Bartek Making Big Jump

Cubs pitching prospect Michael Bartek is finding out just how big of a jump it is from playing college ball in the Southland Conference to pro ball in the Midwest League at Class A Peoria.

Bartek, a fifth-year senior from Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, La., was signed by Cubs area scout Bob Rossi as a non-drafted free agent prior to this year's draft in late May. The right-hander was 2-11 with a 5.16 ERA in 17 appearances, including 13 starts, with the Colonels this past season.

After spending much of his college days as a starter, the 23-year-old is now in the bullpen. Through his first eight appearances, he had a modest 3.38 ERA in 16 innings.

A self-described groundball/sinker style pitcher, Bartek features a two-seam fastball (between 88-91 mph on most occasions), a changeup and a slider along with a seldom-used four-seamer in his repertoire.

During his final college season, he was able to establish both his slider and changeup as effective out-pitches, Nicholls head coach Chip Durham said.

"When he got to where he could throw those two pitches (slider and changeup) along with a 90-mile-an-hour fastball, it got to where hitters couldn't just sit on his fastball and hit him," noted Durham.

"He started to develop those off-speed pitches and when he did that, that's what gave him a chance to be an effective pitcher," Durham added.

Bartek spent the first two years of his tenure at Nicholls as both a pitcher and an outfielder. Following the spring of 2006 (Bartek's first season at Nicholls), Colonels coaches had him stick to his pitching guns only.

"They told me that they had recruited guys coming in that could swing the bat better than I could," said Bartek, who batted .231 in 26 games in '06.

"That was my main weakness: hitting. I struggled a lot with it. My defense, running balls down and throwing from the outfield was always pretty good, so they could always count on me to do that," Bartek said.

The returns are still early since the decision to abandon the outfield was made, but Bartek has enjoyed relatively modest success thus far at Peoria after making such a big jump in just his first stint with the Cubs.

After pitching in three games in the Arizona League, the Houston native said he was originally slated to go from Mesa to Boise.

Instead, he got the unexpected news that he would skip the Northwest League and head to Peoria.

Upon arriving in Mesa for the start of his pro career, the Cubs immediately went to work with Bartek on mechanics.

"When I was in the stretch, my shoulder was at an upward angle as I was going down the hill," Bartek explained. "What they had me do was kind of a modified slide stance, which would keep everything in line.

"Basically, what I was doing was drifting toward home," Bartek clarified. "That was causing me to leave my pitches up. (Now that) I stay back, I keep throwing more on a downhill level."

And since getting to Peoria, Bartek says he's learning a whole new perspective on the game at the professional level.

For one, the crowds are a lot bigger than in the Southland Conference.

"When I got moved from Phoenix to Peoria, I threw in front of 12 to 15,000 people," said Bartek, adding, "The wooden bats are always a plus throwing against. I can jam a guy and now he can't fist it through the infield like you can with aluminum bats. I usually break quite a few bats every time I go out.

"I'm learning about certain situations and what to throw in them, like what counts a runner is going to run in and things like that," he said.

Bartek added: "Knowing what guys are coming up in the lineup when you come in and what the starter has thrown to them in their previous at-bats, they (coaches) want us to pay attention to that."

Despite the jump, Bartek is keeping his goals within modest reach.

He wants to stick with the Chiefs through the remainder of this season and perform well enough to earn his way to Daytona some time in 2007.

"He's got a fresh arm and is a guy that hasn't pitched a lot," noted Durham. "He's got a lot to learn, and he's only going to get better because he's just now learning how to throw his slider and his changeup. I think his brighter days are in front of him, no doubt about it."

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