MESA, Ariz. — Arodys Vizcaino stopped in the middle of the clubhouse and did a few dance moves. He swiped a piece of fruit from the table and began chatting with two Cubs staffers.
That Saturday morning snapshot might have shown Vizcaino’s state of mind. This is someone who’s comfortable and confident almost two full years after the Tommy John surgery that knocked him off the fast track and wiped out his last two seasons.
“I feel very strong right now,” Vizcaino said. “I want to be (there) Opening Day.”
About two hours later, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and a group of team officials watched Vizcaino throw 25 pitches in a bullpen session at Cubs Park. They believe he has what it takes to one day become a high-end closer or a frontline starter. That’s why they made him the centerpiece of the Paul Maholm/Reed Johnson trade with the Atlanta Braves in July 2012 — four months after Dr. James Andrews reconstructed his right elbow.
“He’s exciting,” Hoyer said. “His stuff is certainly as good as anyone in this camp when he’s healthy. And he’s healthy right now.”
That’s the biggest question surrounding a 23-year-old power arm that has been all over the Baseball America prospect lists. Andrews performed an arthroscopic debridement on the right elbow last year, removing a calcium deposit that caused soreness and forced extra recovery time after throwing. The Cubs are going to be extremely cautious while dreaming about his potential.
Vizcaino originally signed with the New York Yankees as a teenager out of the Dominican Republic. He got traded to the Braves — along with Melky Cabrera — in the Javier Vazquez deal before the 2010 season and quickly developed into one of Atlanta’s top prospects.
“That ball really comes out of his hand easily,” manager Rick Renteria said. “It’s got late life. His breaking pitches have some bite to ‘em. Even as you’re watching him work his bullpen, he’s got a little presence on the mound.”
When it was over, Vizcaino shook hands with catcher Welington Castillo and pitching coach Chris Bosio. Vizcaino will be a reliever this season because the Cubs will have to manage his innings after such a long layoff.
“It’s been an unfortunate two years for him with the Tommy John and the setbacks,” Hoyer said. “As far as setting expectations about the beginning of the year or whether he breaks with the team or not or what his role’s going to be, I think we’re too early for that. We’re all just excited to see him on the mound here, and then we’ll make a decision later in spring.”
Vizcaino doesn’t want to start at Triple-A Iowa. The last time he pitched in the big leagues was Sept. 27, 2011, the end of a run that saw him go from Class-A Lynchburg to Double-A Mississippi to Triple-A Gwinnett to Atlanta in one season.
If Vizcaino is as good as advertised — and if he stays healthy — then the Cubs might have found another part of The Core.
“I feel I have a good opportunity here,” Vizcaino said. “I know we have a lot of young talent here, too. So I got to work hard to make the team.”