No Doubts Now for Cashner

Cashner (PHOTO/MICHAEL CLEMENTS)

Andrew Cashner recalls some doubts he had with what was going to become of his career at the start of the 2008 season with TCU. It didn't take long for those doubts to subside, and Cashner would go on to have one of the best seasons in all of college baseball.

Cashner, 21, was previously a starting pitcher at Angelina College in Texas before transferring to Fort Worth for the 2008 season. Four days before the Horned Frogs were to begin their season, Cashner received some news that dampened his spirits.

He was told he was going to pitch in relief.

"At the first of the year, when I was going to move from a starter to a closer, I didn't know what to really think of it and I kind of had a lot of doubts with what was going to happen with my career," recalls the right-hander.

The Horned Frogs wanted to insert Cashner into the closer's role after losing their ninth-inning reliever from a year ago, Sam Demel, to Oakland in the draft.

TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle felt Cashner was up for the challenge right away.

"[Schlossnagle told me] ‘I think you can best help our team as a late-inning guy or as a closer,'" recalled Cashner. "I kind of took it as a demotion at first, but I talked to a lot of people and coach kept telling me it was not a demotion, I was their best pitcher; that they needed me to come in when the game was close and shut people down.

"I set my mind to it and told myself to do the best I could and put myself in the best position to help my team win," Cashner added.

Cubs area scout Trey Forkerway, meanwhile, kept in touch with Cashner (6-foot-6, 190 pounds) and encouraged him to give the new role a try.

"He just told me to do the best I could and see where it put me," Cashner said.

Where it put Cashner was in the first round of the 2008 MLB Draft on Thursday. Drafted 19th overall by Chicago, it's the highest Cashner has ever been taken in the draft. (He was drafted three other times – including once by the Cubs in the 29th round last year.)

Initially weary of the move, it paid off as Cashner went on to lead TCU with nine victories, nine saves, and a 2.32 ERA in 30 games spanning 54 1/3 innings. He struck out a team-high 80 batters while holding opposing hitters to a .122 average against.

Cashner's dominance on the mound actually started in the weight room during the previous off-season. Upon arriving in Fort Worth, TCU coaches wanted him to put on some pounds and bulk up from his previous 160-pound frame.

Cashner was more than open to the idea, but struggled with the initial weight plan set forth by the Horned Frogs' nutritionist, he said.

"I stuck to her plan for about a month and was eating about 6,500 to 7,000 calories a day and then drinking about 1,500 calories a day," Cashner recalled. "It just got to be a little too expensive for me and I was miserable all the time because I was so full.

"I got off her plan ... and just didn't eat as much. I've ate fast food maybe once or twice since Christmas and I don't think I've had but maybe one or two soft drinks. I try to eat as healthy as possible and be in the best shape that I can be in."

Cashner is certainly in good shape as he prepares to embark on his major league career with the Cubs, and the weight plan is a big reason why, said Schlossnagle.

"I think it's made him a more durable pitcher," Schlossnagle said. "I think it's put a little more [zoom] behind his fastball. He had a good delivery when he came in and I think certainly the move in roles, where he could just go out and cut it loose without having to pace himself over the course of five, six, seven innings, I think that's helped him.

"In general, he had some back problems in junior college and I think being in a four-year school with a good strength coach and our baseball trainer, being around those kind of people and the support staff we have here really helped him."

Partially as the result of filling out his body, Cashner's velocity shot up this year to a consistent 96-98 mph, said Cubs Scouting Director Tim Wilken.

Schlossnagle said Cashner might have topped out in triple-digits.

"We had a Yankees scout at our game at Baylor that had him touch 100 miles per hour," said Schlossnagle. "I never saw that, but that's what they said."

"On his bad day, he's 92 to 95," Schlossnagle said of Cashner's velocity. "On his average day, he's 96 to 98 and he stays there, and it's really easy. He'll get loose and you'll think he's playing catch at 87-88 and the radar gun says 91 to 92, even when he's just getting loose and I'm bringing him in the game. The thing with his velocity is it's with very little effort. You'd like to think that's going to stay with him over time."

For a breaking pitch, Cashner features what Wilken described as a hard curveball despite some reports that claim the pitch is actually a slider.

The pitch was 80-84 mph for Cashner this season, Wilken said.

"The breaking pitch he's throwing now is more of a curveball," said Schlossnagle. "The one he started the season with was more of a slider. I definitely agree with Tim: it's a power curve. It's not a true overhand curve, but it goes more up and down than right to left. That's something he's going to have to work on depending on what they want him to throw."

Wilken said that the Cubs were going to let Cashner dictate his future as a starter or reliever, and Cashner says he's open to both roles.

"I talked to the Scouting Director and he told me that they were just going to let me develop and see where I go. I'm for both," Cashner said.

Cashner knows he could make it to Chicago sooner as a reliever than if he were starting, and during a conference call with reporters Thursday, one media member jokingly asked Wilken if Cashner could be pitching in relief in Chicago by next week.

Some Cubs fans, meanwhile, have even begun pondering whether Cashner could possibly reach the big leagues later this year as a September call-up, if contract talks go according to plan.

Schlossnagle cautioned that there was still work to be done with Cashner.

"He's got to do a better job of commanding the strike zone," he said. "His breaking pitch can go anywhere from average to devastating. He'd have to be a little more consistent with his pitches" to reach the big leagues by September.

"But if he developed that consistency at the professional level, there's no doubt I can see him pitching in the major leagues within the next 12 to 16 months."

In the meantime, Cashner plans to partake in his favorite outdoor sports. Hunting and fishing aren't just a hobby in parts of the country such as Texas; it's a way of life.

"We actually bought a used boat the other day," said Cashner. "I'm a really big hunter. I love baseball, but what I love aside from baseball is hunting and fishing. All day (Tuesday) I was fishing and playing some golf. Hunting is my love outside of baseball. I'm a real big duck hunter. We just bought a new duck-hunting boat."

Schlossnagle described Cashner as "an unbelievable human being" with no ego. He said Cashner was "incredibly invested in his teammates."

"He's very coachable and he's got a lot of balance in his life," Schlossnagle said. "The best thing about him is the games in which he wasn't pitching, he picked up the bats, takes the balls to the umpire, and just plays with great energy. You would think he's the last player on our roster versus a first-round pick. I just hope that he can do some good fishing in Lake Michigan because he's not a big city guy at all."

Said Cashner: "I'm just really happy to go to the Cubs. I was drafted by them last year and built a really good relationship with ... Forkerway. I'm really excited."

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