By Roger Hoover / Smokies Radio Network
Many things have changed for the Chicago Cubs this offseason, as new President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer put their touches on the Cubs roster and farm system. Many Cubs have changed organizations over the winter, including several former Tennessee Smokies. This week, the Smokies Radio Network will profile five notable former Smokies who will play for new organizations in 2012. We’ll take a look at what’s new for these players, as well as reflect on their time at Smokies Park.
One of the higher profile trades for the Cubs this offseason involved one of the top pitchers in recent Smokies history. On January 6, the Cubs traded right-handed pitcher Andrew Cashner and outfielder Kyung-Min Na to the San Diego Padres for first baseman Anthony Rizzo and right-handed pitcher Zach Cates.
This will be the first time Cashner has changed organizations after being drafted by the Cubs in the first round (19th overall) in 2008 out of Texas Christian University.
Cashner is coming off an injury plagued 2011 season after he strained his right rotator cuff during his first start last April. Cashner spent most of the season on the disabled list, although began his march back to the big leagues at Smokies Park in late August. He made three rehab starts for Tennessee, pitching two and two thirds innings while giving up two runs on three hits with five strikeouts.
Cashner’s rehab continued to Iowa where he made two appearances before rejoining the Cubs in September. He finished the season making seven appearances without a decision and posting a 1.69 ERA in 10 and two thirds innings on the mound.
In 60 big league appearances over the past two seasons, Cashner is 2-6 with a 4.29 ERA. The Texas native made his major league debut on May 31, 2010 in Pittsburgh and held opponents scoreless in 36 of his 56 appearances during the 2010 season.
Cashner began the 2010 season with the Smokies, serving as the ace of a solid Tennessee rotation under manager Bill Dancy and pitching coach Dennis Lewallyn. He started the season in grand style on Opening Night in Mississippi by striking out the first eight batters he faced. Cashner made six starts with the Smokies, going 3-1 with a 2.75 ERA in 36 innings on the mound.
2009 marked the first season for Cashner with the Smokies, earning a promotion from High-A Daytona on June 30. In twelve starts for Tennessee, Cashner went 3-4 with a 3.39 ERA in just over 58 innings of work. Cashner’s strong pitching helped Tennessee clinch the second half North Division title and he would also pitch for the Smokies in the playoffs. 2009 was a remarkable season in all for Cashner, as he went 3-4 with a 2.60 ERA for both Daytona and Tennessee. In 100 and a third innings of work, Cashner only allowed one home run and he also proved to be an effective weapon at the plate. Cashner hit safely in five of his Smokies starts from July 4 to August 3, going 5-9 during that stretch.
In total, Cashner made 21 starts for the Smokies over the past three seasons. He went 6-6 with a 3.25 ERA with 89 strikeouts in 97 innings on the mound.
Here are some interviews with Andrew Cashner that have aired over the years on the Smokies Radio Network.
What the Move Means for Cashner: After missing most of 2011 with injury, 2012 looks to be a bounce-back season for the right-hander. Although he began the 2011 season in the starting rotation for the Cubs, the bullpen was his likely destination as Chicago has a surplus of starting pitching heading into this season. Now with the Padres, it has been reported that Cashner will start the season in the San Diego bullpen, although Padres GM Josh Byrnes isn’t ready to assign him a role just yet.
“We’re going to use him as a reliever and see where that takes us,” Byrnes told the Associated Press. “He has ability to potentially one day be a starter. He has the potential to pitch at the back end of a game so we’ll see where that goes.
“He’s 25 and he throws 100 mph on his good days,” Byrnes said. “We think this injury is non-predictive and hopefully he can be a healthy and productive pitcher for us.”
What the Move Means for the Cubs: With the trade, the Cubs acquire one of their top needs for the future in first baseman prospect Anthony Rizzo. New Cubs GM Jed Hoyer as a long history with Rizzo, having drafted the first baseman in 2007 with the Boston Red Sox, and trading for him before the 2011 season while serving as GM for the Padres.
Rizzo made his major league debut with San Diego on June 9, 2011 and finished the season hitting .141 with a home run and nine RBI. Rizzo hit well in Triple-A, posting a .331 average with 26 homers and 101 runs batted in.
Rizzo is likely headed to Triple-A Iowa to start the 2012 season to gain more seasoning while the Cubs will start Bryan LaHair at first base in the big leagues.
“We believe Anthony has the potential to be a middle-of-the order run producer for the Cubs for a long time,” Hoyer told to the Associated Press. “He still has some development left, but we feel like what he’s done at age 20 at Double-A and 21 at Triple-A was remarkable. He did struggle in the big leagues a little bit last year when he came up we feel that is just an adjustment period and he has a very bright future.”
Be sure to check back tomorrow for the next installment of Smokies on the Move as we profile infielder Marwin Gonzalez.