MiLB Season in Review: AA Pitchers

Chris Archer, thanks to scout.com

Rather than do individual posts for these three guys, I’m going to group them together. Three pitchers spent at least some time in AA this season, and all contributed during the AA playoffs. Chris Carpenter, Trey McNutt, and Chris Archer, three of the top pitchers in the organization, and three guys who are inching very close to the major leagues.

Carpenter is the furthest along of the three, having started the season in Tennessee, and later moving to Iowa to finish the season. This was his third season in the organization, and he took another solid step forward. In 23 starts at AA, Carpenter posted a 3.16 ERA and a 3.54 FIP in 137.3 innings. He then moved to AAA for three starts, and struggled a bit, with a 5.40 ERA and a 6.40 FIP.

The numbers are fantastic for Carpenter, and he should have no problem advancing to AAA full time next season. He does need to fine tune his command, because his 3.8 BB/9 is a bit high considering he isn’t a brilliant strikeout pitcher (7.5 K/9). He’s in line to pitch around 170-180 innings next season, which puts him on track to join the Cubs’ rotation in  2012 (should he continue on this path).

The largest concern with Carpenter is his health, which wasn’t an issue this season, but has been a major issue in the past. If he stays healthy, there isn’t much reason to think he won’t progress through AAA next season, and be ready to join the Cubs in September.

Trey McNutt entered 2010 under the radar in comparison to other pitchers, but has quickly become one of the top arms in the system. This is just his second year in the Cubs’ system, but he has already flown through the lower minors. After starting the season in Peoria, and posting a ERA/FIP of 1.51/2.44 in 59 2/3 innings, he moved to Daytona. He made nine starts there, pitched 41 innings, and dominated with a 2.63 ERA/2.75 FIP. In three season ending starts in AA, he posted a 5.74 ERA and a 4.09 FIP.

McNutt excels at striking out batters, averaging 10.2 K/9 across all levels this year. He backs that up with pretty solid control that improved as the season went on, averaging 2.9 BB/9, and around 2.1 BB/9 in Daytona and Tennessee. 132 strikeouts in 116 1/3 innings is downright nasty, and that will help McNutt continue his rapid rise towards the major leagues.

I would expect him to start the season in AA, and probably stay there for most of the season, but it is hard to rule out him making in to AAA at some point. He will be just 21 next season, and will probably make the top 10 of every prospect list this winter. Hopefully he can continue his rapid rise toward the major leagues, and can make it as a starting pitcher.

Finally, we get to the gem of the system, Chris Archer. Archer was acquired in the infamous Mark DeRosa trade, and this has been his breakout year. This was Archer’s age 21 season, and he has been pitching professionally since 2006, when he was just 17. Archer has always had great stuff and a lot of upside, but has struggled with his control to the point where Carlos Marmol thinks he has problems.

Starting the season in Daytona, Archer dominated throughout his 72 1/3 innings there. He struck out 10.2 batters per nine innings, walked just 3.2 batters per nine (2 whole walks below his career numbers), and had a 2.86 ERA/3.01 FIP. Great numbers, and he quickly went to Tennessee where he got off to a great start, not allowing an earned run in his first four starts. In 70 innings Archer had a 1.80 ERA, though the 3.88 FIP shows it was a bit lucky. His strikeout numbers went down (8.6 K/9) and the walks went back up (5 BB/9), but he was still able to pitch effectively.

Despite the high walk numbers, Archer is probably considered the top pitcher in the system right now. He has great strikeout stuff, which helps him make up for truly awful control, and doesn’t give up a ton of hard contact (just a 11% LD rate this year). Archer also doesn’t allow many home runs (just six this season, 5.8 HR/FB%, 0.4 HR/9) and has done that for his entire career.

As long as he struggles with walks there will be some concern about him remaining a starter, but that is an issue at least a few years in the future. He might actually challenge for a roster spot in Spring Training, though the rotation is probably too crowded right now. If he proves himself capable, then I’m all for it, but odds are he starts in AAA and then (hopefully) forces his way into the major league rotation.

In Carpenter, McNutt, and Archer the Cubs have three really good starting pitchers. All three made big steps forward this season, and all three are on track to be in the big leagues within the next two seasons. Carpenter and Archer are probably equally close right now, while McNutt is a step behind. Along with Jay Jackson and Andrew Cashner, the Cubs’ upper levels are stacked with starting pitching right now.

At least until Jim Hendry makes them all relievers, and gives Randy Wells 35 more starts.

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