Chicago Cubs Prospect Profile: Paul Richan Turning into Strikeout Machine

The Cubs took righty Paul Richan in the second round of the 2018 MLB draft and he debuted quickly with quite a bit of work for the Eugene Emeralds. The San Diego product pretty much dominated Northwest League hitters by flashing an excellent curveball and a plus changeup, but his fastball needed some work. Rather than the 95 mph advertised by his scouting reports, it sat 88-91.

The velocity drop was a bit alarming, but RIchan had already completed a full season in college and began his pro career after a six-week layoff. That could not have been easy on his arm and may explain the fastball issues. His overall performance didn’t suffer a bit, though, as RIchan put up a 2.12 ERA and limited opponents to a .183 average. He struck out 31 in 29.2 IP, mainly on the strength of his offspeed stuff.

Basic info
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 200 lbs.
Throws: Right
Drafted: 2018 Rd. 2 (San Diego)
Age: 22
ETA: 2021

I didn’t have a lot of questions about how Richan if assigned to South Bend, since those two plus pitches could carry him. How that fastball would hold up if he made the jump to Myrtle Beach was another matter entirely. Sure enough, his ERA increased from 3.79 in April to 4.50 in May and then to 5.28 through three starts in June.

But in his two July starts, he has a 2.98 ERA as something appears to have clicked. Specifically, Richan is missing bats, averages 8.44 K/9 while putting up a very low 1.91 BB/9. I recently caught up with Pelicans announcer Zach Bigley to talk about that fastball.

“His fastball is good, [the Cubs] really like his fastball,” Bigley said. “It is not going to be extraordinarily impressive in terms of high velocity or anything like that, but it has late action to it, he hides it really well, they think his fastball can play in the big leagues. For them, it’s all about how he can effectively use his breaking balls. That’s what they want to see out of him.

“What has been remarkable is seeing the control he has had. He hasn’t hit a batter all season, he’s had just 6 walks over his last six starts, and he’s been striking out a ton of guys. We’re really starting to see the breaking ball, especially the slider, come into play and then he brings in the curveball in there as well. Everything really plays off his fastball and his ability to elevate it in any count and really work ahead.” 

That last bit is really important since we’re seeing more and more of that at the big-league level as pitchers attempt to counter launch-angle hitters. Rather than work down for groundball contact, they’re elevating the fastball to get whiffs. That seems to be working well for Richan at Myrtle Beach so far.

“It’s been a new trend,” Bigley said. “When you look at the overall numbers, it’s not that impressive. But over the last few starts, his strikeout rate has popped up around 28%. In his last start, he struck out nine over seven innings. A few starts ago, he struck out five in six innings.”

The Cubs have talked in the past about wanting to see how players deal with adversity, and Richan seems to be able to take setbacks in stride. Bouncing back from early struggles on the mound speaks volumes of his ability to adjust and improve as he moves through the system.

“He carries himself very well for a guy who’s in his first professional season,” Bigley offered. “The off-the-field maturity level really carries over to his on-the-field maturity level because he’s a guy who is never going to get flustered. As cliche as that is, he’s very cool, calm, and collected up on the mound. That is so important when we are talking about these young guys coming out of college, especially guys who are high draft picks like Richan.”

From what I’ve been able to observe so far this season, Richan does look like an improved version of the pitcher we saw last season. The fastball is good enough to get by at 91-93 and his main secondaries are still swing-and-miss pitches. Most good pitchers at A-ball only have one out pitch, Richan has two.

He’s starting to pile up some innings now, which is a good sign. You want somebody who can go six or seven deep every night and he has not pitched less than 5 innings in a start since May 2. I want to come back to the strikeouts once more because this is what really stuck out to me when I watched him was that he got some ugly swings. 

What I’d like to see moving forward is for Richan to continue to string together quality low-scoring outings. The Cubs have to be encouraged by his 65 K’s in 69.1 innings, but it’d really be great for him to put up a month with a sub 3.00 ERA. That’s easily a possibility if he continues to pitch off of that improving fastball.

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