The 23 year-old right-hander from the Dominican Republic hasn’t thrown a pitch in the major leagues in two years yet he’s still listed on Cubs top 10 prospect lists. Think about that. The Cubs minor league pitcher of the year in 2013 with a 13-4 record and 2.00 ERA, Kyle Hendricks, can’t crack those lists yet both Baseball America and ESPN.com’s Keith Law rank Vizcaino as the 10th best prospect in the Cubs system.
“His stuff is as good as anyone in this camp when he’s healthy and he’s healthy right now,” general manager Jed Hoyer said earlier this week.
The reason for the optimism is simple. Vizcaino is a flame thrower, hitting near 100 mph on the radar gun when healthy. He just needs to put his injury-riddled past behind him. That can be easier said than done. Tommy John surgery kept him out of the big leagues in 2012 and then bone chips in his elbow set him back in 2013.
“One hundred percent healthy,” Vizcaino declared Friday. “I’m ready to show that.”
Vizcaino was originally signed by the New York Yankees as an international free agent in 2007 before being traded to the Atlanta Braves where he made his major league debut in 2011 appearing in 17 games. He was rated the Braves' second best prospect coming out of that season before undergoing Tommy John surgery in March of 2012.
The Cubs acquired him at the trade deadline that year for Reed Johnson and Paul Maholm, fully aware he was in the midst of recovering from his major surgery. They were willing to wait him out knowing if he developed he could be a core pitcher as they inch toward contending. They say Vizcaino was clocked around 96 mph this past winter with no ill effects. That has the coaching staff and front office salivating.
“At the end of spring last year, he showed flashes of command and velocity, throwing at about an 80 percent clip,” pitching coach Chris Bosio explained. “He was still throwing the ball over 90 mph. He’s post-op now, so now we have to bring him along.”
That doesn’t mean Vizcaino will be way behind other pitchers in camp, he’ll just be monitored closely and not overused. He’s slated for the middle of the bullpen for now -- that’s at Wrigley Field or Triple-A Iowa.
“When games start, I’ll show what I have,” Vizcaino said.
With his history of injuries, which goes back even further than his Tommy John surgery, it’s a long shot Vizcaino would develop into a starter. The possibility of him becoming a closer is much greater. It’s hard not to imagine his fastball playing well in the ninth inning of games. But that’s if he stays healthy. It seems to be his only obstacle.
“All the reports that we got out of the Dominican program this winter is he’s throwing the ball really well,” Bosio said. “We’re all looking forward to seeing him throw.”
It’s been a long time coming.