PEORIA, Ariz. Listen to the scouts talking in the back of the press box, or follow it on Twitter, and you get a sense of the buzz building around Andrew Cashner, the velocity hitting 103, 104 mph.
A Padres insider downplayed those superhuman numbers, saying the radar gun is hot in Peoria, but also didnt dispute that Cashner is blowing away hitters with 100 mph heat.
Cashner doesnt get caught up in the hype. He hears things, but doesnt pay much attention to the triple digits, or feel the need to analyze it. Its almost as if hed rather pull the phone from his locker and show you a picture of the swamp buggy he designed for duck hunting trips.
The new administration at Clark and Addison determined that Cashner would max out as a reliever. Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod drafted and developed Anthony Rizzo with the Red Sox, and then made him a key prospect in the Adrian Gonzalez deal.
Cubs executives framed last Januarys trade as giving up a late-inning power arm to get their first baseman and clubhouse leader of the future. The Padres who visit HoHoKam Stadium on Monday made a different calculation and see Cashner as a potential rotation piece for 2013 and beyond.
Its not so much proving them wrong. Its just proving (it) to myself, Cashner said last week. Whatever sport you play, there is always going to be doubters and Im always trying to prove to myself that I can pitch here and I can start.
Cashner has notched 11 strikeouts and allowed one run in eight Cactus League innings. The 25-year-old right-hander picked up this spring where he left off last September one run in six appearances after a rotator cuff strain nearly wiped out his entire 2011 season.
When I came back, everyone was doubting that I was healthy, Cashner said. Every night I was going out there and giving everything I had and it was still: Are you healthy? Theyve never once asked me over here if Im healthy or not. I just kind of came in from Day 1 (and) they havent held me back at all.
Theyve let me be me and thats been the biggest thing.
Cashner grew up in Texas watching Kerry Wood and fair or not drew those comparisons from team officials and the Chicago media because of his background and build (6-foot-6, 200 pounds).
Cashner got hurt at a time when the organization was still somewhat sensitive after what Wood and Mark Prior went through, and fans certainly hadnt forgotten.
The overlooked part was that the Cubs rationalized selecting Cashner with the 19th overall pick in the 2008 draft, in part, because he was so fluid as the Texas Christian University closer, and was once athletic enough to be a high school shortstop.
San Diego manager Bud Black still sees many of those same qualities in Cashner. Black pitched 15 seasons in the big leagues, and was the pitching coach on the 2002 Angels team that won the World Series. The Padres also have a strong reputation for developing pitching talent.
He has three pitches that he throws for strikes, so I think the repertoire is there, Black said. Its a repeatable delivery, everything you look for (in a starter). Weve done a couple of things with his stride, just shortened it a touch, but its an athletic guy that has good body control, good coordination (and) the arm works easy. I definitely see a potential starter.
In the past, Cubs officials were split as to whether Cashner would develop as a starter or a closer (that too, Black said). But the Padres manager just wants Cashner to get acclimated to a new team after throwing only 10.2 innings in the big leagues last season.
There are some philosophical things that hes got to buy into that we believe in, Black said, (like) the down-and-away fastball. Some guys are so hell-bent on pitching in. (You) got to pitch in, both for effect and for strikes. But the foundation of pitching is locating the ball down and away. Because of his velocity, people have said: Hey, just throw in, they cant get around on it.
Cashner was blindsided by the trade, but he has nothing bad to say about the Cubs. Former teammates are some of his best friends, and he credits the coaching staff for teaching him how to pitch.
But Cashner will be happy in San Diego, a laid-back city that matches his personality. He knows theres no better place in baseball to pitch than Petco Park. He doesnt need a radar gun to realize that hes never felt this sharp or been this excited for a season to start.
Last year was the biggest year for me as far as learning the business side of baseball (and) growing as a player, Cashner said. (It) made me more mentally tough than anything, just everything that I went through and (how) everything went (for the team) as a whole. I feel like I got maybe a chip on my shoulder this year and Im more focused and more determined.
Im a big believer in everything happens for a reason. Well find out.