Archer Could Become Star for Cubs

When the Chicago Cubs traded second baseman Mark DeRosa to the Cleveland Indians on the final day of 2008, their phones reportedly lit up immediately.

Chicago dealt DeRosa for three of the Tribe's top pitching prospects – minor league left-hander John Gaub and right-handers Jeff Stevens and Chris Archer.

But it was the acquisition of Archer that prompted phone calls from four clubs who offered congratulatory messages to Chicago Scouting Director Tim Wilken.

"They thought this was the whole key to the deal, Chris Archer," says Wilken.

The Cubs hope Archer doesn't disappoint.

A fifth-round Indians pick in the 2006 draft from Clayton (N.C.) High School, Archer is coming off his third season in the minor leagues. He spent 2008 in the Class-A South Atlantic League with the Lake County Captains and was 4-8 with a 4.27 ERA in a career-high 115 1/3 innings. He struck out 106 batters and walked 84.

At age 19, he was the youngest player on Lake County's roster, though both Wilken and Captains manager Aaron Holbert said Archer showed maturity throughout the season.

And though walks have been a part of Archer's game, that didn't deter his prospect status with the Tribe.

"He's got some of the best stuff in the system," Indians Farm Director Ross Atkins told Indians Ink magazine prior to the start of 2008.

"His delivery is just not as consistent as it needs to be," added Atkins.

But the Cubs believe Archer may have hit on something last season. Wilken noted that Archer's control improved in the second half with Lake County and that he started to become more aggressive.

Chicago scouted Archer twice in 2008, first at the beginning of May and then at the end of July. Before the All-Star break, Archer had issued 50 free passes to 46 strikeouts in 54-plus innings. Afterward, he combined for 60 strikeouts to 34 walks in 61 innings.

"More velocity was there, and more strikes," said Wilken.

Archer's command issues have been the result of erratic mechanics, said Chuck Murr, a beat writer for Indians Ink.

"(Mechanics is) an all-encompassing word that takes in a lot of movements in a pitcher's delivery," said Murr. "Just one slight thing could lead to being too quick to the plate, or result in a pitcher holding on to the ball for just a split-second too long.

"The Indians started out working on a seemingly innocent movement and Archer did get positive results. They worked on the way he took the ball out of his glove when starting his delivery. He didn't always transfer it the same way. If he was just a hair too late in doing so, he would try to compensate by rushing his motion somewhere else down the line to get back in sync.

"At other times, they worked on his release point. Turning the ball loose a split-second too soon can cause a breaking ball to spin, but not get downward movement. Holding on to it just a tad too long causes it to skid into the dirt in front of the plate."

Wilken described Archer, who is listed as 6-foot-3, 180 pounds, as an athletic pitcher that does the little things well. He features a fastball that Cubs scouts Mark Servais and Stan Zielinski clocked anywhere from 89 to 95 mph, and a downer curve that registered at 79 to 82 mph.

Archer has also dabbled in a changeup that could become a plus pitch in the future.

"He looks like a projectable guy with pretty good upside," said Wilken. "There were some clubs telling us—evidently, they must have seen what we saw. In the three month period (between when Chicago scouted him) … I think you'll see that there was pretty good progression during that time."

Do the Cubs agree that Archer is the centerpiece of the DeRosa trade?

"I know Stevens is more (major league) ready now, but Archer's got a chance to be a starter," said Wilken. "I'm not saying Stevens can't be, but he's kind of been geared into relieving. We got three pretty nice arms (in the trade) and you'd better, because Mark DeRosa's a pretty darn good player."

The trade of DeRosa, which cleared $5.5 million off the Cubs' 2009 payroll, might also have been a way of restocking Chicago's farm system, viewed in some circles as being in a state of decline.

"There's an art to knowing when a guy is at full value. There's also an art to being able to get full value for that guy," Wilken said of the trade. "Hopefully we're right in this situation. Some other things came up and kind of got parlayed into this with the signing of Aaron Myles, Joey Gathright and Milton Bradley, and all those pieces kind of came together."

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