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With the addition of Addison Russell in the trade for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, all the talk around the Chicago Cubs is with their prospects, and for good reason. Russell, along with names like Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Javier Baez, Albert Almora, and Arismendy Alcantara (who is already making an impact in the big leagues) gives the Cubs some of the most high end prospects in the Minors. Naturally, with so many position players expected to be everyday Major Leaguers, the focus has started to shift a bit to what they will be able to put on the mound this year, and in the next few years.
The trade of Samardzija and Hammel has left the Cubs’ rotation a little thin. There is still the resurgent Jake Arrieta, a passable Travis Wood, and Edwin Jackson is signed for two more seasons after this one. There’s also Tsuyoshi Wada who could potentially be a back-end starter in a best-case scenario. Beyond those four guys, there really isn’t many starting arms that the Cubs can rely on right now. Rely having a very broad application here.
While Kyle Hendricks has appeared already for the Cubs, there is another who was on track to potentially be a September call-up before a shoulder injury forced him to miss over half the season (to this point).
The Texas Rangers drafted CJ Edwards in the 48th round of the 2011 coming out of high school in South Carolina. He debuted for Texas’ Rookie ball team in 2012, pitching 20 innings, before making his way Low-A, and an additional 47 innings. In his first professional season, Edwards struck out 85 batters in 67 innings, and walked 25. While the walks were a bit elevated, it was still nonetheless a pretty good first campaign.
Edwards started in A-ball in 2013, striking out 122 in his first 93.1 innings for the Hickory Crawdads (one of the best Minor League team names out there). He was then traded to the Cubs organization as part of the package that sent Matt Garza to Texas. Edwards finished the season in High-A for the Cubs, posting 33 strikeouts to seven walks in 23 innings.
Through Edwards’ first two minor league seasons, he pitched 183.1 innings, striking out 240, and walking 66. For a high school pitcher, he was coming along very nicely.
After starting off pretty strong in Double-A this year, posting 20 strikeouts in 20.2 innings with eight walks, a shoulder injury in late April derailed his season to this point. A tweet sent out by Edwards a few days ago would indicate that he’s going to be throwing off a mound in pretty short order, setting the stage for an early August comeback.
I would expect the Cubs to be extra cautious with Edwards and his rehab. Arodys Vizcaino is slowly making his way back to form after a Tommy John surgery and then a follow-up arthroscopic surgery. Those two procedures forced him to miss two full years of baseball. I don’t really consider Kyle Hendricks a prospect anymore now that he’s finally gotten to the MLB. Pierce Johnson is a former supplemental round pick from 2011 who is also making his way along with Edwards. For that reason, the Cubs may be a bit protective of Edwards, so we’ll see how many more innings he actually gets this year.
The strikeouts aren’t even the most impressive thing about the young righty.
Going over his numbers, I was curious as to why his ERA was consistently so low (about 1.72 through his first two seasons) while his walk rate was relatively high (3.24 BB/9 through his first two seasons). That usually doesn’t happen. Then there are the batting averages against – 0.92, .159, .182, .167 – through his first two years at each level. There is also the one home run – one home run – he allowed in his first two seasons. It appears Edwards is exceptional at inducing weak contact and keeping the ball off the barrel. That’s not a lucky run; that’s exceptional pitching.
As Nathaniel Stoltz pointed out about Edwards in his article for FanGraphs back in July of 2013, being such a lanky pitcher can lead to problems maintaining velocity. The best estimation now has him at 165 lbs, or pretty much my playing weight when I was 16 (Edwards turns 22 in September). Stoltz correctly points out that while Edwards can hit 95 on his fast ball early in games, that velocity can fade to consistently under 90 as the game wears on. That varied fastball is complemented by a hammer curve ball and a change that can be up to 10 MPH off of his fast ball. Having three pitches, while in development there are no reports that any of them will be below-average, is a positive for the young righty.
The frame is a big concern. Over the span of 2+ professional seasons, Edwards has managed just 41 starts and 204 innings. That he’s having shoulder problems after that kind of workload is a concern.
What isn’t a concern is Edwards’ ability to rack up the strikeouts and do so without getting crazily wild (like, say, Jimmy Nelson for Milwaukee). Had the shoulder injury not derailed him, it seemed a possibility he would get some work in September with the Cubs. If he has to come back and gets less than a month before the September call-ups start, I would say that’s doubtful.
This is the definition of a flier in every sense of the word. Maybe he throws his shoulder off his torso, maybe he turns into an all-star. At this point, with the shoulder injury, there’s no possible way to know what will become of his MLB career.
In that sense, he’s of no use to anyone in re-draft leagues for 2014. What those in deep keeper/dynasty leagues should do though is take a flier on him, much like Texas did in 2011. It’s that time of year where fantasy owners both in and out of contention are setting themselves up for a run this year or building for next year. For those building for 2015 and beyond, I would be asking for Edwards as a throw-in to add pitching depth. It shouldn’t cost much for a pitcher who has shoulder problems and four starts at Double-A. It’s the definition of a fantasy lottery ticket. He shouldn’t cost much and has a very uncertain future, but the potential payoff is huge.
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