Stevens Could Be a Wild-card

The trade of second baseman Mark DeRosa to the Cleveland Indians in December netted the Chicago Cubs three of the Tribe's top pitching prospects. One of them, right-hander Jeff Stevens, could make the Cubs' bullpen situation a bit more intriguing with an effective showing this spring.

The Cubs moved DeRosa on Dec. 31 and in the process slashed $5.5 million off their 2009 payroll. In exchange for DeRosa, Chicago received Stevens and minor league pitchers John Gaub and Chris Archer.

Stevens, 25, was a sixth-round pick in the 2005 draft by the Cincinnati Reds. He was traded to the Indians as a player to be named for INF Brandon Phillips in 2006.

A season ago, Stevens combined to make 36 appearances, logging 58-1/3 innings between Cleveland's Class AA (Akron) and AAA (Buffalo) teams. He combined to go 5-4 with a 3.24 ERA and held opposing hitters to a .184 batting average against. He combined for 81 strikeouts and 27 walks.

For his career, Stevens has a 3.52 ERA in 312 innings and a three-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio. His accolades include appearances with Team USA, which won the Baseball World Cup in 2007, and the 2008 US Olympic Baseball team.

Tim Wilken, the Cubs' Director of Amateur and Professional Scouting, says there are a litany of things the club has liked about Stevens over the years.

"We'd had 10 reports on Stevens since he signed, and I'd seen him as an amateur at Loyola-Marymount (when) I was with Tampa," said Wilken. "(Area scout) Stan Zielinski had seen him last summer at Akron. His fastball is a pretty big fastball, anywhere from 91 to 95 (mph) with some power to his curveball."

Wilken describes Stevens as a hard-thrower that doesn't offer opposing hitters very many looks.

"The last three stops he's been, they've hit .150 (Advanced Class-A Kinston, '07), .188 (Akron, '08), and .181 (Buffalo, '08) off him, so clubs have not seen this guy well," said Wilken.

"That seemed to be … it at least smelled like a setup, seventh, eighth-inning guy if not better somewhere down the road, especially with the power to his curveball."

He added that Stevens is primarily a two-pitch pitcher.

"In the last two years, we've seen semblance, a fiddling around with the changeup but not a lot," Wilken said. "It's been basically fastball, curveball. At times, he seems to dabble in a pitch that you might want to call a slurve-slider, but the curveball is his pitch and he's got power to it. Whereas I think he had more of a slurve-slider before, he's kind of tightened it up and throws it pretty hard velocity-wise.

"It's anywhere from 82 to 86 (mph), and a lot of people say, ‘Well, that can't be a curveball.' Yeah, it can, but some people, even though it's got a curveball break, will refuse to call it one because of the hardness of the velocity. Stan, who is a pretty good scout and pretty good on pitchers, really loved the break of his curveball."

Stevens has not always been a reliever. Originally a starter in the Reds' system, the Indians moved him to the bullpen in 2007.

It was after Stevens changed roles that he began to take off, said Chuck Murr, an Indians beat writer for Indians Ink magazine.

"I think it was just a matter of a guy with a good fastball and an aggressive nature being able to utilize his ability in a short burst rather than over seven innings," said Murr.

For Cleveland's part, Tribe coaches thought highly of Stevens.

In a story published in Indians Ink magazine last October, former big league pitcher Scott Radinsky, who was Stevens' pitching coach a season ago at Buffalo, said:

"He's going to be a major league pitcher and he's going to be a good one."

Entering spring camp this week, the Cubs' bullpen picture is a bit unresolved, in part because a few bullpen arms from a season ago figure to be competing for a back-end spot in the rotation, and because the club parted ways with three relievers (Bob Howry, Kerry Wood, Michael Wuertz) in the offseason.

The Cubs obtained right-hander Aaron Heilman from Seattle last month, and he and left-hander Sean Marshall and right-handers Chad Gaudin and Jeff Samardzija figure to battle for the No. 5 job. Whoever loses out will likely be relegated to the 'pen.

Additionally, right-hander Luis Vizcaino, whom the Cubs acquired from Colorado for Jason Marquis, and lefty Neal Cotts will serve in the middle to late innings. Right-handers Carlos Marmol and Kevin Gregg will battle for the closer's role.

But that could still leave a spot open in the bullpen, and Wilken said he believes Stevens has an honest chance to make the club out of spring training.

"If not, he's not far off," said Wilken.

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