This article from the Chicago Sun Times reveals two things. Well, technically it reveals one thing that many Chicago Cubs followers already knew, and then it goes back to the well for something that Cubs fans hear around this time most seasons—the desperate hope for good news for next year.
First, Gordon Wittenmyer points out that former Notre Dame two-way sport star Jeff Samardzija will be out of minor league options in 2011, due in part to Cubs management mishandling his promotions and role. Of course, even if they treated him properly and stretched him out to be a starter the past few seasons, his contract all but guaranteed they’d move him up the organization quickly.
Secondly, and less rationally, he points out that another end to a disappointing season in Chicago brings the inevitable search for any bright spot possible in an upcoming season. Combined, these factors mean that the Cubs probably will spin Samardzija as a viable candidate for the starting rotation in the spring. This is banking more on his Q Score than merit, since his big name seems to obscure the lack of ability he’s displayed so far in his professional career.
BaseballAmerica was high on Samardzija going into the 2006 draft, ranking him in the neighborhood of Joba Chamberlain, in regard to projected talent. His fame came from football back then, when the Irish were actually pretty good, and he was their star receiver. Despite focusing more on football, he still showed a strong fastball and the potential for a good slider when spring baseball seasons rolled around.
It was likely the knowledge that Samardzija didn’t work on his pitching as much as his peers that had many looking past how raw and generally uninspiring his performances were in college. The Cubs took him in the fifth round that summer, but offered first round money to tempt him away from a possible NFL career that could have started in 2007. Many saw the signing as a way to get a high ceiling pick in a year when the Cubs had only two selections in the first five rounds. (Current Cubs outfielder Tyler Colvin was the other.)
Provided the club follows through with Wittenmyer’s guess and looks at Samardzija in the spring, the spin will surely focus on the Shark’s 11-3 record in Triple A during 2010 and gloss over his mediocre numbers beyond the wins and losses. Specifically, he walked a whopping 5.42 batters per nine innings and rode a rather lucky .266 BABIP to post only a yawn-inspiring 4.37 ERA this year in Iowa.
In fact, his start on Monday against the Cardinals, which provided this sudden hope that what is increasingly looking like a bad gamble made years ago will somehow pay off in 2011, served as a microcosm of his 2010 season in the minors. Although he allowed a ton of base runners over the course of his five-plus innings and struck out only one batter against St. Louis, he escaped with no earned runs allowed.
He’ll likely get a few more shots to impress this September; it will just be interesting to see how objectively he’ll be evaluated by management.