Rowan Wick has come a long way since bouncing around in the minors as a catcher and outfielder before being converted to the mound in 2015. He debuted with the Padres three years later and became a mainstay in the Cubs bullpen in 2019. Other than two rough outings last August, he may have been their best reliever in 2020.
Outside of giving up two runs on two hits in each in those back-to-back outings, Wick allowed only two total runs on 14 hits and five walks. All told, he struck out 20 against six walks and surrendered just one homer. Then came the oblique injury that ended his season on September 16 and has forced him to focus a little more on how he moves as a pitcher.
“It’s kind of a weird injury, part of your core, rotating muscles,” the North Vancouver native told the local North Shore News. “There’s not much you can do to rehab it other than just rest it,” he said. “It’s a lot of tedious work trying to realign your pelvis. Because this game, pitching, it can put a lot of torque and throw you out of line.”
Pitching isn’t just about being able to throw hard, particularly at the highest level, so someone who’s built like a brick outhouse and has only been on the mound for five years still has a lot to learn. That’s good news for the Cubs and very bad news for opponents as Wick really figures out how to pitch.
The fastball is somewhat of a given since you don’t typically see position players converted if they don’t already have elite velo. What really set Wick apart early on was the spike-curve that came in almost 20 mph slower than his mid-90’s heater, though that hook flattened out a little at times and wasn’t as effective last season. Enter the cutter, a pitch that can sometimes be conflated with a slider and that graded out as Wick’s best pitch last season.
Thrown with nearly the same velocity as his fastball, the cutter was a big part of his arsenal when he came up with the Padres and then nearly disappeared when he first joined the Cubs. He got back to it a little more last season and ditched the slider grip altogether, though the cutter still accounted for only 13% of his pitch mix.
Back to full health and with even more experience, expect Wick to continue making little adjustments to his grips and sequencing as he gets back into the pitch lab. If all works according to plan, he’ll have the kind of overpowering stuff that allows him to go out and cut it loose without having to think too much.
“I’m going to throw a lot of strikes, and if they hit it, they hit it,” Wick said. “But most of the time if I throw my pitch in my spot, I’m going to be successful a lot of the time. That’s my goal, and I stick to that.”
For a bullpen that will be cobbled together based more on cost than performance, Wick could end up being handed the ball in the 9th inning when the Cubs have a lead. Say what you will about having an extremely pricey setup man, the idea of leaning on a homegrown closer sure would is nice.