All things considered, 2005 was a good year for Gwaltney, who turns 26 in May. He found a nice, cozy home with the Cubs after being released and clearly shouldering the wrath of the Phillies front office for his alleged involvement in a January 2005 bar fight in Clearwater, Fla.
That altercation involved the Phillies’ proverbial prized pig -- top organizational pitching prospect Cole Hamels -- breaking his pitching hand.
(More to the point, Gwaltney was let go because of the Phillies blind belief that Hamels was completely helpless in the charade and that Gwaltney was, to quote a high-ranking member of the team’s minor league office, “a bad influence on Cole.”)
What Gwaltney soon discovered after joining the Cubs was that the grass was greener on the other side. Gone were the days of tiring, overtaxing season-long strength and conditioning exercises that had left Gwaltney and many of his fellow Phillies prospects feeling exhausted by the time late July and early August rolled around.
His results seemed to corroborate the story, as Gwaltney went from a 4.33 ERA the previous year in 2004 to 6-4 with a modest 2.58 ERA in a combined 33 appearances (15 of them starts) between three Cubs affiliates in 2005. He was named to the mid-season Midwest League All-Star Team as a member of Peoria.
After joining Daytona’s staff in June, Gwaltney moved into the bullpen after five starts, the result of a small blister on his pitching thumb, and proceeded to boast a 1.04 ERA in 17 appearances in relief.
He was moved up to West Tenn in late August, where he made one appearance and was shut down after an MRI revealed a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder.
The injury came as a blow to Gwaltney, who would spend the long winter months rehabbing in Mesa, Ariz., home of the organization’s minor league facilities. He is currently still in rehab and has set an unofficial return date for some time in July, when he hopes to join a minor league affiliate.
“Everything feels well right now,” Gwaltney said from Mesa. “I’ve had some minor shoulder tightness, but nothing that’s holding me back at all. Based on what they’re now telling me, I think I’m ahead of schedule.”
Last spring, Gwaltney had joined the Cubs on a one-year contract that was set to expire at season’s end. He re-signed in the off-season on a year-to-year basis in a process that he says went relatively quick and easy.
His typical day in Mesa involves an early 6:30 a.m. rise and a 7:15 shuffle to the training facilities where his daily rehab begins.
“I’ll start warming up with a few standard exercises and plyometric rhythms. I’ll throw every other day,” Gwaltney said. “Every day that I throw, I’ll go back and do about 30 minutes worth of arm exercises and then run about 20 or 30 minutes.”
Before the labrum injury set in, Gwaltney had been focusing on a new pitch, a sinker that tailed to the left side of the plate. He was getting a modest feel for the pitch after Daytona pitching coach Mike Anderson (now at Double-A) suggested it while watching Gwaltney pitch from the bullpen for the Class-A team.
“The first couple of times I tried it, it didn’t work as well as it should have,” Gwaltney said. “Then after throwing it a few times in the bullpen, it actually became a pretty decent pitch.”
After appearing as both a starter and reliever last season, Gwaltney now sees himself staying in the bullpen when he returns.
“Depending on where a roster spot opens up, they’ve told me I might end up going back to Peoria once I’m through rehabbing or stay here just to get some quality innings in. I’m sure I’m going to be back in the bullpen. I’m looking forward to it,” Gwaltney said.
In the meantime, Gwaltney works a part-time job four days a week with a former companion from Arizona State University. In his free time, he makes it a point to continue practicing his golf game as often as time permits, because by his own keen observation, “It’s too nice out here not to.”
Once he does return to the mound, it’s back to proving to the Cubs that Gwaltney can solidify himself in the organization’s future plans.
That was something that many former minor league pitchers in the organization apparently failed at earlier this spring, including many of Gwaltney’s friends with the Cubs who were given their release.
“It makes you think,” he said. “You want to make sure you’re 100 percent before coming off your injury. I’m not really too concerned with my future here or with my injury, but it’s always in the back of your mind a little bit. If I show them that I have good arm strength and am getting outs, I think they’ll re-sign me again.”
Cubs Director of Player Development Oneri Fleita added that Gwaltney’s rehab was progressing especially well.
“He’s ahead of schedule,” Fleita said. “He’s working very hard.”
BARTOSH SIGHTING … One of the more popular questions posed this spring has been the whereabouts of left-hander Cliff Bartosh, who spent last season between the Cubs and their Triple-A affiliate.
On Wednesday, Fleita told Inside The Ivy that the 26-year-old Bartosh is still with the Cubs and is currently rehabbing from off-season shoulder surgery in Mesa.
Bartosh was 0-2 with a 5.49 ERA in 19 appearances with the big league club a season ago, and 1-2 with a 5.08 ERA at Iowa in 22 games. No ETA was given on his return.
Steve Holley is the publisher of Inside The Ivy. In addition to his work for Scout.com, he also covers Nicholls State University athletics for the Tri-Parish Times in southeast Louisiana. E-mail Steve at email@example.com.