|With an NL Central-worst 45-60 record, the Pirates continued their almost compulsive sale of big league talent. Pittsburgh traded two lefthanders, 30-year-old John Grabow and 27-year-old Tom Gorzelanny, to the Cubs for an assortment of young players. Chicago sent young righthanders Kevin Hart and Jose Ascanio and second baseman/outfielder Josh Harrison to its division foes in the deal.
Grabow, who was the Pirates’ longest-tenured pitcher, can opt for free agency after the season. At 3-0, 3.26 with 17 holds, Grabow was having another solid year, following up a 6-3, 2.84 season with four saves and 16 holds during the 2008 campaign. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound lefty uses an 87-91 mph fastball with natural sink, to go along with an 82-85 slider and a 79-83 changeup to induce lots of ground balls. Grabow is almost equally effective against both righthanded and lefthanded batters.
After bursting on the scene as a 24-year-old rookie in 2007 when he went 14-10, 3.88 in 32 starts for the Pirates, Gorzelanny’s trajectory has trended sharply down. He struggled with control last year, going 6-9, 6.67 with 70 walks in 105 innings. The club also questioned his conditioning. The 6-foot-2, 202-pound lefty spent the majority of this season pitching for Triple-A Indianapolis, for whom he went 4-3, 2.48 in 15 starts, striking out 85 batters in 87 innings. Gorzelanny works off of his running 88-91 mph fastball, but also throws an 83-84 changeup and a 78-80 slider. Chicago sent Gorzelanny to Triple-A Iowa, where he is expected to remain a starter, though he may settle in a bullpen role down the road. Gorzelanny would have accumulated enough service time to be eligible for arbitration after this season, but thus far he has logged just 8 2/3 big league innings on the year.
|The Young Players|
|The Venezuelan-born Ascanio, 24, signed with the Braves in 2001. The 6-foot, 170-pound righthander made his big league debut for Atlanta in 2007, his sixth pro season. That year, he posted a 5.06 ERA with 13 strikeouts n 16 relief innings for Atlanta, but the Braves traded him to the Cubs two months after the season ended. Ascanio had almost always pitched in relief until this season, when the Cubs shifted him back to the rotation with Triple-A Iowa. He was 2-4, 3.16 with 47 strikeouts and 18 walks in 51 1/3 innings as a starter. Ascanio has an electric arm, and sits in the mid-90s with his fastball, which can get as high as 97. He also throws a sharp 84-88 mph slider that is a plus pitch.
Hart, 26, was the No. 6 ranked Cubs prospect prior to the season. Though he struggled in 21 appearances for Chicago in 2008, posting a 6.51 ERA, Hart rebounded to go 3-1, 2.60 in 23 big league innings this year. However, his strikeout-to-walk ratio was a poor 13-to-18, and it now stands at 49-to-40 over 66 1/3 big league innings. With injuries to Ryan Dempster and Ted Lilly, Hart made four starts for the Cubs this year, going at least five innings and allowing fewer than three runs in each of them. Though he has filled a variety of roles in the past, Hart profiles as a power reliever. He has a plus arm that produces 93-95 mph fastballs and a curveball that sits at 80 mph. He also mixes in a cutter in the upper-80s, which has been a key pitch in his development since being drafted in the 11th round out of Maryland in 2004.
Harrison, 22, was the Cubs’ sixth-round selection in 2008. The nephew of former big leaguer John Shelby was the highest drafted player from Cincinnati since 1986—even higher than fellow Bearcat Kevin Youkilis (eighth round, 2001). There are few questions about Harrison’s ability to hit. A righthanded batter, he tore up the low Class A Midwest League this season, batting .337/.377/.479 for Peoria before a promotion to high Class A Daytona. He began a bit more slowly in the Florida State League, batting .286/.351/.400, but on the season he had combined to hit five home runs and drive in 42 runs in 97 games. The 5-foot-8, 175-pound Harrison doesn’t have much power, but has a good feel at the plate. But defense has been the biggest concern. Though he’s made just five errors this year splitting time between third base, second base and left field, Harrison doesn’t have a natural position. He doesn’t turn the pivot well at second and doesn’t have a strong enough arm to play third. He projects more as a utility-type player with good bat control.
|With Sean Marshall designated as manager Lou Piniella’s only lefthanded relief pitcher, Grabow will provide a much needed veteran presence and specialist out of the Cubs’ bullpen. Though Gorzelanny has struggled over the past two seasons, he was once considered a top prospect in Pittsburgh’s farm system and had a distinguished minor league career. A Chicago native, there’s no telling what the change of environment could do for Gorzelanny.
In return, Pittsburgh received a pair of power righthanders—probably relievers—who they can control for several years. For his part, Harrison might one day develop into an offensive-minded utility player, kind of a rightly-hitting Rob Mackowiak, to cite one example from the Pirates’ past.