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The Best of 2014: No. 7, Maddux gets the call

GregMaddux_072714_JimMcIssac

(Photo by Jim McIssac/Getty Images)

Every baseball season is filled with memorable moments, and this year’s Cubs campaign was no exception. Cornerstone players had bounceback seasons, newer additions stepped up, and top prospects made their big league debuts. To wrap up the year, we asked you to pick your top 10 moments of 2014. From now until the end of the year, we’ll be unveiling one moment per day.

No. 10: Rizzo’s late-season walk-off homer
No. 9: Hendricks makes an easy transition to the bigs
No. 8: Castro, Rizzo named All-Stars

Former Cubs pitcher Greg Maddux is inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame—July 27

Greg Maddux making his way into Cooperstown on the first ballot was probably just as much of a certainty as his winning an annual Gold Glove Award or confounding opposing hitters when he took the bump every fifth day. The 6-foot, 170-pound starter may not have looked like a prototypical ace, but he compiled 355 wins over a 23-year career and established himself as one of the best starting pitchers of the modern era.

“It’s sort of hard to believe I’m standing here today,” Maddux told MLB.com at the induction. “I never gave a thought about the Hall of Fame as I was going through my career. My goal as a baseball player was very simple: All I wanted to do was try to get better for my next start. To think it all ended up here is pretty cool.”

Maddux came up through the Cubs system and spent 10 years with the big league club, from 1986-92 and 2004-06. He captured his first Cy Young Award in 1992 before heading to Atlanta as a free agent. The right-hander returned to the Cubs staff 12 years later to serve as a mentor to a young, talented rotation.

He won six Gold Gloves on the North Side and captured 133 victories, posting a 3.61 ERA.

Cubs claim LHP Mike Kickham off waivers from the Giants

Kickham

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

The Cubs claimed left-handed pitcher Mike Kickham off waivers from San Francisco on Tuesday. Additionally, catcher Ryan Lavarnway was claimed off waivers by Baltimore, and first baseman Shane Peterson was claimed by Milwaukee.

Kickham, 26, is 31-35 with a 3.97 ERA (231 ER/523.2 IP) in 99 career minor league games (95 starts) since he was selected by the Giants in the sixth round of the 2010 Draft out of Missouri State University. He has struck out 464 batters, an average of 8.0 strikeouts per nine innings, while allowing 227 walks.

Kickham spent the majority of 2014 with Triple-A Fresno, going 8-8 with a 4.43 ERA in 27 starts, including a 12-start stretch in which he went 6-0 with a 2.74 ERA from May 25-July 24. His 131 strikeouts ranked fourth in the Pacific Coast League, and he went 95.0 consecutive innings from May 20-August 21 without allowing home run.

The 6-foot, 4-inch, 220-pound Kickham was 7-7 with a 4.31 ERA in 20 starts for Fresno in 2013, a season after setting career-best totals in wins (11) and ERA (3.05) while being named to the Eastern League postseason All-Star team with Double-A Richmond in 2012.

Kickham made his major league debut with the Giants in 2013 and has pitched in 14 games (three starts) in parts of the last two seasons for San Francisco, going 0-3 with a 10.98 ERA.

Lavarnway, 27, was originally claimed off waivers from Boston on Dec. 19. Peterson, 26, was claimed off waivers from Oakland the same day.

MLB.com names Cubs duo among baseball’s top prospects

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Addison Russell is considered one of the best prospects in the game. (Photo by Rodger Wood)

Even with marquee players like Javier Baez and Jorge Soler graduating to the majors last season, the Cubs are still the organization to beat when it comes to high-end prospects. According to MLB.com’s Bernie Pleskoff, the North Siders have two of the top 10 prospects in baseball in Kris Bryant and Addison Russell. Bryant, who came in as Pleskoff’s top farmhand, has already received a plethora of awards. Here’s what Pleskoff had to say about the infielders:

1. Kris Bryant (Cubs) 6-foot-5, 215 pounds — Third Baseman — R
Highlight reel power. Coming off 2014 season of .325/43/110 (AVG/HR/RBI) at Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa. High strikeout totals. Uses entire field. Almost ready.

The 2014 USA Today Minor League Player of the Year, Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year and recipient of MLB.com’s MiLBY award for the best player in the minors last season, Bryant had a year for the ages. Along with the above numbers, the Cubs’ 2014 Minor League Player of the Year reached base at a .438 clip and slugged .661 with 34 doubles, all while stealing 15 bases. Though it remains to be seen where he’ll play regularly at the next level, he continued to improve his defense at the hot corner. Cubs fans will likely see Bryant in the majors within the first few months of the season. His effort is especially impressive given that 2014 was his first full season of professional baseball after being picked second overall in the 2013 draft.

4. Addison Russell (Cubs) 6-0, 195 pounds — Shortstop — R
Very talented player highlighted by solid hit tool. Makes solid, consistent contact and has developing power. Uses entire field. Steady defense and useable speed.

In a lengthy list of talented Cubs middle infielders, Russell is the one many believe to be the best defender of the bunch. In 62 games last season, the 20-year-old committed just four errors. But the Athletics’ 2012 first-round pick also has the ability to hit, finishing .295/.350/.508 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 13 homers after missing the first half of the season with a hamstring problem. Russell was the key return in the Jeff Samardzija/Jason Hammel deal to Oakland in early July and will likely spend the majority of 2014 at Triple-A Iowa.

Cubs Winter League Recap: 12/22/14

With the Dominican League wrapping up its regular season over the weekend, there are fewer games being played around the Caribbean. None of the Cubs in action put up noteworthy stats on Monday, but a few made contributions to their respective clubs. Here are some notes from yesterday’s action in the Caribbean:

Mexico

  • 3B Christian Villanueva scored a run and finished 0-for-2 with a pair of walks as the Yaquis de Obregon fell to the Charros de Jalisco.

Puerto Rico

  • 2B Javier Baez drove in a run but went 0-for-4 at the plate with two strikeouts. His Cangrejeros de Santurce squad topped the Gigantes de Carolina.

Venezuela

  • RHP Lioger Padron struggled in 0.2 innings, giving up a hit and allowing an earned run in the Leones del Caracas’ win over the Tiburones de La Guiara. He did strike out two batters.

 

The Best of 2014: No. 8, Castro, Rizzo named All-Stars

140711_Cubs_096

(Photo by Stephen Green)

Every baseball season is filled with memorable moments, and this year’s Cubs campaign was no exception. Cornerstone players had bounceback seasons, newer additions stepped up, and top prospects made their big league debuts. To wrap up the year, we asked you to pick your top 10 moments of 2014. From now until the end of the year, we’ll be unveiling one moment per day.

No 10: Rizzo’s late-season walk-off homer
No 9: Hendricks makes an easy transition to the bigs

Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo are named to the 2014 All-Star Game—July 10

Prior to the 2014 season, the Cubs’ biggest question mark was whether their two cornerstone players, Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, could bounce back from disappointing 2013 campaigns. By midseason, Castro and Rizzo had put those fears to rest, rebounding to capture well-deserved All-Star honors, their third and first selections, respectively.

Rizzo, who was chosen via 8.8 million fan votes for the final roster spot, headed into the Midsummer Classic with 20 homers (good for third in the NL), 49 RBI and a .275/.381/.499 (AVG/OBP/SLG) slash line, while playing solid defense at first base. His .879 OPS at the break ranked 14th in the National League, and his 53 walks ranked fifth.

Castro pulled into the break with 11 homers and 26 doubles (seventh in the NL), to go with his .276/.326/.440 line. He also improved his defense, a part of his game that had been viewed as a weakness in previous seasons. At just 24 years old, Castro joined Ernie Banks and Don Kessinger to become only the third Cubs shortstop to make three All-Star Games.

The Best of 2014: No. 9, Hendricks makes an easy transition to the bigs

hendricks2014

(Photo by Stephen Green)

Every baseball season is filled with memorable moments, and this year’s Cubs campaign was no exception. Cornerstone players had bounceback seasons, newer additions stepped up, and top prospects made their big league debuts. To wrap up the year, we asked you to pick your top 10 moments of 2014. From now until the end of the year, we’ll be unveiling one moment each day.

No. 10: Rizzo’s late-season walk-off homer

No. 9: Kyle Hendricks makes six straight starts with at least 6.1 inings pitched and no more than one earned run, July 22 – Aug. 18

Among the many vaunted prospects in the Cubs system, right-handed pitcher Kyle Hendricks tended to get overlooked. It’s not as if people necessarily doubted the 24-year-old, whose fastball averaged merely 87.9 mph last year, but few expected him to dominate the way he did.

Hendricks’ accuracy, combined with his meticulous pregame preparation and countless hours of video work, took him to another level once he reached the major leagues in July. In 13 big league starts, the Dartmouth grad put up a 7-2 record with a 2.46 ERA, went 5.1 innings in 12 of 13 starts and gave up more than two runs in just three of those efforts.

Hendricks’ finest work of his nascent major league career came during a six-game stretch from July 22-Aug. 18, in which he surrendered no more than one run in any game and twice recorded no earned runs.

“When guys get on base, they’re saying he’s tough, he’s sneaky, he has good pitches, he commands them,” Anthony Rizzo said of Hendricks to the Chicago Tribune. “The best part is, it seems he can induce a double-play ball whenever [he wants to].”

Cubs claim C Lavarnway, OF Peterson

The Cubs claimed catcher Ryan Lavarnway off waivers from the Dodgers and outfielder Shane Peterson off waivers from the Athletics Friday afternoon. To make room on the 40-man roster, right-handed pitcher Donn Roach and infielder Logan Watkins were designated for assignment.

The 27-year-old Lavarnway spent the previous seven seasons with the Red Sox, including 97 games in the majors between 2011-14. He was claimed off waivers by the Dodgers on Dec. 5 and designated for assignment on Dec. 10.

The 6-foot-4, 240-pound, right-handed hitting catcher is a career .201 major league hitter (56-for-279) with five home runs and 34 RBI. He saw his most extensive big league action in 2012 (46 games) and 2013, batting .299 with seven doubles, one home run and 14 RBI in 25 games for the 2013 World Series champs. In 2014, Lavarnway missed more than two months with a left wrist strain and saw action in only nine big league games. He primarily played for Triple-A Pawtucket, hitting .283 with three homers, 20 RBI and a .389 on-base percentage in 62 games.

Lavarnway was originally selected by the Red Sox in the sixth round of the 2008 Draft out of Yale University. He was named Boston’s Minor League Offensive Co-Player of the Year in back-to-back seasons in 2010-11 and combined to hit .290 (126-for-435) with 23 doubles, 32 homers, 93 RBI and a .939 OPS in 116 games between Double-A Portland and Pawtucket in 2011 to earn his first promotion to the big leagues.

Peterson, 26, batted .308 (167-for-543) with 40 doubles, 11 homers and 90 RBI with Triple-A Sacramento last season, earning Pacific Coast League midseason and postseason All-Star honors. He posted a .381 on-base percentage and a .460 slugging percentage, good for an .841 OPS. Peterson led the league in hits and doubles and ranked second with 101 runs scored. He played 83 games in center field, 42 games in left field and nine games in right field.

The 6-foot, 210-pound Peterson was originally selected by St. Louis in the second round of the 2008 Draft out of Cal State-Long Beach and was acquired by Oakland as part of the trade that sent Matt Holliday to the Cardinals. He made his major league debut with the Athletics in 2013, going 1-for-7 with an RBI in two games.

Roach, 25, was claimed off waivers from the Padres on Nov. 12. He went 1-0 with a 4.75 ERA in 16 appearances, including one start, in the majors last season, his first year in the big leagues.

Watkins, 25, batted .233 with four doubles, one home run and six RBI covering the last two seasons with the Cubs. He was originally selected in the 21st round of the 2008 Draft.

Cubs Winter League Recap: 12/18/14

Right-hander Yoanner Negrin had his finest outing of the winter Thursday, while Christian Villanueva recorded another home run for his squad. Here are some notes from yesterday’s action in the Caribbean:

Venezuela

  • RHP Yoanner Negrin had a stellar outing, giving up one run and striking out 11 over 7.2 innings to give the Leones del Caracas a 9-1 win over the Bravos de Margarita. He surrendered just four hits and walked none to pick up his third victory of the winter.
  • DH Luis Valbuena went 0-for-2 but drew a walk in the Cardenales de Lara’s 9-1 loss to the Tiburones de La Guaira.

Mexico

  • 3B Christian Villanueva hit his second home run in as many days for the Yaquis de Obregon in their loss to the Caneros de los Mochis. His fifth-inning blast marked his eighth home run of the season.

Dominican Republic

  • RHP Starling Peralta gave up no earned runs in 1.2 innings of relief as the Estrellas de Oriente fell to the Aguilas Cibaenas. He gave up three hits, fanned two and walked none in the effort.
  • RHP Frank Batista got the start in the Aguilas Cibaenas win and went three innings. He struck out five and gave up one earned run on three hits and one walk.
  • LF Junior Lake was hitless in three at-bats for the Estrellas de Oriente.
  • LHP Jeffry Antigua pitched 0.2 innings, giving up no earned runs in the Toros del Este’s loss to the Tigres del Licey.

 

The Best of 2014: No. 10, Rizzo’s late-season walk-off homer

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(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

Every baseball season is filled with memorable moments, and this year’s Cubs campaign was no exception. Cornerstone players had bounceback seasons, newer additions stepped up, and top prospects made their big league debuts. To wrap up the year, we asked you to pick your top 10 moments of 2014. From now until the end of the year, we’ll be unveiling one moment a day.

No. 10: Anthony Rizzo ends a scoreless game with a walk-off home run—Sept. 15 vs. Cincinnati

After sitting out nearly three weeks due to a back injury, Anthony Rizzo returned to action in mid-September and made an immediate impact.

Lower back stiffness caused the power hitter to miss 18 games, but he certainly appeared healthy when he stepped to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning with the game knotted at 0-0 and launched a Pedro Villarreal pitch into the center-field bleachers for a walk-off home run.

The first baseman was greeted at home plate by his teammates, who doused him with water before piling on in celebration. While running away from the exuberant scrum, the slugger jokingly grabbed his back.

“I did it on purpose, just messing around with the guys,” Rizzo told MLB.com. “I definitely thought about [my back] the whole game. To get through the game tonight was nice.”

It was Rizzo’s third walk-off hit of the 2014 campaign, following a homer against Miami on June 6 and a single versus Tampa Bay on Aug. 10. His 32 homers in 2014 ranked second in the National League.

Cubs Winter League Recap: 12/17/14

Christian Villanueva boosted his team with an extra-inning, walk-off homer, while Ivan Pineyro picked up his first victory of the winter on Wednesday. Here are some notes from yesterday’s action around the Caribbean:

Mexico

  • 3B Christian Villanueva recorded a walk-off homer in the 10th inning to give his Yaquis de Obregon club a 5-4 win over the Caneros de los Mochis. It was his 10th home run of the season.

Dominican Republic

  • RHP Ivan Pineyro picked up his first win of the winter, pitching five scoreless innings in the Estrellas de Oriente’s win over the Tigres del Licey. Pineyro struck out six and walked none while giving up six hits in the victory.
  • LF Junior Lake finished 0-for-1 with two walks for the Estrellas.

Puerto Rico

  • 2B Javier Baez recorded a double and scored the Cangrejeros de Santurce’s lone run in a 2-1 loss to the Senadores de San Juan. He went 1-for-3 and added a walk.

Venezuela

  • DH Luis Valbuena went 1-for-4 in the Cardenales de Lara’s 6-1 loss to the Tigres de Aragua.
  • LHP Joseph Ortiz pitched 1.1 innings of scoreless relief, giving up one hit, as the Tiburones de La Guaira topped the Navegantes del Magallanes.

 

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