The Cubs optioned right-handed pitcher C.J. Edwards to Triple-A Iowa on Thursday, reducing their spring roster to 52 players. He pitched three scoreless innings this spring with the major league side, giving up two hits, striking out two and walking none.
Chicago’s spring roster of 52 players consists of 27 pitchers (six nonroster invitees), five catchers (two nonroster invitees), 10 infielders (four nonroster invitees) and 10 outfielders (three nonroster invitees).
The Chicago Cubs have assigned eight players to minor league camp, reducing their spring roster from 61 to 53 players.
Infielder Christian Villanueva and catcher Rafael Lopez have been optioned to Triple-A Iowa.
Six nonroster invitees have been assigned to minor league camp: right-handed pitchers Corey Black, Pierce Johnson, Armando Rivero and Donn Roach; left-handed pitcher Hunter Cervenka; and infielder Logan Watkins.
Chicago’s spring roster of 53 players consists of 28 pitchers (six nonroster invitees), five catchers (two nonroster invitees), 10 infielders (four nonroster invitees) and 10 outfielders (three nonroster invitees).
(Photo by Stephen Green)
The Cubs have agreed to 2015 contract terms with all 20 players on their 40-man roster with zero to three years of major league service.
Right-handed pitchers Dallas Beeler, C.J. Edwards, Justin Grimm, Kyle Hendricks, Blake Parker, Neil Ramirez, Hector Rondon and Brian Schlitter agreed to terms, as did left-handed pitchers Drake Britton, Eric Jokisch, Joe Ortiz and Zac Rosscup. The position players include catcher Rafael Lopez, infielders Arismendy Alcantara, Javier Baez, Tommy La Stella, Mike Olt and Christian Villanueva, and outfielders Junior Lake and Matt Szczur.
Former teammates with the Red Sox, Manny Ramirez (left) and Kevin Youkilis will both serve as consultants for the Cubs in 2015. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
The Cubs announced a series of hirings and promotions on Tuesday, including the establishment of the club’s new mental skills program. The team also finalized the hiring of Manny Ramirez as a hitting consultant and Kevin Youkilis as a scouting and player development consultant.
The club’s new mental skills program, which is designed to assist major and minor league players with the mental aspects of baseball, will be structured as follows:
– Josh Lifrak, Director, Mental Skills Program — Lifrak joins the Cubs after spending the last 10 years as the senior mental conditioning consultant at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. While at IMG, Lifrak developed and implemented mental skills training programs for hundreds of athletes spanning a multitude of sports, including baseball.
– Darnell McDonald, Coordinator, Mental Skills Program – McDonald has been promoted to this role after joining the club’s front office last April as a baseball operations assistant. McDonald retired from a 16-year professional career at the end of Spring Training last year, a career that included all or part of seven seasons at the big league level.
– Rey Fuentes, Latin Coordinator, Mental Skills Program – Fuentes begins his third season with the organization and first in this role following two years as cultural programs coordinator. Fuentes graduated from Barry University in Miami Shores, Fla., in 2002 with a degree in Exceptional Student Education.
– Dr. Ken Ravizza, Consultant, Mental Skills Program – Dr. Ravizza is a professor of Applied Sport Psychology at Cal-State Fullerton and has served as a consultant to the U.S. Olympics team for more than 20 years, as well as many professional organizations, including the Rays, under manager Joe Maddon, the Angels and Dodgers.
The club also added Ramirez and Youkilis in the following roles:
– Manny Ramirez, Hitting Consultant – Ramirez joined the Cubs last season as a player-coach at Triple-A Iowa. A two-time world champion and 2004 World Series MVP, Ramirez played 19 major league seasons with the Indians (1993-2000), the Red Sox (2001-08), Dodgers (2008-10), White Sox (2010) and Rays (2011). He batted .312 with a .411 on-base percentage and a .585 slugging percentage, good for a .996 OPS. In his new role, Ramirez will continue to work with the club’s major and minor league hitters on the fundamental and mental aspects of hitting.
– Kevin Youkilis, Scouting and Player Development Consultant – Youkilis recently retired from an 11-year major league career with the Red Sox (2004-2012), White Sox (2012) and Yankees (2013). He played briefly in Japan in 2014. The two-time world champion was a career .281 hitter with a .382 on-base percentage and a .478 slugging percentage, good for a .860 OPS. In his role, Youkilis will assist the front office by scouting amateur and professional hitters in Northern California and will work with hitters in the minor league system under the direction of the hitting coordinator.
The following promotions and additions have taken place in amateur scouting:
– Tim Adkins, named Midwest/Northeast Crosschecker. For Adkins, this is a promotion from area scout.
– Trey Forkerway, named Central Crosschecker. For Forkerway, this is a promotion from area scout.
– Daniel Carte, hired as an Area Scout, Ohio Valley. Carte joins the Cubs from West Virginia University, where he served as an assistant coach.
– Kevin Ellis, hired as an Area Scout, South Texas/Louisiana. Ellis joins the Cubs from the Padres, where he was an area scout.
– Greg Hopkins, hired as an Area Scout, Northwest. Hopkins most recently scouted the northwest for the Pirates through the 2013 campaign.
– Alex Levitt, hired as an Area Scout, Deep South. Levitt joins the Cubs from Vanderbilt University, where he served as baseball operations director in addition to recruiting and advanced scouting duties.
The following promotion and addition have taken place in professional scouting:
– Terry Kennedy, Major League Scout. For Kennedy, this is a promotion from professional scout.
– Jason Parks, Professional/Amateur Scout. Parks joined the Cubs last year after spending the better part of the previous four years at Baseball Prospectus as the head prospect writer for the site.
Say hello to John Mallee, the Cubs’ new hitting coach. Or, technically speaking, say hello to him again. The Cubs announced the 45-year-old as their new hitting coach on Oct. 9, replacing Bill Mueller, who resigned the post shortly after the season ended. Even though most people don’t know it, this is not Mallee’s first go-round with the club.
“He’s somebody we know well,” said Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein. “We actually hired him a couple years ago to be our minor league hitting coordinator. We were very disappointed [when] four days later, he joined Bo Porter’s staff to be major league hitting coach for the Astros.
“John’s got a great reputation. He’s done this job before and done it well with a lot of young hitters and got results. He’s a knowledgeable, energetic, passionate, true worker. Hopefully he’ll fit in well with the rest of the staff and create some stability for us with the hitting-coach position. We’re aware of the turnover. Our hitting coach position is like the Spinal Tap drumming situation. We hope that John will solve that for us.”
Mallee is a native of Chicago’s South Side, where he grew up in a family of die-hard Cubs fans. In 2015, he will begin his fifth season as a major league hitting coach. Before working with Astros hitters (including reigning American League batting champion Jose Altuve) from 2013-14, Mallee was the big league swing coach for the Marlins from 2010-11.
Overall, he has 19 seasons of professional coaching experience under his belt. Prior to that, he spent two years as an infielder in the Phillies’ system from 1991-92.
Mallee sat down for a wide-ranging question-and-answer session in early November, at which he exhibited all of the knowledge, energy and passion Epstein talked about and demonstrated why he might have been born to do this job.
Vine Line: This isn’t your first time talking to the Cubs about an open position. How did it come about that you were hired by the Cubs before taking the Houston job?
John Mallee: A couple of years ago, I was a senior adviser to player development for Toronto. I said, ‘You know what? I need to get back on the field.’ I learned a ton from Toronto. They were amazing. The front office was great. But at the time, I said, ‘I’m a hitting coach. I need to get back on the field.’ So I was going to go back to the minor leagues and start over as a hitting coach. I was going to try to be a hitting coordinator in the minor leagues. I interviewed with the Yankees—I ended up getting a hitting coordinator position with the Yankees—but I didn’t accept the job yet. A couple of days later, I flew to Arizona and spent a couple of days with Theo and [Cubs Senior Vice President of Scouting and Player Development] Jason McLeod and those guys. They were awesome. I ended up taking a Cubs hitting coordinator position.
Two days later, I flew to Houston and interviewed for the major league hitting coach position with the Astros. Two days from there, I flew to Cleveland and interviewed for the Cleveland Indians hitting coach position. I got offered both positions, Cleveland and Houston, and I ended up choosing Houston.
VL: As a lifelong Cubs fan, how thrilling is it for you to finally be working for the team?
JM: It’s a dream come true for me. I grew up on the South Side, but I was always a Cubs fan. My dad is a big Cubs fan. It wasn’t even an option in the house growing up. You had no choice but to be a Cubs fan. Getting to know Wrigley Field and listening to Harry Caray and coming home from school and trying to catch the end of the game when I was a kid and watching my dad be excited so much for the Cubs when they’d win and so sad when they lost, I’ve been in that emotion the whole way.
It was funny. I was with the Marlins [organization] when we won the World Series in 2003, and I was in the stands watching the games. I had Miguel Cabrera in the minor leagues and Dontrelle Willis and those guys. I ended up coaching Miguel. But I felt bad when the Marlins won and the Cubs lost. I had a sick feeling in my stomach. I’m like, ‘I’m with the Marlins.’ I was happy that the Marlins won, of course, but I had a sick feeling in my stomach that the Cubs had lost. Ever since then, I’ve always felt that way when they lose. To have an opportunity to come home and be the hitting coach of the Chicago Cubs is a dream come true.
VL: How did hitting a baseball become your calling in life?
JM: I played high school baseball at Mount Carmel in Chicago and then went to the University of Illinois-Chicago. [I] got drafted in the 12th round with the Phillies. I was always a really, really good hitter. I got to the minor leagues, and I didn’t hit. I didn’t know why I couldn’t hit anymore. After I got done playing, because I didn’t perform offensively as a player, I was on this quest to figure out why I didn’t make it, because I always thought I was better than everybody growing up. I could always hit better than everybody. When you get inside the world of professional baseball, everybody was always better than everybody.
When you’re young, you try to separate yourself. When you get into professional baseball, you try to separate yourself from the separated, and I couldn’t do that. I wanted to know why, so I started really studying hitting. I started giving private lessons at a baseball school in 1992. I’ve just been a student of it ever since. It’s been a quest of mine. I started with myself, not knowing why I didn’t perform. I wanted to know, mechanically, what I was doing wrong. It was actually mental more than mechanical.
I started giving private lessons, and I got infatuated with the swing, giving all these lessons and speaking around the country at conventions. I just started studying it more and more.
VL: Do you have an overriding hitting philosophy, or do you tailor instruction to each individual player?
JM: I tailor it to each individual guy. There are certain key components to the swing that have to happen to everybody’s swing—all the best hitters too. But, ‘Put your hands here, or put your bat this way, or do this or do that,’ it’s not like that. I believe in biokinetics. There are some biomechanics that all hitters should do if they want to be successful. But I try to let the hitter have his own style unless it directly affects one of those absolutes you need to have. You’ll see some of my guys with leg kicks, some guys with toe taps, high hands, low hands. As long as you get into the strongest hitting position and your swing works in sequence, you’re good.
VL: There are a lot of young, talented players on this team. How well do you know the Cubs’ hitters?
JM: I have all of their film with me. I also have all of their analytical information so I know their sweet spots, their hot zones, their cold zones. I know who will get them out and how they get them out. It’s learning the blueprint of the player. At the end of the day, if the player trusts me and knows how prepared I am for them and knows that I’m going to have dialogue with them every day, that’s going to be the biggest challenge.
I’ve talked to a few of them on the phone already. Luckily, I’m going to have some help because the minor league hitting coordinator is Anthony Iapoce, and Anthony has been with me forever. I coached Anthony as a player and tried to take him everywhere I went as a coach.
It was interesting because when I left the Marlins, I went to Toronto, and then we brought him over to Toronto as the hitting coordinator. When I turned down the Cubs job to take the major league job with the Astros, they asked me if I knew anybody who runs [my] philosophy. Anthony was the guy. He’s now in the minor league system, and he knows a lot of these players, and he knows I’m going to talk to him constantly about it.
VL: Are there challenges to managing so many young hitters?
JM: This game is about making adjustments. The guys who can adjust are the guys who have success. First of all, we have to figure out where the adjustments need to be made. Where did it go wrong, why did it go wrong, and how are we going to fix it? They have to be fearless enough to take a step back to take the two steps forward.
Everybody gets into a comfort zone, and they want to go back to what they normally did because they had success with it. But what I’ve learned now is that it’s a different game up here. The guys who got away with a lot of stuff in the minor leagues, they’re facing so much different pitching, with the pitchers here who have the command and the control and can exploit weaknesses.
VL: Is it fair to say your job involves nurturing both the mechanical and the psychological aspects of hitting?
JM: Absolutely. Anything where you have such a high failure rate, it’s psychological. There are a lot of mechanical things with older players. When I had [former Marlins infielder] Hanley [Ramirez] and other guys, they had already been successful. I like to know when they’re going good, what makes them go good. So when they get out of whack and the adrenaline’s going and they need a quick ‘Hey, do this, do that,’ I can bring them right back. It’s paying attention to those guys and trying to develop the younger guys.
Experience, No. 1, is going to help—hopefully my experience with helping young players and young hitters have a lot of success. The adjustments that Altuve made this year in becoming a batting champion [happened] because the kid didn’t have the fear to make adjustments. He could have been content with [being] a .280 [hitter] the year before. We met in Spring Training, had a meeting on Day 1, and I said, ‘OK, this is what I got. This is what you need to improve. You want to keep doing what you’re doing, and you’re going to be a really good player.’
He said, ‘I want to be the best player.’ I said, ‘OK, let’s go.’ He didn’t have the fear of taking two steps back to make this one step forward. That’s one of the reasons he ended up becoming the batting champion.
VL: Theo and Jed [Hoyer] have talked a lot about the Cubs’ need to get better with on-base percentage and making consistent contact. How important are those things in taking the next step and being a good offensive team?
JM: Ultimately, that’s what’s going to make or break us, our ability to put the ball in play, especially with runners in scoring position, and being able to increase our scoring opportunities, being able to manufacture runs—runs created by a walk, baserunning, dirt-ball reads, being able to go base to base.
Getting guys to be more selective at the plate, a lot of that is innate. A lot of that is instinctive. A lot of them had that when they came in. If they don’t have it, it’s hard to develop. But with a proper approach and a proper plan, it’s easier to eliminate pitches. It’s easier to eliminate zones.
You talk about how do you get guys to walk more and not just make them take pitches? That’s a very tough situation. A guy like Javy Baez you can tell, ‘Hey, you got to get your walks up.’ But you don’t want him to take the ball that he can put in the seats. What you do, though, is identify—and he’ll identify—what his strengths and weaknesses are within the strike zone.
So if he handles the ball down or in or up or away or wherever he likes the ball the best, and that first pitch is there, he needs to swing. But if it’s not there and it’s still in the strike zone, you can’t have the fear that [the umpire] is going to call that a strike and ‘Now I’m down 0-1, and I took a fastball.’ If he doesn’t handle the fastball in, he’s not going to do anything with it anyway. He’s going to make an out or foul it off, so it’s still nonproductive.
Getting them to attack a pitch within their strength early in the count, but being patient enough to wait for it, that’s the trick of the whole thing, of selective aggressive hitting.
—Bruce Miles, Daily Herald
(Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
The Chicago Cubs today claimed right-handed pitcher Gonzalez Germen off waivers from the Texas Rangers. The club’s 40-man roster now stands at 40 players.
Germen, 27, is 1-2 with one save and a 4.31 ERA (31 ER/64.2 IP) in 54 relief appearances covering the last two seasons with the New York Mets. He has struck out 64 batters in 64.2 innings pitched while limiting opponents to a .248 batting average, including a .229 mark by right-handers. The Dominican native went 1-2 with one save and a 3.93 ERA in 29 outings for the Mets in 2013 and posted no record and a 4.75 ERA in 25 appearances in 2014.
The 6-foot-1, 202-pound pitcher originally signed with the Mets as a nondrafted free agent in 2007. He is 38-31 with 10 saves and a 3.51 ERA in 148 appearances (80 starts) in seven minor league seasons in the Mets farm system (2008-14).
Germen was designated for assignment by the Mets on Dec. 15 and traded to the New York Yankees on Dec. 19. \He was then designated for assignment on Jan. 13 and traded to the Texas Rangers on Jan. 20.
Dexter Fowler brings much-needed on-base skills to the Cubs lineup. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty)
The Chicago Cubs today acquired center fielder Dexter Fowler from the Houston Astros for infielder Luis Valbuena and right-handed pitcher Dan Straily.
Fowler, 28, is a switch-hitter with a career .271 batting average (726-for-2,682) and a .366 on-base percentage in all or part of seven major league seasons with the Colorado Rockies (2008-13) and Houston Astros (2014). Per 162 games, Fowler has averaged 29 doubles, 12 triples, 10 homers, 19 stolen bases, 81 walks and a .419 slugging to contribute to a career .786 OPS. He is a career .299 hitter with a .391 on-base percentage when batting from the right side of the plate and a career .259 hitter with a .356 on-base from the left side.
The 6-foot-4, 190-pound Fowler batted .276 with a .375 on-base percentage—99 points higher than his batting average—and a .399 slugging percentage in 116 games for the Astros last season, his lone season in Houston following his offseason trade from Colorado. He drew at least 65 walks for the fourth season in a row (66). This is also a chance for Fowler to reunite with former Astros hitting coach John Mallee in Chicago.
Fowler has exclusively played center field since his first full season in the big leagues in 2009, when he finished eighth in National League Rookie of the Year voting, and his 57 triples since 2009 lead all major leaguers covering the last six seasons. He set the Rockies record for triples in a single season in 2010 (14) and again in 2011 (15), when he also recorded a career-high 35 doubles. Fowler set career bests in many offensive categories in 2012, including batting average (.300), home runs (13), RBI (53), walks (68, tied), games played (143) and OPS (.863).
A native of Atlanta, Georgia, Fowler was originally selected by the Colorado Rockies in the 14th round of the 2004 Draft out of Milton (Ga.) High School.
Valbuena, 29, batted .249 (119-for-478) with 16 home runs and 51 RBI in 149 games with the Cubs last season. He was originally claimed off waivers from the Toronto Blue Jays on April 4, 2012. Valbuena is a career .229 hitter with 45 homers and 173 RBI in 576 games covering all or part of seven big league seasons with the Seattle Mariners (2008), Cleveland Indians (2009-11) and the Cubs (2012-14).
Straily, 26, is 13-12 with a 4.54 ERA (123/243.2 IP) in 48 big league appearances covering parts of three big league seasons with the Oakland Athletics (2012-14) and Cubs (2014). He was acquired by the Cubs as part of the trade that sent pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland for infielder Addison Russell and outfielder Billy McKinney.
(Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
The Cubs continue to beef up the veteran presence in the 2015 clubhouse, signing outfielder Chris Denorfia to a one-year contract. To make room for Denorfia on the 40-man roster, left-handed pitcher Mike Kickham was designated for assignment.
Denorfia, 34, is a career .272 hitter (530-for-1,950) in 705 major league games covering all or part of nine seasons with the Cincinnati Reds (2005-06), Oakland Athletics (2008-09), San Diego Padres (2010-14) and Seattle Mariners (2014). He has averaged 21 doubles, four triples, nine home runs and 13 stolen bases per 162 games played, while turning in a career .331 on-base percentage and a .394 slugging percentage, good for a .725 OPS. He has played 352 big league games in right field, 248 games in left field and 164 games in center field.
The right-handed hitter could be a solid platoon option, as he is a career .292 hitter with 19 home runs, 85 RBI, a .358 on-base percentage and a .430 slugging percentage versus left-handed pitching. He has also excelled in games against the National League Central (.298 career batting average) and in games at Wrigley Field (.339 career batting average).
Denorfia is coming off a down year. He began the 2014 campaign in San Diego before being acquired by Seattle at the July 31 trade deadline. He combined to hit .230 with 12 doubles, three home runs and 21 RBI in 121 games between the two stops. He had a career-best .293 batting average and .796 OPS in 130 games for the Padres in 2012 and hit 10 home runs in 144 games for the Padres in 2013, both career highs.
A native of Bristol, Connecticut, Denorfia was originally selected by the Cincinnati Reds in the 19th round of the 2002 Draft out of Wheaton College.
Kickham, 26, was claimed off waivers from the San Francisco Giants on December 23. He is 31-35 with a 3.97 ERA (231 ER/523.2 IP) in 99 career minor league games, all but four as a starter.
(Image by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)
The Cubs and catcher David Ross officially finalized terms on a two-year contract Tuesday.
The 37-year-old Ross has spent parts of 13 seasons in the majors, having played with the Dodgers (2002-04), Pirates (2005), Padres (2005), Reds (2006-08), Red Sox (2008, 2013-14) and Braves (2009-12). He is a career .233 hitter with 101 doubles, 95 home runs and 273 RBI in 744 major league games. He owns a .318 on-base percentage and a .435 slugging percentage, good for a .753 OPS.
The right-handed hitter has been to the postseason four times, including in 2004 with the Dodgers, followed by a pair of appearances with the Braves in 2010 and 2012. In 2013, the veteran claimed a World Championship with Boston alongside new Cubs ace Jon Lester, seeing action in eight games, including four World Series contests during the six-game win against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Ross hit a career-high 21 home runs in 90 games for the Reds in 2006 and followed that up with 17 homers for the club in a career-high 112 games in 2007. He has averaged 53 games played during the last seven seasons starting in 2008, including 50 games last year for the Red Sox during which he hit .184 with seven doubles, seven home runs and 15 RBI. During the past seven seasons, Ross has thrown out 35.1 percent of runners attempting to steal, the fourth-best mark in the majors during that span. His 3.69 catcher’s ERA is tied for 10th in the majors in that span, and he is also known as an excellent pitch framer.
A native of Bainbridge, Georgia, Ross was originally selected by the Dodgers in the seventh round of the 1998 Draft out of the University of Florida.
(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
The Cubs claimed left-handed pitcher Mike Kickham off waivers from San Francisco on Tuesday. Additionally, catcher Ryan Lavarnway was claimed off waivers by Baltimore, and first baseman Shane Peterson was claimed by Milwaukee.
Kickham, 26, is 31-35 with a 3.97 ERA (231 ER/523.2 IP) in 99 career minor league games (95 starts) since he was selected by the Giants in the sixth round of the 2010 Draft out of Missouri State University. He has struck out 464 batters, an average of 8.0 strikeouts per nine innings, while allowing 227 walks.
Kickham spent the majority of 2014 with Triple-A Fresno, going 8-8 with a 4.43 ERA in 27 starts, including a 12-start stretch in which he went 6-0 with a 2.74 ERA from May 25-July 24. His 131 strikeouts ranked fourth in the Pacific Coast League, and he went 95.0 consecutive innings from May 20-August 21 without allowing home run.
The 6-foot, 4-inch, 220-pound Kickham was 7-7 with a 4.31 ERA in 20 starts for Fresno in 2013, a season after setting career-best totals in wins (11) and ERA (3.05) while being named to the Eastern League postseason All-Star team with Double-A Richmond in 2012.
Kickham made his major league debut with the Giants in 2013 and has pitched in 14 games (three starts) in parts of the last two seasons for San Francisco, going 0-3 with a 10.98 ERA.
Lavarnway, 27, was originally claimed off waivers from Boston on Dec. 19. Peterson, 26, was claimed off waivers from Oakland the same day.