07/10/08 2:20 PM ET
Cubs sign first-round pick Cashner
Right-handed pitcher will join rookie league Mesa team
By Nick Zaccardi / MLB.com
"No, sir," a polite Cashner said when asked jokingly if he's trying to unseat Wood. "He's pretty good."
Cashner's not too bad, either. The 19th overall pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft signed his first contract on Thursday morning and threw some pitches in front of Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild prior to the afternoon game with the Reds. The club also signed second-round pick Aaron Shafer, a right-handed pitcher from Wichita State.
"It's a dream come true," the 21-year-old Cashner said. "Of course it's just a stepping stone. My dream is not to get drafted in the first round; my dream is to play in the big leagues. So it's a dream come true, but at the same time I still have work to do to get here and where I want to be."
Cashner, who compiled nine saves at Texas Christian University this year, will remain in the bullpen to start his Minor League career. He will fly to join the rookie league Mesa team on Friday, and he may be promoted to short-season Class A Boise in a couple weeks. The 6-foot-6 pitcher (one inch taller than Wood) likes the idea of sticking in relief, although the team could stretch him out in the future.
"I can move a lot faster [through the Minors] that way, as a closer preferred to a starter," Cashner said. "As a closer, you can be [in the Majors] in a few years, rather than a lot longer as a starter."
The Cubs will take it slow with Cashner since he already threw 54 1/3 innings at TCU this year. That allows him to develop a third pitch to complement an upper-90s mph fastball and a slider that can be filthy.
"My changeup has been something I've been working on," Cashner said. "As a closer, you don't throw your changeup a lot because you're coming in tight situations. You don't want to get beat with your third-best pitch. My slider is my second-best pitch, or sometimes it's my best pitch. It's something that if I can work both sides of the plate, that will be a big key for my success."
After spending two years in junior college, where he was a starter, Cashner converted to the closer role at TCU and earned all-conference honors in his only season. He held opponents to a .122 average while striking out 80 (13.3 per nine innings) and walking 27. He actually led the Horned Frogs with nine wins because the team faced few closing situations.
"We didn't have a lot of games for me to close there at the beginning," Cashner said. "So I came in a tie game or when we were down a couple of runs to keep us in the game, and we'd end up coming back and winning. That's how I got so many wins this year."
Nick Zaccardi is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.