(Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
While Travis Wood is representing the Cubs major league team in Tuesday night’s All-Star Game at Citi Field in New York, Double-A Tennessee middle-infielder Arismendy Alcantara got an opportunity to represent the organization’s minor leaguers in last Sunday’s Futures Game, a showcase pitting the top American-born prospects against the rest of the world’s elite minor league talents. And the 5-foot-10, 160-pound Dominican native made his presence known.
Batting second and playing second base, the Cubs prospect knotted the game at 1-1 in the third inning, blasting a 93-mph fastball out of the park for a home run off of Red Sox prospect Anthony Ranaudo. He finished the day 1-for-3 in five innings of play, as the World dropped a 4-2 decision.
In the July issue of Vine Line, we noted Alcantara’s stellar play in the first half, calling him one of the organization’s top performers thus far in 2013.
Alcantara was having a breakout year at Daytona in 2012, hitting .302/.339/.447 with seven home runs, when a leg injury cut his season short. But he has come back healthy in 2013 and picked up right where he left off—or at a higher level. At just 21 years old, Alcantara is young for Double-A, but he’s showing he’s up for the challenge, compiling a slash line of .280/.354/.475 with 13 home runs and 23 doubles so far this season. He is a very athletic player with power from both sides of the plate and a plus runner who has the ability to steal bases (22 stolen bases and only three caught stealing so far this season)—and he does all this while playing a premium position. The switch-hitter came into the season as a player to watch. If he continues to perform at this level, he’ll end the year as one of the Cubs’ better prospects.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
Left-handed starter Travis Wood will represent the Cubs in the 2013 All-Star Game Tuesday night. Even though Wood threw on Sunday, Cubs manager Dale Sveum said the 26-year-old is available to pitch tonight at NL manager Bruce Bochy’s discretion.
Wood, who has a 6-6 record this year, has quickly emerged as one of baseball’s toughest left-handers. He’s compiled a 2.79 ERA with a 1.04 WHIP—both good for top 10 in the NL—and a league-best 17 quality starts over 122.2 innings pitched. It’s Wood’s first All-Star selection.
Imagine a roster with Banks, Fergie, Santo and Sosa—all in their primes.
With a lot of help from stats website Fangraphs.com, and a little insider information from author and SB Nation National Baseball Editor Rob Neyer, we’ve compiled the all-time greatest single seasons from a Cubs player at each position. Because there’s so much that goes into the game of baseball, and numbers are by nature open to interpretation, compiling this kind of roster can be fairly subjective and lead to lengthy debates. We opted to take as much conflict as possible out of the equation and simply utilized the advanced statistic wins above replacement (WAR).
We won’t bore you with an extensive breakdown of the formula, but what WAR essentially does is aggregate everything an individual contributes—offensively and defensively—into one definitive number that conveys his value, typically ranging from -1 to 10. The purpose of the formula is to quantify how much a team would lose if a player was swapped for an average replacement player.
In order to qualify for our team, each player had to spend the majority of his time at a single position during the season being measured. And because the team wasn’t officially christened the Chicago Cubs until 1903, players who represented the Orphans, Colts and White Stockings were excluded (apologies to Bill Hutchison and his 10.6 WAR in 1892). It wasn’t necessary to win an MVP or even go to the All-Star Game. These are simply the best WAR seasons for a Cubs player at each spot on the diamond.
For Friday’s installment, we unveil the greatest single season for a pitcher in Cubs history. For more information or the entire roster, be sure to pick up a copy of July’s issue of Vine Line. And watch the blog in the coming weeks for the rest of the roster.
Pitcher: Fergie Jenkins, 1970—10.5 WAR
If you’re looking for an example of how fickle wins above replacement can be, look no further than Cubs great Fergie Jenkins. His 1971 season was phenomenal. He won 24 games behind a 2.77 ERA and was awarded the NL Cy Young for his efforts. It was the previous season, however, the one without an All-Star appearance—much less the Cy Young hardware—in which he compiled the best-ever WAR for a Cubs pitcher. Though the first half of his 1970 season got off to a rocky start, Jenkins rallied in the second half, posting a 2.75 ERA and holding opposing batters to a .197 average after the All-Star break. To the credit of manager Leo Durocher, much of the team’s success that season came from letting Jenkins take the ball deep into outings. In 39 starts, he tossed 24 complete games. Much of the right-hander’s success came from his 4.57 K/BB ratio, the third-best mark of the decade.
Rob Neyer’s Take:
“[This was] the middle of a brilliant six-year run in which Jenkins averaged 21 wins, 39 starts and 306 innings per season. It seems we’ll never see the likes of him again.”
Other Notable Seasons (Pitcher):
Fergie Jenkins – 10.3 WAR (1971)
Fergie Jenkins – 9.1 WAR (1969)
Jorge Soler will represent the World Team in the Futures Game. (Photo by Stephen Green)
A pair of the Cubs’ most promising prospects were honored for their solid first halves on Wednesday, as middle-infielder Arismendy Alcantara and corner outfielder Jorge Soler were both selected to represent the World Team in the MLB All-Star Futures Game. The annual exhibition, which will be held on July 14 at Citi Field in New York, pits the top U.S.-born prospects against the best from around the world.
The 21-year-old Alcantara has enjoyed a solid season in Double-A Tennessee this year. Primarily playing shortstop (57 appearances vs. 17 at second base), the 2008 non-drafted free agent has hit .280/.357/.465 and is fourth in the Southern League with 10 home runs and fifth in stolen bases with 19. He’s also tied for sixth in the SL with 17 doubles. The Dominican native is ranked No. 20 on MLB.com’s organizational prospect ranks.
Cuban expat Soler made news last season when the Cubs signed him to a nine-year, $30 million deal, and he has performed well in his first full season of minor league ball. The 6-foot-4, 215 pound slugger has hit .281/.343/.467 for High-A Daytona, recording eight home runs with 13 doubles and 35 RBI. Baseball Prospectus’ Jason Parks recently named Soler the No. 31 prospect in baseball, and MLB.com has him ranked No. 3 in the organization.
In addition to Alcantara and Soler, Cubs fans have a chance to vote for shortstop phenom Javier Baez as the final member of the World Team, as he was named a Futures Finalist.
The Kane County Cougars entered the 2013 season as one of the youngest squads in the Single-A Midwest League. Apparently, age hasn’t been a factor, as six Cougars—Nathan Dorris, Felix Pena, Bijan Rademacher, Tayler Scott, Rock Shoulders and Dan Vogelbach—were all named to the Western Division All-Star team on Wednesday. This marks the most All-Stars from Kane County since 2009.
Reliever Dorris has been a solid contributor out of the bullpen, posting a 2.52 ERA in 14 appearances and striking out 25 batters over 25 innings. He was drafted in the 17th round of last year’s draft.
Right-handed starter Pena has spent some time on the DL this season, but when healthy, the 23-year-old has posted a 2-0 record with a 2.11 ERA over 38.1 innings. The Cubs acquired him as a non-drafted free agent prior to the 2009 season.
A Johannesburg, South Africa native, Scott has started 10 games for the Cougars this season. He has a 2-2 record with a 4.56 ERA over 53.1 innings. The right-hander was selected in the fifth round of the 2011 draft.
Designated hitter Shoulders leads the league in home runs with 12 and was named the Cubs Minor League Player of the Month in April. His .884 OPS is sixth in the league largely thanks to a .505 slugging percentage. The Cubs drafted him in the 25th round of the 2011 draft.
Rademacher’s .310 batting average leads the Cougars for all players with more than 100 at-bats. The outfielder also has five doubles and 15 RBI on the season. He was drafted in the 13th round of the 2012 draft.
Vogelbach will serve as the starting DH for the Western Division. The hulking first baseman has nine homers, fourth in the MWL, as well as 39 RBI. He has an .807 OPS to go along with his .282 average. Vogelbach was selected in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft.
The game will be played on Tuesday, June 18, and will be hosted by the Dayton Dragons.
Dustin Geiger is one of four Daytona Cubs who will participate in the FSL All-Star Game. (Aldrin Capulong/Daytona Cubs)
Many had a feeling that—if nothing else—the High-A Daytona Cubs would be an entertaining offensive squad. Several of the organization’s top prospects comprise the middle of a batting order that already housed a healthy balance of power and speed. So it should come as no surprise that four position players—John Andreoli, Javier Baez, Dustin Geiger and Jorge Soler—will be representing the D-Cubs in the Florida State League All-Star Game.
The 22-year-old Andreoli leads the team in hitting (.320) and on-base percentage (.390) and has 15 stolen bases, after leading the FSL in stolen bases last season. In a league known for its pitching, the outfielder is just one of seven players with an average of .310 or better. He was the Cubs’ 17th round pick in 2011.
By this point, most Cubs fans should be familiar with phenom Javier Baez. The shortstop, who will be making his All-Star debut next weekend, is widely considered the organization’s top prospect. Already an FSL player of the week recipient, Baez has a team-best nine homers to go along with his 36 RBI and a .278/.324/.514 (AVG/OBP/SLG) slash line. The 20-year-old was the ninth overall pick of the 2011 draft.
Geiger has put together a solid campaign, especially considering it’s his first full professional season as an everyday first baseman. The 21-year-old has a .299/.368/.471 line with six homers batting out of the five spot in the order. He has also drawn 21 walks and leads the team with 47 RBI. The Cubs drafted Geiger in the 24th round of the 2010 draft.
The Cuban-born Soler signed a nine-year, $30 million deal in 2012, and early returns are promising. His eight home runs are second on the team, and he leads the squad with an .855 OPS. He’s batting .291 on the year and doing it all while still assimilating to the American culture. Most prospect lists have the outfielder ranked as one of the top three players in the system.
The FSL All-Star Game will be played on Saturday, June 15, at 7 p.m. EST at the Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin, Fla.
After a few days off for the All-Star Break, the Diamondbacks come to town to kick start the second half of the season. Arizona sits at 42-43, but is only four games back of the NL West-leading Dodgers. Vine Line looked at the Kirk Gibson-managed side and broke down some of the key players to watch in the series.
Hitters to watch:
Paul Goldschmidt — While it might not be considered a snub, Goldschmidt was one of the better players not to participate in the All-Star festivities in Kansas City. His .302 average leads the team and is second best among NL first basemen, while his .368 on-base percentage is 13th best in the NL. He also plays solid defense at first. He has committed only three errors, and his .5 UZR is good for fifth in the NL.
Aaron Hill — Hill was another All-Star hopeful who found himself on the outside looking in. He was also the only NL nominee in the All-Star Final Vote not to make the team. But Hill is looking more like the 2009 version of himself, when he hit 36 home runs and drove in 108 for the Blue Jays. This year, he is hitting .300 (second among NL second basemen) with an .860 OPS (on-base plus slugging), highest of all NL second basemen by nearly 80 points.
Pitchers to watch:
Joe Saunders — The Cubs dodge the D-backs’ lone All-Star, Wade Miley, but Saunders has quietly rebounded into the viable starter the Angels hoped he’d be when they drafted him in the first round in ’02. Though he sits at 4-5, he’s put up a solid a 3.44 ERA, his lowest since 2008, when he finished at 3.41. He is not much of a strikeout pitcher, but his 5.9 K/9 is his highest mark since ’06. He’s slated to come off the DL and throw on Saturday, opposite Ryan Dempster.
Brad Ziegler — The Diamondbacks’ bullpen has the fifth best ERA in the NL, and setup man Ziegler is having the best season of Arizona’s bullpen arms. His 2.45 ERA is tops on the team, though he’s not much of a strikeout pitcher either (6.0 K/9). In 33 innings, he hasn’t surrendered a home run and carries a respectable 1.27 WHIP. His four wins out of the bullpen are also best in baseball among relievers.
Josh Vitters took part in Wednesday night’s Triple-A All-Star Game, wrapping up the Midsummer Classics for each level of the Cubs organization. Vine Line recapped how Cubs players and prospects performed in their respective All-Star Games.
Major League All-Star Game:
Starlin Castro: 0-for-1, flied out to center, two defensive innings played
Bryan LaHair: 0-for-1, ground out to shortstop, three defensive innings played
MLB Futures Game:
Jae-Hoon Ha: 2-for-2, HR, 2 RBI, R, started at CF
Triple-A All-Star Game:
Josh Vitters: 0-for-1, BB, K, four defensive innings played
Double-A Southern League All-Star Game:
Jim Adduci: 2-for-2, double, RBI, four defensive innings played
Frank Batista: 2/3 IP, 0 R
Justin Bour: 1-for-3, BB, started at DH
Kevin Rhoderick: 1 IP, BB, 0 R
Single-A Florida State League All-Star Game:
Arismendy Alcantara: 0-for-1, three defensive innings
Austin Kirk: 1 IP, 0 R, starting pitcher
Nelson Perez: 1-for-3, double, RBI, BB, started at left field
Greg Rohan: 0-for-4, started at DH
Single-A Midwest League All-Star Game:
Kyler Burke: 2/3 IP, 3 H, 2 ER
Zeke DeVoss: 0-for-1, three defensive innings played
Paul Hoilman: 0-for-2, started at 1B
Cubs standouts Starlin Castro and Bryan LaHair took part in the 83rd MLB All-Star Game Tuesday night in Kansas City. Both went hitless in one at-bat, but the National League secured an 8-0 win and home-field advantage in the World Series thanks to a five-run first inning. Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera was named the game’s MVP after going 2-for-3 with a two-run home run.
Congrats to Starlin Castro and Bryan LaHair, who were both selected to the National League All-Star team yesterday.
The 22-year-old Castro earned his second All-Star honor in as many seasons, becoming the first Cubs shortstop to be named to the All-Star team in consecutive seasons since Don Kessinger’s five-year run from 1968-72. LaHair, 29, is the first Cub to be elected as a first baseman since Derrek Lee in 2007 and only the third Cubs first baseman to make the team in the last 30 years (Mark Grace).
Vine Line profiled LaHair in the July All-Star issue, on sale now. Here are a few choice quotes about his struggles in the minor leagues and the early All-Star speculation. The read the full interview, subscribe to Vine Line or pick up a copy at Chicago-area newsstands.
STAR STRUCK I’m humbled by the talk. I’ve got to stay in the moment and prepare for today’s game. I never like to get too far ahead of myself. There are a lot of good players in this league and a lot of guys with time served. It would be great to go to the All-Star Game, but it’s just so hard for me. I’m in such a young part of my major league career, so I can’t say I deserve to be there. I’d be lying if I stood here and said I wouldn’t want something like that. It’s a great honor. It’s reaching the top. I think the whole state of Massachusetts is voting for me, or at least it seems that way.
FAMILY MATTERS They kept pushing me every day—my mom and dad, and my wife [Nicole] especially. My wife has been with me since I first started. We met in ’04, which was one year into [pro ball]. She’s experienced the downs and the highs and the hard work and the success with no results coming from it. My family just kept pushing, telling me to work hard and keep the faith, and assuring me that good things would happen eventually. And they were right.