Many eyes will keep a close watch on Trevor Cahill in what is likely a make or break MLB season for the 26-year-old right-hander. The Arizona Diamondbacks expect vast improvement over last year’s numbers from their projected No. 3 starting pitcher. Otherwise, he could easily lose his rotation spot to Archie Bradley, Brendan Shipley or another talented prospect sailing through the Diamondbacks’ farm system. Despite improving late in the season after a six-week stint on the disabled list due to a hip injury, Cahill finished 2013 with an 8-10 record and a 3.99 ERA. Even when fully healthy the season prior, his first in Arizona after being acquired from the Oakland A’s, Cahill didn’t fare all that much better, going 13-12 with a 3.78 ERA. These numbers are far from impressive, especially since lackluster pitching was perhaps the biggest bogeyman responsible for the Diamondbacks’ absence from the playoffs the last two seasons after posting a textbook mediocre 81-81 record in both 2012 and 2013. In fact, the Diamondbacks seriously considered dealing Cahill to the Los Angeles Angels in their deal to acquire slugger Mark Trumbo but opted to part ways with Tyler Skaggs instead. Cahill has the potential to step up his game and establish himself as a top of rotation starter, and his future in Arizona might hinge on whether or not he can accomplish this, especially after failing to impress thus far during his two-year tenure in Sedona Red.
When he’s on his game, Cahill throws a sinking fastball second to none that can induce a weak ground ball from even the most intimidating sluggers. When he’s able to change up his sinker and throw it at different speeds, Cahill retires opposing batters with ease. He would have registered the National League’s second highest groundball percentage last season (71 percent) if the hip injury hadn’t have prevented him from logging enough innings. During his first year with the Diamondbacks, Cahill also developed a brutal cutting fastball that confounded opposing batters to no end. The Diamondbacks probably opted to stick with Cahill because they know he still has the potential to break out and develop into one of their more stellar starting pitchers.
So what’s the problem with Cahill? In a nutshell, when he’s not on his game, Cahill’s pitch control is atrocious. Last season, he allowed a career-high four walks per nine innings pitched. Even after his hip healed, Cahill concluded the 2013 campaign by issuing as many walks as strikeouts in his final six starts. Although his change-up still appears juicy at first glance, opposing batters have figured out that it’s most likely going to end up in the dirt, so they don’t take the bait. Cahill’s WHIP of 1.42 last season clearly exposes the pitch control problems he must remedy in order to achieve a more successful outing this upcoming season.
If Cahill continues his regression, despite being fully healthy, temporary reassignment to the minor leagues is an option that manager Kirk Gibson and pitching coach Mike Harkey ought to consider. There is no reason why Cahill shouldn’t produce a winning record, lower his ERA and gain better command over his pitches. 2014 will be either a season of high triumph or extreme frustration for Cahill, and he’s certainly overdue to break out and finally reach his prime.