- Jesse Rogers, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Chicago Cubs might wait until later in the summer to bring up any of their top hitting prospects from the minors, but that doesn't mean a pitcher or two couldn't make an appearance at Wrigley Field sooner than that.
It's common to see a hurler come up for a start because of an injury or heavy workload on the major league staff and then sometimes head right back to the minors. Best case is he sticks around for a little while. When Jake Arrieta completes his rehab assignment, Carlos Villanueva will return to the bullpen. It also means the Cubs could dip down into the minors if they need a spot start instead of trying to stretch Villanueva out again in the future.
In the first month of the season, it's the Cubs' pitching prospects who have impressed. Here's a look at what's happening down on the farm:
Triple-A Iowa starter Kyle Hendricks arguably threw his best game of April on Monday night when he beat Round Rock (Texas) and former Cub Scott Baker. Hendricks improved to 3-1, giving up just two hits and two walks in six innings, striking out six. His ERA is 3.65 after winning his third straight start following a shaky opening day. That coincides with Hendricks' spring training where he struggled early but finished strong. And it's consistent with his scouting reports, as well: He's a quick learner.
The most impressive starter at Iowa so far is Tsuyoshi Wada. He leads the Pacific Coast League with a 0.84 ERA and a 0.56 WHIP, having giving up just 12 hits/walks in 21 innings on the mound. Unlike Hendricks, Wada did not look good in the spring, but as a lefty, he could be used in a very specific situation if the Cubs need him. It's early, but Wada is off to a nice start after a rough time in Arizona in March.
Lefty Eric Jokisch throws Tuesday afternoon. In two of three starts this season, he's given up zero earned runs, but he got hit hard in the other one, as has Chris Rusin so far this month. His ERA is 6.32 after giving up four runs in six innings over the weekend. Rusin did have one decent relief appearance for the Cubs in St. Louis recently.
At Double-A Tennessee, top pitching prospect C.J. Edwards is coming along nicely. He earned his first win Sunday, and opposing hitters have a .187 batting average against him in four starts. He's walked eight and struck out 20 in 20 innings. Ivan Pineyro, acquired for Scott Hairston last season, has a 1.15 ERA after three starts and has looked as good as he did after the trade to the Cubs last year.
At Class A Daytona, flamethrower Arodys Vizcaino earned his first save Monday night. He's given up one run in six innings. The Cubs want him in warm weather to start the season, and he could make a jump to the big leagues later, as well. Even at Class A Kane County, there is a wave of pitchers off to good starts. Jen-Ho Tseng and Duane Underwood have been impressive in the early going.
As for the hitting prospects, some of the headlines haven't been as big as they were in the spring. Javier Baez (.152, two homers, three RBIs) is just back from an injury and had a slow first couple of weeks of the season. Jorge Soler remains sidelined with a hamstring problem. Kris Bryant (.284, 4, 10) is doing well at Double-A and might be one of the first to get a promotion to Triple-A if he keeps it up. Albert Almora (.286, 1, 7) is progressing nicely at Class A, as well.
But it's the pitchers who have stood out, and because of the nature of the game, they might be the first ones to make big league appearances. Rusin is a good example. He threw five innings in relief and then was sent right back down. Expect a cup of coffee for some of the above names as the season progresses. After all, the Cubs need all the arms they can find.