Archive for the ‘ Dailies ’ Category

Cubs AFL Recap: 10/16/14

A host of Cubs prospects were in action Thursday, and made a difference, as the Solar Sox captured a 6-2 win over Peoria. Here are some notes from yesterday’s Arizona Fall League action:

  • RHP Ivan Pineyro got the start, pitching three scoreless innings in the win. He gave up four hits—all singles—and struck out three while walking none.
  • 1B Dan Vogelbach went 2-for-4 with his first RBI of the fall. In the fourth inning, he doubled, scoring Addison Russell from second. He reached base again in the eighth with a soft single to left and scored on a Spencer Kieboom (Nationals) homer a batter later.
  • RHP Zach Cates pitched two scoreless innings, striking out one while giving up two hits and a walk.
  • SS Russell went 1-for-4, hitting a single in the eighth inning and reaching base on an error. He scored on the aforementioned Vogelbach double and Kieboom homer.
  • DH Jacob Hannemann went 0-for-4.

Mesa hosts Surprise Friday, with first pitch scheduled for 12:35 local time.

From the Pages of Vine Line: The Sandberg Game changed it all

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Photo by Stephen Green

Thirty years ago this month, the Cubs played in their first postseason series in nearly four decades. In the October issue of Vine Line, we look back at a game during that season that gave the organization the spark it needed to reach the playoffs.

Impressive single-game performances by unproven players should generally be taken with a grain of salt. Over a long season, even the most below-average hitter or spottiest of spot starters occasionally has his day. Mario Mendoza, whose name is synonymous with offensive mediocrity, had one four-hit game in his major league career.

Sometimes, though, there is a perfect storm of circumstances that make a single-game performance stand out above the 162-game grind—a performance that launches a Hall of Fame career and helps define a player’s legacy.

On June 23, 1984, Ryne Sandberg had such a performance. His 5-for-6, seven-RBI outburst certainly looks impressive on paper, but his day was about much more than the stat sheet.

Start with the fact that he took the game’s elite closer deep twice, tying the game in both the ninth and 10th innings. Throw in the setting (a beautiful Saturday at Wrigley Field) and the matchup (an afternoon showdown against the NL East rival Cardinals). Consider the game’s viewership as NBC’s nationally televised Game of the Week. Finally, pile on the fame it brought Sandberg, the playoff boost it gave a struggling organization, and the sustained steady bump in attendance at Wrigley Field, and the Sandberg Game was a seminal moment in both his career and in the enduring popularity of the Chicago Cubs.

* * * *

“While the performance was great, the reason it resonates was that the context was so different,” said broadcaster Bob Costas, who was in his third year on NBC’s baseball broadcast team when he called the Sandberg Game in 1984.

The broadcast landscape was dramatically different in the mid-1980s. Sports on TV were not the 24-hour, 365-day-a-year industry they are today, and cable had not yet taken hold, so most viewers had limited options when it came to what they watched. The National Game of the Week on NBC was a big deal to both baseball and its fans. Every Saturday, the network arranged a premier game to be broadcast in an afternoon time slot, which meant it was often the only matchup going, as most clubs played their weekend games at night.

“The Game of the Week really was the Game of the Week then,” said Costas, who admitted the Sandberg Game was his favorite regular season broadcast of his illustrious career. “No matter how well a game is telecast today, there’s no one game outside of the postseason that rivets everyone’s attention.”

This combination of factors lent Wrigley Field a Monday Night Football-type atmosphere, with a huge audience tuning in and ratings reaching as high as 10, a number today’s postseason games struggle to match. Even with the WGN Superstation broadcasting Cubs games to viewers across the country, there was still reason to get excited about the weekly NBC tilt.

“There’s only one National Game of the Week on Saturday,” said former Cubs catcher Jody Davis, who started behind the plate that day. “Of course, you didn’t get to play in many every year, so you’re lucky to get into one.”

Sandberg shared similar sentiments and said he relished the idea of the national spotlight shining on him and his teammates for an afternoon.

“Every game on television was a big deal to me,” Sandberg said. “I knew that everybody back home was watching. That really got me fired up to play every game. It brought the most out of my abilities.”

* * * *

This particular Saturday was one of those picturesque afternoons that happen only a few times a summer. With temperatures in the low 80s and a slight breeze off the lake, Wrigley Field was made-for-TV perfection.

A series of roster moves—including the addition of right-hander Rick Sutcliffe just 10 days prior—was doing wonders for a team that hadn’t exactly lit up the decade. On the morning of  June 23, 1984, the Cubs sat 1.5 games out of first place and were in striking distance of their first postseason berth in 39 years, further raising expectations for the 38,000 fans in attendance and the millions of people tuning in across the nation. It didn’t hurt that the rival Cardinals, the 1982 world champs, were in town.

Steve Trout toed the rubber for the Cubs, but it wasn’t one of his better outings. The right-hander lasted just 1.1 innings and was on the hook for seven earned runs, spotting St. Louis an early six-run lead.

“You mean to tell me that because of me, [Sandberg] became [a key] in one of the most famous games ever,” Trout said with a laugh, reflecting on his start that afternoon.

Momentum temporarily shifted when the Cubs got two runs in the bottom of the fifth, but they promptly gave them both back in the top of the sixth. Trailing 9-3 entering the bottom of the inning, the North Siders injected some much-needed excitement into the stadium when they plated five behind a run-scoring single from Richie Hebner, a two-run double from Bobby Dernier and a two-run single from Sandberg.

Leading 9-8 with two outs in the seventh, St. Louis called out the big guns, enlisting lockdown closer Bruce Sutter to carry them the rest of the way. The eventual Hall of Famer, who would amass 300 saves in his stellar career, was the elite back-end arm of his generation, earning a Cy Young Award for his efforts in 1979 as a member of the Cubs. Sutter relied heavily on a split-finger fastball, a devastating pitch that was still new to players at the time.

“It was just a pitch that nobody had seen before,” Davis said of the splitter. “He brought [it] out, and nobody knew what it did. And he was the best at it. It was just really tough facing him, and he was a true competitor.”

Sutter fanned Gary Matthews to wrap up the seventh and set the Cubs down 1-2-3 in the eighth, putting an apparent damper on any comeback hopes. The outcome seemed a foregone conclusion as Sandberg stepped into the box to start the bottom of the ninth inning with the first and third basemen guarding the lines and the infield shifted slightly to the left side.

Sandberg was having a great season in 1984 and was already 3-for-4 on the day with four RBI. After two-plus major league years, he was seen as a good player with a solid glove at second, having claimed his first Gold Glove Award in 1983, but few had him pegged as an eventual Hall of Famer.

“Though he had already emerged as a very good player, he was still early in his career,” Costas said. “That one just propelled him onto the national stage.”

The first pitch came in low and away for ball one. Sandberg took the second pitch on the outside corner for a strike. But the third pitch was on the inner third of the plate, and Sandberg didn’t miss it, sending the ball screaming into the last row of the left-center-field bleachers.

Tie game. Extra innings.

“I said, ‘You know what this is, Tony? It’s a telephone game,’” Costas said, referring to his broadcast partner, Tony Kubek. “It’s the kind of game where as a baseball fan, you pick up the phone and call your baseball buddy, and you go, ‘Are you watching this? Put on NBC.’”

Cards outfielder Willie McGee was having quite a day himself, with a homer, triple and single to his credit. He’d already compiled five RBI and two runs heading into extra innings. The eventual 1985 NL MVP would complete the cycle with a run-scoring double in the top of the 10th and score two batters later, giving the Cards a two-run lead and shifting momentum back into the visitors’ dugout.

After two quick outs in the bottom of the 10th, Dernier took all six pitches he saw to record a full-count walk. As Costas and Kubek thanked the sponsors and crew for their day’s work, up stepped Ryno.

On the third pitch of the sequence, Costas bellowed: “He hits it to deep left-center. Look out! Do you believe it? It’s gone!”

With Sandberg’s bomb, Wrigley Field was up for grabs. The broadcast duo went silent for nearly a full minute to capture the jubilation of the ecstatic crowd.

“I’m sure there was a lengthy period where I called it as ‘gone,’ and we went quiet because the crowd and the pictures said everything,” Costas said. “We had just seen something that almost defied words. And I think the way the second home run was called, it was not just excitement, but amazement.”

* * * *

Just like that, Sandberg became a household name. Few remember that Dave Owen drove in the winning run an inning later on a bases-loaded single to complete the comeback and give the Cubs a 12-11 win.

“I went inside [the clubhouse], and I could barely get to my locker because there were so many people to talk to,” Sandberg said in the book Banks to Sandberg to Grace. “That was the start of my first experience with the media. It was pretty cool.”

With his talent on full display for the nation to see, Sandberg soon became a marquee attraction in Major League Baseball. The first example of his enhanced reputation came with the 1984 All-Star voting. In a matter of days, Ryno surpassed Steve Sax, who had been the leading vote-getter at the keystone position.

“That game really told me that I could do that,” Sandberg said. “It was really a different mind-set that game gave me, and it’s something I wanted to live up to—not only the rest of that year … but it also brought new standards for me each and every year, as far as winning a Gold Glove, a silver bat and an MVP.”

When the ’84 campaign came to a close, Sandberg was a nearly unanimous choice for National League MVP, capturing 22 of 24 first-place votes. According to FanGraphs, he compiled a Wins Above Replacement rating of 8.0, hitting .314/.367/.520 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 19 homers and a league-best 114 runs, all while playing a key middle-infield position at an elite level.

* * * *

The dramatic win didn’t benefit just the Cubs’ now-star second baseman. The team was showing signs of ending a 39-year postseason drought and used the comeback as a rallying cry for the season.

“That was kind of our exclamation point,” Davis said. “It was still early enough in the season. We were off to a good start, [and we were] in the pennant race, which fans weren’t too used to [us] being. The excitement was starting to build, and that day made all of the fans start to believe that we did have a chance.”

The team went 59-34 the rest of the way, including an 18-10 record in July and a 20-10 mark in August. They finished 31-24 in one-run ballgames and won 11 games in walk-off fashion en route to an NL-best 96 wins. The North Siders were fun to watch, and, for the first time in a long while, Wrigley Field became the hottest ticket in town, as more and more fans flocked to the North Side to see the miracle Cubs and their soon-to-be MVP second baseman.

“In ’84, the fans came alive, and you saw the first fans on the rooftops,” Sandberg said. “Just to see that whole transformation and see it be a tough ticket here for the rest of my career [was exciting].”

According to Baseball-Reference, the Cubs hit the 2 million mark in attendance for the first time ever that season. Individual game sales were up nearly 8,000 from the previous year and nearly 11,000 from 1982. At least 2 million people have attended games at Wrigley Field in all but three seasons since.

In that single game, a future Hall of Famer emerged from the shadows into full-fledged stardom, a dormant franchise was catapulted to its first postseason berth in nearly four decades, and the fan base was energized for decades to come.

—Phil Barnes

Cubs AFL recap: 10/15/14

Led by Cubs right-hander C.J. Edwards’ three solid innings of work, Mesa cruised to a 5-2 win over Peoria Wednesday. A few of the position players also made contributions in the victory. Here are some Cubs notes from yesterday’s Arizona Fall League action:

  • RHP C.J. Edwards gave up one hit and one walk over three scoreless innings, picking up his first win of the fall. He struck out three batters, including Francisco Lindor (Indians), one of the game’s top farmhands.
  • RF Bijan Rademacher went 2-for-4 with a run scored.
  • DH Addison Russell was 1-for-3 with a run-scoring, second-inning double, bringing in Cal Towey (Angels). He also drew a walk.

Mesa hosts Peoria Thursday, with first pitch scheduled for 6:35 local time.

Cubs AFL Recap: 10/14/14

Despite outhitting Scottsdale, Mesa was on the losing end of its matchup Tuesday. Addison Russell played a big role for the offense, but Gerardo Concepcion struggled on the mound. Here are some Cubs notes from yesterday’s Arizona Fall League action:

  • SS Addison Russell went 1-for-4 with two runs scored and a walk Tuesday. Russell led off the eighth inning with a single to left, and scored one batter later on a Matt Olson (Athletics) home run. He drew a one-out walk in the ninth, scoring from third three batters later on a Kaleb Cowart (Angels) force out. He also committed his first throwing error of the fall.
  • LHP Gerardo Concepcion struggled in 1.2 innings of work, giving up three earned runs on one hit and two walks and striking out one batter.

The Solar Sox resume play Wednesday with a 12:35 local time start at Peoria. Cubs right-hander C.J. Edwards is scheduled to start.

Cubs AFL Recap: 10/13/14

Mesa was on the losing end of a 2-1 matchup with Scottsdale Monday, despite a lineup littered with Cubs prospects. Here are some notes from yesterday’s Arizona Fall League action:

  • 2B Addison Russell went 1-for-3 with a single to left in the sixth inning and a walk in the eighth.
  • 1B Dan Vogelbach finished the day 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.
  • RF Jacob Hannemann was 0-for-4 with a strikeout, leaving six runners on base.
  • RHP Zach Cates entered the game in the fifth inning with a two outs and a runner on second. He forced Blake Miller (Giants) to pop out to second.

Mesa hosts Scottsdale Tuesday, with first pitch scheduled for 12:35 local time.

Cubs AFL Recap: 10/11/14

A trio of Cubs prospects played in Mesa’s afternoon matchup with Peoria on Saturday. A pair of position players got starts, while a reliever pitched a scoreless 1.1 innings in the Solar Sox’s win. Here are some highlights from the Cubs prospects in the Arizona Fall League:

  • RF Bijan Rademacher went 1-for-3, leading off the seventh inning with a single up the middle. He stole second and scored two batters later on a Dalton Pompey (Blue Jays) triple. He also recorded an outfield assist.
  • DH Jake Hannemann went 0-for-3.
  • RHP Ivan Pineyro was credited with his first hold of the AFL season, going 1.1 innings and allowing two hits, striking out one and walking two.

After an off day Sunday, Mesa resumes action when it heads to Scottsdale for a 7:35 CST start Monday.

Cubs announce 2015 coaching staff

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Manager Rick Renteria’s 2015 staff has been finalized. (Photo by Stephen Green)

The Cubs announced their 2015 coaching staff Thursday, and it includes a few new faces as well as a member shifting roles in manager Rick Renteria’s crew.

John Mallee has been named the new hitting coach, while Doug Dascenzo will take over first base/outfield coaching duties. Last season’s first base coach Eric Hinske will shift to assistant hitting coach.

Chris Bosio (pitching coach), Brandon Hyde (bench coach), Gary Jones (third base/infield coach), Lester Strode (bullpen coach), Mike Borzello (catching and strategy coach), Jose Castro (quality assurance coach) and Franklin Font (staff assistant) return to the coaching staff in their previous roles. Eric Hinske will shift from first base/outfield coach to assistant hitting coach.

Mallee, 45, will replace Bill Mueller as the team’s hitting coach. He’ll begin his fifth season as a major league hitting coach. He previously served as a big league hitting coach with the Marlins (2010-11) and Astros (2013-14).  Overall, Mallee has 19 seasons of experience in pro baseball. Prior to moving to the big leagues, he spent eight-plus seasons as the Marlins minor league hitting instructor. A Chicago native, Mallee also served as a minor league hitting coach within the Brewers and Expos organizations starting in 1996. He spent two seasons as an infielder in the Phillies system from 1991-92.

Dascenzo, 50, joins the Cubs as first base and outfield coach, marking a return to the organization that drafted him in 1985 and for whom he played five big league seasons from 1988-92. Dascenzo served as the third base coach for the Atlanta Braves in 2014, his first as a coach at the big league level. Prior to joining the Braves in 2013 as a minor league outfield/baserunning instructor, he spent 13 seasons as a manager or coach in San Diego’s system. Dascenzo spent seven years in the big leagues as an outfielder and has spent the last 16 years as a coach or instructor starting in 1999.

Bosio, 51, returns for his fourth season as the club’s major league pitching coach. Overall, this is his third stint as a big league pitching coach, previously coaching in the majors for Tampa Bay in 2003 and Milwaukee in 2009. A veteran of 11 big league seasons, the righthander worked as a special assignment pitching coach in Seattle’s system from 2000-02, including a stint as Triple-A Tacoma’s pitching coach, before joining Lou Piniella’s staff in Tampa Bay.

Hyde, 41, enters his second year as bench coach and fourth in the Cubs organization. This is his second stint in the role, previously serving as bench coach for Jack McKeon and the Marlins from June 23, 2010 through 2011. Overall, Hyde has 12 years of coaching experience, including nine seasons in the Marlins chain. Hyde joined the Cubs in December, 2011 as minor league field coordinator and was named director of player development on August 29, 2012.

Jones, 53, returns for his second season as third base coach and infield coach after spending the last 11 years in the Padres organization. Prior to joining the Cubs, he had one year of big league experience as the first base coach for Oakland in 1998. Jones has 15 seasons of experience as a minor league manager, earning four minor league manager of the year awards. He originally signed with the Cubs as a non-drafted free agent in 1982.

Strode, 56, returns for his ninth season as Cubs bullpen coach and his 27th year in the Cubs organization. Prior to his current role, Strode spent 11 seasons as the organization’s minor league pitching coordinator (1996-2006), two seasons with the big league club as a pitching assistant (1994-95) and five seasons as a minor league pitching coach (1989-1993). Strode pitched professionally in the minor leagues for nine seasons (1980-88).

Hinske, 37, shifts to assistant hitting coach after joining the Cubs staff as first base/outfield coach for the 2014 campaign, replacing Mike Brumley. His 12-year major league career (2002-13) included 2002 American League Rookie of the Year honors with Toronto and three-straight World Series appearances bookended by championships with Boston in 2007 and the New York Yankees in 2009. Hinske was originally selected by the Cubs in the 17th round of the 1998 Draft.

Borzello, 44, enters his fourth season with the Cubs and his second in an expanded role of catching and strategy coach. Prior to joining Chicago, he spent four seasons (2008-11) with the Los Angeles Dodgers as their bullpen catcher, a stint that followed 12 years in the New York Yankees organization starting in 1996 (roles included bullpen catcher and batting practice pitcher). Overall, Borzello has 19 years of experience with three major league clubs.

Castro, 56, returns for his second season as the club’s quality assurance coach after spending the previous 25 years as a minor league hitting coordinator or hitting coach in the Kansas City, Seattle, Florida, San Diego and Montreal organizations. He also served an interim stint as Seattle’s major league hitting coach in 2008.

Font, 36, returns for his 21st season in the Cubs organization, his fourth at the major league level. Font played in the Cubs system for six seasons from 1995-2000 before becoming a Single-A Daytona staff assistant in 2001. He served the Cubs as a minor league manager, hitting coach and coordinator from 2002-11.

From the Pages of Vine Line: Strength in Numbers

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Javier Baez got his first taste of major league action this summer. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

When Theo Epstein sat in front of the assembled media last October and announced, “The story [around the league] is that the Cubs are coming fast, and the Cubs are coming strong,” many had trouble stifling laughter. How could Epstein suggest a team fresh off its third-consecutive 90-loss season was on the rise—especially during a press conference announcing the firing of the club’s manager, Dale Sveum?

It seemed preposterous at the time, but Epstein was hardly joking. He knew what he and his staff had built over the previous two seasons, and he believed it wouldn’t be long before that lofty statement was accepted as fact—even by those not paying close attention to what’s been happening in the Cubs system.
Sure enough, while the 2014 season didn’t produce a dramatic increase in wins, the media and fans finally got a chance to see what the Cubs have been building, as the first wave of prospects finally funneled into Wrigley Field.

It all began with Arismendy Alcantara and Kyle Hendricks, two somewhat under-the-radar prospects, but intriguing players nonetheless. Next, one of the best power hitters in the minors, Javier Baez, arrived in the big leagues—along with the corresponding media maelstrom. Finally, the Cubs called up Cuban slugger Jorge Soler toward the end of August.

Not every one of these young players immediately took the National League by storm. There have been ups and downs. But each has provided a spark and shown the potential to be a big contributor to the next Cubs playoff run—which is exactly how the front office drew it up.

“It’s a lot of fun, and there’s definitely a lot of energy,” Hendricks said. “I’m just glad a lot of us have been able to perform well. I think that’s a testament to the coaching we have in the minor leagues. The guys got us ready for this level.”

Epstein understands that this process, which has included many losses, has been tough for both the players and the fans. That’s why finally being able to display the fruits of the front office’s labor has been so rewarding.

“These are players who have been part of our plan, part of our vision, for a while now,” Epstein said. “Now that they’re up here, people can get excited about it. It creates a little bit of momentum, which is nice to have around the organization.”

MASTER PLAN
So what exactly is the Cubs’ vision, and what has the organization been doing to realize it?

When Epstein was first introduced as president of baseball operations in late October 2011, he laid out his plan for how he wanted to rebuild an organization that had gone from being the toast of the National League to 91 losses in just three years.

“Our goal will be to build the best scouting department in the game—one that makes an annual impact in the draft and internationally,” Epstein said at the time. “As far as player development goes, we will define and implement a Cubs Way of playing the game, and we won’t rest until there is a steady stream of talent coming through the minor league system trained in that Cubs Way making an impact out here at Wrigley Field.”

Epstein didn’t waste much time in following through with those promises. A week after his introduction, he sat in front of the media yet again, this time introducing Jed Hoyer as his new executive vice president and general manager and Jason McLeod, a man Epstein referred to as the “rarest commodity in the industry—an impact evaluator of baseball talent,” as his senior vice president of scouting and player development.

The three men spent the next year evaluating what they were working with from the bottom of the organization all the way to the top. After a year, they made a few tweaks to the scouting department, and completely revamped the player development side. Brandon Hyde was brought in as the farm director, but has since moved on to become manager Rick Renteria’s bench coach, while Jaron Madison has transitioned from amateur scouting director to Hyde’s old position.

Under Hyde, the Cubs hired four new minor league coordinators and had one of their better developmental seasons throughout the system in 2013.

Of course, it certainly helped that so much talent had been added to the mix—and continues to be added to this day—through astute trades, the amateur draft and international signings.

“In order to have success in this game, the foundation has to be through scouting and player development,” Hoyer said when he was introduced as general manager. “There’s no shortcut. There’s no magic bullet. All three of us believe in the philosophy wholeheartedly.”

Hoyer acknowledged the ultimate goal is to win a championship, so the baseball operations department first had to build a team that went into Spring Training every season with a realistic shot at making the playoffs. Less than three years later, it appears the Cubs are on the verge of achieving that goal.

And it’s not just the players who have reached the majors this year that have so many people both inside and outside the game optimistic about the Cubs’ immediate future. While the influx of top-notch talent is undeniable, it’s quite likely the best is yet to come.

Last year’s top draft pick, Kris Bryant, dominated every level of the minor leagues, making it all the way to Triple-A Iowa in his first full professional season. His otherworldly stat line of .325/.438/.661 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 43 home runs and 110 RBI has pushed the third baseman to the top of the national prospect rankings. Shortly after the season, he was named both USA Today’s and Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year. Addison Russell, a consensus top 10 prospect in the game, was acquired in early July via trade and has continued to excel, hitting for both power and average while playing strong defense at shortstop.

Kyle Schwarber was the fourth pick in June’s amateur draft and has already shot up two levels in the Cubs system. So far, he has displayed an impressive combination of power and patience at the plate and appears to be on the fast track to the majors.

And that’s not all. The regime’s first draft pick from 2012, Albert Almora, made it to Double-A at the tender age of 20, and the international scouts flexed their muscles in 2013, as the Cubs spent more money than any other organization. Thanks to those efforts, they added big-time prospects like Jen-Ho Tseng, Eloy Jimenez, Gleybar Torres and Jefferson Mejia, all of whom are proving advanced for their age and are ranked as top 20 organizational prospects by MLB.com.

The system is not only loaded with talent, it’s also deep, ensuring that as the Cubs continue to graduate players to the big leagues, the cupboard won’t suddenly be left bare. It looks like Epstein and Hoyer have built the scouting and player development “machine” they promised to work toward when they were first brought into the organization.

CALL TO ARMS
Of course, since the majority of the Cubs’ young players grabbing headlines are bats, there are still questions about where the organization is going to find the right combination of arms to lead the charge. But even on that front, the team is better off than most people realize.

The front office has now divested the organization of the many onerous contracts from the Hendry regime—meaning there is money to spend—and has proven quite adept at identifying and acquiring undervalued pitching talent. Names like Paul Maholm, Scott Feldman and Jason Hammel, who all excelled under the tutelage of pitching coach Chris Bosio, have been used to acquire players who fit into both the short- and long-term plans.

Feldman, in particular, netted a huge piece in pitcher Jake Arrieta. A former top prospect, the 28-year-old underwhelmed during parts of four years in the majors with the Baltimore Orioles. Though Arrieta was perhaps at his lowest value at the time, the Cubs were bullish about the struggling righty. After missing the first month of the 2014 season with shoulder soreness, Arrieta went on to make the move look like a stroke of genius, putting together a season that rivals those of some of the best pitchers in the game.

Hendricks, acquired from the Rangers in the 2012 Ryan Dempster deal, also opened eyes with a strong run of starts to begin his major league career. Though many had the 24-year-old pegged as a fringe major leaguer and back-end starter at best, his poise and control are making some wonder whether he can exceed expectations and become a big part of the rotation’s future.

“He’s doing exactly what he did in the minor leagues,” Epstein said. “He’s as polished and prepared as you’ll see with any rookie. We speculated that he might even take it to another level when he got to the big leagues because he uses all the tools available to him as well as anybody.

“We have video in the minor leagues, but we don’t have this much video. We have scouting reports in the minor leagues, but we don’t have scouting reports this extensive. He just attacks the video and attacks scouting reports. They’re a huge weapon for him. You see the confidence he has. No matter how good a hitter he’s facing, he’s likely to have identified one area he can attack and put [himself] in a good position to have a chance to get him out. I think that’s been big for him. We’re awfully proud of how he’s adjusted.”

Epstein has acknowledged that while he doesn’t think the Cubs’ position player group is a finished product, he certainly feels great about the nucleus the organization has built. Even with Arrieta, Hendricks and the surprisingly impressive Tsuyoshi Wada (who will be 34 next season, but could still find himself competing for a spot in the Cubs rotation), the obvious focus becomes how to build up the front five.

“I like some of the pitchers we have coming along in the minor leagues, and I think our big league staff has done sort of an underrated job this year,” Epstein said. “There are some bright spots. But we’ve been open about the fact that it would be nice to add an impact pitcher or two. When you look over the next 18 months or so, that’s certainly a priority for us. Whether we develop one from an unlikely spot like might be happening with Arrieta or acquire someone who’s already at those heights remains to be seen.”

FINISHING THE JOB
Surprise success stories like Arrieta and Hendricks, coupled with bounce-back years from Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, have certainly boosted the optimism around the team as the prospects are rising to the big leagues.

“It’s good for the fans,” Hendricks said. “They’ve needed some winning the last few years, and unfortunately we haven’t been able to give it to them. I think with a lot of us young guys coming up—a lot of young hitters especially—they’re doing an unbelievable job. And there’s more to come.”
While the narrative may have recently changed as far as the media and average fans are concerned, nobody within the Cubs organization considers the work done.

“Our fans deserve to get excited. I’m happy for them,” Epstein said. “Ultimately, the only thing that matters is winning. That’s what’s on our mind, and we’re working hard to get there. Having young players that are worth following and at-bats you can’t miss, we’re human and that makes us feel good that our fans have something like that in their lives at this point, because certainly there’s been some tough times that they’ve had to endure.”

Epstein and company know they’ve still got work to do. They’re aware that pitching is a need, as is a veteran presence in the clubhouse to lead by example. But they strongly believe they’re on the right path and have felt that way for some time now. Still, the ultimate goal has yet to be accomplished.

“We’ve felt really good about it for a period now, and we also feel like there’s so much more work to do that we don’t deserve any kudos or pats on the back,” Epstein said. “On the other hand, we’re all human, and we feel the optimism of our fans and our players. It only makes us want to work harder and finish it off. We’ll feel like it’s finished when we win the last game in October.”

—Sahadev Sharma, Baseball Prospectus

Cubs announce 2015 Spring Training schedule

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The Cubs announced their 2015 Spring Training schedule Wednesday. The 29-game slate features 15 games at Cubs Park, with additional games expected to be announced in the near future.

The Cubs open the preseason on March 5 with a split-squad home game against the Athletics and a game in Scottsdale against San Francisco. The Cubs play the White Sox on a pair of occasions—March 20 in Glendale and March 27 in Mesa—and wrap up the schedule April 1 when they host Milwaukee in the spring finale.

Individual home Spring Training tickets go on sale Saturday, Jan. 10, at 11 a.m. CST at the Cubs Park ticket office, on cubs.com or by calling 1-800-THE-CUBS. Season and group ticket information can be found at cubs.com/mesa or by calling 1-800-THE-CUBS.

Day    Opponent    Location
3/5    Athletics (SS)    Cubs Park
3/5    Giants (SS)    Scottsdale
3/6    Reds        Cubs Park
3/7    Rockies        Scottsdale
3/8    Rangers        Cubs Park
3/9    Padres        Cubs Park
3/10    Indians        Goodyear
3/11    Dodgers        Cubs Park
3/12    Angels        Tempe
3/13    Indians        Cubs Park
3/14    Brewers        Maryvale
3/15    Reds        Cubs Park
3/16    Padres        Peoria
3/17    Royals        Cubs Park
3/18    Dodgers        Glendale
3/19    Diamondbacks    Scottsdale
3/20    White Sox    Glendale
3/21    Mariners    Cubs Park
3/22    Padres        Cubs Park
3/23    OFF
3/24    Athletics    Mesa
3/25    Mariners    Peoria
3/26    Angels        Cubs Park
3/27    White Sox    Cubs Park
3/28    Rockies (SS)    Cubs Park
3/28    Reds (SS)    Goodyear
3/29    Royals        Surprise
3/30    Giants        Cubs Park
3/31    Rangers        Surprise
4/1    Brewers        Cubs Park

Cubs AFL Recap: 10/7/14

The Arizona Fall League opened up on Tuesday, with Glendale getting the best of the Mesa Solar Sox, 9-3. The Cubs had a trio of prospects in action. Addison Russell drove in two Solar Sox runs, while outfielder Jacob Hannemann rounded out Mesa’s scoring with a sac fly in the losing effort.

  • DH Addison Russell went 1-for-4 with a two-run single in the top of the second inning, scoring Boog Powell (Athletics) and Dalton Pompey (Blue Jays). He also reached on a fielder’s choice in the first.
  • LF Jacob Hannemann entered the game as a defensive replacement in the seventh and recorded a sacrifice fly to left, scoring Kaleb Cowart (Angels).
  • 1B Dan Vogelbach came into the game in the bottom of the sixth. He struck out in his only at-bat of the game.

 

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