Hoyer sets Cubs' goal: Add as much pitching as possible
President of baseball operations Jed Hoyer seems determined to turn the Cubs into a pitching factory.
In this year's draft, 16 of the 20 players selected were pitchers, and Hoyer picked up two more potential starters before the trade deadline.
"I think that's the goal, it has been the goal, to add as much pitching as we possibly can," Hoyer said. "Obviously, I think we have really good player development with pitching now. But also through volume is sometimes how we need to develop pitching."
Another interesting fact about Cubs pitching is since July 14, they've posted the second-best ERA in the majors at 2.58, trailing only the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Pitching continued to shine Saturday as the Cubs made it two in a row over the Cincinnati Reds, winning once in a cornfield, then at Great American Ballpark. Franmil Reyes, Ian Happ and Willson Contreras homered in the Cubs' 7-2 victory.
For Reyes, it was his first home run since joining the Cubs, an opposite-field 2-run shot that put them ahead in the fourth. Happ hit a 3-run blast in the seventh, which was his 16th career home run in 39 games at his college home of Cincinnati. Contreras added a solo shot in the ninth.
Starter Adrian Sampson worked out of some trouble, but couldn't finish the fifth inning, so Sean Newcomb earned the victory in relief. He came in with 2 runners on in the fifth and struck out three in a row.
"It was tricky," Sampson said. "Right from the get-go, they just put up some good at-bats, not swinging at some of the pitches I wanted them to swing at, and just grinding me out a little bit. It was a tough game for me."
Developing pitchers had been a long-term problem for the Cubs. Since Carlos Zambrano, they didn't have many successful starters they drafted or signed until Keegan Thompson and Justin Steele the past two years. Randy Wells, who went 27-30 from 2009-11, is probably the next best candidate.
"You look at every level, I think we have two or three guys that are really good prospects from a pitching standpoint," Hoyer said. "We need to keep doing that over and over and over.
"I look back on when we built up the first time and we had position players lined up like that in a lot of ways, but we never got to the point of having pitchers lined up at every level."
The Cubs pitching development seemed to take step forward when they hired Craig Breslow to be assistant general manager with a focus on pitching in 2019.
But a lot of promising pitchers don't succeed in the majors or run into injury problems. The top-rated pitcher in the organization, Caleb Kilian, had one good start and two bad ones when he was up in June.
Two recently acquired pitchers had their second starts for the Cubs over the weekend, and neither went particularly well. At Double A Tennessee, Ben Brown struggled with control Friday and gave up 6 earned runs in 3 innings against Mississippi. In Iowa on Saturday, Hayden Wesneski allowed 4 runs in 4 innings against Louisville.
Whether any of the prospects will be ready to join the rotation next year remains to be seen. Considering how things have gone lately, the Cubs might consider sticking with the status quo next year with Thompson, Steele, Sampson. Marcus Stroman, Drew Smyly and a healthier Kyle Hendricks.
Kilian has been the best starter at Iowa this season with a 3.49 ERA and 11 strikeouts per nine innings. After posting a 2.51 ERA in Tennessee, Javier Assad recently moved up to Iowa. Two lefties, Jordan Wicks and D.J. Herz, are still getting acclimated to Double A after dominating in South Bend.
The best starter statistically in the Cubs system is probably right-hander Luis Devers, who has an 11-3 record and 1.93 ERA between Myrtle Beach and South Bend.