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Drafted in the 9th round in 2012, Rowan Wick was ready to begin his career path to the majors. After growing up in North Vancouver and playing a year of college ball for both St. Johns and Cypress College, the St. Louis Cardinals decided to give the catcher a shot with the 300th pick. That’s right, Wick was drafted as a catcher, not a pitcher. In fact, 2014 proved to be a solid year at the plate for Wick as he slashed .292/.383/.608 with 20 home runs. The following year his numbers dropped off and the Cardinals farm system transferred him to the mound.
There are many cases of position players becoming pitchers after struggling in their early years. Fellow Cubs reliever Pedro Strop began as a shortstop in the Rockies organization before they eventually moved him to the mound. Rowan Wick is really intriguing because he hasn’t had any below-average years as a pitcher. His first year (2015) in high A and AA, Wick had a 2.44 ERA, a 1.13 WHIP, and 57 strikeouts in 44.1 innings. After spending a couple more seasons rising through the Cardinals and Padres farm systems, the Cubs acquired him in late 2018 in exchange for 3B Jason Vosler. This year with the AAA affiliate Iowa Cubs, Wick has been sensational with a 1.80 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, and 44 strikeouts in 35 innings. It’s really exciting to finally have someone who looks like they could be a cornerstone in a bullpen that’s been lacking in 2019.
Prior to the All-Star break this year, the Cubs called up Wick and he appeared in 5 games. A small sample size of 7 innings was all he got at the time, but it wasn’t a terrible showing. He surrendered 5 runs in those seven innings and was promptly sent back to Iowa to work on his craft. There were lots of rumors surrounding the Cubs at the trade deadline expecting them to land a stud relief pitcher, but they ended up trading for David Phelps and Derek Holland. Though not flashy moves, they have been solid for the Cubs so far. So why did the Cubs call up Rowan Wick again so late in the season?
Craig Kimbrel, Steve Cishek, Brandon Kintzler, and Pedro Strop have all spent time on the IL in the past few weeks and Kyle Ryan has been on the bereavement list. Those 5 arms were the best (save Pedro Strop and Kimbrel who should be) in the Cubs bullpen. All of these guys going down created opportunities for guys like Duane Underwood Jr, Dillon Maples, Tim Collins, and yes, Rowan Wick. Since being called back up to the majors, Wick hasn’t given up a run in 8.2 innings, has only given up 2 hits, and has 13 strikeouts! It’s once again a relatively small sample size, but one where there’s more pressure with the season winding down and the division race heating up.
Where does Wick fit in the bullpen, then? Brad Brach being designated for assignment clearly opened up a spot in the bullpen for him. If Strop and Kimbrel can come back from their injuries and pitch like they did in 2018, Wick could be a great guy to go to in the 6th or 7th inning. On days where one of Strop or Kimbrel could use some rest, Wick could also pitch in the 8th. The only issue with this is that they are all right-handed and could run into matchup issues late in games. In comes Kyle Ryan who has been much better than expected this year and can fill that role. I would expect to see Wick and Ryan used interchangeably in the 7th when Kimbrel returns to the roster. Sometime after that, Brandon Kintzler and Steve Cishek will return and all of a sudden, the bullpen doesn’t look terrible. Do I expect them to dominate? Probably not. However, I do think the bullpen has the opportunity to turn it around in the next 44 games and into the playoffs.