The Great Shark Debate
Perhaps the biggest wild card you can find anywhere on the entire Cubs' team roster going into 2009 is Jeff Smardzija. Some feel he should start in AAA as a starter and be called up later to be used when/as needed. Still some hold the belief that he should begin the season in MLB as a strong foundation in the set-up bridge that gets the ball to Carlos Marmol. Its a tough decision for any organization to face. Samardzija certainly can provide a valuable arm in the bullpen immediately, but many feel his long-term career path will take shape as a starter. So its quite a toss-up. Does the team leave him in AAA at the detriment of the bullpen and valuable outs late in games? Or do you work with what's currently in the bullpen and let Samardzija develop as a starter in AAA?
Samardzija just turned 24 years old, and he's a big kid at 6'5" 220 lbs. He possesses an above average fastball at this point, which he featured at 94.7mph on average, in nearly 70% of the pitches he threw in relief on the big league team in 08. He also has a few secondary pitches that need to be further developed, but its a clear possibility that both his slider and split-finger pitches could soon be plus pitches. Also his 56.5% first pitch strike rate is good with room for improvement in the future as well. The strikeouts will always be there for this kid, but if he can cut down on the walks he will be tough in any role.
As a a reliever -MLB- 27.7IP, 25K, 15BB, 1W, 1S, 2.28ERA
As a starter in the minors his numbers were a little less than stellar until he arrived in AAA in 2008. For the most part his ERA was in the high four's for the brunt of his innings in A and AA from 06-08. There is little argument that he was able to turn things around from the time he arrived in AAA going (4-1) which then launched him into the Cubs' bullpen in late July. There is little doubt that Samardzija's arm can be utilitzed by the cubs major league team in the very near future, however, its still unclear what level the Shark lands at or what role he can play in the teams' success in 2009.