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Cubs Wed Sep 26 2012

Cubs Building Blocks: Arodys Vizcaino

Cubs_200.pngIt's been quite some time since the Cubs had a potential ace in their minor league system. Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure Mark Prior was the last supremely hyped hurler on the North Side. That one turned out like lighting a puddle of gasoline with a blowtorch, didn't it?

Since Mark Prior, the team's only first round pick to throw for the Cubs is Andrew Cashner - and he's already been shipped out in favor of another Cubs building block named Anthony Rizzo. The reason he was sent packing? Theo Epstein and Co. felt Cashner would never stay healthy enough to be a starting pitcher, and a power hitting first baseman with plus defense is well worth a reliever in a trade.

Arodys Vizcaino, the centerpiece in the late July trade that sent Reed Johnson and Paul Maholm to the Braves is basically the new Andrew Cashner. He has a three pitch arsenal (fastball, curveball, changeup) to go along with plus control. He instantly becomes the most electric arm in the Cubs system, and his ceiling is staff ace according to Keith Law of ESPN (among others). The only thing holding him back: health.

Vizcaino blew out his arm in spring training, and has missed the entire 2012 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Sure, hundreds of pitchers have now recovered from it and thrived, but knowing the injury history of past Cubs starter (I'm staring directly at you, Dusty Baker), you wonder if the organization should just send him to the bullpen immediately upon his return. Don't plan on it.

Vizcaino doesn't turn 22 until November, and there's no way the organization is going to give up on a potential number one starter until it's absolutely necessary, despite the fact he's never thrown more than 114 innings in a single season. And they shouldn't. A fastball that sits in the mid-90s with a hammer curve and solid changeup combined with above average command is rare. When he's described as having ace ability, note that there are roughly eight pitchers in the majors that have that label (I can throw the list in the comments later if you like). It's not a term that's thrown around among serious baseball folks.

The team surely won't be rushing him either. Epstein already admitted that the results next year may not be much better than what we've witnessed in 2012, so there's no reason to put a recovering youngster up against the forces lingering over Wrigley Field. He'll get plenty of time to rehabilitate, and will stay in Iowa to protect his arm, along with his psyche. If the plan is to compete in 2014 and beyond, Vizcaino's health will be a major key.

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