Cubs hopeful Vizcaino will fill important role for future
Young righty acquired from Braves in Deadline deal has extremely high ceiling
CHICAGO -- Impact players. That's what the Cubs are looking for, either through the Draft, international signings or trades, and this week, they added a pitching prospect the front office feels could be a dominant starter or possibly the team's future closer.
Keep an eye on Arodys Vizcaino. The Cubs acquired the right-hander from the Braves along with Minor League right-handed pitcher Jaye Chapman for Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson late Monday. Chapman was pitching at Triple-A Gwinnett. Vizcaino was rehabbing. He hasn't pitched in a game since Sept. 27, 2011, when he ended the season with one inning in relief for the Braves against the Phillies.
In March, Vizcaino, 21, experienced elbow problems, and he eventually underwent Tommy John surgery. Not many teams would take a gamble on an injured player.
"It's a little bit unusual," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. "Of course, you're taking a risk -- the guy's injured -- but in the case of Tommy John [surgery] and the way it sounded from the medical people, they've perfected it to the point where people come back and they come back pretty strong."
If Vizcaino had undergone shoulder surgery instead, he would still be in the Braves' system. The risk would've been greater.
"If it had been a shoulder problem, we never would have touched him," said Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein.
Vizcaino is ahead of schedule in his rehab, which he now will continue at the Cubs' facility in Mesa, Ariz.
"This was an opportunity to get a potential impact arm," Epstein said. "If it had been something besides Tommy John or had it been an ordinary arm, we wouldn't have done it. We really think it was a good opportunity for the club."
It was another example of turning short-term assets into long-term ones. This offseason, the Cubs signed Maholm and Johnson, who were both free agents. Any of the 29 other teams could have signed the two.
"To be able to take freely available players and turn them into potentially one of the better young arms in the game when we get [Vizcaino] back from surgery, I think that's the type of thing this organization should be doing now," Epstein said.
Vizcaino was ranked as the Braves' third-best prospect by MLB.com, and is a hard-throwing right-hander who spent the final two months of the 2011 season in Atlanta's bullpen. He actually faced the Cubs in five games in relief last year, and in those games, he gave up one hit over 5 2/3 scoreless innings, striking out six.
"He's a good-looking young pitcher and we gave up a quality prospect," Braves general manager Frank Wren said. "But to not give up some of the guys that have been mentioned, that was a real plus for us. The Cubs are in a different spot than we're in. They're looking for a long-range young pitcher that they can hold on to for a long time. We're in a spot where we feel like we have a team that can win."
The Cubs and Braves had a deal in place which would've sent Ryan Dempster to Atlanta for 22-year-old pitcher Randall Delgado. But Dempster wanted to see if the Cubs could trade him to the Dodgers, and the Braves moved on. Dempster eventually was dealt to the Rangers for another Minor League pitcher, right-hander Kyle Hendricks, and third-base prospect Christian Villanueva. Both were pitching at the Class A level in the Texas system; both are now among the Cubs' Top 20 Prospects.
Vizcaino originally signed with the Yankees in July 2007, and he was considered one of their top prospects after striking out 52 in 42 1/3 innings in 2009. He was traded to the Braves with Melky Cabrera, Mike Dunn and cash for Javier Vazquez and Boone Logan in December 2009, and he spent 2010 at the Class A level. However, Vizcaino had to be shut down because of a strained elbow.
In 2011, Vizcaino opened at Class A, moved up to Double-A, then Triple-A Gwinnett in rapid fashion. On Aug. 10, 2011, he was promoted to the big leagues and made his Braves debut that day. In 17 relief outings, he was 1-1 with a 4.67 ERA, striking out 17 in 17 1/3 innings.
Dempster's indecision may have helped the Cubs. The Braves wouldn't deal Vizcaino for Dempster, who would have been a two-month rental. Maholm, 30, on the other hand, will not only help Atlanta now but has a $6.5 million option for next season.
"I don't think we could get that kind of value if [Maholm] was only under control for a couple months," Hoyer said.
Besides Vizcaino, Chapman and Hendricks, the Cubs also acquired Minor League right-handed pitcher Jake Brigham from the Rangers for catcher Geovany Soto on Tuesday. In 24 hours, they've added four young pitchers and a top third-base prospect in Villanueva. It's a start.
"Developing young pitching is a numbers game, because there's so much attrition between injuries and the natural struggles with development," Epstein said. "You need to identify a handful or more of pitching prospects to get one who can actually help you for an extended period in the big leagues.
"Because of that, we have to attack it with volume, so that dictated some of our approach in the Draft. To be completely candid, we would've liked to have gotten back even more at this Trade Deadline. We were able to do some of what we accomplished, not all of it, but that process will continue going forward into the winter.
"Organizational pitching deficit is not something you can address all at once. It's something that takes years to address."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.