(Photo by Charlie Vascellaro)
The Cubs have invited 24 non-roster players to major league camp, including top prospects Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Albert Almora.
Spring Training kicks off Thursday, Feb. 13, when pitchers and catchers are invited to report in advance of their first formal workout on Friday, Feb. 14, at brand new Cubs Park in Mesa, Ariz. The team’s first full-squad workout will be on Wednesday, Feb. 19.
The following nine pitchers have been invited to major league camp: right-handed pitchers Marcus Hatley, Kyle Hendricks, Carlos Pimentel, Armando Rivero and Brian Schlitter, as well as left-handed pitchers Tommy Hottovy, Eric Jokisch, Jonathan Sanchez and Tsuyoshi Wada.
Five infielders have been invited to major league camp: Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Ryan Roberts, Chris Valaika and Jeudy Valdez.
Seven outfielders have been invited to major league camp: Albert Almora, Chris Coghlan, Aaron Cunningham, Ryan Kalish, Mitch Maier, Darnell McDonald and Casper Wells.
Three catchers have been invited to big league camp: John Baker, Rafael Lopez and Eli Whiteside. Additionally, minor league catchers Luis Flores and Will Remillard will assist.
The following can be found in the January issue of Vine Line.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
The Cubs front office made one under-the-radar move this winter that’s no less important than signing a big free agent. With Brandon Hyde moving to the dugout to serve as bench coach for new manager Rick Renteria, the Cubs shifted scouting director Jaron Madison to the vacated farm director spot.
That makes the 38-year-old Madison the guardian of the team’s future, a role he admits comes with a great deal of pressure as the Cubs move forward with their plan to build a sustainable winner from within. But that pressure, he said, is one reason he left the Padres a year ago in a lateral move to the Cubs.
“San Diego is a great organization, but working for an organization with the history and tradition of the Cubs is a bigger challenge,” Madison said. “I know how much more it would mean to the city when we win. Chicago sports fans are some of the best sports fans in the world.”
In Madison, the Cubs have a farm director with a strong track record. Since beginning his career in scouting and player development in 2002 with the Padres, he has worked for two other teams, the Cardinals and the Pirates, that have cultivated winning big league teams from within.
The common thread among all three organizations, Madison said, is the constant, open communication that extends from the big league front office all the way down to the low minor league levels. For the farm system to produce, everyone needs to be pulling in the same direction.
And few people are more capable of keeping everyone together than Madison.
“He’s very intelligent and has a great presence,” said Hyde, whose relationship with Madison extends back to the late ’90s, when they played together at Long Beach State. “I think a key to him being a great leader is he’s a great listener.”
That was an obvious asset for him as a scout, a job that relies on relationship building with young players and their parents and coaches. But while Madison said his new job is completely different, he’ll still need to flex those relationship-building muscles.
“Everyone has to have complete buy-in, and to get there everyone needs to know what’s going on at all times,” he said. “There can’t be any whispering going on behind closed doors.”
Madison will spend the summer doing the same thing he did after the draft last year—traveling in a constant loop among Cubs affiliates to talk, listen and observe. Hyde said he thinks Madison will love it.
“The relationships you build with the staff members, the constant interaction with the coaches, rovers and instructors, and the process of getting your organization to be successful make it a fun job,” Hyde said.
But both Hyde and Madison understand the job is not about having fun. Not with a nation of Cubs fans anxious for a return to winning baseball.
“I read the blogs,” Madison said. “I know how much the fans want it.”
Madison, of course, is in firm agreement with the rest of the Cubs brain trust, preaching patience with the process and avoiding any firm deadlines on when the organization will turn the corner.
“I’m really excited about the guys we have in our organization,” he said. “I see a core of strong players we can build on and rely on for the foreseeable future, and I think the payoff will be a lot sooner than people may think.”
(Photo by Dave Durochik)
This offseason, the Cubs named former Padres bench coach Rick Renteria the 53rd manager in the organization’s history. Though he’s a first-time major league skipper, Renteria is a baseball lifer, spending the last 30 years in the game in some capacity. This month, Vine Line sat down with the 52-year-old to get a better understanding of his philosophy, his take on the job and much more. The following can be found in the January issue of Vine Line.
You could call it a premonition.
About 10 years ago, with the Cubs in the early stages of a successful run that saw them claim the NL Central crown three times in six years, Rick Renteria was coaching his son’s baseball team when one of the moms, who happened to be from Chicago, mentioned he would make a great manager for the North Siders. Perhaps it was his calm demeanor or the way he patiently explained things to the young players, but something struck a chord with her.
Renteria didn’t think much of it, but the conversation stuck with him over the years.
“Well, I hope she had a premonition that we’re going to have a lot of success,” joked the 52-year-old California native, who was recently named the 53rd manager in Cubs franchise history.
Renteria, a 30-year baseball veteran who has spent the last three seasons as the bench coach for manager Bud Black’s San Diego Padres, wasn’t the most likely choice or the highest-profile name out there. But what that team mom said a decade ago turned out to be surprisingly prescient. The first-time big league manager joins the Cubs organization with a reputation as a relentless optimist and an experienced shaper of young talent. And he might be the perfect fit for a team that is looking for a new voice and is stacked with high-upside young prospects just a year or two away from the major leagues.
Though Renteria is well aware of the Cubs’ recent history, it’s not his style to dwell on the past. It’s his job to take a franchise in the midst of a youth movement and help it improve and move forward. He credits much of his positive coaching style to his former Single-A manager Johnny Lipon, who coached Renteria at Single-A Alexandria in his third professional season in 1982.
“[He was] the most positive individual I’ve ever seen,” Renteria said of Lipon. “Here’s a guy who was a shortstop with the Detroit Tigers in a different era. He was an infielder. His demeanor was one that kept moving you forward, and that stayed and resonated with me.”
Renteria was officially hired on Nov. 7, 2013, but he didn’t make his first appearance at Wrigley Field until Dec. 5 because of offseason hip surgery. In his initial foray in front of the Chicago media, he certainly lived up to his reputation as an excellent communicator and an easy guy to get along with.
“I was struck by how comfortable I was watching him,” said President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein of Renteria. “Normally when you hire somebody new, and he meets the media for the first time, you’re kind of holding your breath to make sure he doesn’t put his foot in his mouth. We’ve worked with Ricky for a month now, and I was totally comfortable. I was actually checking emails while he was talking because I feel I already trust who he is as a human being. He comes from a genuine place, he’s extremely intelligent, relates to people really well, so it’s nice to really trust somebody in that role.”
The Cubs’ new hire has spent his early days as manager reaching out to his new players by phone or text and filling out his first coaching staff. He’s planning to head out to Arizona soon to see the new practice facility firsthand and to start working with his coaches on a plan for Spring Training. Vine Line was there for Renteria’s introduction to the Chicago media, at which he opened up about his plans for 2014, his notoriously positive disposition and his previous relationship with Cubs GM Jed Hoyer.
Vine Line: What was it that made you want to take the job here in Chicago? You may have heard from guys like Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella, this can be a difficult place to manage.
Rick Renteria: It’s a wonderful city, first of all. But the team that’s out there, the kids that are here, as you’re watching from the other side, they’re a very talented group. I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to be here and be with this particular club. I’m looking forward to hopefully moving things forward and chipping away at whatever we need to chip away at to continue to advance the process. It’s just a great challenge. It’s a great opportunity.
VL: Is there any overall philosophical difference we’re going to notice from the first days of Spring Training?
RR: I think everybody comes in probably not trying to reinvent the wheel. We want guys that are going to give us great effort, guys that are going to hustle, guys that are going to prepare. I’m sure these are things that everybody asks of their players. They’re young players. [They need to understand] that, as professionals, this is part of who they’re supposed to be. We want to be a club that’s going to be aggressive on the bases, that’s going to be smart, that’s not going to be reckless. A club that’s going to hopefully continue to grind through at-bats, execute, and get beyond falling into the trap of if you get a bad call against you, you get bothered and that you continue to add to that spiral by not finishing out a plate appearance or a tactical hit or whatever the case might be. A club that’s there to pick each other up.
Hopefully, these guys come together as a kind of family. I think if you have that, you start to build your own chemistry, and it can be a strength.
VL: You said in your initial press conference that you think the team can compete this year. The Cubs lost 96 games last year and haven’t made significant improvements yet. What’s going to be different in 2014?
RR: Well, I can’t speak to the losses of the past. My mentality has always been to continue to move forward. What we can do is learn from that experience. What occurred? What kind of mentalities did we have? What approaches did we have? What were the things that occurred during a particular ballgame that maybe changed the dynamic of that particular ballgame? Those are the things we have to study and retrack and retrace and use to our advantage.
The players we have, they’re intelligent. They’re gifted. Starlin Castro, [Darwin] Barney, [Anthony] Rizzo. You had a combination of guys at third base with [Luis] Valbuena and [Donnie] Murphy. Then you had Welington Castillo and Junior Lake, who came up later on during the year. These are guys that have talent. [Ryan] Sweeney. Nate Schierholtz is an experienced player who’s been around a little bit. You have the makeup of a club that can do some things. I think you’re playing in the big boy division [in the NL Central]. We all grew up wanting to play against the big guys. Well, here we are. That’s our lot. That’s the challenge. We have to accept it and do what we can with it and move forward.
VL: This is a team that’s going through some growing pains right now. So how is a guy with your positive disposition going to manage that?
RR: I try to maintain an even-keeled approach. No player wants to go out there and fail. They want to do well, and I think I understand that. We know that the game is about the players and that sometimes we need to help them through those moments when things aren’t going very well. Hopefully, we’re able to articulate what it is they need to do to improve, whether it’s their approach or if it’s a physical action that we’re able to address and help them move forward.
VL: Did you put your coaching staff together with that in mind?
RR: I think so. Speaking to all of the [coaches], their attitudes are extremely positive. They’re going to bring in the idea of wanting to continue to teach. Sometimes we forget that players still want to learn. They’re never not learning. We have to be able to present a consistent message. I think all these guys that are going to come on board have that ability.
VL: You talk of being even-keeled. Do you have a temper?
RR: Oh, I can get hot. Any competitor can get hot. You’ve got to pick your spots. I don’t think players appreciate people just losing it for the sake of losing it. Will I do it for the sake of people watching me do it? No. You may not see me do it at all, but I can’t guarantee that. When it happens, it’s got to be the right time. Those things kind of take care of themselves. It’s a feel thing. If you’re a guy that’s pretty even-keeled and then you end up losing it, [players] understand that you mean business, that it means a little bit more. But, for the most part, I think conversations need to be had behind closed doors.
VL: This organization has a lot of potential stars that are perhaps a year or so away. Have you looked at some of those players, and how excited are you to manage them down the road?
RR: Obviously, I’m very excited about the guys we have right now. And I look at the players that are coming, and we have some talent in the organization. They’ve done a wonderful job in drafting and selecting some of these players. Right now, my focus is going to continue to be on the guys that are here. They’re extremely talented, and—it’s like anything—they have to put it forward between the lines.
I think if we maintain a consistent and positive message, we’ll be able to have some of these players do what they’re capable of doing. There are peaks and valleys, but that’s where, as a manager and a coaching staff, we have to remain even-keeled and give them an opportunity to keep moving forward.
VL: Castro has been in that valley for a while. What’s your approach to turning a young veteran like that around?
RR: People ask me about Starlin, and I watch him from the other side and think, “Gosh, what a tremendously gifted athlete.” First of all, I’ve got to get to know him as a person, and I have to figure out what it is that moves him. He’s a wonderful kid. I actually was able to speak to him at length. He was one of the first guys I called, and he’s willing to do anything we ask him to do. I know people talk about him losing focus and having bad at-bats and things of that nature, and we have to address those things.
Sometimes we don’t have conversations thinking we don’t want to have a confrontation or maybe we won’t like the answer we’re going to get. But the reality is you have to have dialogue. The only way you can improve things is to converse and to try to [give players] a plan or an idea of how they can move forward. That’s one of the things we’re going to have to do as teachers. The whole coaching staff is going to have to approach this as being teachers.
VL: What’s your take on using advanced metrics to influence pitching decisions, defensive positioning and the like?
RR: I think all information is actually quite useful. It’s how you decipher it and how you use it—how you apply it. If you limit your understanding, you’re doing yourself a disservice. I use numbers. I’ve used numbers since I was in the minor leagues. I used to keep numbers on my board when people weren’t using numbers. But it’s how you use them and how you apply them [that determines] how beneficial they really are.
It’s basically consequences and outcomes. It’s telling you what guys have been doing. Sometimes you still have to put your eyes on those guys to have an idea of what they’re doing at that particular moment. You can’t limit yourself. You’ve got to use a combination.
VL: You have a reputation for connecting with young players. In your career, you’ve done just about everything. You’ve played, you’ve managed in the minor leagues, you’ve coached in the major leagues. Is that what allows you to understand what players are going through?
RR: Probably that and probably the idea that, you know, I was pretty much a grunt coming up through the systems [as a player]. I fought and hustled through every ground out and everything I could possibly do to play this game. I understand and appreciate the privilege it is to be here as a player. I understand that most people when they come out to see a ballgame, they want to see somebody give you a good effort—beyond winning. They want to know that you’re invested in what it is you’re doing. Hopefully, that comes out in how I approach the players, because I am invested in this.
VL: Describe your relationship with Jed Hoyer. You worked together in the Padres organization. Is that familiarity one of the factors that made you want to come here?
RR: Jed, you know, was in San Diego. And when he was there, we used to have conversations when he’d come down to talk to Buddy [Black] and what have you. For me, it’s nice to be in a familiar setting, knowing the people I’m going to be working for, or alongside. That played a factor in how things progressed. I expressed that this was the place I wanted to be. I saw the makeup of what’s coming up. I like who we have here now, and I think it’s going to be something that we can move forward.
VL: Everybody has an opinion about playing at Wrigley Field. You’ve been here as a player and as a coach. What was your take on this place as an outsider?
RR: Awesome. I don’t think there’s any player that ever comes into Chicago thinking, “This is a bad place to play.” We loved coming here. Everybody does. It’s a great city. The fans are always there. Even if they’re booing against you, at least you know everybody’s in it. That’s a tremendous asset for this team to have, quite frankly. Their home-field advantage is their community—is their fan base. When we understand it and use it and take it to our advantage and really understand how it works, hopefully we’ll be able to articulate that message, and we’ll get it, and we’ll be able to do some things that make the fans feel really good.
(Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
The Cubs signed outfielder Chris Coghlan to a minor league deal Wednesday afternoon with an invitation to Spring Training.
The 28-year-old was named the 2009 National League Rookie of the Year with the Marlins after hitting .321/.390/.460 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with nine homers in 565 plate appearances. He has struggled to put up similar numbers since, however, posting a .256/.318/.354 line in 70 games in 2013.
Coghlan will battle for an outfield spot with a group that already includes former Miami teammate Justin Ruggiano, Nate Schierholtz, Junior Lake, Ryan Sweeney and a slew of minor leaguers.
Kids, meet Clark, the Cubs’ new mascot.
The Cubs will introduce the organization’s first official team mascot Monday evening when Clark visits children at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center’s Pediatric Development Center. He will make his debut alongside more than a dozen Cubs prospects who are currently participating in the Rookie Development Program.
“The Cubs are thrilled to welcome Clark as the team’s official mascot,” said Cubs Senior Director of Marketing Alison Miller. “Clark is a young, friendly Cub who can’t wait to interact with our other young Cubs fans. He’ll be a welcoming presence for families at Wrigley Field and an excellent ambassador for the team in the community.”
After consistently hearing through survey feedback and fan interviews that the Cubs needed more family-friendly entertainment, the team surveyed fans and held focus groups to determine the interest in and benefits of introducing an official mascot. The appetite for more family-friendly initiatives became clear, and the concept of a mascot who interacts in the community, engages with young fans and is respectful of the game was widely supported.
Clark will play a big role in the Cubs Charities’ mission of targeting improvement in health and wellness, fitness, and education for children and families at risk. Young fans can see him at the Cubs Caravan, Cubs On the Move Fitness Programs, hospital visits and other Cubs events.
On game days, Clark will greet fans as they enter Wrigley Field, and he’ll stop by the Wrigley Field First Timer’s Booth to welcome new guests. The mascot will also help kids run the bases on Family Sundays.
The young Cub will interact with fans at Wrigley Field all season long at Clark’s Clubhouse, where he’ll spend most of his time during Cubs games.
The Cubs claimed right-handed pitcher Brett Marshall off waivers from the Yankees Monday afternoon.
The 23-year-old saw his first major league action last season, making three relief appearances and posting a 4.50 ERA over 12 innings. Marshall spent most of 2013 in Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he went 7-10 with a 5.13 ERA in 25 starts. He struck out a career high 120 batters in 138.2 innings and walked 68.
The Yankees originally drafted the Highlands, Texas, native in the sixth round of the 2008 draft. He has a career 36-32 record with a 4.07 ERA in 115 minor league games.
The Cubs announced their minor league coaching staffs for the 2014 season on Wednesday. Managers from Short-Season A Boise through Triple-A Iowa all remained the same, along with the hitting coaches at all levels. However, many of the managers will have new pitching coaches to work with this year. The staff is as follows. Bold designates new personnel at the position:
Manager: Marty Pevey
Pitching Coach: Bruce Walton
Hitting Coach: Brian Harper
Pevey begins his second season at Triple-A Iowa and his sixth in the Cubs organization. He was previously the catching coordinator for three seasons (2010-12). He was also the manager at Single-A Peoria in 2009. He has 30 years of professional experience, including 13 as a player, and was named the 2009 Midwest League co-Manager of the Year. Walton spent 2010-12 as the Blue Jays’ pitching coach and was previously their bullpen coach dating back to 2002. Harper returns for his second season after managing at Double-A Tennessee in 2011 and Single-A Daytona in 2012.
Manager: Buddy Bailey
Pitching Coach: Storm Davis
Hitting Coach/Assistant: Desi Wilson/Leo Perez
Bailey is back for his fourth season as Tennessee’s manager (third-straight). This marks his 26th season as a manager and his ninth in the Cubs organization. He previously spent three years as the manager of High-A Daytona. Davis spent 2013 with High-A Daytona as the pitching coach. It’s his second season in the organization, following a 13-year major league career. Wilson returns for his second year with Tennessee and sixth with the organization. He held the same position with Daytona in 2012.
Manager: Dave Keller
Pitching Coach: Ron Villone
Hitting Coach: Mariano Duncan
Keller is back for his second year with Daytona, after leading the D-Cubs to the Florida State League title last season. This will mark his 11th season with the organization. He spent 2012 as the hitting coach in Iowa and 2011 as an assistant on the major league staff. In his third season with the club, Villone jumps up from Single-A Kane County. He also had a 15-year major league career. Duncan returns for his second season after two campaigns with Double-A Tennessee (2011-12) as the hitting coach.
Single-A Kane County
Manager: Mark Johnson
Pitching Coach: David Rosario
Hitting Coach: Tom Beyers
Johnson returns for his second season with Kane County after serving as Short-Season Boise’s manager from 2011-12. He played professionally for 17 years, including time with the White Sox, Athletics, Brewers and Cardinals. Rosario has been the pitching coach at Boise for the three seasons, and this is his 10th overall campaign with the organization. Beyers has been with the Cubs for 14 seasons and returns for his second season with the Cougars.
Manager: Gary Van Tol
Pitching Coach: Brian Lawrence
Hitting Coach: Bill Buckner
Van Tol helped Boise secure a playoff spot in his first season in charge of the club and brings 21 years of coaching experience. He coached at Gonzaga (1991-93, 2006-08) and the University of Portland (2003-05). He was also the manager of Centralia Community College in Washington (1994) and Treasure Valley Community College (1997-2001). Lawrence spent last year in the Padres’ organization as a Single-A pitching coach. Prior to that, he had a six-year major league career with the Padres. Buckner returns for his third season with the club. He enjoyed a 22-year career as a player.
Rookie League Mesa
Manager: Jimmy Gonzalez
Pitching Coach: Anderson Tavares
Hitting Coach: Ricardo Medina
After serving as hitting coach last season, Gonzalez now steps in as manager. The former catcher played 14 minor league seasons after becoming a first-round pick in 1991. Tavarez is back for his second season in Mesa after spending six seasons as the pitching coach in the Dominican. Medina has been a coach, manager or scout with the Cubs since 1999.
Rookie League Dominican
Manager: Juan Cabreja
Pitching Coach: Leo Hernandez
Hitting Coach/Assistant: Oscar Bernard/Yudith Ozorio
Cabreja was the Latin America assistant field coordinator last year and managed the Dominican club in 2012. Hernandez will act as pitching coach in his 19th season with the Cubs, while Bernard will be the Dominican hitting coach for the second straight year.
Rookie League Venezuelan
Manager: Pedro Gonzalez
Pitching Coach: Angel Guzman
Hitting Coach: Franklin Blanco
Gonzalez begins his first season with the Venezuelan club, while Guzman, who spent four years with the Cubs from 2006-09, will serve as pitching coach. Blanco begins his eighth season with the organization.
(Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty)
The Cubs and left-handed relief pitcher Wesley Wright have agreed to terms on a 2014 contract.
Wright, who turns 29 next month, has combined to post a 3.28 ERA and .694 OPS (on-base plus slugging) against in 168 relief outings over the last three seasons. He split 2013 between Houston and Tampa Bay and combined to go 0-4 with nine holds and a 3.69 ERA in 70 relief appearances—his second-straight year with at least 70 outings. Though he went 0-4 with a 3.92 ERA in 54 outings with Houston, he turned in a 2.92 ERA and 0.97 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) after being acquired by Tampa Bay on August 12.
The 5-foot-11, 183-pound Wright split the 2011 campaign between Houston and Triple-A Oklahoma City. He then went 2-2 with 19 holds and a 3.27 ERA in 77 appearances with the Astros in 2012, leading the club in appearances and holds, while ranking seventh among National League left-handers in holds.
In all or part of six major league seasons with Houston (2008-13) and Tampa Bay (2013), Wright has posted a 10-15 record with 50 holds, two saves and a 4.37 ERA in 302 appearances, all but four in relief. He has averaged more than a strikeout per inning pitched in his career and limited foes to a .250 batting average against, including a .231 mark by left-handed hitters. In the last three seasons, Wright has walked only 41 batters in 118.0 innings, an average of 3.1 walks per nine innings.
Wright was originally selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the seventh round of the 2003 draft out of Goshen High in Alabama and moved to Houston in the 2007 Rule 5 Draft. Wright was named the 2008 Astros Rookie of the Year by the Houston chapter of the BBWAA.
The Cubs claimed right-handed pitcher Liam Hendriks off waivers from the Twins Friday.
In the last three seasons, Hendriks, 24, has a major league record of 2-13 with a 6.06 ERA in 30 appearances with Minnesota.
In 2013, the Perth, Australia, native split time between the Twins and their Triple-A Rochester affiliate, going 1-3 with a 6.85 ERA and 34 strikeouts over 10 big league games.
In six minor league seasons, Hendriks has a 42-28 record with a 2.99 ERA and 487 strikeouts in 100 games. He was selected to the World Team for the 2010 and 2011 Futures All-Star games. He also pitched in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
The Cubs acquired outfielder Justin Ruggiano from the Marlins Thursday in exchange for outfielder Brian Bogusevic.
The 31-year-old Ruggiano has spent all or parts of five seasons in the majors with Tampa Bay (2007-08, 2011) and Miami (2012-13). He is a career .251/.315/.432 (AVG/OBP/SLG) hitter with 37 homers and 49 doubles in 999 plate appearances.
Ruggiano hit .313 in 91 games with the Marlins in 2012, and tallied a career-best 18 homers and 50 RBI in 2013. The last two seasons, he has hit lefties to a tune of .281/.589/.954 in 224 at-bats.
The Austin, Texas native was originally selected in the 25th round of the 2004 draft.
Bogusevic, 29, hit .273 with six homers and 16 RBI in 47 games for the Cubs last year. He signed a minor league contract with the Cubs prior to the 2013 season.