MESA, Ariz. -- He doesn't look as if he's gained any weight, but Carl Edwards Jr. definitely was a different player this spring, and he could be a factor this season for the Cubs.The right-hander, who was called up last September for a brief taste of big-league life, will open
MESA, Ariz. -- He doesn't look as if he's gained any weight, but Carl Edwards Jr. definitely was a different player this spring, and he could be a factor this season for the Cubs.
The right-hander, who was called up last September for a brief taste of big-league life, will open the 2016 season at Triple-A Iowa. Although Edwards began his pro career as a starter, he will stay in the bullpen. Last season, he posted a 2.77 ERA in 36 games at Double-A and Triple-A combined, striking out 75 over 55 1/3 innings.
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Ranked 16th on MLBPipeline.com's Top 30 Cubs Prospects list, Edwards appeared in six games this spring, giving up three runs on four hits over six innings while striking out six.
"I thought he had a good spring," Cubs bullpen coach Lester Strode said of Edwards. "I thought he came into Spring Training focused on what he needed to be focused on, trying to get himself ready to compete with these guys. I thought he was ready to compete."
If the Cubs were still in the development phase of their rebuilding plan, Edwards might have made the team's Opening Day roster. But after reaching the National League Championship Series last year, Edwards will begin in the Minors.
"What I want him to understand is that things happen quick around here," Strode said. "You don't want any injuries, but injuries happen. When it happens, you want to be that person who gets the call. I think that's where he is."
What Strode also emphasized to Edwards, 24, is the importance of being prepared every day, especially in his new role as a reliever. The right-hander was called up last September, and he pitched in five games. He then stayed with the big league team through the playoffs. That kind of experience can't be measured.
"Watching some of these players go about their business, talking about the game, being in that atmosphere -- it goes a long way," Strode said. "I think it goes a long way mentally as well as wanting to be a part of it. It creates an inner drive. I'm hoping that has been embedded in him that he now wants to be on that next level, which I truly believe he does."
Edwards doesn't like to talk about his weight, or lack of it. He's listed at 170 pounds, and that's being generous.
"I know he looks frail because of his size," Strode said. "He's a tall, lanky kid, but I think he's a strong kid. I think he can handle it."
Edwards started and pitched one inning in a Futures Game between the Cubs and Rangers on March 23, and he struck out one of the three batters he faced.
"He's a blessed guy and a talented guy," Strode said. "He's a blessed kid with a good arm and a good curveball. It's just a matter of time. I think as a starter, could he handle it? We might have some question marks. As a reliever, there won't be the same demand on his body."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast.