(Photo by Stephen Green)
The 2015 Prospect Watch continued on MLB.com Tuesday with perhaps the least surprising unveiling of the week. Adding to his already-packed trophy case, Cubs farmhand Kris Bryant was named the top third baseman in the minors. The 23-year-old had a huge season in 2014 and is likely primed to make his major league debut in 2015. Here’s some of what MLB.com had to say:
[Bryant] won every Minor League player of the year award imaginable in 2014, when he led the Minors in home runs (43), extra-base hits (78), total bases (325), slugging (.661) and OPS (1.098) while reaching Triple-A in his first full pro season.
Bryant has everything needed to lead the Majors in homers at some point: size, strength, bat speed and loft in his swing, plus the willingness to work counts to find a pitch he can punish. He doesn’t sell out for power, instead letting it come naturally, and he can drive the ball out of the park to the opposite field as well as anyone. Though Bryant will pile up some strikeouts, he makes enough hard contact to hit for a solid average and draws enough walks to post a robust on-base percentage.
Chicago’s stockpile of young infielders eventually could push him to the outfield, where he played some in college at San Diego. Scouts love his makeup almost as much as his power and think he’ll be a star.
Though his ultimate defensive location is still in question, it’s the slugger’s bat that will undoubtedly get him to the majors. In 138 games between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa last year, he hit .325/.438/.661 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 34 doubles and showed some speed on the basepaths with 15 stolen bases.
Kris Bryant heads what Keith Law calls the best system in baseball. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
In July, ESPN prospect expert Keith Law raved about the Cubs’ system, naming it the best in the game at that point. He went so far as to say, “This has to be the most loaded the Cubs’ farm has been in at least 30 years.”
That feeling has continued to resonate with Law, who again named the Cubs’ farm system the best in baseball heading into the 2015 season.
1. Chicago Cubs
The Cubs’ draft strategy under the Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer regime has been to grab a polished hitter in the first round and load up on arms later. That, along with the trade of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel that netted two more top hitting prospects, has produced a system that’s full of hitting prospects but still a bit light on the pitching side. The first wave of bats reached the majors in the middle of 2014, with more coming this year, but there won’t be enough at-bats for Javier Baez and Jorge Soler and Arismendy Alcantara and Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber and Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo … and that’s not even everyone who might end up pushing for playing time. The Cubs are in prime position to flip a young hitter for a pitcher or even to swing a bigger deal, especially if they want to try to set themselves up to win the NL Central in 2016. There are young starting pitching prospects here to like, led by 20-year-old Duane Underwood, but they’re all a few years away.
Law ranked the Cubs the No. 4 system at this time in 2014, No. 5 in 2013, and No. 20 in 2012—mere months after Epstein and Hoyer took over.
Law will unveil his top 100 prospects on Thursday and list his top 10 prospects for each club on Friday.
(Photo by Aldrin Capulong/Daytona Cubs)
As MLB.com continues its positional top 10 prospect lists, the Cubs have another young player getting press. On Friday, the 2015 Prospect Watch unveiled its top minor league first basemen, with slugger Dan Vogelbach slotting in at No. 8. The big 2011 second-round pick has long been known as a deep-ball threat. Here’s some of what MLB.com had to say about Vogelbach:
Bryce Harper made a name for himself when he slammed a 502-foot home run at the 2009 Power Showcase, a high school homer run derby, and Vogelbach topped him the next year with a 508-foot blast. … Vogelbach is more than just a one-dimensional masher, however. He controls the strike zone, makes consistent contact and uses the entire field, so he should hit for a solid average while providing plus power. He has yet to fully tap into his pop, though he’s also still just 22.
There are two obstacles to him becoming a regular for the Cubs: All-Star Anthony Rizzo and persistent questions about whether Vogelbach has enough athleticism to be more than a DH.
Vogelbach spent the entire 2014 season at High-A Daytona with mixed results. He batted .268/.357/.429 (AVG/OBP/SLG) compiling a solid 66 walks and 28 doubles and driving in 76 runs. That said, he also only hit 16 home runs and his .787 OPS left something to be desired, especially given that power is by far his most prominent tool. Known as a slow starter, his production picked up as the season progressed. His 2015 could be an important year, especially if he gets an extended opportunity at Double-A Tennessee.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
The Cubs announced times for a public visitation and memorial service for Cubs icon Ernie Banks, who died of a heart attack on Friday. Services will be held this Friday, Jan. 30, and Saturday, Jan. 31. Friday’s public visitation will go from 12 p.m.-8 p.m. at the Fourth Presbyterian Church on 126 E. Chestnut St. in Chicago and Saturday’s memorial service will start at 10 a.m. with limited seating available. The church’s full address is as follows:
Fourth Presbyterian Church
126 E. Chestnut St.
Chicago, IL 60611
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Banks’ memory to Cubs Charities at the below address or by visiting cubs.com/give and clicking on “Donate Now.”
In Memory of Ernie Banks
1060 W. Addison
Chicago, IL 60613
The winter postseasons are wrapping up, which inevitably means less baseball is being played. That said, there were a few Cubs representatives in action Sunday who performed at a high level. Here are some notes from yesterday’s action around the Caribbean:
- CF Junior Lake had a pair of hits, including a two-run homer in the eighth inning, but the Estrellas de Oriente fell to the Gigantes del Cibao Sunday, losing the Dominican series 5-3. Earlier this winter, prospect Junior Felix Arias represented the Gigantes, who will now play in the Caribbean Series.
- 2B Javier Baez finished 2-for-4 with an RBI double and a walk as the Cangrejeros de Santurce secured a 9-1 win over the Indios de Mayaguez, taking a 3-2 lead in the best-of-nine series.
The Chicago Cubs and Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Sunday that Ernie Banks’ Wrigley Field statue will be placed in Daley Plaza this week from Wednesday morning through Saturday, allowing fans to honor and remember the Hall of Famer. Banks passed away Friday night after suffering cardiac arrest at the age of 83.
Banks became the first player in Cubs history to be honored with a statue at Wrigley Field in 2008. Mayor Emanuel and the City of Chicago will host the statue, which has been temporarily removed from its home at the corner of Clark and Addison during the current phase of the Wrigley Field restoration project. The statue is being transported from a facility outside of the city where it is being restored and will be placed in Daley Plaza upon arrival in Chicago.
Mayor Emanuel called Banks a friend who was a great ambassador for the city.
“Ernie Banks’ legacy extends far beyond his Hall of Fame stats. He was beloved by generations of people for the way he played on the field and—more importantly—for the kind and warm person he was off the field,” Emanuel said. “We are bringing Ernie’s statue to Daley Plaza to honor not just one of the best ballplayers of all time, but a great man who made our city proud from the day we first met him in 1953.”
Inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1977, Banks was a lifelong Cub who played for 19 seasons. He was a 14-time All-Star and back-to-back National League Most Valuable Player in 1958 and 1959. He hit 512 home runs in his career, and his 277 home runs as a shortstop remain a National League record.
The greatest player in franchise history, Banks ranks first among Cubs in games played (2,528), at-bats (9,421), extra-base hits (1,009) and total bases (4,706); second in home runs (512), RBI (1,636) and hits (2,583); third in doubles (407); fifth in runs scored (1,305); seventh in triples (90); and eighth in walks (763).
He was the first Cub to have his number retired in 1982, was voted to Major League Baseball’s All-Century Team in 1999, and was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.
“Ernie Banks was a great player and an even better person,” said Tom Ricketts, Chairman of the Cubs. “He was a kind, gentle man who loved his fans as much as they loved him. We couldn’t think of a better way to honor Ernie than to allow those fans a way to pay their final respects to this great man.”
On Friday night, baseball fans across the country were saddened by the news that Cubs great Ernie Banks had died at the age of 83. Always in a chipper mood, Banks could put a smile on anybody’s face and was accurately nicknamed “Mr. Cub” for his passion towards the organization. When the Yankees made a rare appearance at the Friendly Confines in late May of last year, Vine Line had a rare opportunity to sit down with the Hall of Famer Banks and the recently retired Derek Jeter for a memorable conversation. The following story is from the July 2014 issue.
Mr. Cub and Mr. November. When it comes to playing shortstop in the major leagues, it’s hard to do better than Cubs legend Ernie Banks and all-time Yankees great Derek Jeter.
Between them, they have 28 All-Star appearances, two MVP Awards (with 10 top-10 finishes) and six Gold Gloves. They have also amassed nearly 6,000 hits and 800 home runs. Banks was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977. Assuming Jeter holds firm on his decision to retire after this season, he just needs the calendar to turn to 2019 for his certain enshrinement.
Both enjoyed long and distinguished careers with one organization; both spawned memorable moments and were the faces of their respective franchises; and both became great ambassadors for the game.
When Derek Jeter made a rare interleague appearance in Chicago this past May, Vine Line and Yankees Magazine couldn’t let the opportunity to get the two iconic players together slip away.
Yankees Magazine Editor-in-Chief Alfred Santasiere III spoke to the man affectionately known as Mr. Cub and the Yankees captain about playing a demanding defensive position, spending their entire careers with a single team, playing at the Friendly Confines and more.
For baseball fans, it doesn’t get any better than this.
Vine Line: First of all, it’s an honor to be here with two of the greatest shortstops the game has ever seen. Thank you both. Mr. Jeter, how did Mr. Banks, who is over 6 feet tall, impact the future of the position?
Derek Jeter: I’ve had the opportunity to meet Phil Rizzuto and Pee Wee Reese, who were two of the other great shortstops from Mr. Banks’ era. Those guys epitomized who played that position back then—shorter guys without a lot of power. Mr. Banks redefined the position, and he really paved the way for taller players like me to get the opportunity to play shortstop.
Ernie Banks: Who were the shortstops you watched when you were growing up?
DJ: I was a big Cal Ripken Jr. fan. He’s 6 foot 4, and he played the position as well as anyone I had seen. I also liked watching Barry Larkin, who played his college ball in my home state of Michigan. Alan Trammell played for the Detroit Tigers, and they were on TV a lot in my house when I was growing up, so I got to see him play frequently.
EB: Why didn’t they ever move you to third base?
DJ: I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure that out.
VL: Mr. Banks, what are your thoughts on Mr. Jeter’s ability to play such a demanding position so well for nearly two decades?
EB: Well, he’s a remarkable player, and that’s proven by the fact that he is still playing shortstop. We all slow down a little as we get older. I moved to first base after about 10 seasons at shortstop. But Derek has done what no one else has, and that’s remarkable.
VL: How much does it mean to each of you to have played for one team your entire careers—and to be synonymous with those teams?
DJ: Playing my entire career in New York has always been important to me. I’ve been fortunate because in this day and age, it’s more difficult to stay with one team than when Mr. Banks was playing. With free agency, there is so much player movement, and teams get rid of players when there are younger players available who can play the same position a little better. But I can’t imagine playing anywhere else.
EB: It means the world to me. We played all day games in Chicago back then because they didn’t have lights at Wrigley Field until 1988. That was something I got used to and really enjoyed. The only night games we played were when we were on the road. Like Derek said, I couldn’t have imagined what it would have been like to play for another team. If I had played for another team and I had to play most of the games at night, it would have felt like every game was an away game for me.
VL: How would each of you describe your respective fan bases?
EB: The fans here are loyal. When I was playing, I got to meet a lot of fans, and that was a lot of fun. I signed autographs for as many kids as I could because I thought that one day I might be asking one of those kids for a job. Cubs fans aren’t as loud as Yankees fans though. The first time I met Derek, I asked him what it’s like playing in New York. He looked at me and said, “When you win, it’s loud.”
DJ: That’s a great story. Yankees fans follow the team closely, and there’s a lot of energy in Yankee Stadium every time we take the field. The expectation level is high, but there’s no better place to win than in New York.
VL: The enthusiasm that both of you have for the game is well documented. What makes playing baseball for a living so enjoyable?
DJ: Every day is a new day. It’s kind of like life in that you wake up and you never know what’s going to happen when you get to the ballpark. Regardless of how you played the day before, you come to the ballpark with a clean slate the next day. I like that about baseball. I have enjoyed competing and being around my teammates as well. That’s why I have played the game for as long as I have.
EB: It was fun being out there every day. That’s why I said, “It’s a great day for baseball. Let’s play two.” I especially enjoyed playing the shortstop position. For me, making adjustments to where I was going to play in the field depending on who was on the mound and who was at the plate was part of the game I relished. I got as much fun out of the strategy of the game and making sure I was in the right place to turn double plays as I got out of hitting the ball out of the park.
VL: Mr. Banks, what were the most challenging aspects of going directly from the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues to the Cubs at a time when there were very few African-Americans in the majors?
EB: As far as being discriminated against, that’s all I knew since the time I was growing up. But the hardest thing about leaving the Monarchs for the Cubs was saying goodbye to my teammates in Kansas City. I liked being around those guys, and I didn’t want to leave them. They were like my family.
VL: How did you adjust to life in the big leagues?
EB: I played for [legendary Negro Leagues player and manager] Buck O’Neil in Kansas City, and I played alongside Gene Baker and Tony Taylor, who knew a lot about the game. I learned how to play the game from those guys. They taught me about the intricacies of the game and the shortstop position. That along with some God-given ability made it so I was prepared to play in the big leagues when I arrived in Chicago.
VL: Mr. Jeter, how was your career impacted by what Mr. Banks and others did in breaking the color barrier in the early 1950s?
DJ: It’s unimaginable for me. Mr. Banks is one of the players who paved the way for all African-Americans to play the game. I’m grateful to him for what he did on the field, and I also appreciate the way he has treated me since I was a young player.
VL: Mr. Banks, what stands out about Mr. Jeter’s accomplishments and the way he has represented himself and his team over the years?
EB: I really admire him. He’s accomplished so many great things. He’s knowledgeable about every aspect of playing the game. He studies the opposing pitchers, and he learned how to hit the ball to all fields at a young age. He’s an amazing young player. When he got his 3,000th hit on a home run, that was really special for me to watch. What was that like for you, Derek?
DJ: Well, I appreciate you referring to me as a young player. Hitting that home run felt great. More than anything, I was happy that it happened in front of our fans in New York.
EB: How did you do that?
DJ: I closed my eyes and swung the bat.
VL: Mr. Banks, what makes Wrigley Field such a special baseball destination?
EB: It’s special because it has been here for 100 years, and we’ve had some great teams. It’s a beautiful place, and so much history has taken place on this field. Babe Ruth stood a few feet from where we are sitting, pointed to the seats and then hit the ball out of the park. More than 80 years later, Derek Jeter will come up to the plate in the same place. That’s an amazing thing. Also, the fans are very close to the field, and that makes it an intimate setting for baseball. There’s no better place to watch a game.
VL: Mr. Jeter, how exciting is it to visit Wrigley Field in your final season—and during the stadium’s centennial?
DJ: I like being a part of history and tradition, and I’m thrilled to get one last chance to play here—especially since I was on the disabled list when we played here in 2011. I drove here with my class on my last day of high school, and that is a great memory. If I could have written a script for my career back then, I would have included a trip to Wrigley Field during my final season.
EB: You’re not really going to quit, are you?
DJ: After this season.
EB: You can’t do that.
DJ: Yes, I can.
EB: I wish guys like you never had to quit.
DJ: Well, let’s just say I’m moving on.
—Alfred Santasiere III
(Photo courtesy National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)
The Chicago Cubs tonight are saddened to announce that Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, the greatest Cub in franchise history, has passed away at the age of 83.
“Words cannot express how important Ernie Banks will always be to the Chicago Cubs, the city of Chicago and Major League Baseball. He was one of the greatest players of all time,” said Tom Ricketts, chairman of the Cubs. “He was a pioneer in the major leagues. And, more importantly, he was the warmest and most sincere person I’ve ever known.
“Approachable, ever optimistic and kind-hearted, Ernie Banks is and always will be Mr. Cub. My family and I grieve the loss of such a great and good-hearted man, but we look forward to celebrating Ernie’s life in the days ahead.”
Inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1977, Ernie played the game he loved as a lifelong Cub for 19 seasons from when he made his debut with the club in 1953 until his retirement in 1971. He was a 14-time All-Star and back-to-back National League Most Valuable Player in 1958 and 1959. He hit 47 home runs with 129 RBI in 1958 and followed that up with 45 home runs and 143 RBI in 1959.
Banks hit 512 home runs in his career, surpassing the 40-home run mark five times, and his 277 home runs as a shortstop remain a National League record.
Banks ranks first among Cubs players in games played (2,528), at-bats (9,421), extra-base hits (1,009) and total bases (4,706); second in home runs (512), RBI (1,636) and hits (2,583); third in doubles (407); fifth in runs scored (1,305); seventh in triples (90); and eighth in walks (763).
While still a player in 1967, Ernie turned his eye to coaching and served in that role through 1973, becoming the first African-American to manage a major league team on May 8, 1973, when he took over for the ejected Whitey Lockman.
Banks became the first player in franchise history to have his number retired in 1982, and his flag flies from the left-field foul pole to this day. He was also voted to Major League Baseball’s All-Century Team, and he was honored on the field at the All-Star Game in Fenway Park in 1999.
Beyond his statistics on the field, Banks was famous for his endearing charm and his remarkable wit. He became the first player in franchise history to be honored with a statue at Wrigley Field when he helped with the unveiling at Clark and Addison on March 31, 2008. His statue is adorned with his famous line, “Let’s Play Two.”
In 2013, Banks was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, an award given to those who have made an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.
(Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
The Chicago Cubs today claimed right-handed pitcher Gonzalez Germen off waivers from the Texas Rangers. The club’s 40-man roster now stands at 40 players.
Germen, 27, is 1-2 with one save and a 4.31 ERA (31 ER/64.2 IP) in 54 relief appearances covering the last two seasons with the New York Mets. He has struck out 64 batters in 64.2 innings pitched while limiting opponents to a .248 batting average, including a .229 mark by right-handers. The Dominican native went 1-2 with one save and a 3.93 ERA in 29 outings for the Mets in 2013 and posted no record and a 4.75 ERA in 25 appearances in 2014.
The 6-foot-1, 202-pound pitcher originally signed with the Mets as a nondrafted free agent in 2007. He is 38-31 with 10 saves and a 3.51 ERA in 148 appearances (80 starts) in seven minor league seasons in the Mets farm system (2008-14).
Germen was designated for assignment by the Mets on Dec. 15 and traded to the New York Yankees on Dec. 19. \He was then designated for assignment on Jan. 13 and traded to the Texas Rangers on Jan. 20.