Thursday, April 15, 2010

Something wicked this way comes...What should the Cubs do with Andrew Cashner?

Andrew Cashner is just plain nasty.

Prior to this year, Cashner got some mixed reviews. Many thought he'd eventually land in the bullpen and, because of this, some considered him a very good, but not elite prospect. In 2 starts this year, though, Cashner is beginning to turn some heads.

At first glance, his numbers don't look so impressive: 1-0, 4.35 ERA after 2 starts. But those aren't the kind of numbers to look for to see if Cashner can carry over his success in the big leagues. A deeper look reveals these numbers in 2 starts covering 10 1/3 innings:

2 Walks
5 Hits
20 Strikeouts
10/1 K/BB ratio

His W/9 ratio is 1.74 - well above average and his k/9 ratio is 17.42 which is downright malevolent.

Oh..And did I mention he had a no-hitter going into the 7th inning his last time out?

Unless your name is Greg Maddux, a 10 to 1 strikeout ratio is likely unsustainable over a larger sample size but, even early on, it's an indicator that Cashner's stuff is simply overwhelming the competition. He showed flashes last year with a mid 90's fastball that was clocked as high as 98, an 81-85 mph slider which is the best in this organization per Baseball America, and a changeup that began to show signs of promise. In his first two starts this year, Cashner has put all 3 pitches together and is displaying the top of the rotation stuff the Cubs have been predicting all along.

Ahh but here's the rub: The big league team needs bullpen help, particularly from the right side after Caridad suddenly developed control issues and then a sore right forearm, while Jeff Gray showed better control, but quickly proved to be somewhat hittable. The temptation is to call up Cashner and fill that 8th inning void; where he and Marmol have the potential to cause nightmares for opposing hitters. But is it the right thing to do?

In a word. No.

Andrew Cashner is the Cubs best pitching prospect since the days of Mark Prior, Carlos Zambrano, and Angel Guzman. Fangraphs considers Cashner the best Cubs prospect (yes, even better than Starlin Castro)...but only under the assumption that he remains a starter. Frontline starters don't come along everyday and Cashner is showing he has a chance to be that type of pitcher. In order to do that, however, he needs to keep working on that 3rd pitch and maintaining the excellent command he's shown early on. As good as Cashner's fastball/slider combination is, he'll get lit up as a starter if he doesn't have a 3rd pitch and solid command. He needs to continue working on his changeup and working ahead in the count to keep hitters from gearing up for the hard stuff.

The Cubs shouldn't be tempted for the quick fix. Don't stall Cashner's development just to patch a hole in the bullpen. This is the Cubs prospect who has the chance to have the biggest long-term impact of all. If you leave him alone, he just may become that #1 starter we've been missing since Prior's meteoric rise and fall. If Cashner can't make it as a starter, you can always make him a reliever later as he already has the 2 dominant pitches needed for that role. But if the Cubs can resist the impulse to use Cashner in the major league bullpen and let him continue his development in the minors, they may just have something really special on their hands.

So, please, Mr. Hendry... I implore you. Don't give in to your wildest bullpen fantasies. Cashner may indeed make a nasty set-up man this year, but think how more wicked he could be at the top of your rotation in the years to come.

Update: Lou Piniella stated that while they are aware of Cashner's hot start, they have had no discussions about bringing him to Wrigley to this point.


  1. I don't think it necessarily hinders a young pitcher's development to move him into the bullpen on the big club. It allows him to gain major league experience without overtaxing his arm at too young of an age. It worked for pitchers like Johan Santana, who was primarily a reliever when he started out with the Twins. But if the Cubs want to do it they should do it now and then leave him in the bullpen the entire season. Where teams run into trouble is when they keep moving a young pitcher between the bullpen and the rotation in the same year or over multiple years (see Samardzija, Jeff).

    If the Cubs want to use Cashner in the bullpen this year I wouldn't have a problem with it as long as he's a starter for good next year. He can work on his 3rd pitch in side sessions with Rothschild during the season as well as in the offseason and spring training next year.

  2. Samardzija is the guy that makes me think the Cubs could still find a way to fudge this. I do like the idea of saving his arm in the bullpen for awhile but I think they can do the same thing by keeping him in the minors and monitoring his pitch count. Using the changeup on side sessions is one thing, but nothing beats having the opportunity and confidence to use it in real game situations, in my opinion.

    You're right, Santana is an example of someone who succeeded that way, as is Pedro Martinez. The Yankees are trying to do it with Phil Hughes this year. I'd like to know more about Santana but I do remember Pedro Martinez already had a fully developed starter's repertoire when they started him in the bullpen. Phil Hughes was the same way.

    When I think of Cashner, I think of guys like Samardzija and Joba Chamberlain who had limited repertoires and the bullpen seemed to limit their development.

    It's a tough call. I think the team is likely considering the pros and cons from both sides that aren't too different from what we're discussing.

    Personally, I'd feel much better if they just let him continue to develop in the minors and bring him up as a starter. For every Santana and Pedro you've got your Samardzija and Joba. Granted the latter two were mishandled, but there's no guarantee that the Cubs won't accidentally botch it with Cashner either. I'm sure it wasn't their intention to mess with Smardzija the way they did. One thing we know for sure, a decision is going to have to be made soon if Cashner keeps pitching this way.

  3. I have to concur Hans, I say the Cubs should let Cashner develop as a starter. We'll never know if Joba Chamberlain will ever develop a starter, the Yankees ( in this instance) messed up. The fear is that Hendry and Pinella, who are both at the end of their contracts will panic and rush Cashner up.

  4. Yeah, while Scott has a great point, we just differ in opinion. I just feel safer letting him develop in AA considering the Cubs history of handling prospects hasn't been good over the years. I also like the idea of letting Cashner dominate a league. The Cubs rarely leave prospects in leagues long enough to get a foothold. It always feels like as soon as they start to do well they get moved up again. I'd like to see them settle in somewhere and build some confidence that they can dominate opponents instead of just surviving the league. Though I will say that I briefly spoke with Cashner at the convention and I can tell you that confidence is not his problem!

  5. "It always feels like as soon as they start to do well they get moved up again. I'd like to see them settle in somewhere and build some confidence that they can dominate opponents instead of just surviving the league."

    That's a great point Hans. The Cubs do seem to move guys up too quickly. We've seen the effects of that with Patterson and Pie among others. That's why I was relieved Castro was sent to AA. He needs another full year in the minors, especially considering his low walk rate. He's just 21 so there's plenty of time for him to make an impact with the big club. Let's not rush him and potentially ruin a great prospect.

    As for Cashner, I think Hendry is on the same page with you. Lou might be another story if the Cubs continue to struggle with their bupplen.