Jeff Smith noon, March 8
By his own admission, Andrew Cashner wasn't that tall in high school and so he didn't think much about playing basketball. Instead, he flashed a very nice glove and played shortstop for a while, until it became apparent that his bat wouldn't cooperate once he reached the point where he faced opposing pitchers that threw good breaking balls. He then became a pitcher, urged by his high school coach. The rest is history being written.
As the main piece in a trade with the Chicago Cubs for first baseman Anthony Rizzo, Cashman is already impressing many in only his third day of camp. Not that there weren't expectations. The now 6'-6" right-handed pitcher had been clocked at 100 mph on several occasions when he was in the Cubs organization. Except that for now, those radar guns aren't in camp in Peoria. At least, there won't be any at camp for a while.
The road for Andrew Cashner has been slow and steady. Born and raised in Conroe, Texas, where he attended high school, he was noticed by scouts and drafted in the 20th round by the Atlanta Braves after his senior year, but instead chose to attend Angelina Junior College in Lufkin, Texas, perhaps 100 miles Northeast of Conroe (missing pitching alongside Clay Buchholz by one year). After his freshman year at Angelina he was drafted again (18th round by the Colorado Rockies) and didn't sign; then completing his sophomore year he chose to transfer to TCU, this time declining to sign with the Cubs who drafted him in the 29th round.
After one year at TCU, the Cubs again drafted Cashner. This time, he went in the 1st round, as the 19th overall pick. The Cubs offered a signing bonus of $1.5 million. Cashner signed. Million dollar arm.
Cashner progressed nicely through the minors. Most notably, he gave up only 3 home runs in over 170 innings pitched. The scouts raved about him, he climbed up the prospect rankings in a hurry. The Cubs called him up in 2010, just two years after he was drafted. While Cashner was primarily a starter in the minors, his first year up with the Cubs he was used exclusively in a relief role.
In his first year in the major leagues, Andrew Cashner got a lesson in how major league hitters are capable of catching up to a 100 mph fastball. They know it's coming, and they'll sit on it and time it. And they did. In just 54 innings of relief, Cashner won 2 and lost 6, posted an earned run average of 4.8, striking out 50 batters while walking 30. And he gave up 8 home runs.
And almost all of his next season - his last season with the Cubs before coming to the Padres - was lost to a strained rotator cuff.
There are some valid concerns about Cashner coming into camp, but there is a lot of upside as well. Other than the big heater, Cashner throws a plus slider, with enough break to be confused with being a fast curveball. There is also a change-up that might yet need some work. And he's only 25 years old.
For now, the radar guns will remain put away, the Padres management won't allow them just yet. They don't want those pitchers trying to unduly impress with their velocity. But scouts and others who have been in baseball for a couple of decades are as keen on velocity as sage highway patrolman clocking a speeder from a speed trap without a radar gun. Even after just a couple of throwing sessions they are talking about Cashner. His delivery is fluid, if not downright picturesque. He doesn't gather his velocity from behind his body, he drives forward gracefully and the arm starts it's momentum from the top. In a way, it's like a beautiful upside-down golf swing.
The radar guns will come eventually, and so will Cashner facing live batters. Meanwhile, courtesy of Corey Brock from mlb.com, enjoy this short video of (left-to-right) Huston Street, Brad Brach, and Andrew Cashner getting some work in on Wednesday.
With the full squad due in on Friday, Thursday will be the last day to concentrate on pitching. Almost all position players are in camp, but batting practice becomes that much more crowded on Friday. Early analysis will be on veteran players up the middle, shortstop Jason Bartlett and second baseman Orlando Hudson, as both underperformed last season and both were a large part of trade rumors in the off-season (the Red Sox were thought to be interested in Bartlett while Hudson was rumored to have been shopped and there was little interest).
One back-up position (other than outfielders) to watch for will be the utility infield role. The frontrunner seems to be Everth Cabrera, with Logan Forsythe very close. Both can play shortstop and second base, while Forsythe can also field third base very well. Andy Parrino also deserves some consideration. Forsythe hits right-handed while Cabrera and Parrino are switch-hitters. That battle will be interesting.
(Pictured: Andrew Cashner)