As of right now, the only certainties are that Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano and Matt Garza are guaranteed their place in the Chicago Cubs' starting rotation, with Dempster being the Opening Day starter (one of the most overrated things in baseball).
With two starting spots being up for grabs, spring training will bring a lot of excitement for how things will shake out come April.
Of the competitors, veterans Carlos Silva and Randy Wells have a supposed leg-up, while youngsters Casey Coleman, James Russell, Andrew Cashner and Jeff Samardzija, along with prospect Chris Carpenter, all have a bid in those two spots.
Also, the Cubs will keep their eyes open on dark horse candidates that emerge from solid spring training play, similar to how Sean Marshall and Randy Wells earned their spots in the rotation.
That said, Cubs fans should be especially paying attention to the pitching of Andrew Cashner, who pitched exclusively out of relief in 2010. As Bleed Cubbie Blue noted, Jim Hendry said that Cashner will start in 2011, be it for the Cubs or Triple-A Iowa.
Cashner, drafted out of Texas Christian University, was TCU’s primary closer before being drafted by the Cubs with their first-round draft choice in 2008. Cashner successfully made the transition to the rotation in the Cubs' farm system, scaling every level of the minors to the parent club in three years.
Cashner demonstrated front-line starter stuff, although his control gives question to whether or not he profiles as a big-league closer, instead. His physical attributes (6'6", 210 pounds) scream starting pitcher, although it will ultimately be his development of a third pitch, a changeup, that will determine his role.
Cashner’s fastball sits in the mid-90s, and he works it low in the zone, typically. He locates his fastball low and away to righties, occasionally running it inside, while primarily keeping his fastball away from lefties.
Cashner also features a wipeout slider/curve that is used as a strikeout pitch against right-handed batters.
Ultimately, Cashner’s fate will lie in that changeup, which he tried to employ against lefties with some success in terms of location.
Personally, I would like to see Cashner go back to Triple-A for a bit more seasoning, and develop his changeup into a Major League-average pitch that he can mix in with his other two plus pitches. Looking at the Cubs’ bullpen, it doesn’t make much sense to continue working Cashner into the mix, as Sean Marshall, Kerry Wood and Carlos Marmol headline the back end.
Cashner’s long-term value ultimately depends on whether or not he can contribute as a Major League starter. If he cannot, he will be destined for a closer or setup role, depending on the long term success of Carlos Marmol. Either way, Cashner will be a Major League contributor for many years to come.
For more detail on Cashner, go to my web site.