PEORIA, Ariz. — Cubs executives traveled almost 40 miles through rush-hour traffic, for the second part of a day/night, home/road doubleheader, at a time when everyone just wants spring training to finally end.
C.J. Edwards is now a draw, which is funny because he fell all the way to the 48th round of the 2011 draft, where the Texas Rangers beat everyone else and discovered what became Baseball America’s No. 28 overall prospect.
The main attraction is a 22-year-old right-hander from outside Prosperity, S.C., who’s listed at 6-foot-2, 155 pounds in the media guide.
“I just walked off the scale,” Edwards said Tuesday night inside Peoria Stadium’s visiting clubhouse. “I’m at 165.”
The audience included president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and scouting/player development chief Jason McLeod. The brass rode over from Mesa to watch Edwards make his Cactus League debut, a 5-5 tie vs. the San Diego Padres that turned out to be a great learning experience.
“I’m like probably one of the top players in the world that has great tunnel vision,” Edwards said. “I don’t really (see them), but I can hear everybody. I don’t really try to look into the stands. I just try to concentrate on the mitt.”
Edwards, the centerpiece to last summer’s Matt Garza trade, overcame the butterflies and went 2 2/3 innings, giving up three runs on four hits and three walks. He’s supposed to leave minor-league camp and continue his journey at Double-A Tennessee.
“I wasn’t that nervous on the mound,” Edwards said. “I know a couple times, after I came in the first inning, my right knee just started going by itself. I was like trying to look around and hold it down. But it didn’t work, so I just let it bounce until I got back on the mound.”
Edwards had known for about 10 days that he would be getting this start: “I was thinking about it, constantly calling my dad. He was telling me: ‘Keep praying, keep meditating.’
“We go through the game in my head, how I want to approach it and find the confidence.”
Edwards, who’s drawn comparisons to Oil Can Boyd, was overlooked coming out of Mid-Carolina High School. He developed a feel for pitching while competing against the older guys in a men’s league in South Carolina. He’s gone 13-5 with a 1.72 ERA and 240 strikeouts and one home run allowed in 183 1/3 career minor-league innings.
It’s unclear if Edwards will physically be able to handle 150 to 200 innings a year. So he went to the Breakfast Club in Scottsdale before his big start.
“I had some French toast,” Edwards said. “They asked me: ‘Small or large?’ I was like: ‘Large!’ I got scrambled eggs on the side, some sausage. They brought out my French toast, I looked at it and I was just like: ‘Whoa!’
“It was like three giant pieces of bread. I’m just like: ‘Dude, no way I finish this.’ I finished it, but I didn’t finish the eggs and sausage.”
Edwards had reporters cracking up telling that story, but he isn’t close to being a finished product.
Pitching coach Chris Bosio walked out to the mound for a conference after watching Edwards walk two straight Padres in the second inning. Bosio came out again in the third inning, moments before ex-Cub Xavier Nady hit a ground-rule RBI double to right-center field and Rene Rivera lifted a sacrifice fly to center.
With Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” playing on the stadium’s sound system, manager Rick Renteria pulled Edwards at 7:58 p.m. local time. The crowd of 5,407 — which included his roommates, Cubs prospects Duane Underwood, David Garner and Rashad Crawford — made some noise.
John Baker reached out to Edwards, who recalled the veteran catcher sending a message: “His exact words were, ‘Hell of job, man.’ He said, ‘Hey, look, your stuff will play. You got a bright future ahead. Just stay with it.’”
If Edwards is the future, then the Cubs also got a look at their past in Andrew Cashner, the 2008 first-round pick who got traded for first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Epstein’s front office worried about Cashner’s medicals and projected he’d only max out as a reliever, pulling the trigger on the deal in January 2012.
Cashner will be San Diego’s Opening Day starter after going 10-9 with a 3.09 ERA last season. He put up a 0.81 ERA across his final six starts, limiting opponents to a .169 average, showing what could have been a nice one-two punch at the top of a homegrown rotation with Jeff Samardzija. The next hope is Edwards, who made it worth the trip.
“Overall, just being around those guys, it was fantastic,” Edwards said.