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2009 Impact Rookie: Jeff Samardzija

There are a lot of differing opinions on the Cubs’ Jeff Samardzija. The former Notre Dame football player was swayed away from a potential National Football League career with a huge pro contract from Chicago (Five-year MLB contract, $10 million). Despite being raw on the mound, the right-handed pitcher has a huge fastball to go along with questionable command and control.

After being selected in the fifth round of the 2006 draft, Samardzija spent less than two years in the minors before making his MLB debut. His minor league numbers were modest: a career ERA of 4.26 with 302 hits allowed in 285 innings (9.5 H/9). He also struck out just 166 batters during that span, good for a rate of 5.2 K/9. His walk rate was 3.6 BB/9.

At the Major League level, Samardzija’s numbers were more impressive, no doubt aided by the fact he moved to the bullpen where he did not need to throw his below-average secondary pitches, which include a nascent change-up (although he still tossed it in slightly more than five percent of the time at the MLB level). The 24-year-old hurler allowed 24 hits in 27.2 innings of work and struggled with his control by posting a walk rate of 4.88 BB/9. Oddly, his strikeout rate was almost 3.0 K/9 higher than his three-year minor league average, with a rate of 8.13 K/9.

At the MLB level, Samardzija averaged around 95 mph with his fastball, which he threw 69 percent of the time. His second pitch was a splitter at 86 mph, followed by a slider at 83 mph. It remains to be seen if Samardzija will be allowed to spend the year in the bullpen or if the Cubs will send him to Triple-A to continue to develop as a starter. If he does remain in the pen, he could be a darkhorse candidate for saves this season although both Carlos Marmol and Kevin Gregg remain ahead of him on the depth chart. As well, with Rich Harden in the starting rotation, there will always been an opportunity for the No. 6 starter in the organization to get plenty of innings.