Cubs: Vizcaino, Rivero could be game-changers for bullpen

Cubs: Vizcaino, Rivero could be game-changers for bullpen
July 16, 2014, 8:15 pm
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Tony Andracki

DES MOINES, Iowa - Arodys Vizcaino and Armando Rivero should be two players to watch in the second half for the Cubs.

This summer’s biggest deal is already almost two weeks old - Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland A's in a six-player trade featuring Addison Russell. But as the July 31 deadline nears, Theo Epstein’s front office could still deal from a surplus of quality relief options.

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If spots open up in the big-league bullpen, Vizcaino and Rivero could be next in line at Triple-A Iowa.

"They're just good arms," Iowa pitching coach Bruce Walton said. "They attack the strike zone. When you attack the strike zone and you're throwing 94-96 mph with a good secondary pitch, you're gonna be pretty good. And that's what I've seen so far."

Vizcaino is the 23-year-old former top prospect who already has 17 big-league appearances on his resume. Vizcaino came over in the 2012 Paul Maholm trade with the Atlanta Braves, missing two seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery and a follow-up procedure on his right elbow.

The Cubs have been bringing Vizcaino along slowly this year, starting him out at advanced Class-A Daytona for nine games before a bump to Double-A Tennessee. He’s refining his mechanics at Iowa before a possible call-up later this season.

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Vizcaino allowed just five runs in 23 games before hitting the Triple-A level. He has struggled with Iowa, surrendering 16 hits and 11 runs in 6.1 innings (15.63 ERA).

But he has been able to reach back for his 96 mph fastball, showing some of the electric stuff that made him one of the most exciting young pitchers in the game just a couple years ago.

"I think we've seen flashes," Walton said. "We've seen enough of it that we have a pretty good idea it'll be back. He's still in the process of getting his rhythm back and timing back, which takes awhile.

"When he goes out there and repeats his delivery 10 out of 10 times and his rhythm and timing are synced up 10 out of 10 times, you're going to see his electric stuff every single night.

"Right now, you see it every night, (but) you just don't see it the whole entire outing. There will be some ups and downs. His stuff's electric. He just needs some more reps and a little bit more time."

At age 26, Rivero might not need much more seasoning in the minor leagues, despite just eight games above Double-A. The Cubs gave Rivero $3.1 million as an international free agent before the 2013 season and gave the Cuban reliever a year to shake off the rust after missing time while trying to establish residency.

Rivero made just 20 appearances last year, but he went to the Arizona Fall League to get more experience and has been one of the best relievers in the organization this season.

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In 34 games between Double-A Tennessee and Iowa, Rivero has a 1.58 ERA with 10 saves and a whopping 13.8 K/9 rate (70 strikeouts in 45.2 innings). Now, he’s just one call away from Chicago.

"He doesn't have anything left to prove," Walton said. "You'd rather see a larger sample size at Triple-A, like 30 innings, 20 appearances, etc. Everybody is going to go through ups and downs, no matter where you're pitching, so you'd like to see how they handle that.

"There are a lot of things he still needs to be evaluated on, but obviously the early picture is his stuff is electric. His fastball gets on guys. It's got good sink. It's got good life through the zone. He's got a good breaking ball and a changeup.

"The stuff plays. You just gotta give him a little bit of time. You gotta get some innings under his belt, so you can really see when he's ready."