With major league rosters expanding Monday, the Chicago Cubs intend to see as much of their young pitching as possible in the final month of the season.
General manager Jed Hoyer intimated in a radio interview Friday the Cubs could simply go to a six-man rotation. Or they could just piggyback starters in the same game. The point will be to see names such as Jacob Turner, Felix Doubront, Dan Straily and probably Dallas Beeler as the front office begins to make plans for 2015.
Turner, Doubront and Straily were acquired by the Cubs midseason amid various struggles, but there is hope one or more can emerge as a legitimate candidate for the rotation next year.
Turner, 23, had his first chance to start a game for the Cubs on Wednesday with mixed results. He went 3 ⅔ innings, giving up seven hits and six runs, but only three were earned. He also walked two batters and came out after a predetermined pitch limit (66). His fastball had some life and a slightly higher-than-normal average velocity, but it wasn't the sharpest of outings.
"He wanted to stay in there," manager Rick Renteria said after the game. "He made some pitches that we had trouble making plays on. He wanted to stay in there and try to get out of it, but he had reached his ceiling."
Turner added: "I would've liked to have gotten a little deeper in the game. That part is frustrating. I've got to get my pitch count up. I just didn't make a few pitches when I needed to. It's exciting to be starting for sure, but I would've liked to have performed a little better."
Turner should get another chance, as should Beeler and Straily, who have already started for the Cubs this season. Doubront will start in the first game of Saturday's doubleheader against the Cardinals, but he struggled in the minors after being acquired from the Red Sox, giving up nine runs in 14 innings for Double-A and Triple-A.
It's unclear what the plan is for veteran Edwin Jackson, who has struggled all season with a 6-14 record and a 6.09 ERA, when he comes off the disabled list. He's eligible to be activated later next week.
Missing from the list of September call-ups could be the Cubs' best two players in the minors this season. Third baseman Kris Bryant isn't expected to be promoted, and unless the Cubs decide to add reliever Armando Rivero to the 40-man roster, he won't be seeing Wrigley Field, either.
Bryant's exploits (43 home runs) are well-documented, but Rivero has taken big steps in his development, as well. After posting a 1.56 ERA and 10 saves for Double-A Tennessee this season, he's thrown well for Triple-A, going 3-0 with a 3.07 ERA and 1.22 WHIP.
Neither Bryant nor Rivero are on the 40-man roster, and the Cubs are on record saying they may need/want those roster spots this winter for new additions. Neither can be taken in the Rule 5 draft in December because of their short time in the minors, so they don't need to be added to the 40-man roster until necessary.
Of course, the Cubs have opened 40-man roster spots this season by designating players for assignment such as Darwin Barney and Ryan Kalish, and they could do so again with, say, Josh Vitters or several others. But the Cubs will probably make those moves this winter.
Some may have thought pitcher Arodys Vizcaino would have been back in the big leagues by now, but he hasn't quite dominated at Triple-A. After Vizcaino had a glove-popping spring training with his velocity hitting 100 mph, the Cubs took it slowly with him because of past arm problems. He had decent numbers at Class A and Double-A this season, but his Triple-A WHIP of 1.96 tells his story there, as does his 5.71 ERA. And he recently said he wasn't throwing as hard, but it wasn't clear if that was by design or some other issue. He's on the 40-man roster, so there's no harm in bringing him up.
In the meantime, Junior Lake and Mike Olt are expected back in September, along with the pitchers, though Olt is recovering from a hamstring injury. It's hard to see any other position players making it up unless the Cubs add a catcher to the 40-man roster. They already have enough young players to look at around the diamond in Arismendy Alcantara, Javier Baez and Jorge Soler.
In any case, the head start on 2015 has already begun and should enter another gear as the calendar turns to the final month of the regular season.