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.
A lot of eyes will be on the Cubs’ top pitching prospect C.J. Edwards this fall. (Photo by Roger C. Hoover)
The prospect-laden Arizona Fall League kicks off Tuesday. Be sure to follow the Vine Line blog all AFL season for recaps on how the Cubs prospects fared the night before. The following story can be found in the October issue of Vine Line.
The Arizona Fall League has always been a launching pad for major league careers. Every fall, organizations send their top prospects to the offseason showcase. Javier Baez hit four home runs in 14 AFL games in 2012, and Kris Bryant took home league MVP honors in 2013.
This year, the Cubs will send a new batch of up-and-coming farmhands to Arizona to see how they fare against the best players the minor leagues have to offer.
Addison Russell will headline the group—and could very well headline the league, as he’s baseball’s No. 6 prospect, according to MLB.com. Despite missing the early part of the season with a hamstring injury and adjusting to an early-July trade, the 20-year-old never missed a beat, hitting .295/.350/.508 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 13 homers over 68 games, all while playing elite defense at shortstop. This will be his second appearance in the AFL, as he represented Oakland last year.
Injuries derailed much of right-handed pitcher C.J. Edwards’ Double-A season, but he was lights out once he returned to action in late July. Baseball’s No. 56 prospect finished the year with a 2.35 ERA in 58.2 innings, striking out 54 batters.
First baseman Dan Vogelbach got off to a slow start, but picked things up as the season progressed. The slugger, who slimmed down in the offseason, hit .268/.357/.429 with 16 homers and 76 RBI for High-A Daytona.
Right-handed pitchers Ivan Pineyro and Zach Cates, lefty Gerardo Concepción, and athletic outfielder Jacob Hannemann have also been invited to the AFL. Outfielder Bijan Rademacher will serve as a member of the taxi squad, which means he’s available to play only twice a week.
It’s not always easy to stick to your guns. Especially if the decisions you’re making aren’t all that popular.
When Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod first came aboard with the Cubs, they were hailed as conquering heroes who could do no wrong and would soon (and inevitably) carry the organization to the promised land. The Chicago Sun-Times even ran a tongue-in-cheek image of Epstein walking on water.
The new baseball operations men quickly laid out their plan, set a clear course of action and got to work. Their stated goal was to hire the best people in the business, stockpile young talent and build a player-development machine to get that young talent on the fast track to Wrigley Field.
Once the brain trust started making their first moves, the fan base gave them the benefit of the doubt. Not everyone loved seeing favorites like Andrew Cashner, Ryan Dempster and Sean Marshall go, but people figured everything the front office touched would turn to gold. On the plus side, the Cubs picked up first baseman Anthony Rizzo, signed Cuban free agent Jorge Soler and drafted outfielder Albert Almora, among other, less-heralded moves. Despite finishing 2012 with 101 losses, baseball ops stayed the course.
By the time the 2013 campaign came to a close, the voices of dissent were growing louder. The Cubs traded Matt Garza and Alfonso Soriano and fired manager Dale Sveum after a 96-loss season. Yet, the front office remained steadfast. While people grumbled, the team acquired players like Jake Arrieta, Corey Black, C.J. Edwards, Justin Grimm and Pedro Strop; drafted Kris Bryant; and locked up Starlin Castro and Rizzo with team-friendly long-term deals.
Though the win-loss record didn’t improve dramatically in 2014, the Cubs’ collection of young talent—augmented by players like Billy McKinney, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber—hit critical mass. Now it’s undeniable the Cubs are coming fast, and people around baseball are taking notice. National columnists, local pundits and sports pages across the country are lauding the organization’s elite system.
For the past several years, if you were unwilling to look beyond the team playing at Wrigley Field, it was hard to see what the Cubs were building. When the major league team was losing, the idea of “top prospects” was too nebulous to provide much comfort. But once those same prospects started arriving in the bigs, it was hard to deny their energy, enthusiasm and raw talent.
Not every call-up posted huge numbers, but they all made strong impressions. Kyle Hendricks was occasionally dazzling, Jorge Soler demonstrated impact potential, and guys like Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara and Eric Jokisch all showed flashes.
Through everything—all the losses, all the complaints, all the stories about the Cubs’ struggles—the front office never wavered from their plan, even when it would have been easier (and much better PR) to hold onto some of their veteran talent and/or throw money at risky free agents. Now that patience is starting to pay off.
I’m in no way saying the Commissioner’s Trophy should be on its way to Clark and Addison next season. Baseball is far too random to guarantee anything like that. But it’s undeniable the Cubs have built a formidable foundation of talent that is the envy of the baseball world.
In the October issue of Vine Line, Baseball Prospectus’ Sahadev Sharma examines the work the front office has been doing to assemble the top system in the game. We also give readers a sneak peek into a true baseball treasure, as we take a tour through the famous Wrigley Field manual scoreboard with the men who work inside. Finally, we go back to June 23, 1984, when Hall of Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg made the entire baseball world and a national TV audience take notice with two memorable home runs in the fabled Sandberg Game.
You can always find news on Wrigley Field, the Cubs’ storied past and the organization’s bright future in Vine Line and on Twitter at @cubsvineline. And stay tuned this offseason—things are about to get fun.
People around the game were surprised when the Cubs selected Kyle Schwarber with the fourth-overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft. In some scouts’ eyes, he was taken a half-round too soon. However, the catcher/outfielder quickly dispelled the notion he was a reach, playing at three levels and finishing his first professional season with a .344/.428/.634 (AVG/OBP/SLG) slash line and 18 home runs in 311 plate appearances. In the September issue of Vine Line, we caught up with Schwarber to discuss his whirlwind of a season, his first experiences as a pro, and whether or not he can stick at his original catcher position.
The Cubs agreed with Eugene (Ore.) Friday on a new Player Development Contract to become the organization’s Single-A Northwest League affiliate. Eugene previously was affiliated with the Cubs in 1999-2000. The contract runs through the 2016 season.
“We are looking forward to working with Allan Benavides and the entire Emeralds organization, and are eager to begin working with the local community,” said Jason McLeod, the Cubs senior vice president of scouting and player development. “The Eugene ballclub offers a first-class facility at the University of Oregon—one of the most impressive facilities in short-season baseball.”
The Eugene Emeralds have been an affiliate of the San Diego Padres since 2001. The club began play as an independent team in the inaugural Northwest League in 1955, and has since partnered with nine major league organizations in its 60-year history. A three-time Northwest League champion, the Emeralds moved into their current ballpark, PK Park, in 2010.
“The Emeralds could not be happier to announce this new partnership with the Cubs,” said Emeralds General Manager Allan Benavides. “We are excited to introduce a new brand of baseball at PK Park and look forward to a long-lasting relationship as the Cubs Northwest League affiliate.”
On Thursday, the Cubs agreed with South Bend, Indiana, on a new Player Development Contract to move the club’s Single-A Midwest League affiliate. The contract runs through the 2018 season.
“We are excited to partner with South Bend and look forward to a productive relationship with the team, as well as the entire South Bend community,” said Jason McLeod, the Cubs senior vice president of scouting and player development. “Making the decision to switch minor league affiliates is never an easy one, but we are confident that this agreement will further strengthen our farm system.
“The Cubs are fortunate to have had the opportunity to play in Kane County the past two years, and we thank Dr. Bob Froehlich, the entire front office and all of the Cougars fans for their support. We are proud that our relationship culminated with a Midwest League title this past season.”
The South Bend Silver Hawks have claimed five Midwest League titles and 12 division titles in their 26-season history, most recently in 2005. The club had been an affiliate of the Diamondbacks since 1997. South Bend broke into the league in 1988 as a Chicago White Sox affiliate, a partnership that ran through 1996.
“Today is a turning point,” said South Bend Silver Hawks Owner Andrew Berlin. “I made a promise to the thousands of people and local government officials who welcomed me with open arms three years ago. I promised that I would return the team to its former glory days. And I promised that I’d do everything I could to bring people back downtown and prove that this is a wonderful place to invest in.
“Now, one of the best and most beloved brands in the history of Major League Baseball is making a bold statement about this place too. The Chicago Cubs are giving this region a big vote of confidence.”
The South Bend franchise will unveil a new name, logo and uniform on Thursday, Sept. 25, during a press conference beginning at 9 a.m. ET at the local St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce.
(Photo by Aldrin Capulong)
The first thing you notice about Cubs 2014 No. 1 draft pick Kyle Schwarber is that no one will say a bad word about him. And it takes all of about 30 seconds to understand why.
On a rainy July day, Schwarber’s Kane County team had just lost a 3-2 affair in gut-wrenching fashion, after Tyler Marincov smashed a two-out, two-run, ninth-inning homer to give visiting Beloit the victory. It was a frustrating day all around, and the fourth-overall selection in this year’s draft had probably the worst showing of his nascent professional career, logging an 0-for-4 that included an ugly three-pitch strikeout.
As members of the media entered a quiet clubhouse filled with players licking their wounds, Schwarber stood with a plate of food in his hands. After a few seconds, the newest of the Cubs’ elite prospects realized the media scrum was there for him. He politely put down his tray, walked over to the gathering and ushered them into a small storage room outside the clubhouse so as not to disturb his teammates—most of whom he’d known for less than three weeks.
Even though he’d been a pro for only a short time, the Indiana University product was surprisingly poised, professional and conscientious. He has always been comfortable in his own skin, and he just wanted to make sure everyone else was comfortable too.
“It happens—0-fors can happen,” Schwarber said, shrugging his large shoulders. “I’ve got to realize that. You can’t be too negative on yourself because that can happen sometimes. … It’s a long season. You’ve just got to keep grinding each and every at-bat.”
The next thing you notice about Schwarber is how polished he looks at the plate. The Cubs rated the 21-year-old left-handed slugger as the best hitter in the 2014 draft, and he’s more than justified their confidence in him since he made his professional debut with Short-Season A Boise on June 13. In the Northwest League, Schwarber hit .600 with four home runs and 10 RBI in just five games. After that scorching start, he was quickly promoted to Low-A Kane County, where he played another 23 games, compiling a .361/.448/.602 (AVG/OBP/SLG) line with four homers and 15 RBI. In mid-July, he was bumped up to High-A Daytona, where he finished the season hitting .302/.393/.560 with 10 homers.
But when people are asked about Schwarber, the thing they generally rave about is not his powerful bat—it’s his selfless team-first attitude and the presence he brings to the clubhouse.
“We’re really happy with the quick adjustment he’s made to pro ball,” said Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein. “The on-field stuff takes care of itself with how he’s handled things mentally. He’s been through a lot this past month, and he’s been consistent, steady, and he’s off to a great start.”
For former Indiana University coach Tracy Smith, it was virtually love at first sight. After hearing of a hulking catcher from Middletown, Ohio, who was posting huge numbers and consistently making hard contact, Smith figured he’d check it out. Though Schwarber was also recruited on the gridiron as an All-State middle linebacker, his first love was always baseball.
“I went to see a game, and he was facing a high school guy that ended up being drafted that year, a left-handed pitcher,” said Smith, who recently accepted the head-coaching job at Arizona State University. “The game I saw him, Schwarber took him out to left field, center field, right field. So that [scholarship] offer came on his way home.”
Indiana is generally known as a basketball school, but the baseball program has transformed into a national power in the past three seasons, largely behind the play of Schwarber.
From 2012-14, the catcher and outfielder hit .341/.437/.607 with 238 hits, 40 homers and 41 doubles, all while drawing 116 walks and striking out just 91 times in 180 games. He was named to multiple All-America teams, and Perfect Game, an amateur scouting company that hosts top-level national baseball showcases, named him the best college catcher in the country in 2013 after he bashed a school-record 18 home runs. That same season, Schwarber and his teammates reached baseball’s elite eight, advancing Indiana to the College World Series for the first time in program history.
All the while, the Cubs were watching.
At first, all eyes weren’t necessarily on Schwarber. The 2012 Indiana roster included eight players who eventually got drafted by major league clubs. But for Cubs scout Stan Zielinski, just knowing that the big catcher was batting second piqued his interest.
“Freshmen aren’t supposed to hit at the top of the order of a [Division 1] program. If they’re trusting a guy to top an order as a freshman, then they must think he’s pretty good,” Zielinski said. “Then he’s squaring up balls, hitting line drives, just playing with a lot of tenacity and just loving the game.”
The longtime scout came away impressed and decided to schedule some time in Bloomington during the ensuing seasons. While there may not have been a signature on-field moment that sold Zielinski on the collegiate star, he said it was a “series of blows” that made him a believer.
After identifying a potential draft pick, the next step the Cubs take is to try to gain a better understanding of that person off the field. Scouts and front office personnel talk to the player, coaches, family and any other influential voices. As Zielinski did his research, it became clear Schwarber’s mental toughness was just as potent a tool as his powerful bat.
When it came time for Zielinski to deliver his report, the scout sold the slugger hard to the Cubs front office—and the decision makers listened. Even though most teams had Schwarber as a mid-first-round talent, the Cubs felt strongly enough about him to take him fourth overall.
“He’s just a genuine All-American kid,” Zielinski said. “To know him is to like him. You can’t walk away without liking the kid. He’s just a fun-loving kid. If the team is too tight, he tries to loosen them up. If the team is too loose, he tells the guys to get their focus back.”
During Zielinski’s time on campus, he and the IU coaching staff had numerous conversations, many of them about Schwarber’s personality.
“Everybody talks about what a great player he is and all that, but he really is … a better person,” Smith said. “I’ve always thought you don’t have a good ballclub unless your best players are the hardest workers, and that’s something Kyle brought to the field every day. He’ll outwork everybody.”
If there’s one knock on Schwarber, whether it’s justified or not, it’s about his ability to stick behind the plate. The Cubs front office admitted they selected the slugger primarily for his advanced bat. Catchers often require more time in the minor leagues to refine their skills, but team representatives said they didn’t want Schwarber’s defensive development to slow down his offensive process. In other words, if his bat is big league-ready, they might not hold him back waiting for his receiving skills to catch up.
“I love catching, but if they want me to do something else, I’ll do something else,” Schwarber said.
The one thing that is repeated by everyone you talk to about Schwarber—from Cubs front office personnel to college coaches to scouts—is that he is, first and foremost, a team-oriented guy. As such, he’s willing to pass on catching in the long run and make the full-time switch to a corner outfield spot. But that doesn’t mean he’s ready to hang up his catcher’s mitt just yet.
“I want to be able to help the team down the road, when it comes, if that opportunity does come,” Schwarber said. “I feel like if I can get better defensively, [catching] could be in the best interest of the team.”
The argument, for what it’s worth, is that he’s relatively new to calling his own games, and his release on throws is a little long. Those who have seen him play on a more consistent basis, however, say much of that criticism is unwarranted. While he might not ever be a top-tier glove man behind the plate, people who know his work ethic believe he could backstop at the major league level.
“As far as pro ball, there are some things he needs to learn, and he’s so open to it,” said Kane County manager Mark Johnson, who spent parts of eight major league seasons as a catcher. “He wants to learn, he wants to get better, and he busts his butt every day. That’s all you can really ask for.”
From a scouting standpoint, the pieces are there too. It’s evident Schwarber has spent the majority of his life being the field captain. He just needs to hone his game to make it major league-ready.
“Everybody knocks his defense … but everyone is a little afraid to make their own opinion on it,” Zielinski said. “I actually think he can catch. I think the ingredients are all there to make the cake. He needs some refinements and coaching.”
Schwarber spent most of his time in Daytona manning the outfield and logging a few games each week behind the plate. It remains to be seen where he’ll end up defensively, but it will certainly be a topic of discussion this offseason, when it looks like some questions might get answered.
“We’re going to sit down at the end of the minor league season and see whether it’s an appropriate time to make a call,” Epstein said. “That’s a good time of the year, because you can decide then that if catching is something we really want to pursue, we can get him a lot of work daily in the instructional league—a lot of focused attention on his defensive fundamentals.”
Schwarber admitted the first few months of his professional career have been a whirlwind. Wrapping up a college career, getting drafted, signing a multimillion-dollar contract and jumping through three professional levels would be a lot for anybody to handle. But Schwarber said he appreciates how supportive everyone in the organization has been since he signed, which has helped make the transition from amateur to pro ball as seamless as possible.
“I thought it was going to be a lot different being the new guy, especially being the guy that got picked first by them,” Schwarber said. “It’s a different story for everyone. But these guys … they brought me in. It’s like I haven’t missed a beat with these guys.”
Based on the stories, getting along with Kyle Schwarber hardly sounds like a difficult task. His natural personality, combined with the effort he gives on the field every day, makes it easy for coaches and peers to call him a good teammate.
The comfort level is already there, and everyone around him can feel it.
The Cubs agreed with Myrtle Beach (S.C.) on a new Player Development Contract to move the club’s Single-A affiliate to the Carolina League on Tuesday. The contract runs through the 2016 season.
“We are excited to reach an agreement with Myrtle Beach and begin working with Chairman Chuck Greenberg and General Manager and Vice President Andy Milovich,” said Jason McLeod, the Cubs senior vice president of scouting and player development. “Myrtle Beach is a well-respected franchise that will serve as a beneficial destination for our young players. We look forward to developing a successful relationship with the franchise and community.
“We would also like to thank Daytona for the organization’s dedication and professionalism in the past 22 seasons. We appreciate all their efforts and have the utmost respect for Andy Rayburn, Josh Lawther and the entire Daytona front office.”
The Myrtle Beach Pelicans have made eight postseason appearances in their 16-season history, including in each of the last four seasons as an affiliate of the Texas Rangers. Myrtle Beach joined the Carolina League in 1999 as an affiliate of the Atlanta Braves, a partnership that would continue through the 2010 season.
“The Cubs are an iconic national brand,” said Pelicans General Manager and Vice President Andy Milovich. “The success of our business is determined by fan interest, the quality of baseball and the impact on Myrtle Beach from a tourism perspective. In each of these instances, the Chicago Cubs clearly offered the most upside. The Cubs strengthen the Pelicans brand in a way that few, if any, other major league franchises could. Cubs fans can now visit their future stars in one of the iconic vacation destination spots in the U.S.”
(Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Cubs prospect Kris Bryant announced his presence in a big way in his first full season of professional baseball in 2014. The slugger, who hit .325/.438/.661 (AVG/OBP/SLG) between Double-A and Triple-A, proved he was the top offensive player in the minors, with many publications naming him their unanimous Player of the Year selection. ESPN Insider’s Keith Law added to the chorus Tuesday, naming Bryant his 2014 Prospect of the Year. Here’s some of what he had to say:
Bryant blew away the field, dominating at two levels, leading the minor leagues in home runs and slugging percentage, finishing second in OBP (behind a 21-year-old in low-A) and ascending the rankings to become baseball’s top prospect, all in his first full year in professional baseball. The second overall pick in the 2013 Rule 4 draft, Bryant probably would have appeared in the majors in September if he were already on the 40-man roster, but the current collective bargaining agreement and major league rules gave the Cubs a real disincentive to promote him for a cup of coffee. He will almost certainly be up by May 2015, however, bringing his 30-plus-homer power and outstanding eye at the plate to the heart of the Cubs’ lineup.
The Cubs top prospect led the minors in home runs (43), extra-base hits (78), total bases (325), slugging percentage (.661) and OPS (1.098). His 118 runs scored were second among all minor league players, while his 110 RBI were third, and his .438 on-base percentage was fifth.
Cubs’ 2014 first-round pick Kyle Schwarber also received honorable mention in Law’s article for his solid campaign.
The Cubs named Jen-Ho Tseng the club’s 2014 Minor League Pitcher of the Year. (Photo courtesy of Kane County Cougars)
The Cubs named third baseman Kris Bryant and right-handed pitcher Jen-Ho Tseng the organization’s Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Year, respectively, on Monday.
The award should come as no surprise for the 22-year-old Bryant, as publications like Baseball America and USA Today have already named him their Minor League Player of the Year. The 2013 first-round pick dominated all season, batting .325/438/.661 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with a minor league-best 43 home runs in 138 games between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa. He also tallied 34 doubles and 110 RBI and led the minors with 78 extra-base hits, 325 total bases, a 1.098 OPS as well as the aforementioned .661 slugging percentage. His 118 runs scored ranked second among all minor league players, while his RBI total was third, his on-base percentage was fifth and his 86 walks ranked eighth.
A right-handed hitting third baseman, Bryant began the season with Tennessee and batted .355 (88-for-248) with 20 doubles, 22 home runs, 58 RBI, a .458 on-base percentage and a .702 slugging mark in 68 games. He was named the Southern League Hitter of the Week three times, including in consecutive weeks (May 26-June 1 and June 2-8) when he combined to bat .447 (21-for-47) with five doubles, eight home runs, 12 RBI and 15 walks. Bryant was named a midseason Southern League All-Star and led the league in batting average, home runs and RBI at the break.
On June 19, the top prospect was promoted to Iowa following the Southern League All-Star break and went on to hit .295 (72-for-244) with 14 doubles, one triple, 21 home runs, 52 RBI, a .418 on-base percentage and a .619 slugging percentage in 70 games. He hit five home runs in his first six career games at the Triple-A level and went deep in consecutive games on five occasions.
Selected by the Cubs with the second overall pick in 2013, Bryant owns a .327 batting average (203-for-620) with 140 runs scored, 48 doubles, three triples, 52 home runs and 142 RBI in 174 career minor league contests. He has a .428 on-base percentage and a .666 slugging mark to contribute to a 1.094 career OPS. Named the Cubs second-best prospect heading into this season by Baseball America, Bryant owns a .942 fielding percentage at third base (27 E/464 TC), including a .963 mark (7 E/190 TC) with Iowa this season.
Tseng, 19, was a key component in Single-A Kane County’s run to a Midwest League title in 2014. The right-hander went 6-1 with a 2.40 ERA (28 ER/105.0 IP) in 19 games (17 starts), fanning 85 and walking just 15. Tseng limited opponents to a .204 batting average (76-for-373), a .241 on-base percentage and a .308 slugging percentage.
In his first professional season since he was signed by the Cubs as a non-drafted free agent in July of last season, Tseng allowed three or fewer earned runs in 16 of his 17 starts and surrendered two or fewer walks in 15 starts. He finished the regular season on a nice run, posting a 3-1 record and a 1.65 ERA (10 ER/54.2 IP) in nine games (eight starts) from July 6. The run included a seven-inning complete game in which he allowed just one run on three hits while walking none and striking out seven on July 13 vs. Beloit.
Bryant and Tseng will be honored during an on-field ceremony prior to the Cubs 7:05 p.m. contest this Wednesday, Sept. 17, against the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field.