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Cubs name Darnell McDonald baseball ops assistant

Darnell

(Photo by Stephen Green)

The Cubs Tuesday named former player Darnell McDonald to the role of baseball operations assistant.

McDonald, 35, announced his retirement as a player earlier this month after 16 professional seasons, including last year with the Cubs organization. The former outfielder also went to Spring Training with the club this year.

In his new role, McDonald will contribute to all elements within the club’s player development and amateur scouting departments. He will visit the club’s affiliates to work with the minor league players on and off the field, evaluate amateur players leading up to the draft and spend time around the major league club. McDonald will also attend instructional league during the fall where he’ll serve as an extra coach among other responsibilities.

McDonald was originally selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the first round of the 1997 draft and made his major league debut with the Orioles in 2004, the first of seven seasons in which he saw big league action. He batted .302 (16-for-53) with one home run and five RBI last season with the Cubs and retired with a .250 (191-for-764) batting average with Baltimore (2004), Minnesota (2007), Cincinnati (2009), Boston (2010-12) and the Cubs (2013).

Cubs Minor League Recap: 4/14/14

Tennessee let a lead slip away in the ninth, while offensive woes continued to plague Daytona in another one-run loss. Iowa and Kane County were both rained out, but LHP Tsuyoshi Wada was named the Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Week for the week of April 3-13. Wada went 2-0 with a 0.68 ERA (1 ER/13.1 IP) while striking out 18 hitters in two starts against Nashville and Memphis. Here are some highlights from yesterday’s action:

Tennessee Smokies (5-6)
4th Place (-2.5)

Visiting Jackson scored three runs in the ninth inning to beat Tennessee 6-4.

  • 1B Dustin Geiger (.300) went 2-for-4 and clubbed his Southern League-leading fourth home run.
  • Rafael Lopez (.333) hit his first homer of the season, a solo shot in the fifth inning.
  • RHP C.J. Edwards allowed his second career home run when Jackson’s Jack Marder took him deep in the second inning. Edwards has surrendered only two home runs in 198.0 professional innings.
  • LHP Austin Kirk (0.00) tossed 2.1 scoreless innings of relief.
  • Tuesday’s scheduled contest between Tennessee and Jackson has been postponed due to inclement weather. The game will be made up as part of a doubleheader on Thursday evening.

Daytona Cubs (2-9)
5th Place (-7.0)

Daytona dropped its seventh game in its last eight, falling at Dunedin 1-0.

  • RHP Felix Pena suffered the loss despite tossing his second career complete game. Daytona has now lost each of Pena’s three starts this season by identical 1-0 scores.
  • CF Albert Almora (.279) went 0-for-3 before leaving the game in the fifth inning with a nose bleed.
  • 2B Tim Saunders (.263) recorded a game-high three hits, going 3-for-5 with a double (3).

1000 Words: Celebrating Jackie Robinson Day

42Flags

(Photo by Stephen Green)

April 15 is Jackie Robinson Day, a day to celebrate perhaps the most influential player in the game’s history. On this day in 1947, the Hall of Famer became the first African-American athlete to play in the major leagues. In a 10-year big league career with the Brooklyn Dodgers, the six-time All-Star hit .311 with 137 home runs, was the 1947 NL Rookie of the Year, and won the 1949 NL MVP after leading the league in batting average and stolen bases.

Though the Cubs will be in New York Tuesday night to kick off a two-game set with the Yankees, Robinson fared pretty well at Wrigley Field. He hit .295/.400/.446 (AVG/OBP/SLG) in 401 career plate appearances on the North Side, with 22 doubles and 14 stolen bases.

Today, every player in major league baseball will wear the No. 42 in honor of Robinson.

Cubs Minor League Recap: 4/13/14

Iowa, Tennessee and Kane County all racked up victories Sunday, while a big inning was too much to overcome for High-A Daytona. Here are some highlights from yesterday’s action:

Iowa Cubs (6-5)
2nd Place (-2.0)

Iowa climbed over the .500 mark for the first time this season with a 6-3 victory at Memphis.

  • CF Matt Szczur (.256) went 1-for-4 with a seventh-inning, two-run homer.
  • C Luis Flores (.400) recorded Iowa’s lone multihit game, going 2-for-3 with two runs and a walk.
  • RHP Eduardo Figueroa made his first start following time at extended Spring Training and allowed one run in two innings before reaching his pitch limit.
  • RHP Alberto Cabrera (1-0, 1.42) tossed three scoreless innings of relief to earn his first win of the year.
  • RHP Marcos Mateo (1.80) recorded the final out of the game to convert his first save.

Tennessee Smokies (5-5)
T-3rd Place (-2.0)

Tennessee used a six-run second-inning to defeat visiting Chattanooga, 8-2.

  • RHP Matt Loosen (1-1) picked up the win, giving up two earned runs in five innings of work and striking out five.
  • CF Zeke DeVoss (.194) went 1-for-4 with a second-inning, two-run homer.
  • 2B Stephen Bruno (.235) followed DeVoss’s blast with a solo home run, his first of the year.
  • SS Wes Darvill (.200) went a perfect 3-for-3 with a run, a double (1) and a game-high three RBI (4).
  • 3B Kris Bryant (.276) reached base three times, going 1-for-3 with two runs, two walks and one stolen base (2).
  • RHP Armando Rivero (2.84) struck out three hitters in two scoreless innings of relief.

Daytona Cubs (2-8)
5th Place (-6.0)

Host Tampa scored four runs in the fifth inning to defeat Daytona, 7-3.

  • DH Bijan Rademacher (.435) went 2-for-4 with a double (2) and team-high two RBI (2).
  • 2B Tim Saunders (.212) batted leadoff and went 2-for-5 with a run, a double (2) and one RBI (4).
  • LHP Andrew McKirahan (0.00) worked 2.1 scoreless innings of relief and fanned three.

Kane County Cougars (7-3)
T-1st Place (–)

Kane County swept its three-game set against visiting Lake County with a rain-shortened 6-1 victory.

  • RHP Duane Underwood pitched 3.0 innings, giving up one earned run and striking out five in the no-decision.
  • RF Yasiel Balaguert (.381) went 2-for-3 with two runs scored and a double (4).
  • DH Daniel Canela (.208) and 2B Daniel Lockhart (.158) both went 1-for-3 with an RBI.
  • RHP Justin Amlung (2-0, 0.00) struck out five hitters in four scoreless innings of relief to earn his second win of the campaign.

Happy 48th birthday to Cubs great Greg Maddux

MadduxHOF

(Photo by Stephen Green)

Happy 48th birthday to the Cubs newest Hall of Famer, Greg Maddux. The Professor pitched 10 years on the North Side in two different stints, piling up a 133-112 record, a 3.61 ERA and picking up one Cy Young Award.

During his 23-year major league career, the right-hander amassed 355 wins, won four Cy Young Awards, went to eight All-Star games, led the NL in ERA and WHIP four times, and won 18 Gold Gloves. On Jan. 8, the National Baseball Hall of Fame announced Maddux was headed to Cooperstown, after receiving 555 votes out of a possible 571 (97.2 percent) in his first year of eligibility.

The Cubs selected Maddux in the second round of the 1984 draft, and he made his big league debut on Sept. 3, 1986, at Wrigley Field, not as a pitcher but as a pinch-runner in the 17th inning of a game that had been suspended the previous evening after 15 innings because of darkness. He stayed in to pitch the 18th, but gave up a one-out homer to Houston’s Billy Hatcher to take the loss.

He picked up his first career win four days later against the Reds at Riverfront Stadium, pitching a complete-game, 11-3 gem. Thanks to MLB Cut4, you can watch that first win here (and revel in the 20-year-old Maddux’s glorious mustache).

If you missed our tribute to Maddux in the March issue of Vine Line, you can check it out here.

Cubs stars Castro and Rizzo off to fast starts

Rizzo_Starlin

(Photo by Stephen Green)

Most of the Cubs offseason was dedicated to speculation about whether young stars Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo could bounce back from disappointing 2013 campaigns. Through the first two weeks of the season, things are looking good, as both have gotten off to fast starts. While the team’s record might not be indicative of their strong play, the Cubs’ two most important offensive names have played to the level that earned them each seven-year extensions before their 24th birthdays.

Rizzo, who has batted in the heart of the order this season, is hitting .319/.389/.489 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with a pair of home runs, two doubles and eight RBI in 54 plate appearances. Power wasn’t an issue last year, as he was fifth in the National League in extra-base hits, but his abysmal .191 batting average with runners in scoring position limited a lot of the Cubs run-scoring opportunities. This season—in, admittedly, a very small sample—he’s hitting .400 in with runners in scoring position and giving life to the offense.

“I think you try to eliminate the stress that comes in that particular situation,” said Cubs manager Rick Renteria. “The reality is the pitcher’s the one on the ropes at that time. It’s tough to hit in the big leagues. It’s not the easiest thing to do. You’ve got a guy out there on the hill who’s trying to get you out and has a mix of pitches. Then you have yourself, trying to stay within yourself, trying to do what you can do and allow the situation to dictate the type of approach you should be taking. It’s just through trial and error and experience and continuing to talk about it [that we get better].”

Castro, who is two full seasons removed from a 2011 campaign in which he led the NL in hits, looks to be regaining his old form. The 24-year-old’s .300/.327/.460 line is well above where he finished in 2013 (.245/.284/.347), and he looks to be more comfortable at the plate. The shortstop has been batting mainly second or sixth so far and seems to be comfortable in either role.

“When you talk to all the guys, they’re not worried so much about where they’re hitting in the lineup,” Renteria said. “He’s comfortable wherever we put him. The player who ends up putting himself in the position where he believes he should only be hitting in a particular spot, puts himself in trouble.”

 

 

Cubs Charities launches the Diamond Project to improve local ball fields

Cubs Charities, in partnership with Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) Chicago, announced the launch of the Cubs Charities Diamond Project. The Diamond Project marks the third signature program Cubs Charities has launched. In 2013, they introduced the Cubs Scholars program and the Cubs On The Move Fitness Trolley.

The Diamond Project aims to improve the quality and safety of local baseball fields in the Chicago area. The project will expand opportunities for children to play baseball, create or preserve green space, and foster a love of the game, particularly in the inner city where baseball has experienced a significant decline.

“The Diamond Project aligns with our mission to be good neighbors and Cubs Charities’ goal of providing health and physical education activities for our youth,” said Cubs Charities Chair Laura Ricketts. “We’re thrilled to invest in our communities and offer the opportunity for children to continue to develop their love and passion for the game of baseball.”

Cubs Charities, with technical assistance from LISC Chicago, will identify communities in need of new or improved baseball fields and provide grants to facilities that will be used to promote health and wellness through baseball. In addition to monetary support, the Wrigley Field Grounds Crew will advise Cubs Charities Diamond Project grantees during projects and maintenance.

“Public recreational spaces are essential to the health of every neighborhood,” said Susana Vasquez, LISC Chicago’s executive director. “We’re honored to partner with Cubs Charities to support new or renovated fields that will serve as tremendous community assets, especially for young people.”

An information session for nonprofit, neighborhood-based organizations and schools in the Chicago area will be held at Wrigley Field on Wednesday, April 30, at 10:00 a.m. in the Budweiser Bleacher Suite. Please email diamondproject@cubs.com if you wish to attend. For additional information on the Cubs Charities Diamond Project and how to apply, please visit http://www.cubs.com/diamondproject.

Emilio Bonifacio is blazing hot

bonifacio

(Photo by Stephen Green)

It’s a leadoff man’s job to set the tone for the offense and get on base. Newcomer Emilio Bonifacio has taken that role to heart and started the season at a record-setting pace.

The 28-year-old became the first player in National League history to record nine hits in the first two games of a season. But he didn’t stop there. Through the first nine games, he recorded 19 hits, batted better than .450 and scored nine runs—or nearly one-third of the team’s total. The sample size is still very small, but when your leadoff man is getting on base at a .500 clip, something is going very right.

“I try to select good pitches,” Bonifacio said. “I try to swing at a strike in the zone, and I have [had] good results.”

After being released by the Royals prior to Spring Training, Bonifacio signed with the Cubs as a nonroster invitee. But after a solid preseason, the veteran played his way onto the major league squad.

His defensive versatility has made him very valuable to a platoon-oriented team. Depending on the pitcher, Bonifacio has gotten starts in both center field and at second base.

“He gives you the flexibility to be able to play so many different positions,” said Cubs manager Rick Renteria. “I could play him in probably every outfield position and any infield position from second all the way through third base. I haven’t used him at first, but I’m sure if you said, “Can you put this [first-base glove] on?” he’d go over there.”

He’s also the first true leadoff man the Cubs have had in years. In the first three series, he swiped seven bases. That speed should be a huge boost to a lineup that stole only 63 bags last season, 13th in the National League.

“It’s been really good to have that feeling, especially with a new team and being in the leadoff spot,” Bonifacio said. “That’s the job—to try to get on base. Hopefully I can keep doing it like that.”

Cubs Minor League Notebook: 4/10/14

Iowa wrapped up their series with a win, and Kane County also pulled off a victory Thursday. The bats were quiet in losses for the Smokies and D-Cubs. Here are the highlights from yesterday’s action:

Iowa Cubs (4-4)
T-2nd Place (-2.0)

Iowa defeated Nashville 5-1, and won three of four games in the series.

  • RHP Kyle Hendricks picked up the win, going 7.0 innings, giving up one earned run on five hits and a walk while striking out five.
  • SS Javier Baez (.154) went 1-for-4 with a sixth-inning, two-run homer.
  • 1B Chris Valaika (.263) went 2-for-4 with a double (2) and two RBI (3).
  • CF Matt Szczur (.233) and 2B Arismendy Alcantara (.280) recorded two hits apiece.
  • RHPs Neil Ramirez (10.80) and Blake Parker (0.00) both tossed a scoreless inning of relief.

Tennessee Smokies (2-5)
T-4th Place (-4.0)

Chattanooga scored a run in the ninth inning to beat the Smokies 1-0.

  • RHP Jake Arrieta made his second start with the Smokies as part of a major league rehab assignment, tossing 3.2 scoreless innings while fanning four. Arrieta threw 66 pitches (44 strikes), and has allowed just three hits while striking out seven in two starts (6.2 IP).
  • 1B Dustin Geiger (.280) reached base twice, going 1-for-3 with a walk.
  • RHP Dae-Eun Rhee (0-1, 3.12) suffered the loss despite allowing just one run in 4.0 innings of relief.

Daytona Cubs (1-6)
T-5th Place (-5.0)

Dunedin tallied 18 hits en route to sweeping the three-game set in Daytona, beating the Cubs 12-2.

  • LF Bijan Rademacher (.455) recorded three of Daytona’s seven hits, going 3-for-3 with a run scored and a walk.
  • DH Tim Saunders (.211) went 1-for-4 with his third RBI of the season.
  • RF Oliver Zapata (.273) went 1-for-3 with a run scored, a walk and one RBI (1).

Kane County Cougars (4-3)
T-2nd Place (-1.0)

Kane County pulled into a second place tie with a 7-5 victory over visiting Fort Wayne.

  • RHP Tyler Skulina picked up the win, pitching 5.2 innings and striking out six.
  • 2B Daniel Lockhart (.167) and SS Carlos Penalver (.259) combined to go 4-for-10 with five runs scored.
  • RF Yasiel Balaguert (.300) went 1-for-4 with a walk and a game-high three RBI (7).
  • RHP Justin Amlung (0.00) tossed 2.1 scoreless innings of relief to record his first hold of the year.
  • RHP Tyler Bremer (0.00) worked the ninth inning to convert his first save of the campaign.

Cubs Minor League Recap: 4/7/14

Christian Villanueva powered Triple-A Iowa to victory, but both Tennessee and Daytona lost one-run games Monday night. Kane County had the day off and resumes action Tuesday. Here are some highlights from yesterday’s action.

Iowa Cubs (2-3)
4th Place (1.5 Games Back)

3B Christian Villanueva supported a strong start by LHP Tsuyoshi Wada with a go-ahead, three-run home run with two outs in the sixth inning to lift Iowa over visiting Nashville, 4-1.

  • RF Brett Jackson (.143) notched his first two hits of the season, including a fifth-inning triple, finishing 2-for-2 with a run scored, a walk and a stolen base.
  • LHP Wada earned his first win in his debut with the I-Cubs. His eight punchouts have him tied for fifth place in the Pacific Coast League this season.
  • RHP Blake Parker (0.00) earned the save, striking out two in a scoreless ninth. His 42 career saves are tops in the organization.

Tennessee Smokies (1-4)
5th Place (3 Games Back)

Tennessee fell at Pensacola, dropping a 3-2 decision and finishing the five-game series with a 1-4 record.

  • RHP Matt Loosen went five innings, giving up three earned runs, walking three and striking out two in the loss.
  • 1B Dustin Geiger (.278) went 2-for-4 with his second solo home run in as many days.
  • SS Jeudy Valdez (.375) went 2-for-3 including an eighth-inning double that drove in his first run of the season.
  • RHP Ryan Searle (2.08), LHP Hunter Cervenka (0.00), and RHP Tony Zych (9.00) combined for five strikeouts over three perfect innings of relief.

Daytona Cubs (1-3)
T-4th Place (2 Games Back)

Daytona surrendered an early three-run lead at home vs. Brevard County, losing 5-4 and committing three errors.

  • LHP Rob Zastryzny gave up four runs in four innings, striking out six and walking two in a no-decision.
  • LF Rock Shoulders (.200) went 2-for-4 with a run scored, a double, two RBI and two strikeouts.
  • 3B Jeimer Candelario (.286) added two hits, going 2-for-4 with a run scored, a triple and one RBI.
  • RHP Yao-Lin Wang (0-1, 0.00) suffered the loss on an unearned run that scored on a fielding error by SS Marco Hernandez in the top of the fifth inning.

 

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