- Jesse Rogers, Chicago Cubs beat reporter
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He's the great hope on the mound for the Chicago Cubs. Not this year. But soon.
Reigning minor league pitcher of the year C.J. Edwards hears the talk. The Cubs are loaded with top prospects at various positions in the field but not at starting pitcher.
Except for Edwards.
"Every day we're working hard to get where they're at," Edwards said on a recent morning, pointing to the major leaguers working out.
Baseball America ranks Edwards 28th overall, 13th-best among pitching prospects while ESPN.com has him at 67th among all prospects. Either way, he's the Cubs' best chance at finding an ace from their farm system at this point. And finding a pitcher like that is as needed as any part of their rebuilding plan.
Edwards, 22, is in minor league camp right now which is housed in the same building as the major league team in the Cubs new spring facility. That wasn't the case in the past. It gives him and the other minor leaguers a chance to be near their dreams, at least until the regular league seasons begin. Edwards is slated to start the year at Double-A Tennessee after helping Class-A Daytona to a championship last season.
But he may not have to wait too much longer to pitch at Wrigley Field. If 2013 is any indication the right-hander is on the right track.
"It was kind of funny at the time," Edwards says of winning pitcher of the year for all of the minor leagues. "Me, growing up as a kid from a little town, whoever [would] think I'd be the pitcher of the year in anything?"
The numbers speak for themselves for the Prosperity, S.C. native (population 1,184). Combined, for Class-A Texas and then Daytona, he went 13-5 with a 1.86 ERA. He gave up one home run and struck out 155 batters in 116 innings. It's the lone home run he's given up in 37 starts in the minors over the past two seasons that stands out.
"Yeah, that's pretty cool," he says casually. "No one likes to give up home runs."
You can see why the Cubs traded for him when they sent Matt Garza to the Texas Rangers last season. Edwards is that good, sporting a curveball and changeup to go along with a fastball which has some zip despite his slight frame.
Yes, if you haven't heard, size is an issue with Edwards.
According to the Cubs official website, Edwards is 6-foot-2, 155 pounds. Many think that's too lean for a major league pitcher, especially a starter. Edwards has put on weight over the past 12 months, but it's still an issue. It's just not easy for him to gain weight.
"I average five meals a day and about three snacks," Edwards said. "I came in at 160 in January; now I weigh like 167."
Edwards says he eats everything in sight. His frame has been the knock on him since the Rangers drafted him in the 48th round (1,464th overall) in 2011. Can his body type handle the rigors of being a major league starting pitcher?
"Even with the body I have now, I feel like I can go seven or eight innings," Edwards said. "The issue of gaining weight used to be a big deal. Now I'm just enjoying my time out here, and eat, eat, eat, of course."
There has been a lot of steak this past offseason, so much so that he's gotten to the point of staying away from it.
"Panda Express last night," he said. "And then a snack later at home."
Like their position players, the Cubs want their pitchers to dominate the competition before moving up the minor league ladder. It's conceivable Edwards finishes the season at Triple-A Iowa which would put him in line for the major leagues sometime in 2015.
He knows about the expectations a desperate fan base has for him. He'd like nothing more than to repeat his 2013 season, but he expects a bump in the road at some point.
"It's a whole new year ...  is in the past," Edwards said. "If I do it again, I do it again. But if I don't, don't hold it against me."
He's the great hope on the mound for the Chicago Cubs. Not this year. But soon. Reigning minor league pitcher of the year C.J. Edwards hears the talk.