12/10/08 10:00 AM EST
Veal could be prime cut in Rule 5 Draft
Chicago left-hander's stuff might tempt club into choosing him Thursday
By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com
The Cubs' left-handed pitcher is way overdue for some good fortune. Getting a chance to stick on a big league roster could be just the turn of events the 24-year-old needs.
Veal, Chicago's second-round pick in the 2005 Draft, has had a roller-coaster pro career thus far. Blessed with above-average stuff, he had a fantastic first full season in 2006, being mentioned among the better left-handed pitching prospects in the game. His '07 was uneven, to say the least, and '08 -- a repeat of Double-A -- was more of the same.
The stuff is still there -- evidence of that comes from his 476 strikeouts in 470 1/3 pro innings. But his command has eluded him, with 256 walks in the same timespan.
But this is a lot more than a story about a young pitcher who hasn't been consistent. The fact that Veal was able to pitch for all of '08, throwing 145 1/3 innings, is somewhat remarkable considering what the young man has gone through.
In November 2004, Veal lost his mother to cancer. Three years later, his father died in a scuba diving accident. Veal was left as the adult in the family, along with younger brother Devin, who is attending the University of Arizona. Veal has often said that baseball has served as an escape and he would never be one to make excuses, but it's hard to imagine any human not being impacted by the situation.
"Yes, I thought about it," said Veal, who was a Southern League All-Star with a 3.69 ERA in the first half, followed by a 6.59 second-half ERA. "It wasn't with me while I was pitching. It wasn't the reason for the inconsistency. I had my moments, but I didn't take it to the field. It was behind closed doors. The one thing I took to the field was baseball.
"It's been a long year, but stuff happens to everyone and you have to keep going and keep pushing."
The Cubs had a decision to make with Veal this offseason. As per the rules (Rule 5 to be exact), four years after he signed, Veal had to be protected on the 40-man roster or become eligible to be selected in the Rule 5 Draft. If taken, Veal would have to stick on the 25-man roster of the team that selected him or be offered back to the Cubs. The Cubs didn't put him on the roster and Veal now is looking at the possibility of changing organizations come Thursday.
"I wasn't really surprised, but I was hopeful they would put me on there," Veal said. "In their opinion, they didn't need to and that's completely fine. They had to do what they felt they needed to in order to win. I was happy for the guys who did make it, and they definitely deserved it."
It's Veal who definitely deserves the shot the Rule 5 Draft can provide. He's not Johan Santana, the usual benchmark for Rule 5 success on the mound. He may not even be Joakim Soria. But he is a lefty with three pitches that all have a chance to be above average to plus offerings. He's new to the whole Rule 5 process, but he's learning on the fly.
"I don't know a whole lot about it," Veal said. "I haven't heard a whole bunch [about me being taken]. I'm just keeping my mind open and seeing what happens."
If early buzz is any indication, it will happen. Veal's name is the one mentioned the most frequently when talking to front-office types here in Vegas. Lefties with that size and stuff don't grow on trees, and while the Rule 5 is a gamble, taking one with Veal seems to make a whole lot of sense for a pitching-strapped organization.
The most likely scenario would be for someone to take Veal and have him pitch out of the bullpen. That might have sounded completely foreign to Veal considering all but three of his 96 professional outings have come as a starter, but he got a crash course in relieving in the Arizona Fall League. His overall numbers don't look good at all, but if you take out two truly awful outings in which he gave up seven earned runs in 1 1/3 innings, Veal yielded three runs over 7 2/3 frames. Perhaps more importantly to those considering taking him Thursday, he held left-handed hitters to a .154 batting average.
"It was definitely a change for me," Veal said of relieving. "It's completely different from knowing an exact set schedule. For me, it was a little nerve-wracking because you never knew. You had to be ready every day. But I enjoyed it. Any way to get to the big leagues, it wouldn't be a problem."
It certainly would be a welcome change for Veal, particularly in the salary department. While money may not be the only incentive, considering the larger responsibilities he has with his family, the larger paycheck would be a nice bonus. That being said, that's not what motivates Veal. He knows if he keeps working on becoming more consistent that realizing his big league dream will happen one day, either with another club right away in '09 or at some point in the future with his current employer.
"It wouldn't hurt, but at the same time, you just keep putting your work in," Veal said. "I don't have a whole lot of worry. If it happens, it happens. Great, I'll be happy. If it doesn't, I'll keep working.
"If that were to happen, even if it doesn't happen, the basic thing is to show the Cubs or whatever team I go to, consistency with everything. That's what I've been working on for the past couple of years. It's gotten better, but I still have work to do, and that's my focus this offseason."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.