Cubs

Is Carl Edwards, Jr. back to being a late-inning option?

cj_edwards.jpg
USA TODAY

Is Carl Edwards, Jr. back to being a late-inning option?

The Cubs are on top of the NL Central just over a month after coming into their first Wrigley homestand with a 2-7 record. A key part of that turnaround has been the pitching, both in the rotation and in the bullpen. But, if the Cubs have a glaring weakness, it's the reliever corps that is currently missing Brandon Morrow and Pedro Strop, leaving manager Joe Maddon to fill in the high-leverage 8th and 9th innings with a rotating cast.

A few years ago, however, Carl Edwards, Jr. looked like he was on a path to being a late-inning reliever or even a closer. That has not come to fruition yet, and early this season Edwards was back in Triple-A after a disastrous start to the year brought on in part by a change in his delivery that the league ruled illegal after the season had started. Edwards went down to Triple-A Iowa on April 6 and was recalled a month later after holding Pacific Coast League batters to a .107 average in 8 1/3 innings with the Iowa Cubs.

And so far, the results on his return to the majors have been promising.

"I’m seeing his delivery being back to what it had been, more repeatable. He’s not worried about trying to be so deceptive," Maddon said Sunday. "He’s being a little bit more natural, just being Carl. Not trying to do all those little different histrionic things with his foot."

Since coming back to the Cubs, Edwards has made three appearances, pitching an inning each, and he has yet to give up a run. Even more encouraging might be that he has struck out four batters and walked none. And he hasn't given up a hit either. 

Most recently, Edwards took the ball for the 8th inning Saturday against the Brewers while the game was still tied, 1-1. He was the first reliever out of the bullpen, set to face Travis Shaw, Ben Gamel, and Orlando Arcia. Edwards struck out Shaw and Gamel, but he said afterwards that that wasn't necessarily his plan.

"Honestly, I told the guys after that inning that when I came in was I was just trying to get them out of that as quick as possible," Edwards said. "So I went 3-1 on the first guy, and I just told myself, 'Hey, let this guy put it in play.'"

Edwards said his approach was to try to get a pop-up or a ground ball so that he could get an out more quickly and get his defense back in the dugout where they could warm up.

"I was just trying to find the quickest way to get us out of the inning," Edwards said. "That’s all I was looking for, to get my defense back in there because without those guys, we don’t win this ballgame."

He struck out the first two batters anyway, but he said that he that even contact on a foul ball was important because it would mean that his defense would have to move, even just a little. That's significant when it's in the 40s and raining and late in the game.

"I got the strikeout, you know, but at the same time, if he put it in play, it’s a plus too. It gets the guys moving, it gets your blood flowing, you get the adrenaline again," Edwards said.

The positive signs in his command have been great, especially when Edwards battles back from behind in the count like he did against Shaw Saturday. It's this kind of performance that might have Maddon willing to bet on him to take more high-leverage innings at the end of games. For now, he is happy with the progress Edwards is making.

"He’s not trying to be so fine either side, he’s just trying to throw a strike and let the natural movement take care of itself. Which I’m good with. His natural movement is that good. He’ll know when he’s able to dot it up, but when you’re trying to dot it up and you’re not really there, don’t try that," Maddon said. "I’d much prefer him just attack in strike mode with his stuff as opposed to trying to be this finely tuned guy that’s always nibbling at corners. That’s not who he is."

Edwards could make Maddon's decisions about the final innings of close games a lot easier if he can continue to pitch like he has since returning to the Cubs. There will understandably be some anxiety when he pitches -- both in Maddon and in the fans -- because of how he has struggled in the past. And for Edwards there might be some for a while too. Late last season he compared how he was feeling on the mound to writer's block, and this year he received racist messages on his Instagram account. Edwards has dealt with a lot in the last nine months.

Still, Edwards is maintaining the self-confidence necessary to get outs in the most difficult spots. His confidence and mental state are right where they need to be.

"Everything is good," Edwards said.

Brandon Kintzler, Cubs most consistent reliever in 2019, signs with Marlins: report

kintzler.jpg
USA TODAY

Brandon Kintzler, Cubs most consistent reliever in 2019, signs with Marlins: report

Brandon Kintzler officially won't be back on the North Side in 2020.

Saturday, ESPN's Jesse Rogers reported Kintzler has agreed to a one-year, $3 million deal with the Marlins. The deal includes a $4 million option for 2021.

Kintzler was the Cubs' most consistent reliever in 2019, sporting a 2.68 ERA and 1.02 WHIP (both career highs) in 62 appearances. He was effective against both righties and lefties, the latter of which hit .163 against him.

The Cubs haven't been connected to Kintzler this offseason and have instead accumulated a plethora of low-cost, high-potential relievers. The organization has been extremely cognizant of MLB's luxury tax threshold after surpassing it in 2019 and wants to avoid becoming a repeat offender in 2020.

Kintzler becomes the second reliable reliever to depart the Cubs in free agency this winter, along with sidearmer Steve Cishek (White Sox). Pedro Strop is still a free agent, and while the Cubs have been connected to him, a recent report says the race to sign him is down to the Marlins and Rangers.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Cubs easily on your device.

4 Cubs crack MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospects list

brailynmarquezmilb.jpg
MiLB

4 Cubs crack MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospects list

MLB Pipeline unveiled its annual top 100 prospects list on Saturday, and four Cubs minor leaguers made the cut.

Nico Hoerner (SS; No. 51), Brailyn Marquez (LHP; 68), Brennen Davis (OF; 78) and Miguel Amaya (C; 95) cracked the list for the North Siders. It’s the first time the Cubs have had four players on the list since 2016: Ian Happ (No. 21), Eloy Jimenez (23), Albert Almora Jr. (82) and Dylan Cease (98).

So yeah, it’s been a minute.

Cubs fans are most familiar with Hoerner; the 22-year-old made his big-league debut last September in an emergency spot after Javy Báez and Addison Russell got hurt. Hoerner hit .282/.305/.436 in 20 games and held his own defensively.

Hoerner is ranked as the No. 9 overall shortstop prospect, and he’ll get an opportunity to make the 2020 Opening Day roster. With Báez entrenched at shortstop, Hoerner will shift to second base and potentially play some center field, though he's still learning the latter.

Marquez, 20, is Pipeline’s No. 9 left-handed pitching prospect. The Cubs have struggled to develop homegrown starting pitching under Theo Epstein. In fact, Marquez is the first Cubs pitcher (LHP or RHP) to crack MLB Pipeline’s top 10 pitchers list during Epstein’s tenure on the North Side.

Marquez sported a 3.13 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in 22 starts between Single-A South Bend and advanced-A Myrtle Beach in 2019. The 20-year-old struck out 128 batters in 103 2/3 innings, walking 50.

Cubs senior director of player development Matt Dorey said the club has “really high expectations” for Marquez this season.

“Brailyn, his last half of last year in Myrtle was an epic run, just in terms of the raw stuff, the strikes, the breaking ball development,” Dorey said Sunday at Cubs Convention. “I think it’s a little early to decide where he’s going to start [the season], but I would guess Double-A.

“But I wanna see how he comes into camp — especially with our new pitching infrastructure — that we’re not missing anything with his delivery or anything from a pitch data perspective. We want to make sure that’s really tied before we send him out [for] a long, full season. It’s such a big year for him. But I think it would be foolish to put any cap on what he can do this year.”

Marquez allowed two earned runs or less in nine of his final 10 starts (he allowed three earned runs on Aug. 26 — the lone exception). The Cubs promoted him to Myrtle Beach on Aug. 6, where he posted a 1.71 ERA with 26 strikeouts and seven walks in five starts (26 1/3 innings).

The Cubs drafted Davis out of high school in 2018 (second round, No. 62 overall). The 20-year-old was more of a basketball player and had some Division I offers, but he ultimately signed with the Cubs and received a $1.1 million bonus.

Davis is considered to be a raw, athletic talent. He hit .305/.381/.525 with eight homers and a 160 wRC+ in 50 games with South Bend last season. He missed time after getting hit on the hand on two separate occasions.

Although Davis is listed as a center fielder (199 innings in 2019) he played left almost as frequently (193 2/3) in 2019. Pipeline projects him to make his big-league debut in 2022.

Amaya spent all of 2019 with Myrtle Beach, slashing .235/.351/.402 with a 122 wRC+ in 99 games. His defense has always been ahead of his bat, and he’s known to be an advanced catcher for his age.

The Cubs added Amaya to the 40-man roster in November in preparation for the Rule 5 Draft. However, he won’t make his big-league debut until 2021, at the earliest.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Cubs easily on your device.