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:
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.