The 5th Spot

With P&C reporting this week, 4 of the 5 rotation spots seem to be solidified. So, let's take a look at who's currently competing for the.

Sean Marshall-Marshall was only 1-4 in 7 starts last year, but had an OK 4.15 ERA and had a 3 to 1 K to walk ratio. In the 'pen, he was solid, posting a 3.42 ERA. Marshall would appear to be the post time leader for the #5 spot in the rotation, given his competition and because he would give them another southpaw in the rotation. But, Lou loved the option of being able to pull Marshall out of the pen and into the rotation when needed, so that could dictate his role in '09. Current odds of being the #5 starter: 3 to 1

Aaron Heilman-In 2007, Heilman was 5th in the N.L. in appearances and had a 3.03 ERA. He fell off to 7th in appearances last year and fell off to a 5.21 ERA. Now, I'll give the Cubs and Heilman the benefit of the doubt that last year was an anomoly, solely because he posted sub 4 ERA's in the three years prior to '08. So he should be solid in the 'pen. But he was brought in to compete for the #5 spot. Why? He hasn't started since 2005, as in, 3 years ago. Career starting stats? 5-13, 5.93 ERA. Obviously, the scouts see something I don't. Odds: 5.5 to 1

Jeff ND-So, we're three deep in the competition and we're two deep in the former Fighting Irish and Hoosier born pitchers. Jeff ND was nearly dominant when he found his way to the Bigs last year, giving up only 7 runs in 27 and 2/3 innings (a 2.28 ERA). And while I think that he has a future as a starter, I don't think it's in 2008. Remember, this is only his 3rd year concentrating on baseball. He only has 54 professional starts and averaged about 5 innings a start. The latter is especially important when considering that Harden isn't a deep pitcher. And maybe most importantly, unless he learned a new one this offseason and it's "major league ready," he only has two pitches. I fully believe he is developing a third pitch, I just think it may be another year before he's ready to be a starter. Odds: 10 to 1

Chad Gaudin-Gaudin was a full time starter for the A's in 2007, something that was forgotten by Cubs fans when the Cubs acquired him in '08. Gaudin made 34 starts with an 11-13 record and a 4.42 ERA in '07. Those aren't numbers that make anyone jump out of their seat, but he was 2/3 of an inning short of 200. How many Cubs pitchers went over 200 innings last year? 2. So, Gaudin may not be a dominant pitcher, but he could be an innings-eater. That may be something Lou considers, given the leash they will keep on Harden. Still, his 6.26 ERA out of the 'pen last year after he came to Chicago is probably something Lou won't forget. Odds: 15 to 1

Mitch Atkins-To hand the #5 spot to a guy whose yet to make his major league debut is the type of thing you expect in Kansas City, not the north side of Chicago. But Atkins went from career .500 pitcher to a 17 game winner last year between AA and AAA. Atkins finished last year at Iowa, where he went 8-1, but his 4.47 ERA wasn't dominating. So the question becomes whether he was lucky or he's just one of those pitchers who knows how to win. Lou usually needs to see a lot from a youngster to convince him he's worthy of a spot and spring training usually doesn't offer that shot. The 23 year old is more likely to start in AAA with the scouts watching closely to see if he can repeat and/or be the guy to call on when/if someone gets hurt. Odds: 25 to 1

Kevin Hart-Most people remember a lights-out youngster who had a 0.82 ERA that helped a Cubs team to the '07 playoffs. But most people don't remember him in '08. Well, that's because he had a forgettable '08. He made the opening day roster and pitched the month of April in the Bigs. He headed back to Iowa with a 5.06 ERA, including 10 walks in 16 innings. He made two appearance in June and two in July, and gave up runs in all four of those games. He was recalled after September 1 and finished with a 3.24 ERA month. At Iowa, he split time between the rotation and the closer's role and had a 2.81 ERA. He is a long-shot candidate, but Hart's trade value (he is still the Cubs #6 prospect, according to BA) could push him to make at least a start or two in the Bigs. Odds: 30 to 1

Angel Guzman-Remember him? Cubs top pitching prospect in the early part of this decade? Well, he's now 27 and is out of options. And unlike fellow OOOP's (out of option players) Rich Hill, Felix Pie, Michael Wuertz, and Ronny Cedeno, JH has not been able to trade him. Guzman was hurt (to nobody's surprise) for most of the '08 season, but managed to throw 7 games in the minors with a dominating 1.59 ERA. Then he arrived in Chicago , where he his ERA ballooned to 5.59. He spent the winter playing in the winter leagues, starting 7 games. Things weren't much better; 2-1 with a 5.54 ERA. If he pitches well this spring, it's more likely JH will try to move him than keep him. If not, he probably gets released. Odds: 50 to 1

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