Javier Baez blasted his first home run of the winter Sunday, while Junior Lake contributed to his Dominican squad. Here are some notes from yesterday’s action around the Caribbean:
- 2B Javier Baez ripped a two-run, first-inning home run for his first round-tripper of the winter. He also recorded a double to go 2-for-4 in the Cangrejeros de Santurce’s win over the Senadores de San Juan.
- CF John Andreoli struggled at the plate, going 0-for-3 with three strikeouts in the San Juan loss.
- 2B Luis Valbuena had an RBI single. He finished with a hit in his only at-bat in the Cardenales de Lara’s win over the Tiburones de La Guaira.
- C Willson Contrereas was 0-for-3 as the Tigres de Aragua were shut out by the Navegantes del Magallanes.
- RHP Loiger Padron got only one batter out, giving up three earned runs on two hits and a walk. His Leones del Caracas squad fell to the Caribes de Anzoategui.
- LF Junior Lake went 2-for-3 and drew a walk in the Estrellas de Oriente’s 10-3 win over the Gigantes del Cibao. He also scored a run.
- CF Arismendy Alcantara finished 0-for-4 with a walk as the Tigres del Licey fell to the Aguilas Cibaenas.
- 3B Christian Villanueva went hitless with a sacrifice fly and a walk for the Yaquis de Obregon in their narrow loss to the Aguilas de Mexicali.
Javier Baez made his winter league debut Thursday, and Jonathan Herrera put up a solid hitting line. Here are some notes from yesterday’s action around the Caribbean:
- 2B Javier Baez made his winter league debut with an 0-for-3 effort, striking out three times, but he did drive in a run on a sacrifice fly in the Cangrejeros de Santurce’s 2-0 win over the Indios de Mayaguez. Strikeouts have long plagued the infielder projected to be the Cubs’ Opening Day second baseman. Though he whiffed in more than 41 percent of his 229 major league plate appearances last year, he does have a history of struggling when he first moves up a level before eventually settling in. Despite his issues, the slugger has undeniable power. He hit 23 homers in 104 minor league games before a promotion to the majors, where he launched another nine bombs in 52 top-level games. He entered the 2014 season as the No. 5 prospect in baseball, according to Baseball America. It’s also easy to forget Baez will be entering just his age 22 season in 2015.
- DH Jonathan Herrera finished 2-fo-5 with two RBI and three runs scored as the Navegantes del Magallanes rolled past the Aguilas del Zulia.
- 2B Luis Valbuena went hitless for the Cardenales de Lara in a loss to the Bravos de Margarita.
- LF Junior Lake recorded a single as the Estrellas de Oriente cruised past the Torors del Este Thursday.
- RHP Frank Batista pitched two scoreless innings in the Aguilas Cibaenas’ loss to the Gigantes del Cibao. It wasn’t the cleanest effort, as Batista surrendered two hits and walked two, but he did manage to strike out one batter.
- 3B Christian Villanueva was 0-for-4 as the Yaquis de Obregon were shut out by the Venados de Mazatlan.
Christian Villanueva went yard, and Junior Lake got on base three times Wednesday for their respective winter league clubs. Here are some notes from all of yesterday’s action around the Caribbean:
- 3B Christian Villanueva hit his seventh home run of the season as the Yaquis de Obregon edged out the Venados de Mazatlan 7-5 Wednesday. Villanueva reached on an error in the third and later scored a run. He finished 1-for-4.
- LF Junior Lake reached base three times, going 1-for-1 with a single and two walks for the Estrellas de Oriente. He scored the game’s lone run in a win over the Leones del Escogido.
- 2B Arismendy Alcantara recorded an RBI single in the Tigres del Licey’s 2-0 win over the Gigantes del Cibao. He went 1-f0r-4.
- 2B Luis Valbuena had an RBI double and drew a walk in the Cardenales de Lara’s 9-4 win over the Bravos de Margarita.
- DH Jonathan Herrera reached base twice with two singles and scored a run as the Navegantes del Magallanes topped the Tiburones de La Guaira.
- LHP Joseph Ortiz had a rough outing, allowing two earned runs on three hits over one inning for La Guaira.
Starling Peralta’s efforts out of the bullpen were the highlight of Cubs representatives in the Caribbean Tuesday. Here are some notes from the rest of yesterday’s Winter League action:
- RHP Starling Peralta pitched three scoreless innings of relief for the Estrellas de Oriente in their loss to the Leones del Escogido. He surrendered just one hit and struck out two.
- LF Junior Lake went hitless in three at-bats but drew a walk in the Estrellas’ loss.
- CF Arismendy Alcantara finished 0-for-4 as the Tigres del Licey were blanked by the Gigantes del Cibao Tuesday.
- LF Christian Villanueva had a base hit in the Yaquis de Obregon’s 10-2 loss to the Venados de Mazatlan. He finished 1-for-4.
- CF John Andreoli singled and scored a run despite his Senadores de San Juan side getting edged out by the Indios de Mayaguez in a 4-3 ballgame.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
The Cubs may be only a brief stop away from their next destination. Or, perhaps, a shortstop. That is, if they are willing to trade one.
In his postseason address to season ticket holders, President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein said he expects the team to contend for a division title in 2015. And that was before marquee manager Joe Maddon first put on the pinstripes at the Cubby Bear.
With holes still to fill, the Cubs can’t stop short with their hiring of Maddon. In their quest to be the best, middle-infield depth could be the key to acquiring more pieces to the puzzle.
Since arriving in October 2011, Epstein and his front office mates have done a lot of heavy lifting to strengthen the organization—signing international free agents, making astute picks in the June amateur draft and trading for other teams’ top prospects. As a result, the Cubs’ system is rated among the consensus top three in the majors.
At this stage, moving surplus talent, notably at shortstop, could be vital to improving the major league product.
“I believe the Cubs potentially have three All-Stars in [Starlin] Castro, [Javier] Baez and [Addison] Russell,” said a top major league executive. “I watched Russell last year in the Arizona Fall League. This year in the minor leagues, he got a little thicker and stronger. This young man is going to be a fine hitter and could very well be an All-Star shortstop. I love his natural instincts. Nothing about his game is below average.”
The Cubs acquired Oakland’s top draft picks from 2012 and 2013—Russell and outfielder Billy McKinney—along with pitcher Dan Straily in a July 4 deal for starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. Athletics General Manager Billy Beane said he didn’t want to trade the 20-year-old Russell, rated the No. 5 prospect in the game by MLB.com, but succumbed to the urge to add pitching depth in hopes of making a deep playoff run last season.
Of the three shortstops in question, Baez has the greatest power potential. His lack of contact at the major league level—95 strikeouts in his first 213 at-bats—hasn’t tempered the club’s confidence in him. Epstein said Baez will start the 2015 campaign on the Cubs’ 25-man roster, “barring anything out of the ordinary.”
A top National League scout raved about the raw skills he sees in Baez, who turns 22 on Dec. 1.
“I love his power, and he really seems comfortable at shortstop,” the scout said. “He’s not a flashy fielder—just gets the ball and throws the runner out. Baez has less moving parts than Castro.
“Will he hit? I really think so. Remember when [Anthony] Rizzo first came up in San Diego? He struck out almost 40 percent of the time. That bat speed and the quick hands cannot be taught. [Baez] is 21 and struck out at every level a lot of times until he figured it out. I like him as a shortstop, second baseman or third baseman. And I see a lot of extra-base hits in his future.”
The Cubs’ third shortstop jewel is the young veteran Castro, already a three-time All-Star at just 24 years old. His recovery from a disappointing 2013 season was a boon for both him and the organization.
After landing a seven-year, $60 million contract in August 2012, Castro seemed to enter 2013 as if he had nothing to prove. He reported to camp 10 pounds heavier and never hit his stride, batting just .245 on the season (39 points below his current lifetime average).
In 2014, a rededicated Castro led the team in hitting with a .292 mark from the middle of the order and regained his All-Star status. Working with infield instructor Gary Jones, he also reduced his errors from 22 to 15—the first season in four he didn’t lead major league shortstops in miscues.
The question of what the Cubs will do with their surplus of middle-infield talent could be answered this winter. If so, Castro might be the likeliest to go. At least three major-market teams will be seeking a top shortstop, and Castro would seem the most marketable commodity as an already-established big league star.
Ultimately, the Cubs could elect to keep all three shortstops—each 24 or younger—and move two of them to different positions. Baez is currently scheduled to be the Opening Day second baseman, with Russell ticketed to play shortstop at either Double-A Tennessee or Triple-A Iowa.
Maddon’s arrival seems to accelerate the team’s timetable for winning. A blockbuster deal for a top young pitcher could be the next step.
In other words, don’t sell Epstein short. Not so long as he has shortstops to sell.
—Bruce Levine and Joel Bierig
Luis Valbuena had another solid day at the plate, and multiple Cubs relievers pitched scoreless innings Sunday. Here are some notes from yesterday’s action around the Caribbean:
- 2B Luis Valbuena had a pair of hits, including a double, and scored two runs as the Cardenales de Lara captured a 7-3 win over the Caribes de Anzoategui. The infielder also added a walk.
- DH Jonathan Herrera recorded a hit and scored a run in the Navegantes del Magallanes’ loss to the Braves de Margarita. He also drew a walk.
- C Willson Contreras hit a single, finishing 1-for-3, as the Tigres de Aragua topped the Aguilas del Zulia.
- RHP Loiger Padron pitched to one batter and got him out despite the Leones del Caracas falling to the Tiburones de La Guaira.
- LHP Joseph Ortiz pitched 2/3 of an inning, giving up one hit and striking out one in the win for the Tiburones.
- RHP Frank Batista pitched two scoreless innings as the Aguilas Cibaenas captured a win over the Tigers del Licey. Batista gave up one hit and struck out one to earn his first hold of the season.
- LF Junior Lake struggled at the plate, going 0-for-4 with four strikeouts and a walk, as his Estrellas de Oriente side fell to the Gigantes del Cibao.
- DH Christian Villanueva went hitless but drove in his 16th run of the season on a fourth-inning, bases-loaded walk. His club, the Yaquis de Obregon, topped the Naranjeros de Hermosillo Sunday.
In a relatively quiet day for Cubs prospects in the Caribbean, infielder Luis Valbuena managed a pair of singles despite his Venezualian side falling Thursday. Here are some notes from yesterday’s action around the Winter Leagues:
- 2B Luis Valbuena recorded a pair of singles, but it wasn’t enough as his Cardenales de Lara team lost to the Tiburones de La Guaira.
- RHP Loiger Padron pitched a scoreless fourth inning in the Leones del Caracas’ loss to the Tigres de Aragua. He gave up no hits but walked two.
- 2B Jonathan Herrera went 0-for-4 for the Navegantes del Magallanes in their win over the Caribes de Anzoategui. Herrera was recently signed to a minor league deal.
- CF John Andreoli went hitless in three at-bats as his Senadores de San Juan squad was crushed 17-0 by the Gigantes de Carolina.
On an otherwise quiet day for Cubs representatives in the Caribbean, Junior Lake recorded a few big hits for his Dominican team. Here are some notes from yesterday’s winter league action:
- LF Junior Lake had a big day at the plate for the Estrellas de Oriente in their win over the Tigres del Licey. The converted outfielder had a triple and a double, notched two RBI, scored three runs and walked three times. He finished 2-for-2 on the day.
- C Luis Flores went 0-for-3 but scored a run for the Estrellas.
- PR Junior Felix Arias entered the game in the sixth inning as a pinch-runner and scored for the Gigantes del Cibao, who were victorious over the Toros del Este.
- RHP Frank Batista was roughed up in two innings, giving up three earned runs in the Aguilas Cibaenas’ win over the Leones del Escogido.
- LF Christian Villanueva went 1-for-4 with a single as the Yaquis de Obregon fell to the Tomateros de Culiacan.
- LHP Joseph Ortiz picked up his second win of the winter in a Tiburones de La Guaira victory over the Navegantes del Magallanes. He pitched 0.2 innings and gave up one hit.
- 2B Luis Valbuena went hitless in four at-bats as the Cardenales de Lara fell to the Leones del Caracas.
Members of the Cubs organization made an impact Tuesday, especially from the offensive side, and a duo of farmhands participated in Venezuela’s All-Star Game. Here are some notes from yesterday’s action around the Caribbean:
- CF John Andreoli blasted his first home run of the winter in a 6-2 Senadores de San Juan win over the Gigantes de Carolina on Tuesday. The solo shot came in the third inning, and he added another single, finishing 2-for-4 with two runs scored. The 24-year-old Andreoli played 61 games at Double-A last season, compiling a .211/.329/.249 (AVG/OBP/SLG) line, stealing 28 bases and getting caught only twice. Though he lacks some pop, his 13.5 percent walk rate demonstrates his discipline at the plate.
- CF Arismendy Alcantara had a pair of hits as the Tigres del Licey edged out the Aguilas Cibaenas. He recorded his first double of the winter and added a run scored, finishing 2-for-5.
- LF Christian Villanueva had another monster day offensively for the Yaquis de Obregon in their loss to the Tomateros de Culican. The 23-year-old ripped a sixth-inning grand slam and added three singles. He finished 4-for-4. The home run was his sixth of the winter.
- RHP Lioger Padron pitched to one batter and got him out for the Future All-Stars side in their 8-0 win over the LVBP All-Stars.
- C Willson Contreras recorded a single in two at-bats for the Future All-Stars.
Slick-fielding infield prospect Christian Villanueva found himself in an unfamiliar spot Monday, as he lined up in left field. Though likely unrelated, he also had one of his better games of the winter at the dish. With few games going on around the Caribbean leagues, he was the only Cub in action. Here are some notes from yesterday’s game:
- LF Christian Villanueva smacked his fifth homer of the winter as the Yaquis de Obregon took down the Tomateros de Culiacan 6-3. He also added a single and scored a second run, finishing 2-for-4. Known for his defensive prowess at third base, it’s interesting to see the 23-year-old slated anywhere but the hot corner. In his six seasons of minor league ball, he has never played the outfield, and he is viewed by many as the best defensive third baseman in the organization. Though the glove has always been there, question marks surround Villanueva’s bat, as he hit .230/.297/.379 in split duties between Double- and Triple-A in 2014 and is a career .266 hitter. Though he has shown glimpses of pop (19 home runs in Double-A in 2013), it’s likely those offensive stats will need to improve as he progresses. Either way, games like the one he had Monday will surely boost his confidence.