Archive for the ‘ Profiles ’ Category

Cubscast Mesa: The next wave of Cubs talent

The Cubs enviable stockpile of young talent is no secret around the game. People started rumbling about the organization’s burgeoning system a few years ago. Now groups like ESPN, Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus all agree the Cubs have the top farm in baseball.

During Spring Training, Vine Line sat down with the Cubs next wave of talent—including Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell—to ask what they’ve gotten out of being in big league camp and what their goals are for the coming season.

We’ll be posting videos and stories from Sloan Park all spring, so make sure you’re watching the blog and our Twitter account, @cubsvineline.

Check out the other videos from our Spring Training series:

Cubscast Mesa: Spring sit-down with manager Joe Maddon
Cubscast Mesa: The Lighter Side, If I weren’t a ballplayer …
Cubscast Mesa: Checking in with the 2015 Cubs coaching staff
Cubscast Mesa: The Lighter Side, If I could have one talent or superpower
Cubscast Mesa: The Cubs are setting a positive tone in camp
Cubscast Mesa: The Lighter Side, What the Cubs are watching on TV

Cubscast Mesa: The Lighter Side, What the Cubs are watching on TV

Addicted to The Bachelor? Can’t get enough of The Blacklist? Have a soft spot for 1990s sitcoms? You’re not alone.

Throughout the baseball season, Cubs players spend countless hours on planes or in hotels. Thanks to subscription services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, they’re still able to keep up with their favorite TV shows while they’re on the road. We asked Cubs players and coaches what their favorite programs were and got some interesting answers.

We’ll be posting videos and stories from Sloan Park all spring, so make sure you’re watching the blog and our Twitter account, @cubsvineline.

Check out the other videos from our Spring Training series:

Cubscast Mesa: Spring sit-down with manager Joe Maddon
Cubscast Mesa: The Lighter Side, If I weren’t a ballplayer …
Cubscast Mesa: Checking in with the 2015 Cubs coaching staff
Cubscast Mesa: The Lighter Side, If I could have one talent or superpower
Cubscast Mesa: The Cubs are setting a positive tone in camp

Cubscast Mesa: The Cubs are setting a positive tone in camp

The Cubs finished on a strong note in 2014 and were riding a huge wave of momentum as they entered Spring Training. New veteran additions have joined with the organization’s unmatched young talent to make the Cubs the talk of the Cactus League. We sat down with some of the new and old players to find out what the feeling is like in camp and how it differs from the feeling in previous years.

We’ll be posting videos and stories from Sloan Park all spring, so make sure you’re watching the blog and our Twitter account, @cubsvineline.

Check out the other videos from our Spring Training series:

Cubscast Mesa: Spring sit-down with manager Joe Maddon
Cubscast Mesa: The Lighter Side, If I weren’t a ballplayer …
Cubscast Mesa: Checking in with the 2015 Cubs coaching staff
Cubscast Mesa: The Lighter Side, If I could have one talent or superpower

Cubscast Mesa: The Lighter Side, If I could have one talent or superpower

Major League Baseball players are blessed with all sorts of talents. Most mere mortals would give anything to be able to turn around a 98 mph fastball or to be able to throw said 98 mph fastball. But even the Cubs best athletes can’t do everything.

When we sat down with the team during Spring Training, we asked the guys which special talent or superpower they wish they had. The answers are enlightening.

We’ll be posting videos and stories from Sloan Park all spring, so make sure you’re watching the blog and our Twitter account, @cubsvineline.

Check out the other videos from our Spring Training series:

Cubscast Mesa: Spring sit-down with manager Joe Maddon
Cubscast Mesa: The Lighter Side, If I weren’t a ballplayer …
Cubscast Mesa: Checking in with the 2015 Cubs coaching staff

Cubscast Mesa: Checking in with the 2015 Cubs coaching staff

There’s a totally different feeling in Cubs camp this spring, and that all starts at the top with the coaching staff. Two-time AL Manager of the Year Joe Maddon brings his vast experience and quirky personality to Mesa, and he is joined by a cast of new and familiar faces who are all working together to rewrite the script for Cubs fans. We talked to the staff, new and old, about their expectations for 2015 and why this year will be different.

We’ll be posting videos and stories from Sloan Park all spring, so make sure you’re watching the blog and our Twitter account, @cubsvineline.

Check out the other videos from our Spring Training series:

Cubscast Mesa: Spring sit-down with manager Joe Maddon
Cubscast Mesa: The Lighter Side, If I weren’t a ballplayer …

Cubscast Mesa: The Lighter Side, If I weren’t a ballplayer …

It’s not easy to make it to the big leagues, and some of the guys who do make it can have short careers. That’s why it’s important to have a fallback plan. We asked some of your favorite Cubs players what they would be doing if they weren’t involved in professional baseball.

You may think you know your Cubs, but do you know which man dreams of running a resort hotel? Or who wants to join the FBI? Check out the above video to learn the answers. Some of them might surprise you (we’re looking at you, Pierce Johnson).

We’ll be posting videos and stories from Sloan Park all spring, so make sure you’re watching the blog and our Twitter account, @cubsvineline.

Check out the other videos from our Spring Training series:

Cubscast Mesa: Spring sit-down with manager Joe Maddon

Cubscast Mesa: Spring sit-down with manager Joe Maddon

After an eventful offseason, Cubs fans everywhere are ready to get the 2015 campaign underway. But perhaps no one is more excited than new manager Joe Maddon. The two-time AL Manager of the Year spent nine seasons in Tampa Bay before taking the reins as the 54th manager in Cubs franchise history in November.

We got a chance to catch up with the gregarious 61-year-old skipper during photo day at the Cubs’ Sloan Park training complex in Mesa, Arizona, Monday. In a wide ranging interview, he talked about his goals for 2015, his influences as a coach and building trust with a new group of players.

This is the first in our spring video series. We’ll be posting videos and stories from Sloan Park all spring, so make sure you’re watching the blog and our Twitter account, @cubsvineline.

From the Pages of Vine Line: Minor League Prospectus, Part 5 – Keep an Eye On

As evidenced by the additions of players like Jon Lester and Miguel Montero, the Cubs front office is transitioning from a period in which it focused primarily on bringing in assets to help improve the future of the franchise to an extended period in which they expect to compete every year at the big league level. However, if you were to suggest to baseball president Theo Epstein or general manager Jed Hoyer that this transition means they are now less inclined to build through their farm system, they would be quick to correct you.

Just because Cubs fans may finally start seeing wins accumulate at Wrigley Field doesn’t mean the minor league pipeline is suddenly going to go overlooked. In fact, for the second year in a row, the North Siders will have arguably the best system in all of baseball. Boasting the top prospect in the game, an overabundance of high-profile shortstops and a suddenly large group of interesting arms at the lower levels, the Cubs have built the scouting and player development monster they promised to deliver more than three years ago.

In our annual minor league prospectus, Baseball Prospectus’ Sahadev Sharma helps us break down the names to know at all levels of the system. As the month progresses, we’ll unveil player bios on a section-by-section basis. Here is Part 5 of the Cubs minor league prospectus:

Part 1 – The Elite
Part 2 – The Up-And-Comers
Part 3 – A Phone Call Away
Part 4 – Ready to Rebound

Keep an Eye On
Like everyone else who watches the game regularly, scouts often fall in love with certain players. Unless you spend a great deal of time digging deep into the farm system, which isn’t all that unusual for Cubs fans of late, you may not have heard of some of the following names. But these are the guys scouts have identified as having a legitimate shot to put themselves on the map in 2015.

Jeffrey Baez – OF
Though he is generally known as the less-famous Baez in the Cubs organization (for the record, he and Javier are not related), Jeffrey is a big, strong-bodied outfielder with a chance to hit for power. He has some speed for his size, which has allowed him to rack up stolen bases early in his professional career and play solid defense from a corner outfield spot. Baez dominated in Boise, and after a slow start following a promotion, he eventually hit his stride with the bat in Kane County. He has the upside to be a legit major league bat, but that depends on his ability to make adjustments and keep his body in shape.

Charcer Burks – OF
A former high school football player, Burks has the tools and athleticism to open some eyes. He possesses an advanced approach for a younger player, but must continue to get stronger and utilize his speed by hitting line drives or keeping the ball on the ground rather than trying to hit it in the air. He has a gap-to-gap, line-drive swing and will likely be more of a singles and doubles guy than a power hitter.

Victor Caratini – C/3B
Caratini plays both third base and catcher, but he will stick behind the plate for the time being. If he can prove he has the skills to remain there, he’ll join Zagunis and Schwarber to give the Cubs some depth at a position at which they were largely lacking just a year ago. The switch-hitter has the flexibility, soft hands, strong arm and overall tools to become a solid backstop. Either way, he has enough bat to provide value. If it’s behind the plate, that value suddenly becomes of the impact variety.

Trevor Clifton – RHP
Clifton was a top-round talent, but the Cubs were able to sign him to an over-slot bonus after selecting him in the 12th round of the 2013 draft. The big, physical righty has an easy plus fastball, and his body has filled out since he joined the organization. With the potential for a solid change-up and a strong breaking ball, he has the weapons to be a starter, but he hasn’t yet shown the necessary consistency

Kevonte Mitchell – OF
Mitchell is a great athlete with a body scouts say is a mix between Giancarlo Stanton’s and Matt Kemp’s. Kemp is the dream here, as he is for every toolsy player who needs everything to go just right to reach his potential. As of now, Mitchell has the tools, but needs his game to catch up, which can only happen with playing time and lots of it. He profiles in a corner outfield spot, but there are some who believe the former basketball player could be adequate in center. Mitchell is the type of athlete scouts dream about. The ball flies off his bat, and he looks the part, but everything needs to click. If it doesn’t, which is the case more often than not with these types of players, he could end up less like Kemp and more like Reggie Abercrombie—a player with monster tools who never fully puts it together and struggles to perform in the high minors.

From the Pages of Vine Line: Minor League Prospectus, Part 2 – Up-And-Comers

Underwood

Duane Underwood put together an impressive 2014 campaign. (Photo courtesy Kane County Cougars)

As evidenced by the additions of players like Jon Lester and Miguel Montero, the Cubs front office is transitioning from a period in which it focused primarily on bringing in assets to help improve the future of the franchise to an extended period in which they expect to compete every year at the big league level. However, if you were to suggest to baseball president Theo Epstein or general manager Jed Hoyer that this transition means they are now less inclined to build through their farm system, they would be quick to correct you.

Just because Cubs fans may finally start seeing wins accumulate at Wrigley Field doesn’t mean the minor league pipeline is suddenly going to go overlooked. In fact, for the second year in a row, the North Siders will have arguably the best system in all of baseball. Boasting the top prospect in the game, an overabundance of high-profile shortstops and a suddenly large group of interesting arms at the lower levels, the Cubs have built the scouting and player development monster they promised to deliver more than three years ago.

In our annual minor league prospectus, Baseball Prospectus’ Sahadev Sharma helps us break down the names to know at all levels of the system. As the month progresses, we’ll unveil player bios on a section-by-section basis. Here is Part 2 of the Cubs minor league prospectus:

Part 1 – The Elite

Up-And-Comers
Soon enough, the elite names will be filling major league lineup cards instead of prospect lists. But perhaps the most impressive thing about the Cubs system—and this is a testament to the job the front office has done over the last few years—is that there are more waves of talent coming. If the organization is going to produce another generation of game-changing prospects, they will likely come from this group.

Eloy Jimenez – OF
Many believed Jimenez was the top prize of the 2013 international free-agent class. However, a combination of injuries limiting his playing time and fellow international signee Gleyber Torres outshining him led some to forget about the mammoth teenager. Jimenez battled shoulder soreness early in the season and a leg issue that shut him down late. But when things are going right, he displays impressive plate discipline for his age, the ability to drive the ball to all fields and tremendous power. The next step for the big outfielder is to learn which pitches he can drive and really backspin.

Carson Sands – LHP
The second pitcher taken by the team in the 2014 draft, and the first in a string of nine straight, Sands could turn out to be the best of the bunch. The southpaw has the body strength, athleticism and ability to throw strikes, coupled with the tools and weapons to be an effective starting pitcher over the long haul. Sands’ fastball plays up with late life, and he has enough feel to work down in the zone.

Along with the fastball, he shows a curveball that has a chance to be a plus pitch and a developing change-up. His command and control should continue to develop, and the Cubs believe if everything clicks, he has the durability and arsenal to turn into a solid No. 2 starter. Though he’s not even a year removed from high school, Sands could be challenged with a full-season assignment in South Bend to start 2015.

Jake Stinnett – RHP
Soon after joining the Cubs organization, Stinnett suffered a groin injury that required surgery, ultimately delaying his pro debut. However, the University of Maryland product battled back and returned to toss 11 innings with mixed results.

When Stinnett is on, he shows an easy-plus fastball, sitting 92-96, that he can work to both sides of the plate with riding life and explosiveness. He complements that with a power slider that often proves unhittable and a change-up with a chance to be a plus pitch. He still needs to show that arsenal consistently and develop command and control to reach the No. 2 role the Cubs envision for him.

The recent convert to pitching has had a full offseason in the Cubs strength program and time to recover from his injury. If all goes as planned, many believe Stinnett is an arm that could really take off for the Cubs this year.

Gleyber Torres – SS
Add this name to an already-long list of impressive shortstop talent in the Cubs organization. A part of their big 2013 international free-agent class, Torres has displayed a very advanced, pure approach at the plate at the ripe age of 17. Given he has all the skills to stick at short—the hands and feet work, he has strong body control and athleticism, and he displays the ability to go side to side—the impressive bat makes him a very intriguing prospect.

Torres stood out in the Arizona League and during his short stint at Boise with his ability to drive the ball to all fields and really control the zone. With only the power tool lacking, he appears to be a fairly complete package. If the hit tool continues to develop, he has a chance to be special. While nothing has been determined yet, there’s a strong possibility he will open the season as the starting shortstop at Low-A South Bend at just 18 years old.

Duane Underwood – RHP
After coming into 2013 out of shape, Underwood realized he couldn’t rely solely on his natural talents in pro ball and showed up last spring ready to compete. When it comes to pure stuff and tools, the righty might possess the highest upside of any pitcher in the system. Minor league pitching coordinator Derek Johnson worked with Underwood to tweak and simplify his delivery, and the pitcher showed more repeatability with it this past summer. Underwood has a fastball he can run up to 97, along with a plus curve and change.

 

From the Pages of Vine Line: Minor League Prospectus, Part 1 – The Elite

Almora_ST

Albert Almora is one of the Cubs’ brightest future stars. (Photo by Stephen Green)

As evidenced by the additions of players like Jon Lester and Miguel Montero, the Cubs front office is transitioning from a period in which it focused primarily on bringing in assets to help improve the future of the franchise to an extended period in which they expect to compete every year at the big league level. However, if you were to suggest to baseball president Theo Epstein or general manager Jed Hoyer that this transition means they are now less inclined to build through their farm system, they would be quick to correct you.

Just because Cubs fans may finally start seeing wins accumulate at Wrigley Field doesn’t mean the minor league pipeline is suddenly going to go overlooked. In fact, for the second year in a row, the North Siders will have arguably the best system in all of baseball. Boasting the top prospect in the game, an overabundance of high-profile shortstops and a suddenly large group of interesting arms at the lower levels, the Cubs have built the scouting and player development monster they promised to deliver more than three years ago.

In our annual minor league prospectus, Baseball Prospectus’ Sahadev Sharma helps us break down the names to know at all levels of the system. As the month progresses, we’ll unveil player bios on a section-by-section basis. Here is Part 1 of the Cubs minor league prospectus:

The Elite
The truly elite portion of the Cubs system took a hit last year—the good kind—when Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara and Jorge Soler graduated to the big league club. However, the front office, always with an eye toward long-term success, added two huge names to the fold in Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber, both of whom are generating tremendous buzz. The Cubs will enter this season with arguably the best system in baseball, and while there is plenty of depth, it’s these top-tier names who really make this an impressive bunch.

Albert Almora – CF
While some are down on Almora after a largely disappointing season at the plate, don’t forget he’s still considered an elite-level defender in center field, which brings tremendous value, and that he’s always been very young for his level. This past season was the first time he has ever struggled at any aspect of the game, professional or otherwise, in his life.

The 20-year-old has such tremendous hand-eye coordination that he can put pretty much any pitch into play. When he initially struggled at High-A, the Cubs challenged him to be more selective at the plate and to put more emphasis on driving the ball rather than just making contact. He quickly adjusted, and the Cubs rewarded him with a promotion to Tennessee, where he ended the season with a subpar .605 OPS in 36 games.

But that shouldn’t slow the confident Almora, who competed in a Double-A league with players nearly a half-decade older than him on average. Selected with the sixth-overall pick in the 2012 draft, the outfielder is also known for his strong mental makeup, so few people doubt he’ll be able to overcome his challenges in 2014.

Once again, he’ll need to learn what it means to really control the strike zone and get pitches he can do damage with. But if Almora can make that final leap and become the hitter many believe he has the potential to be, the complete package could be quite special.

Kris Bryant – 3B
From a purely statistical standpoint, Bryant’s 2014 season was one of the most impressive minor league performances in recent memory. And it wasn’t solely numbers driven. Scouts loved what they saw from him with the bat, and it’s understandable why many believe the power-hitting righty is the best prospect in the game. Bryant’s power stroke was on full display last summer, when he delivered 43 home runs and 34 doubles across two minor league levels on his way to winning nearly every minor league award he was eligible for.

There are two key questions about Bryant’s game: strikeouts and defense. While swing and miss will likely always be a part of his game—as it is for most home run hitters—insiders don’t believe he has the kind of serious contact issues that could derail him on his journey to stardom. As Bryant continues to develop and learn about himself as a hitter, it’s easy to see him fixing the minor holes he has at the plate because of his extreme work ethic and his ability to self-scout and analyze game video.

The 23-year-old is a cerebral player who is constantly working to improve, which is why the Cubs believe he can at least begin his major league career at third base. He’s worked hard to avoid a move to the outfield, and he made major strides with the glove last summer. He certainly has the arm to stick at third—or play in right if an outfield move eventually becomes necessary. At 6-foot-5, Bryant is tall and rangy, making it difficult at times for him to get small and stay in front of the ball. Though his actions are longer than those of a more compact player, he has diligently worked with his minor league instructors to stay mobile and agile at the hot corner.

Addison Russell – SS
Russell joined the Cubs organization on July 4 in a huge trade that sent Jeff Samardzija and the recently returned Jason Hammel to Oakland. The highly regarded shortstop got off to a slow start in 2014 due to a hamstring issue, but after joining the Cubs, he immediately displayed why he’s widely considered one of the 10 best prospects in baseball.

Russell definitely understands his game. At times, he can get a little too rotational at the plate, but when he stays through the ball, he can drive it to both gaps, and he backspins it as well as anyone. Thanks to his strong hands, everything really jumps off his bat, and many project he’ll display quite a bit more power as he continues to learn pitch selection and figures out which balls he can leverage. But expect more line drives from Russell, not the kind of towering shots we’ll see from Bryant.

Some wonder if it’s in the cards for the 21-year-old to stick at shortstop long term, but he is a tremendous athlete. He’s explosive and possesses impressive quick-twitch, first-step movements. When he gets to a ball, he makes the play, but he doesn’t have the ideal body. It’s more of a football look—boxier and stronger than the traditional shortstop, who’s normally graceful and a little more fluid. Still, when you watch him over time, he does everything the smoother-looking shortstops can do (and often more), due to his body control and arm strength.

Kyle Schwarber – C/OF
Many felt the Cubs were reaching when they selected Schwarber with the fourth-overall pick in last summer’s amateur draft, but the team was adamant he was second on their board—behind first-overall pick Brady Aiken—and that they were getting a special talent. Schwarber did nothing to dispel the Cubs’ belief in him, tearing through three levels thanks to his impressive bat. The linebacker-like lefty really understands what he’s doing at the plate. He has the ability to drive the ball to all parts of the field and can send a double to the left-center gap as easily as he can pull a long, towering home run. The Indiana University product possesses a special combination of bat speed, plate discipline and pitch recognition, and displays a short, compact stroke with leverage.

The Cubs took Schwarber under the assumption he’d end up in left field, but the improvements he made defensively in such a short timespan were impressive enough for the organization to shift philosophies in his development plan. They’re now allowing him to give catching a real try. Most college players prefer to shift out of catching so they can get on the fast track to the big leagues. Schwarber realizes that being behind the plate will slow his timetable, but it’s what he wants to do. That desire is what many believe is a separator for him.

Schwarber has worked hard with catching instructor Tim Cossins to improve his transfer and set-up, and the results have been eye-opening. College pitching coaches generally call every aspect of the game, so while Schwarber possesses all the smarts and intangibles organizations love behind the plate, he has a ways to go before becoming the de facto field general at the major league level.

—Sahadev Sharma, Baseball Prospectus

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