Armando Rivero continues to open up eyes, and move himself closer to being called up to join the Chicago Cubs bullpen. He remains a nightmare to hit with hitters batting just .107 against him while he has nearly a 2 K per innings ratio with 16 of them in only 8.1 innings. He would make a most welcome power arm in a bullpen in need of them. He’s also saved 3 of the Smokies 9 victories on the season thus far.
The bullpen offers some good options aside from Rivero to keep an eye on. Hunter Cervenka a lefty who was acquired from the Red Sox along with Michael Bowden for Marlon Byrd is creating a buzz about him. Cervanka seems to have his command issues solved as he’s only allowed one walk in 6.1 innings with 9 K’s. He has good stuff with a fastball around 94 MPH, and cut fastball with a curve, and change. Large repertoire for a reliever. Lendy Castillo is another to keep an eye although for a different reason. It’s to see if he can live up to his promise and turn his fortunes around. He’s had an awful season largely due to a lack of command. But he still offers easy gas with a 96 MPH heater and should not be given up on so soon.
CJ Edwards continues to justify his lofty prospect rankings by churning out quality start after quality start, and making life miserable for hitters in the AA southern league with a .187 average against him. 20 K’s in 20.1 innings put him on pace for nearly a K per 9 innings. He earned his first victory on the season last night although he’s certainly deserved better.
The Smokies pitching staff has been as good as advertised. Edwards aside the starting staff is loaded with depth. Dae-Eun-Rhee, Ivan Pineyro, Cory Black offer a formidable staff in itself. Jake Arrieta has been dominant, and will pitch what is likely his last rehab start tonight before he takes over as the Cubs 5th starter, and pushes Carlos Villanueva to the pen strengthening both area’s of the team with those 2 moves. So far Matt Loosen has been the weak link, but still misses bats with a 7.90 K/9, but has also had a 9.22 BB/9 which needless to say won’t get it done. He needs to find his command to say the least. Even with his gaudy stats in the negative territory the Cubs staff is one of the hardest to hit in the southern league coming in second to Huntsville in team ERA at 2.98, and tied for first in K’s with Pensacola with 143 although Pensacola has recorded 7.1 fewer innings than the Smokies staff. Certainly very good news for the Cubs future. Considering the big league clubs poor start it’s a much needed pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
As for the position players it has been less spectacular with a few exceptions. Two guys that showed promise last season John Andreoli, and Rubi Silva have started out slow although in Andreoli’s case he does continue to show some patience at the plate with 7 BB’s and a .327 OBP. There are a couple surprises though. Probably the biggest one is the emergence of catching prospect Rafael Lopez. He has a slash line of .392/.439/.831 thus far. How long that will last is anyone’s guess, but nice to see so far. Especially at a position that’s been thin organizationally.
Justin Geiger is another guy who is showing promise. The first baseman is tied for the team lead in HR’s with top prospect Kris Bryant at 4 apiece. Geiger is not as big a surprise as Lopez as he had a pretty good year in 2013, but to see it continue is encouraging.
The aforementioned Bryant is of course no surprise as he continues to cement his status as one of the best right handed power hitting prospects in all of baseball. He’s hitting .294/.438/.608 with 4 HRs and 4 SBs in the first 16 games of the season, and is making a joke out of the southern league pitching. It’s notoriously known as a pitchers league which makes what he’s doing even more impressive. Bryant has been holding his own at the hot corner, and is an impressive athlete which may have his position switched to the OF to make room for him at Iowa as 3B prospect Christian Villanueva is currently starting there.