A move to the bullpen and a second-stint in Double-A baseball might look like a demotion for No. 5-ranked Chicago Cubs prospect C.J. Edwards, but it’s just the opposite. The Cubs need Edwards in the major leagues as soon as they can get the 23-year-old there and because of that, they’ve chosen to cut his development time in half, putting him on the fast-track to Wrigley. For now, he’s in East Tennessee with the Tennessee Smokies.
“No doubt in a short stint he (Edwards) can be a weapon for us,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer told the Chicago Tribune two weeks ago. “We used him a bunch in of relief outings and his stuff was electric. Certainly maybe it’s a quicker path into the big leagues as a reliever.”
Edwards, who has a Minor League Pitcher of the Year award on his shelf from his 2013 season as a starter with the Cubs’ High-A team, is already on the Cubs’ 40-man extended roster. It’s not too much of a stretch that he could end up on the 25-man roster inside Wrigley Field before the season is over.
“He (Edwards) has got a throwing program that’s giving him enough time to get loose,” Smokies manager Buddy Bailey said. “Going short dosages. Later, as he progresses, we’re going to get him acclimated and see what it’s like to come into the game. In time, we’ll change a little bit with what we do with him. Being a starter and a reliever are two different things, not only physically but mentally.”
The Smokies still have to watch it with Edwards. He was limited to just 53.2 innings last season because of a shoulder injury. After finishing the year before with a 1.96 ERA with the Daytona Cubs, it was a real career setback for the young pitcher. One he’s physically and psychologically put behind him.
“I feel 100 percent ready,” Edwards said. “I feel stronger than I’ve ever been. I’m tying something new and I’m very excited. We started it (moving to reliever) in big league camp and it made it a smooth transition.”
So far the transition has just been for two games with mixed results. Edwards has given up four hits and three runs, all earned, in just four innings pitched. Neither appearance turned out to be a disaster thanks to big offensive showings by the Smokies, but it’s a rocky start for the right-hander. Coming into Saturday his ERA sits at 6.75. The early stumble isn’t something Bailey and the Cubs are concerned about.
“He (Edwards) was behind in the counts and it’s going to show him he’s got to get ahead in the counts,” Bailey said. “He’s going through an entirely new training routine that he’s got to learn. Once the game starts and pitching is physically he’s got to build up and be ready to come into the game. It’s growing pains he’s going through and there’s no doubt he’s going to get better. He’s not going to have too many outings like this. But he had to fight through adversity and he made good pitches to get out of it. It’s a big step in his learning processes. It’s something he has to go through.”
Edwards was one of the four players that the Cubs got from the Texas Rangers in exchange for pitcher Matt Garza back in 2013. The other three players in the deal, pitchers Justin Grimm and Neal Ramirez along with third baseman Mike Olt, are already on the Cubs’ major league roster. With the major league starting rotation set, the call was made to move Edwards to the bullpen. It’s been an adjustment.
“I had to tweak my routine,” Edwards said. “I have to stay ready in between innings and keep my body ready. I don’t have to conserve my body so much when I’m out there pitching. I can just go out there and let it eat.”
In his first action of the season against the Mississippi Braves last week, Edwards went 2.1 innings with two hits, one run, two walks and two strikeouts. It was a game that the Smokies won 7-2, but it shows the work Edwards still has ahead of him, especially dealing with the managed pitch count the Cubs want him to keep.
“I always go by my own motto of four pitches to a batter,” Edwards said. “I want to get them out as quickly as possible so I don’t have to run into any pitch count situation.”
Edwards will get his chance to bounce back soon. He should be available again either Sunday when the Smokies wrap up their five-game series with the Pensacola Blue Wahoos or Monday at the Jackson Generals.
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