Spring Training Series: Up on the Mound- Randy Wells

The player who may very well be the most interesting pitcher to watch going into the new season for the Chicago Cubs is second year starter Randy Wells. The reason why he is the most interesting pitchers who will break camp this year, is because he is the wildcard of the bunch. There is just no way to tell what the Cubs will be getting from him in his second year in the majors; but if his second season is anything like his first, than the Cubs are going to be in great shape.

As most people know, Wells wasn’t always a pitcher. When he was drafted by the Cubs in 2003, Wells started his career as a catcher. After just over a year, the Cubs found him to be offensively limited, and thought of a better way to use the young player. In a move which is coming with the Cubs, they decided to try converting him into a pitcher, a technique they had perform on another offensively limited catcher, Carlos Marmol. The transition to pitcher turned out to be a successful one, as he gained notice of at least one other Major League ball club, the Toronto Blue jays.

In what may be a little known fact, while Wells was drafted by the Cubs, he actually started his major league career with the Blue Jays, who claimed him in the Rule 5 draft. Wells broke camp with the Blue Jays as a member of the 25 man roster, which is one of the keys to keeping a player who is claim in this draft; and in his first game as a major leaguer, he made a relief appearance in early April of 2008. He pitched a scoreless inning against the Boston Red Sox, but then five days later, the Blue Jays designated him for assignment; and was returned to the Cubs, according to the guidelines of the Rule 5 draft.

Wells spent most of the 2008 season in the minor leagues once he was returned to the Cubs, but was called up to the major league roster in September to help them in the pennant chase. Once he arrived, he wasted little time in making a name for himself. In all three of his outings for the Cubs in 2008, a total of 4.1 innings, he did not allow a single run to score. While he did not factor into the decision, Wells assisted the Cubs in winning two of those three games, and he had made his mark on the Cubs and their fans.

When Carlos Zambrano went down with an injury in early May, Wells was the pitcher called up to take his place. His scoreless streak, lasted another 14 innings, for a total of 19.1 scoreless innings to start his career. Unfortunately for Wells, even though he did not allow a run in either of his first two outings, he did not record a win, due to the offensive struggles which haunted the Cubs all season. As a matter of fact, Wells went the entire month of May without recording a win, and left the month with an 0-2 record, despite having a sparking ERA of 1.80. Wells had to wait until his eight start before he recorded his first win, and then he won 10 of his next 15 games. In what should be noted, in two of those losses he gave up a total of one earned run.

Overall, Wells had a nice rookie season, and if he had gotten some run support (as well as better defense in one of them) in a few of his starts he may have had a legitimate shot to win the rookie of the year award. In his five no decisions on the season, Wells gave up a total of four earned runs. Wells finished 2009 with a record of 12-10 and an ERA of 3.05. If the offense had of shown up in any of those seven games (the two losses and five no decisions) Wells could have easily had a 19-8 record for his rookie year, which would have easily won him the Rookie of the Year award.

With Wells being guaranteed a spot in the rotation this year, he is the wild card. We can only hope that he continues to pitch as well as he did for most of the season, however there is also some cause for concern. Wells struggled as most rookie pitchers will later in the season, allowing five earned runs three times in his last eight games, as well as five runs (four unearned) in another. This could be written off to him wearing down at the end of the year. After all, he pitched far more innings in 2009 than he had ever thrown before. He may have hit the rookie wall, and began to fall apart due to fatigue. Another possible thought, would be perhaps the other teams started to figure him out, and that caused the drop in his performance. Don’t forget, that he is still learning to be a pitcher after spending most of his life as a catcher. He may take longer to learn how to adjust than others, so what happens in 2010 is anyone’s guess. Including mine. But when have I let that stop me?

For the 2010 season, I would be thrilled if Wells continued to improve as a pitcher, because that is entirely possible. Marmol has been going through the same changes as Wells, but in a different role. A starter needs to make far more changes than a reliever would. If Wells is able to make the proper and timely adjustments, he could be in line for a spectacular season. If he is unable to do so, we could be in for a very long season watching him take the bump for the Cubs this year. What I see Wells doing, is taking a step back. His wins could go up a little, maybe to the 14 mark, but are more likely to face a decline with his ERA going up. Unfortunately, I think Wells will have to settle for 10 wins and an ERA in the upper threes. For a number three pitcher, which he will be in with Ted Lilly out, that is unacceptable. Those numbers would be disappointing for a number four starter to put up. Add these in with the other win totals of Zambrano and Ryan Dempster and things don’t look too good. Totaling up to anywhere between 39- 49 wins. A 13 win average for your top three pitchers is cause for concern, but if they all reach my max prediction, they will be in great shape.

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