The past two drafts have been pitching heavy for the Cubs' front office selecting arms with 11 of the first 15 picks in both drafts. Seven from this year's class and four more from 2012 donned the Hawks uniform in 2013 helping lead Boise to the Northwest League finals. Throw in few more top prospects and Boise fans got a great look at the Cubs' future arms.
The Hawks finished in the middle of the pack (8 teams) in most team pitching categories, 6th with a team ERA of 3.58 and fifth with a 1.34 WHIP. They were third with 646 strikeouts in 662 IP and their 260 walks tied for third best in the league. Despite the team totals, Boise showed flashes of brilliance from some promising arms.
Here's a look at the Boise pitchers that put on a uniform during the short season, 27 in all. While several of these pitchers are likely to be promoted to Kane County, don't be surprised if some jump low A and start the year in Daytona.
After ending last season with a 5.37 ERA in 60 IP at Boise, James Pugliese (4-3) returned with a new delivery and was second in the NWL among qualifying starters with 2.32 ERA and fourth with a 1.08 WHIP. The 21-year-old tossed a team-high 62 innings before being promoted to Kane County, where he made three starts (0-2 7.71ERA). Northwest League hitters batted .231 against the right-hander with 6.8 K/9 and 1.7 BB/9. Pugliese kept the ball in the park this time around, allowing two homers after giving up eight long balls last year. The 6-foot-3 New Jersey native will likely start 2014 as part of the rotation in Kane County. Pugliese was named to the NWL mid-season all-star team.
Former first-round supplemental pick Paul Blackburn showed flashes of why the Cubs selected the California prep; starting the year with 15 shutout innings in three starts with 20 strikeouts and two walks. He was named NWL pitcher of the week for his performance. The right-hander struggled with his command the final 10 games of the regular season walking 27 in 31 innings. When the playoffs rolled around, Blackburn stepped it up with career highs in innings and strikeouts—fanning eight in a career best seven innings of two-hit ball in the first game of the divisional playoffs and then whiffed a career-high nine in five innings in game two of the finals, allowing a run on three hits and a walk. Blackburn was fourth on the team with 46 IP and finished with 13G, 2-3, 3.33 ERA, 41 H, 26 R, 17 ER, 28 BB, 38 K. He throws a fastball in the low 90s, mixing in a change-up and curve. Blackburn is headed to fall instructs and will start 2014 as part of the Kane County rotation.
Second-round pick Duane Underwood was second on the staff with 54.1 IP but many of those were painful lessons for the 19-year-old. He finished 3-4 with a 4.97 ERA, 1.64 WHIP and 4.5 BB/9. He allowed the most runs in the NWL and fanned six batters per nine. He did record his first pro win July 15 at Hillsboro allowing a run in 5.1 innings. The right-hander has a 93-95 mph fastball but needs to command the strike zone and pitch ahead in the count. Underwood will participate in fall instructs and should make an appearance at Kane County in 2014.
Dillon Maples' year started in extended spring training and after a stint in Kane County (0-2 8.31 ERA, 34 IP, 34 BB, 34 K) was sent to Boise. Maples improved his command under pitching coach Dave Rosario, and while it wasn't anything to tweet about, his walk rate did drop for 8.0 to 4.1/9. Maples made nine starts posting a 5-2 record and a 2.14 ERA. He logged 42 innings with 41 strikeouts and didn't allow a homer. He capped off the year with one of his best career outings, winning game one of the NWL finals against Vancouver. He pitched a career-high 6.1 shutout innings and matched his career-high with seven strikeouts. I saw Maples pitch for Kane County in his MWL debut and he was impressive. He has a good fastball in the mid 90s and knee buckling curve. It was his only start in the MWL where he didn't walk a hitter throwing five innings. Maples will get another shot at Kane County next spring.
Even though he only threw 29.1 innings, closer Tyler Bremer (27th round-2012) led the staff with 48 strikeouts to go along with a team-high seven saves. The former Baylor product finished with an 0-3 record and a 2.15 ERA with 11 walks and a BAA of .184. During an eight-game stretch, the 23-year-old recorded three saves in 7.2 shutout innings with 14 Ks and four hits. Bremer was named to the NWL all-star team and earned the save for the South squad.
Corbin Hoffner had a solid season for Boise and will be looking to move up to full season next year. The 6-foot-5 right-hander was impressive out of the pen, going 2-0 with a 1.74 ERA and a team-leading WHIP of 0.90. Just 20-years-old, the 2012 14th round pick had a six-game stretch of 16 innings of shutout ball with 14 K and 1 BB. His name doesn't come up when talking about the Cubs' top relief prospects but that may change soon. He should make the jump to Kane County but if he continues to have the same success he had at Boise, may be headed back to Daytona by year's end.
While a majority of the innings went to older arms in the system, seven pitchers from the 2013 draft class took the mound at Boise.
Second round pick Rob Zastryzny, the left-hander from the University of Missouri, made his pro debut July 7 working a scoreless inning with two strikeouts. Zastryzny had a 3.14 ERA in 8 appearances – seven starts with a line of 14.1 IP, 15 H, 5 ER, 4 BB, 16 K, .268 BAA. He was promoted to Kane County on Aug. 7 and made three relief appearances for the Cougars, earning his first pro win throwing three shutout innings against Burlington. He allowed one run in 9.2 IP in the MWL with 6K and 4BB. In his 24 innings this season, he had a 8:22 BB/K ratio with with a 2.25 ERA and a .264 BAA. The 21-year-old has the ability to add and subtract off a fastball that runs from 89-95 and has an above average change-up. He also throws a curve and slider. Likely to start 2014 in Kane County but could make the jump to Daytona.
Hard-throwing Tyler Skulina made his pro debut July 2 throwing 1.1 shutout innings in relief. The fourth-round pick appeared in eight games for the Hawks, not allowing a run in his first 10.1 frames. He earned an August promotion to Kane County but struggled with his command in the MWL. After walking three in 15 innings at Boise, Skulina issued six free passes in 9.2 innings for Kane County. The 22-year-old went 0-2 with a 9.31 ERA in MWL allowing 14 hits and a BAA of .341. The 6-foot-5 right-hander features a fastball in the mid-90s and will participate in the fall instructs. I saw Skulina pitch for Kane County in his first MWL start at Clinton and he struggled with his command in the first inning. Had an smooth motion and threw the ball hard with ease. I think Skulina will start 2014 in Kane County, and while his future may be in the bullpen, will get a chance for the rotation.
Fifth-round pick Trey Masek made his debut on June 29 working a scoreless inning against Eugene. Masek was sent to Mesa while the Hawks traveled to Canada in early July pitching two games in Arizona. He returned to the NWL earning his first career win on July 16 with two scoreless relief innings and three strikeouts. Finished the year with Boise 1-0 2.16 ERA, 16.2 IP, 11 H, 4 ER, 8 BB, 19 K. The 21-year-old right-hander features a fastball in the 93-94 range and a hard slider.
The Cubs selected Pepperdine product Scott Frazier, 21, in the sixth-round and the right-hander was the first 2013 draft class pitcher to debut in Boise, taking the mound on June 30. He pitched 14 games in relief, not allowing a run in 11 of them. He earned his first pro save on July 30 tossing 3.1 shutout innings. The 6-foot-7 California native finished his first pro season with a line of 1-2, 2.61 ERA, 20.2 IP, 14 H, 6 R, 10 BB, 19 K. His fastball clocked at 93-94 in one of his early appearances for Boise.
The highlight of Sam Wilson's first pro season may have been playing centerfield in the NWL league championships after Kevin Encarnacion was kicked out of game two in Vancouver. A two-way player at Lamar Community College, the left-hander was drafted as pitcher, making his pro debut on July 7 in the Arizona Rookie League. It was his only appearance for Mesa, getting promoted to Boise the following day and making his NWL debut on July 11. Wilson, 22, made 12 relief appearances going 3-1 with a 3.33 ERA and a .283 BAA. He fanned 25 in 24.1 innings with 13 walks. Wilson will participate in fall instructs.
Zack Godley, 23, may have turned in the best on field performance of any 2013 pick logging 25.2 innings with a 1.75 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP. The 10th round pick from Tennessee made his pro debut in Mesa and then appeared in 13 games for Boise, fanning 27 with five walks. Godley was also impressive in the playoffs earning the save with two innings of shutout ball in the the first game of the divisional series and got the final five outs of game one win of the finals. He will continue his transition to pro ball at fall instructs.
No pitcher drafted in 2013 earned more mound time than Michael Wagner, a 15th round pick from San Diego and former teammate of Kris Bryant. Wagner threw 28.2 innings, going 0-3 with a 4.38 ERA. Wagner, 21, recorded 22 strikeouts in 24.2 frames but had a WHIP of 1.62 with a BAA of .310. He took the loss in the deciding game of the finals against Vancouver, allowing two runs in 3.1 innings on three hits and walk.
Juan Paniagua's travels of 2013 finally landed him in Boise after being denied access to the states due to a visa problem. The 23-year-old signed a $1.5 million deal last summer with the Cubs, and after pitching in four games in the DSL, finally came stateside tossing three innings in Mesa before being assigned to Kane County. Paniagua (0-2 8.22 ERA) had no command in the MWL walking 12 in 7.2 innings in three starts. He still struggled with the strike zone in Boise with 12 BB in 14 IP and didn't miss many bats issuing 30 hits and a .423 BAA. The 6-foot-1, 195-pounder will be looking to reagin his delivery at fall instructs.
Jasvir Rakkar was second on the team in bullpen innings (37.2) as the Stony-Brook product went 4-1 with a 3.58 ERA in 20 games in his second season. He pitched well the final month of the season with a 1.98 ERA in 13.2 innings with 21 strikeouts and only two walks. The 22-year-old was a 26th round pick in the 2012 draft.
Michael Hamann, the Cubs 16th round pick last year from Toledo, pitched his way out of Boise after six games and 7.2 innings. The right-handed reliever didn't allow an earned run on four hits, a walk, nine punchouts, and three saves. The 22-year-old was promoted to Kane County (3-4 2.49 ERA, 21.2 IP, 4 SV, 17 K, 16 G).
Right-hander Loiger Padron joined the Hawks in July making 10 appearances with a 2-4 record and a 5.87 ERA. The 22-year-old Venezuelan walked 20 in 38.1 IP with a 7.5 K/9 in his fifth season of pro ball.
Carlos Martinez, 22, pitched 27.2 innings for Boise with 29 K and 14 BB, both rates lower than last season when he earned AZL post-season all-star honors. The 6-foot-4 Cuban didn't miss a lot of bats in his 18 games as the league hit .291 against him allowing two homers. He finished the year at 4-2 with a 6.51 ERA.
Trey Lang, a sixth-round pick in 2012, is still learning the art of pitching after only one season on the mound at junior college. The 6-foot-3 righty walked 12 in his first four starts at Boise and returned to Arizona after posting an 11.08 ERA. After 11 games and 13 innings in Mesa, (0-1 5.54 ERA) he returned to Boise for the final week of the season and the playoff run. The 21-year-old fanned five in two hitless innings in his return with one walk. Lang will participate in fall instructs.
Eduardo Orozco, 24, started 2013 in Kane County (3-3 4.87 ERA, 20.1 IP, 13 BB 17 K) but an injury sent him to the DL and he was eventually assigned to Boise to rehab. He never left, making 13 relief appearances with three saves. He fanned 22 in 14.1 innings with six walks and a BAA of.246. Orozco was a 22nd-round pick last year out of University of California-Riverside.
In his second pro season after signing a free agent contract, Matt Iannazzo, 23, pitched in 14 games for Boise, sandwiched between two stops in Kane County for the Pittsburgh grad. The left-hander joined Boise June 14 and fanned 18 in 14 IP with two walks, earning four saves.
20-year-old Ethan Elias, a 22nd round pick from Canada in 2011, pitched very well in his six games fanning 12 in 12.1 innings with a 2.13 ERA. He was sent to Mesa in mid-July making nine relief appearances and throwing 17.1 innings but didn't have the same success—5.71 ERA and a .325 BAA.
Jose Rosario finished his sixth year with the Cubs and he still hasn't pitched above low A. After recovering from an injury that ended his season in July last year, the 23-year-old started at Kane County but went 0-7 with a 7.38 ERA walking 42 batters in 64.2 innings. The right-hander made five starts in Boise going 2-1 with a 5.48 ERA and 9 BB in 23 frames. When I saw Rosario he showed a smooth delivery and good stuff but lacked command, pitching from behind against most hitters.
Orbandy Rodriguez, 24, pitched in five games for Boise (1-2 6.10 ERA) before being sent back to Mesa in July. After giving up 12 hits and eight runs in his first two outings (5.2 IP), he tossed five scoreless frames in his next three appearances before heading to Arizona. He pitched in 10 games in the AZL (3-1 1.26) with 22 K in 14.1 IP. He was in the D-Backs organization in the DSL from 2008-09 and was signed by Cubs as a free agent in Nov. of 2012.