. While certainly not on par with the Bryant headlines, today we will feature a group of Cubs’ prospects who have drifted below the radar, three of whom are rebounding from injuries and all of whom could still factor into the Cubs’ rebuilding plans. Let’s get to work.
RHP Michael Jensen: Jensen, a 26th round selection in the 2011 draft, missed last season with an undisclosed injury. Jensen’s 2012 campaign for the Peoria Chiefs, the Cubs’ former affiliate in the A Midwest League, inspired confidence that he could become a viable prospect. In 26 games, all starts, Jensen, 23, pitched 140 innings and yielded just 117 hits and 40 walks, leading to an impressive WHIP of 1.121. He fanned 115 and produced an ERA of 3.47 and record of 11-5.
This season, Jensen is pitching in Advanced A Daytona’s bullpen. In 18 games covering 31 innings, he has allowed 32 hits and 13 walks and registered 30 strikeouts. His WHIP of 1.452, while mediocre, is offset by his outstanding ERA of 2.61. Impressively, in 175.2 career innings, Jensen has allowed just five home runs. Jensen’s arsenal includes a fastball in the low to mid 90’s (MPH), an exceptional curveball and an improving change-up.
RHP Dallas Beeler: Beeler, a 41st round pick in the 2010 draft, is a member of Iowa’s rotation in his first season at the AAA level. Tommy John elbow surgery in 2009 when playing collegiately for Oral Roberts University and a torn ligament in his middle finger last season that limited him to nine starts for AA Tennessee might have delayed Beeler’s matriculation through the Cubs’ system.
However, at just 25, he has ample time to establish himself as a veritable prospect. In those nine AA starts last season, Beeler tossed 56.2 innings and yielded just 43 hits and 17 walks while striking out 35. His WHIP of 1.008 and ERA of 3.13 were outstanding. He also had a sparkling ratio of 3.67 groundouts to fly ball outs.
In eight starts for Iowa thus far, Beeler, 25, has allowed 48 hits and 11 walks in 48.1 innings and fanned 35. While his WHIP of 1.241 is still above average, his ERA has spiked to 4.47. Beeler’s ERA is somewhat skewed by two starts in which he allowed 15 earned runs over 9.2 innings. Otherwise, he has been exceptional. The tall righty sports a fastball in the low to mid 90’s, a hard slider or cutter and a splitter that he uses as his changeup. Beeler, scouts opine, has to establish more separation between the velocity of his fastball and changeup.
Update: In last night’s Iowa victory, Beeler tossed six shutout innings, scattering three hits and two walks and fanning six.
RHP Tony Zych: A fourth round selection in the 2011 draft, Zych is spending his second season in Tennessee’s bullpen after a solid 2013 campaign. In 47 games covering 56.0 innings last year, Zych, 23, allowed 51 hits and 21 walks; fanned 40 and produced an ERA and WHIP of 3.05 and 1.286, respectively.
The start of Zych’s 2014 season was dreadful, and he has been battling back to respectability ever since. In 24 games covering 30.1 innings, Zych has allowed 47 hits and eight walks, spiking his WHIP to aunsightly 1.813. He has fanned just 16 and produced an ERA of 4.45
Zych has the profile to succeed in the major leagues. His fastball can reach the high 90’s, and he employs a hard, sweeping slider. However, the velocity of his pitches can fluctuate wildly because of an inconsistent delivery, which explains why he has not amassed more strikeouts. Nonetheless, if Zych pitches the next several weeks like he has since overcoming a terrible start, a late season promotion to Iowa could be in the cards for him.
RHP Josh Conway: Conway is a prospect about whom Cubs’ fans should be excited. A first or second round talent, Conway slid to the Cubs in the fourth round of the 2012 draft because he had just undergone Tommy John surgery and it was known that he would not pitch that season.
Then, in an Extended Spring Training game in Arizona last year, Conway slipped on a poorly-maintained pitching mound and fractured his throwing elbow. Finally healthy, Conway made his debut for the Boise Hawks of the short-season Northwest League on Tuesday evening. In three innings, he yielded four hits and no walks and fanned three
Prior to the injuries, Conway, still just 23, threw a fastball that fluctuated between the low and mid 90’s, a wicked slider, a curveball and a straight change. It remains to be seen whether Conway can recapture his full pitching arsenal now that he is healthy.
Blake Parker: Parker, 29, does not really qualify as a prospect after pitching the majority of last season for the Cubs. In a 66-win campaign, the feisty Parker was one of a few bright spots. In 46.1 innings, he yielded 39 hits and 15 walks while fanning 55. His ERA of 2.72 and WHIP of 1.165 were exceptional.
After a subpar Spring Training, Parker has pitched all but 2.2 innings for Iowa this season. In 18 games covering 17.2 innings, Parker has allowed 14 hits and only three walks while striking out 26. His WHIP and ERA are 1.019 and 1.53, respectively, and he has converted 13 saves. Parker’s fastball sits in the low 90’s and peaks at around 95 MPH. He also sports a slider and changeup. Based upon last season’s success, Parker deserves to be recalled by the Cubs if there is an opening in the bullpen or to at least rejoin the team when rosters expand in September.
Check back next week for more Cubs analysis.
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