MESA, Ariz. – Instead of marketing mercenaries for the trade deadline, maybe Chris Bosio will someday be getting his pitchers ready for a pennant race where the Cubs are actually a factor.
There are many people out front – and behind the scenes – who analyze the data, break down the video and ultimately make the big decisions on trades and free agents. But not everyone can look a pitcher in the eye and deliver the message.
Bosio is a lead architect for what general manager Jed Hoyer called the “pitching infrastructure” the Cubs have built. Across the last two years, Bosio has coached up Ryan Dempster, Paul Maholm, Scott Feldman and Matt Garza. It’s looking like the Cubs will again trade away 40 percent of their rotation this summer (Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel).
It sounds like Carlos Villanueva could be the next man up with Jake Arrieta (shoulder) expected to begin the season on the disabled list. James McDonald and Chris Rusin had combined to give up 15 runs in 13-plus Cactus League innings. Rusin, a 27-year-old lefty, then tossed four scoreless innings during Sunday’s 6-3 win over the New York Mets in Las Vegas.
Filling in for the injured Garza, Villanueva put up a 2.29 ERA last April and went 1-3 with a 3.93 ERA in eight starts before moving to the bullpen last May.
“Villanueva’s probably one of the most valuable swing guys in all of baseball because he’s done both. He had an incredible start last year,” Bosio said. “He picked us up big-time. We’re stretching Villa out just for that reason, in case he could be the fifth starter, in case there is some kind of injury. That’s why we come to camp with 12 potential starters – for protection.”
Bosio rattled off names like Kyle Hendricks, who emerged as the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year in 2013 after coming over in the Dempster trade with the Texas Rangers. Eric Jokisch – an 11th-round pick in the 2010 draft out of Northwestern University – threw six scoreless innings in the Cactus League before being assigned to minor-league camp.
Bosio delivered another message: “I told those guys when we sent ‘em out, ‘I don’t look at it like we’re sending you out. I look at it like you’re getting ready to come back. So you got to get yourself ready to pitch in a major-league game.’
“The only thing that’s different from the minor leagues and the major leagues – aside from the star power – is the speed of the game. Once those guys figured out the speed of the game, they were able to go out there, control their emotions and have some good pre-pitch thoughts and apply it. That showed in their performance.”
The pitching program helped Travis Wood become an All-Star last season. In front of 14,918 at Cubs Park, the lefty looked ready for the season to start during Sunday’s 3-2 loss to the Cleveland Indians, giving up two runs in five innings and putting up eight strikeouts against zero walks.
Arodys Vizcaino – the centerpiece in the Maholm trade with the Atlanta Braves – worked around two hits and a walk and escaped with another scoreless inning. The 23-year-old right-hander – Baseball America’s No. 40 overall prospect heading into 2012 – has missed the last two seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery and a follow-up elbow procedure.
“We’re bringing him along slowly,” Bosio said. “But it’s pretty exciting to watch that kid throwing effortless, easy, 95-96 mph. He’s chomping at the bit. We’re going to have to kind of keep the reins on him and slow him down a little bit. But he’s really looking good.”
Bosio threw a no-hitter for the Seattle Mariners, worked as Lou Piniella’s pitching coach with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and did advance scouting for the Milwaukee Brewers.
Bosio has a unique background and a strong personality. He was tight with Dale Sveum, but it was no surprise when he survived the manager getting fired after 197 losses in two seasons. For all the mixed messages on the hitting side, the Cubs found their voice to work with the pitching staff.
“All of our young guys have performed very well,” Bosio said. “This is a sign of some of the moves that we’ve made and the maturation of some of our young pitchers. These are great things – especially in this organization – (to watch) happen. We’re having these young guys contribute. (They’re) getting closer.”