Mike Montgomery throwing two scoreless innings in a rehab start with the South Bend Cubs on April 17 was the news of the day for most markets. Everybody commented on how good the new father looked in his first time on the mound in two weeks. Most of the press went home after Montgomery addressed them, given he was who they came to see.
Had they stuck around, they would have seen an outstanding five-inning performance by 22-year-old righty Cam Sanders. The effort wasn’t anything new, since Sanders has yet to allow an earned run in 15 innings of work this season.
Age – 22
Height – 6’2”
Weight – 175 lbs.
Throws – Right
Strength – Smooth delivery, life on his fastball
ETA – 2022
Sanders’ journey to the Cubs has been pretty direct, perhaps even pre-ordained. His father, Scott, pitched for the Cubs in 1999, the last season of his career. There is, however, no tie to Scott Sanderson, who was with the Cubs from 1984-89. And in a serendipitous twist, Jason McLeod, Cubs SVP of Player Development and Amateur Scouting, used to babysit a 1-year-old Cam.
Cam Sanders earned the start tonight for the South Bend Cubs. He looks a little different in a Cubs uniform now (he's pictured here with his dad – former Cubs pitcher Scott Sanders). pic.twitter.com/CWesLmK157
— One Million Cubs Project (@onemillioncubs) April 5, 2019
Sanders grew up and went to high school in Thibodaux, LA and went to junior college after graduating. At the end of his sophomore year at Northwest Florida State, he was ranked as one the top 10 junior college pitchers in the country. The Padres took Sanders in the 18th round in 2017 but he chose to attend LSU instead.
He spent most of his junior season struggling in relief, making only four starts on the year and struggling to 7+ ERA in the regular season. By the time the College World Series regional was over, his ERA had dropped 2 points due to 8.1 scoreless innings in relief. He could not have picked a better stage on which to get hot.
In 38 innings at LSU, Sanders had 48 strikeouts but walked 24 batters. And that’s kind of been his M.O. He can miss bats, he can miss the strike zone, but he’s very hard to square up. Despite his high ERA, opponents only hit .204 against him. It was all about the walks.
Listen to Sanders talk about adjusting to pitching in D1 baseball and what he needed to do to be successful during his short run for LSU.
After being drafted by the Cubs last summer in the 12th round, Sanders spent most of his time in the bullpen for Cubs 2 in the Arizona Rookie League and then the Eugene Emeralds. He got in 16.2 innings of work and struck out 24 in that span as opponents only hit .182 off him. But, again, he walked 17 batters.
What the statistics can’t tell you is the kind of arm and mechanics Sanders has. He has a smooth delivery and the ball just jumps out of his hand with seemingly no effort. His fastball usually sits 91-95 with life, hence the command issues, and his secondaries do need some work.
Sanders is walking fewer batters so far (4.8 BB/9) and he’s been able to work out of jams early in games. A lot of his success comes from opponents having trouble squaring him, as they are only hitting .135 off him. He tends to settle in after a couple innings and appears to be throwing with more confidence the second time through the order.
He still got a lot of growth and learning to do at South Bend but there’s a lot to build with here. He’s thrown 66, 72, and 76 pitches, but has yet to make it into the 6th inning. The Cubs have talked about being more aggressive with their pitching development, so it’s worth following Sanders to see whether they let him push deeper into games as he gets stretched out.
Even if Sanders continues to improves, there is no need to rush him to Myrtle Beach. The Cubs have time to let him develop, ideally while keeping the walks to a minimum, and see how he does through the month of May. Right now, all signs are pointing up.