Preparation Is Key For Duncan Robinson
Righthander Duncan Robinson already understands that he will need his Ivy League intelligence to overcome the long odds and make it to Wrigley Field. But those Dartmouth connections already helped Robinson get his foot in the door with the Cubs.
Leading into the 2016 season, Dartmouth coach Bob Whalen told Cubs area scout Matt Sherman to keep an eye on Robinson, a 6-foot-6 senior and the Ivy League’s pitcher of the year in 2015. Around that time, another Dartmouth graduate was developing into the majors league ERA leader and a World Series Game 7 starter: Kyle Hendricks.
"He’s the Dartmouth standard,” Robinson said, "in more ways than one.”
The Cubs had the industry’s smallest bonus pool in 2016—and an acute need for pitching—so they took a low-cost gamble on Robinson in the ninth round. He had grown up in the competitive Houston high school ranks and excelled on the field and in the classroom at Dartmouth, showing the attributes that would make him a good fit for the organization’s pitching infrastructure.
Robinson reached Double-A Tennessee in 2018 and recorded a 3.31 ERA that ranked fourth in the Southern League. He earned a promotion to Triple-A Iowa in August and an invitation to big league camp this year, getting the chance to hang out with Hendricks.
"When you walk in for the first time, you’re kind of like, ‘There’s Kris Bryant!' " Robinson said. "That quickly goes away because you’re here to work. Just being around a space with Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, (Jose) Quintana—all those guys—you watch how they work.
"If you dropped the Wrigley backdrop in their bullpens—same thing—they take it so seriously and they’re so locked in. That’s something I really want to take into this season because that just makes you more prepared for the games. Every day, I try to ask something from Kyle: ‘What are you looking for in this hitter? How do you approach scouting reports?’
"That’s something I really lean on—information abut a lineup—because I don’t have one pitch that separates me from everybody else. It’s something that needs to be part of my game.”
—As a Cactus League extra, Nico Hoerner again showed why the Cubs made the Stanford shortstop the No. 24 overall pick in last year’s draft. He made an impression, even without being an official member of big league camp, getting eight hits (six for extra bases) in his first 14 Cactus League at-bats. This came on the heels of Hoerner making the Arizona Fall League’s all-star exhibition—with just 14 pro games on his resume to that point. Cubs manager Joe Maddon talked him up as a player who should rapidly rise through the farm system.
"He’s impressed everybody with his work ethic and being a good teammate and being humble and acting appropriately,” president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. "He’s more familiar with the atmosphere around the big leagues. The players, the coaches and the staff have gotten to know him a little bit better, so this has been a real productive scenario all around.”
—The Cubs hope the volume strategy they have applied to amateur pitching will eventually lead to a surprise contributor or two at Wrigley Field. One under-the-radar name to remember is Tyson Miller, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound righthander the Cubs drafted in the fourth round in 2016 out of California Baptist. Miller made 23 starts for high Class A Myrtle Beach last season, putting up a 3.54 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP with 126 strikeouts in 127 innings.
"He quietly had such a good year,” said Jason McLeod, the Cubs' senior vice president of scouting and player development. "He got stronger as the year went on. He’s a guy who I’m really excited about seeing what he does this year at Double-A, because he finished so strong. The velocity was there at the end of the year. He can pitch off his fastball. It’s got natural cutting life to it. And he’s just a big, physical monster.”
Patrick Mooney is a senior writer for The Athletic Chicago