Albert Almora will represent the Cubs as a member of the Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League. (Photo by Jason Wise)
The Arizona Fall League is upon us. Though many will be tuned into the MLB playoffs for the next few weeks, the AFL is the crystal ball of baseball, giving fans a glimpse of the game’s future stars.
Twenty-five of MLB’s top 100 prospects (according to MLB.com) will be participating in Arizona action, headlined by individuals like the Twins’ Byron Buxton and Pittsburgh’s Jameson Taillon. Even with those two budding stars, no organization has received more hype for the depth it’s bringing to the league than the Cubs. Three of the AFL’s top 10 prospects are from Chicago’s organization: Albert Almora, Jorge Soler and Kris Bryant.
Each member of that trio has received his fair share of hype, but a few other Cubs prospects who had solid 2013 campaigns are hoping to give the Mesa Solar Sox a boost as well.
Albert Almora, OF — The 2012 first-round pick and No. 21 prospect in baseball impressed when healthy this season. He hit .329/.376/.466 (AVG/OBP/SLG) in 61 games for Class-A Kane County. But he also missed the first month of the season, recovering from a broken hamate bone, and then was out of action from August-on, dealing with groin issues.
Dallas Beeler, RHP — Beeler got off to a fast start in 2013 with Double-A Tennessee, going 4-2 with a 3.13 ERA in 54.2 innings. But in late May, the right-hander tore a tendon in the middle finger of his pitching hand, shelving him for the season. The 24-year-old, 6-foot-5 starter is believed to be healthy and will pitch in Arizona to make up for a lost season.
Kris Bryant, 3B — Bryant was as advertised at the plate this year for the Cubs affiliates. The 2013 first-round pick (and No. 35 prospect in baseball) hit a combined .336/.390/.688 with nine homers and 14 doubles over 36 games with the instructional squad, Short-Season Boise and Daytona. Many eyes will be trained on the 21-year-old this fall.
Lendy Castillo, RHP — Not many players who have a full major league season under their belt play in the AFL. A 2011 Rule 5 pick, the Cubs were forced to put the reliever on their major league roster during the 2012 season or forfeit him back to Philadelphia, his original organization. Castillo spent the majority of 2013 with Kane County before a late-July promotion to Daytona. His 39 walks in 84.1 innings definitely contributed to his lofty 5.87 ERA, but he also fanned 8.1 batters per nine innings and 9.4 per nine in his 20-inning stint with the D-Cubs.
Wes Darvill, IF — The 22-year-old Canadian played all over the diamond for both Kane County and Daytona this season, seeing time at second base, third base, shortstop and left field. Darvill spent the first month of the season with the Cougars before a promotion to the D-Cubs. He hit a combined .267/.339/.380 in 94 games and finished second on the Daytona squad with five triples (seven on the season).
Matt Loosen, RHP — Loosen dominated hitters at High-A Daytona, going 5-2 with 56 strikeouts and a 1.83 ERA in 54.0 innings (including a no-hitter). But he struggled to find that same success in Tennessee. The 24-year-old righty was 3-3 with a 6.14 ERA, though he still managed to fan 60 batters in 66.0 innings. He showed promise late into the season, giving up one earned run in his last three starts combined and striking out 18 batters in 16.1 innings.
Armando Rivero, RHP — Rivero is a bit of a mystery for the Cubs. Signed out of Cuba prior to this season, the 25-year-old right-hander threw just 30.1 innings of full-season minor league ball. In all, he totaled a 4.15 ERA at Kane County, Daytona and Tennessee, and struck out 45. Rivero’s outings could be some of the more closely monitored by the Cubs during play in Arizona.
Jorge Soler, OF — Shin and leg issues kept the 21-year-old Cuban out of action after the High-A Florida State League All-Star Game, but Soler still managed to make an impact. In 55 games, the corner outfielder hit .281/.343/.467 with eight homers and 13 doubles in 210 at-bats. Baseball’s No. 25 prospect will hopefully rack up some innings and plate appearances to get back on track for 2014.
(Photo by Jeffrey Phelps/Getty Images)
The Cubs acquired infielder Mat Gamel off waivers from the Brewers Thursday.
Gamel missed all of 2013 recovering from a torn ACL suffered in mid-February. The 28-year-old has spent parts of the last five seasons with the Brewers’ major league club, posting a .229 average with six homers, 11 doubles and 29 RBI in 106 games. In his big league career, Gamel has seen action at first base (22 games), third base (35 games) and in left field (three games). If healthy, he could provide the Cubs depth at third base and a potential backup for Anthony Rizzo at first.
The 2011 season was Gamel’s last full year of baseball (he tore the same ACL 21 games into the ’12 campaign). He hit .310 with 28 homers, 29 doubles and 96 RBI in 128 games for Triple-A Nashville.
The Florida native was the Brewers’ fourth-round pick in 2005 and earned the Topps Minor League Player of the Year award in 2008 after hitting .329 with 19 homers and 35 doubles in Double-A Huntsville.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
The Cubs announced that they have fired manager Dale Sveum, after two seasons with the organization.
“Today, we made the very difficult decision to relieve Dale Sveum of his duties as Cubs manager,” Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein said in the official press release. “Dale has been a committed leader for this team the last two seasons, and I want to thank him for all of his dedication and hard work. I have a lot of admiration for Dale personally, and we all learned a lot from the way he has handled the trying circumstances of the last two years, especially the last two weeks, with strength and dignity.”
Sveum, 49, finished with a 127-196 record including a 61-101 record in 2012, the first 100-loss season for the Cubs since 1966. He posted a .393 win percentage in his time at the helm. He had one season left on a three-year deal that he signed in November, 2011.
“Today’s decision to pursue a new manager was not made because of wins and losses. Our record is a function of our long-term building plan and the moves we have made—some good, a few we would like back—to further this strategy,” Epstein said. “[GM] Jed [Hoyer] and I take full responsibility for that. Today’s decision was absolutely not made to provide a scapegoat for our shortcomings or to distract from our biggest issue—a shortage of talent at the major league level. We have been transparent about what we are, and what we are not yet. Today’s decision, which was painful for all of us, was made to move us closer to fulfilling our ultimate long-term vision for the Cubs.”
Sveum came to the organization after spending six seasons as a coach for the Brewers, including 12 games as the interim manager in 2008. Prior to his time in Milwaukee, Sveum served as a coach for the Red Sox in 2004-05. He played 12 seasons in the majors (1986-94, 96-99), spending most of his career in Milwaukee.
There is no official word on a replacement at this time.
(Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
The Cubs claimed right-handed pitcher Daniel Bard off waivers from Boston Wednesday. To make room for the 28-year-old, the Cubs designated outfielder Cole Gillespie for assignment.
Originally selected in the first round of the 2006 draft by the Red Sox, Bard owns a 10-19 career record with a 3.67 ERA over 257.1 innings. He has made 10 starts since his debut in 2009, but he’s been most effective out of the ‘pen.
From 2009-11, Bard worked exclusively in reief, posting a 2.88 ERA over 197.0 innings. He struck out 213 batters and limited opposing hitters to a .190 average.
In 2012, he was converted to a starter, a role in which he has struggled. As a result, he has spent most of the last two seasons in the minors. He made 17 big league appearances last year (10 starts) and finished 5-6 with a 6.22 ERA. Bard has made just two major league appearances this season, allowing one run in one inning.
For his career, Bard has a 3.24 ERA in 201 relief appearances compared to a 5.30 ERA in 10 starts.
Gillespie is hitting .203 in 59 at-bats with the Giants and Cubs this season.
(Photo by Rich Pilling/WBCI/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
The Cubs brought up right-handed pitcher Chang-Yong Lim from Triple-A Iowa Wednesday morning.
To make room on the 40-man roster, right-handed reliever Michael Bowden was designated for assignment.
The 37-year-old Lim signed a two-year deal this offseason while recovering from Tommy John surgery in 2012. At four levels this year, the righty had no record and posted a 1.61 ERA in 22.1 innings, including five starts. He fanned 24 batters and walked seven while limiting opponents to a .173 average.
The South Korea native pitched 17 seasons in Korea (1996-2007) and Japan (2008-12), and represented his country in the 2000 Summer Olympics and the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
Bowden was 1-3 with a 4.30 ERA in 34 appearances this year for the Cubs.
The Chicago Cubs today traded outfielder David DeJesus to the Washington Nationals for a player to be named later. As a corresponding roster move, the team will activate outfielder Brian Bogusevic from the 15-day disabled list.
DeJesus batted .250 (71-for-284) with 19 doubles, six home runs and 27 RBI in 84 games with the Cubs this season. He had a .330 on-base percentage and a .401 slugging percentage. The 33-year-old joined the Cubs prior to the 2012 campaign and batted .263 (133-for-506) with 28 doubles, nine home runs and 50 RBI in 148 games, posting a .350 on-base percentage and a .403 slugging percentage.
Overall, DeJesus is a career .279 hitter with 86 home runs and 513 RBI in 1,239 major league games with Kansas City (2003-2010), Oakland (2011) and the Cubs (2012-13).
Bogusevic is batting .261 (12-for-46) with three doubles and three RBI in 13 games with the Cubs this season. The 29-year-old was placed on the 15-day disabled list on July 19 (retroactive to July 15) with a left hamstring strain. He completed a rehab assignment during which he hit .367 (11-for-30) with four doubles, one triple and five RBI in eight games with Rookie-level Mesa (seven games) and Triple-A Iowa (one game).
The popular DeJesus was also credited with being a mentor to younger players on the team, especially first baseman Anthony Rizzo. In honor of DeJesus’ contributions to the Cubs, below we are reprinting a feature we ran on him in the June 2012 edition of Vine Line.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
David DeJesus charged hard around the bases.
Rounding second, he nimbly hopped over a grounder that skittered into the outfield, and then broke into a toothy grin. Covered in sweat, he returned to the dugout to retrieve his glove—for fielding practice. The 2012 late-April night game against the St. Louis Cardinals was still two and a half hours away.
This batting practice display offers a glimpse of the intangibles—the intensity, the passion, the childlike joy—that likely convinced Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer to make DeJesus their first and most prominent roster addition when they came aboard in 2011. It was by no means a splashy signing. But as an elite defensive outfielder with a solid bat, DeJesus was a bodily manifestation of “playing the game the right way,” a phrase often used to describe the “Cubs Way.”
“He’s a perfect example of where this organization is headed,” said former Cub Reed Johnson, who spoke gushingly about DeJesus’ play in right field and his tireless work ethic.
For DeJesus, signing with the Cubs was nothing less than an alignment of the stars. The 33-year-old right fielder was looking for a bounce-back season after suffering a frustrating down year in 2011 with the Oakland A’s, and Epstein’s faith reaffirmed what he always believed about himself as a player. It also provided DeJesus the luxury of being able to drive home after games to his new residence in the Chicago suburb of Wheaton, where he lives with his wife, Kim, and their 3-year-old son, Kingston.
“It’s an honor,” DeJesus said of Epstein’s pursuit of him. “With the track record he has of bringing in quality baseball players … it’s definitely something I’m proud of. I’m happy he thinks of me like that.”
What seemed like a storybook marriage of team and player got off to a rocky start in Chicago, as DeJesus struggled at the plate in the early going. But as the weather warmed up, DeJesus’ bat started showing signs of life. He finished the season with a batting average of .263 and his on-base percentage was a respectable .350. He even drew a rare walk-off walk in an 11th inning victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 6. The toothy grin was on full display there too.
Despite maybe having lower offensive stats than planned, skipper Dale Sveum expressed no worries, pointing to his right fielder’s merits, which don’t always show up in the box score, and calling DeJesus “a real smart player” and a “very nice asset to have.”
“He’s probably one of the top five outfielders in baseball,” Sveum said. “He’s still putting up quality at-bats.”
After that late April batting practice, DeJesus sat in the empty Cubs dugout and denied feeling any added pressure from being the first and perhaps most symbolic signing of the nascent Epstein regime in Chicago.
“There’s enough pressure in baseball,” DeJesus said. “To put that on, in addition to coming to the field and trying to hit 95 [mph fastballs] every day, that’s just going to weigh on you. All I can do is go out there and play the game the way I know how to play it, with passion and with the team logo on my heart.”
Growing up in Manalapan, N.J., the young DeJesus waited each day for the sound of the garage door opening at 5 p.m. It meant his father was home from work. It also meant baseball.
Nearly every day, Heryk DeJesus would take his three sons to the park after work to hit and shag baseballs. A native of Puerto Rico, the patriarch insisted his sons learn the game he loved so dearly. In cold weather (which is not uncommon in New Jersey), they retreated to the basement, where Heryk set up a makeshift backstop with a mattress and blankets hanging from the ceiling. The DeJesus boys hit balls flipped to them or off of a tee.
“That constant persistence of perfecting the swing and getting good pitches and stuff like that, I think that got me where I am today,” he said.
DeJesus broke into the big leagues with the Kansas City Royals in 2003 and has since enjoyed a solid career offensively, with the exception of 2011’s injury-hampered campaign. He’s a smart situational hitter who grinds out at-bats, gets on base, runs the bases hard and scores runs.
In his first year with the Chicago Cubs, DeJesus said he felt right at home—even though he’s not exactly a big-city guy.
“We decided we weren’t downtown people so we moved out to the suburbs,” he said. “I don’t like the hustle and bustle of the city. I like the open space. I like the Target being one floor instead of three.”
In a move of surprising prescience, the couple actually bought their 15-room brick mansion more than a month before DeJesus signed with the Cubs. They figured no matter where he signed, they would at least be close to Kim’s parents, who also live in Wheaton. For Kim, joining the Cubs—the team she grew up rooting for—was pure serendipity.
“We didn’t know he was going to be with the Cubs, obviously,” said Kim DeJesus, 31, a graduate of Wheaton Warrenville South High School. “I think I cried pretty much the whole day after finding out.”
As anyone with children can attest, it’s a luxury to live near grandparents. Scott and Shelley Iliff, Kim’s parents, help with Kingston, which allows Kim to travel with David on road trips from time to time. It also frees the couple up for the occasional date night at a vegan restaurant. (Kim, a part-time model, is a vegan; David is not.)
Being able to live in your hometown and drive to your husband’s home games is something of a dream come true for a baseball wife, Kim said.
“You can never complain in this lifestyle because it comes with so many blessings,” she said. “But living here, close to my parents, it makes it so much easier.”
Nothing is certain in the unpredictable business of baseball. DeJesus’ contract expires after 2013, with an option for the 2014 season. Add the ever-present possibility of a trade, and time in one location is never guaranteed. But the couple hopes to put down roots in Wheaton, and at Wrigley, for the foreseeable future.
“We plan to be here as long as possible. This is going to be our home base,” DeJesus said. “It makes it better when you’re playing for your hometown team, and you can go 45 minutes to home at the end of the season or at the end of the day. And I love being a Cub.”
Legacy in the Making
Lanky pitcher Jeff Samardzija stood on a chair in the clubhouse and slowly waved a radio antenna around like a divining rod, searching for a signal, before that late-April game against the Cardinals. Soon, Blue Oyster Cult and Robert Plant were blasting throughout the locker room, as players filtered in and out for batting practice. The 2012 Cubs were a team with notably good clubhouse chemistry, even after the mid-season trade departures. And several players spoke in glowing terms about DeJesus’ daily contributions.
Johnson, for example, immediately took a liking to DeJesus’ professional demeanor. So much so, he asked DeJesus to take the empty locker next to his own.
“In a city like this, if you have a guy who’s too uptight, the city can pick you apart,” Johnson said before his trade to Atlanta. “He’s got that good personality, good sense of humor, but when the bell rings, he’s ready to go.”
DeJesus also acted as a mentor for a lot of the young guys as well. With all the moves, minor leaguers were getting shuffled into the major league clubhouse at a feverish pace.
Though it was phenom Anthony Rizzo’s bat that did much of the talking in 2012, he has credited DeJesus for taking him under his wing, working out with him and showing him the ropes after the then-22-year-old’s callup. He also spoke to 12 minor leaguers during January’s Rookie Development Program, a 12-day Cubs seminar to better acclimate minor leaguers to major league baseball.
Dave McKay, the Cubs’ first base and fielding coach, praised DeJesus’ impeccable defense and how deftly he made the transition to the notoriously difficult right-field position at Wrigley.
“There hasn’t been a glitch yet,” he said. “He’s playing right field like he’s played it his whole life.”
In some ways, DeJesus is most defined by what he is not. He readily admits he’s not a power hitter, and he’s not going to swipe 60 bags. But he’s also not selfish or arrogant. He’s not a slacker or a prima donna. He’s not someone you have to worry about on the field or off. When asked how he envisions his baseball legacy, he doesn’t hesitate for a moment: He wants to be remembered as a great teammate and player who gave it his all every day.
“He plays the game like he’s blessed he’s a part of it,” McKay said.
In other words, he plays the game the right way.
Thomas Neal as a member of the Indians in 2012. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
The Cubs claimed outfielder Thomas Neal off waivers from the Yankees Monday afternoon. They made room for Neal by transferring right-handed reliever Rafael Dolis to the 60-day disabled list.
The 25-year-old batted .325/.391/.411 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with two homers, 17 doubles and 29 RBI over 265 at-bats for New York’s Triple-A affiliate this season. Defensively, Neal’s played 41 games in right field and 21 in left.
Neal was originally selected by the Giants in the 36th round of the 2005 draft and was a mid-season and post-season California League All-Star in 2009 and an Eastern League mid-season All-Star in 2010 and 2012, the latter as a member of the Indians organization, where he played after being acquired at the 2011 trade deadline.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound outfielder has a career line of .301/.377/.459 with 70 homers and 170 doubles in 701 minor league games, spanning eight seasons.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
The Cubs traded left fielder Alfonso Soriano to the Yankees Friday afternoon, in exchange for minor league right-hander Corey Black.
The 37-year-old Soriano spent almost seven seasons with the club, after joining the North Siders in 2007 on an eight-year, $136 million deal. Seen as both a leader in the clubhouse and on the field, Sori was a key component to the club, especially during the transition period when the new regime took over after the 2011 season.
“Seeing him from the other side of the fence, I was completely blown away by the kind of person he is and the work ethic he puts in,” said Cubs manager Dale Sveum prior to the season. “I rank him in the top five people I’ve ever been around in the game as far as work ethic, people and everything.”
Soriano returns to the Yankees, where his MLB career began in 1999. It was in New York where the slugger was mentored by some of the game’s great players, including Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams. Soriano used that experience to help teach an often green Cubs clubhouse how to stick at the major league level.
“When I see Starlin and all those young guys, they are like me,” Soriano said. “When I used to be young with the Yankees, I needed help, and all those guys gave me help. So that’s what I try to do with [guys like] Starlin. Try to help them to play in the big leagues. … This is the job, and this is what you love to do, so play hard and do the best you can in the field.”
Soriano has a career line of .272/.321/.503 (AVG/SLG/OBP) with 389 home runs, 181 as a member of the Cubs. This season, he was hitting .254 with 17 homers and 24 RBI.
The 21-year-old Black was a fourth-round pick in the 2012 draft out of Faulkner University in Alabama. In 2013, his first professional season, the starter is 3-8 with a 4.25 ERA in 82.2 innings. Black has recorded 88 strikeouts—an average of 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings—and has limited opposing hitters to a .243 average.
Mike Olt was listed as the No. 1 prospect in the Rangers system by MLB.com. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty)
The Chicago Cubs today acquired infielder Mike Olt, right-handed pitcher Justin Grimm, right-handed pitcher C.J. Edwards and two players to be named from the Texas Rangers for right-handed pitcher Matt Garza.
Olt, 24, was the 2012 Texas Rangers Minor League Player of the Year after hitting .288 (102-for-354) with 17 doubles, one triple, 28 home runs and 82 RBI in 95 games for Double-A Frisco prior to his major league debut with Texas last August. Olt was named a Texas League midseason and postseason All-Star, and led the league in home runs and OPS (.977) despite missing the final month of the season due to promotion.
A right-handed hitter and fielder, Olt owns a .269 batting average with 65 doubles, two triples, 64 home runs, 205 RBI and a .375 on-base percentage in 305 minor league contests since he was selected by Texas in the supplemental first round (49th overall) of the 2010 draft out of the University of Connecticut. He played on the United States squad at the 2012 MLB Futures Game in Kansas City and entered this season tabbed as the Rangers second-best prospect by Baseball America.
Olt made his major league debut with Texas last season, hitting .152 (5-for-33) with a double and five RBI in 16 games following his promotion on August 2. This year, he is hitting .219 (53-for-242) with 17 doubles, 12 home runs and 34 RBI in 68 games between Double-A Frisco (three games) and Triple-A Round Rock (65 games), including a .247 mark with 10 home runs since June 3 at Triple-A.
Grimm, 24, was originally selected by the Rangers in the fifth round of the 2010 draft out of the University of Georgia. He has spent nearly the entire 2013 season at the major league level, going 7-7 with a 6.37 ERA (63 ER/89.0 IP) in 17 starts. He was named the American League Rookie of the Month for April this season after going 2-0 with a 1.59 ERA (3 ER/17.0 IP) in three starts, fanning 15 and walking only four.
Among major league rookies, Grimm trails only St. Louis’ Shelby Miller in wins and is tied for second among American League rookies with six quality starts. He leads AL rookies with 89.0 innings and ranks third with 68 strikeouts.
The right-hander made his big league debut last season after posting an 11-6 record with a 2.81 ERA in 25 appearances (22 starts) between Double-A Frisco and Triple-A Round Rock. He earned Texas League midseason All-Star honors last year.
Grimm is 8-8 with a 6.73 ERA (77 ER/103.0 IP) in 22 big league appearances, 19 as a starter, covering the last two seasons. Overall in his minor league career, Grimm is 19-9 with a 3.07 ERA (96 ER/281.0 IP) in 51 appearances (48 starts).
Edwards, 21, has gone 8-2 with a complete game and a 1.83 ERA (19 ER/93.1 IP) in 18 starts for Single-A Hickory this season. He has struck out 122 batters in 93.1 innings pitched, good for an average of 11.8 strikeouts per 9.0 innings, while walking just 34. A South Atlantic League midseason All-Star, Edwards has held opponents to a .186 batting average and has not surrendered a home run.
A native of Newberry, S.C., Edwards is 13-5 with a 1.68 ERA in 32 games (31 starts) since he was selected by Texas in the 48th round of the 2011 draft. He has not surrendered a home run in his professional career while averaging 11.6 strikeouts per 9.0 innings. All told, he has struck out 207 batters compared to just 59 walks in 160.1 innings pitched.
According to GM Jed Hoyer, the team will also acquire either one or two players to be named (depending on who the Cubs choose), and the additional players will be pitchers.
Garza, 29, went 21-18 with a 3.45 ERA (143 ER/372.2 IP) in 60 starts for the Cubs after he was acquired by the club in an eight-player deal with Tampa Bay on Jan. 8, 2011. He owns a 63-62 major league record with eight complete games, three shutouts, one save and a 3.80 ERA in 181 career games (178 starts) with the Twins (2006-07), Rays (2008-10) and Cubs (2011-13).
(Photo by Stephen Green)
The Cubs recalled infielder/outfielder Junior Lake from Triple-A Iowa Friday afternoon. He is slated to play center field and bat sixth in the Cubs second half opener in Colorado.
In 40 games at Iowa this season, the 23-year-old batted .295/.341/.462 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 10 doubles, two triples, four home runs, 18 RBI and 14 stolen bases. Originally signed as a nondrafted free agent in February 2007, the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder reached Double-A for the first time in 2011, after earning Florida State League midseason All-Star honors with Single-A Daytona. Lake was also named to the 2011 Arizona Fall League Top Prospects team. He spent all of last year in Tennessee, where he hit .279 with 10 homers, 26 doubles, 21 stolen bases and 50 RBI.
To make room for Lake, the Cubs placed outfielder Brian Bogusevic on the 15-day DL with a left hamstring strain.