We’re only a week into the minor league season, but some young stars already are starting to blossom. A few of the Cubs affiliates are playing better than others, but there’s no denying some individuals left Spring Training ready to go.
High-profile corner infielders Josh Vitters and Anthony Rizzo have powered Triple-A Iowa to a 5-3 start. Vitters (.458/.500/.500) has racked up 11 hits in 24 at-bats, driving in six runs. Rizzo, who the Cubs acquired from the Padres for Andrew Cashner, has been just as impressive (.387/.424/.677), smacking three home runs and driving in 10.
Welington Castillo, a backstop who narrowly missed a spot on the Cubs Opening Day roster, is hitting .357 with a 1.214 OPS in 14 at-bats.
Top prospect Brett Jackson has recorded a .276 average with four RBI.
Ace Randy Wells is 1-0 in two starts, posting a 5.25 ERA, a 0.92 WHIP and seven strikeouts.
Double-A Tennessee, resting at .500 with a 4-4 record, has plenty of bright spots in both the lineup and on the bump. Shortstop Elliot Soto has a .476 OBP and is slugging .500. Michael Burgess (.333/.417/.524) has a home run and 11 total bases.
Nicholas Struck (1-1, 2.25 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 15 K, 12 IP), Dallas Beeler (1.64 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 11 IP) and Trey McNutt (0.00 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 8 K, 7.2 IP) have all been consistent members of the rotation early on.
Despite Daytona’s 1-6 record, a few individuals still have something to smile about. First-round pick Hayden Simpson has a 3.60 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP in two starts, and outfielder John Andreoli has a .429 average with a .600 OBP, drawing six walks in 20 total at-bats.
Pitching has been the key for Class-A affiliate Peoria. The Chiefs, who sit at 3-4, have gotten two solid outings each from Michael Jensen (2-0, 2.45 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 11 IP) and Patrick Francescon (0-1, 3.48 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 12 K, 10.1 IP).
Mesa, Ariz. — The Cubs are closer to finalizing their Opening Day roster after sending nine players to minor league camp Thursday, trimming their ranks from 40 players to 31.
Left-handed pitchers Scott Maine and Travis Wood, righty Randy Wells, outfielder Dave Sappelt and catcher Welington Castillo have all been optioned to Triple-A Iowa. Infielders Edgar Gonzalez and Matt Tolbert, righty Blake Parker and catcher Blake Lalli—all non-roster invitees—were assigned to minor league camp.
Manager Dale Sveum announced his Opening Day rotation will consist of Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija, Chris Volstad and Paul Maholm.
Wood and Wells were in the rotation mix heading into Spring Training, but were outpitched by Volstad and Samardzija. Wood struggled in Mesa, with a 17.28 ERA in 8.1 innings, surrendering 16 earned runs and three home runs. Wells, on the other hand, didn’t give up a run in his 7.1 spring innings, surrendering just four hits.
Castillo spent much of the spring battling Steve Clevenger for the backup catcher position. Though the 23-year-old Castillo hit .324 in 37 at-bats in the preseason, including a pair of home runs, the Cubs ultimately liked Clevenger’s lefty, line-drive bat and poise.
The roster, which needs to be cut down to 25 by next Thursday, currently sits at 16 pitchers, two catchers, seven infielders and six outfielders.
Mesa, Ariz. — The Cubs made a pair of minor moves Monday, signing right-hander Shawn Camp and releasing lefty reliever Trever Miller.
Camp signed a minor league deal five days after being released by the Mariners. The 36-year-old posted a 4.21 ERA in 66 innings of relief for the Blue Jays last year, but was not offered arbitration despite his Type-B status. He recorded a 2.16 ERA in 8.1 innings for the Mariners this spring, striking out six.
Miller, 38, had a 5.40 ERA despite his 1.08 WHIP in 8.1 innings in Mesa for the Cubs. The former first-round pick signed a minor league deal as free agent with the squad on Jan. 30.
Mesa, Ariz. — Cubs manager Dale Sveum named veteran right-hander Ryan Dempster the club’s Opening Day starter over the weekend.
The 34-year-old will start his second consecutive opener for the Cubs and fourth Opening Day start overall (Florida 2001-02) when he takes the Wrigley Field mound April 5 against Washington.
His 2011 totals of 10 wins and a 4.80 ERA are his lowest since the Cubs moved Dempster into the rotation in 2007, but Sveum ultimately picked the veteran for his consistency. The two-time All-Star fanned 191 batters last season, good for 11th in the NL. He also started a league-best 34 games and pitched 202 innings, good for top 20 in National League.
Dempster will face off against 23-year-old Nationals’ phenom Stephen Strasburg.
Wireless service has been tough today, so the Scouting and Business panels were typed up while they happened and posted soon after.
Representatives from all over the Cubs’ business operations are here to address fans’ questions and present some new details about the ballpark. Carl Rice (ballpark operations), Jahaan Blake (fan experiences), Alex Sugarman (business development), Colin Faulkner (ticket operations), Wally Hayward (chief marketing officer), Mike Lufrano (community affairs) and Crane Kenney (president of business operations) are here.
Wrap-up: Wow, a lot of announcements, including perhaps a couple missed in the opening minutes coming over from the scouting session. There’s a ton of work going on under the hood, and it’s really going to near fruit in 2012. Keep an eye out in Vine Line for more details!
4:35 – Beginning June 25, an eight-week baseball camp for local communities! Students will be invited out to the ballpark for photos, player meet-ups and more. Keep an eye out!
4:30 – The Cubs are trying to focus on the younger generation, the next generation of Cubs fans, with their renovations. Also, the team, as part of the Commissioner’s Initiative, makes available discounted tickets for kids and other groups. It’s a focus that has really been reignited under the Ricketts family, which talked some in the last session about all having kids themselves.
Total on last year’s grants to nonprofits and other community efforts: $1.8 million.
4:26 – In the rare instance where the fan experience isn’t pleasant because of other fans, the Cubs have a procedure in place to deal with the issues. This year, all Wrigley Field personnel will be trained on the same platform of dealing with it and responses will be faster.
In addition to the AT&T improvements this offseason, Rice says that sound will be improved in the upper deck and security infrastructure will be improved.
4:24 – NEWS ALERT: The Cubs will experiment with dynamic pricing in the Budweiser Bleachers this year. The earlier you buy your ticket, the less expensive it will be — essentially the price rises as the inventory decreases. Faulkner explains it’s a good thing for season ticket holders, who buy the earliest.
Your panelists include newcomers Jason McLeod, VP of scouting and player development, and pro scouting director Joe Bohringer; as well as VP of Player Personnel Oneri Fleita and Amateur Scouting Director Tim Wilken. Emcee is player development and scouting coordinator Alex Suarez.
3:40 – We went 10 minutes over, and it’s a wrap!
3:39 – McLeod says that the word they use over and over is to get impact players. Selecting them boils down to a process that culminates on draft day.
3:34 – Could you have foreseen Mark Prior getting injured? Fleita agrees with the fan that it’s the best player he’s ever seen in the minors and cites some examples from his brief playing career of prospects with a ton of potential who were marred by injuries. The doctors in the organization are working on it, as is the industry.
Bohringer jumps in to say that the cutting edge could very well be medical and makeup. He adds Kris Benson as another example of a perfect pitcher who flamed out due to injury, while Troy Percival had ugly mechanics and managed to play several years before getting injured.
3:32 – A question about Rizzo, who has been acquired by McLeod three times. He says they feel he can be a middle of order, staple hitter. High walks, high ops hitter. Some strikeouts as well, but he can hit in the four to five range. He also has the makeup that will allow him to get the most out of his ability. Also natural leadership qualities. He’ll play almost entirely this year as a 22 year old.
Picking up the Ricketts family’s meeting with fans in progress, here are some snippets of what Tom, Laura, Pete and Todd are saying to fans.
2:28 – Tom says the team knows what it wants to do with the ballpark, and they’re really looking to make progress this year in getting the funding done. The three goals remain to win a World Series (above all), be a good neighbor in the extended community and to preserve Wrigley Field, where the family is now looking to focus with Theo, Jed, Jason and co. in place.
2:24 – A couple great ideas to honor Santo. One is to collect money for JDRF with boxes around the ballpark. Another is to place No. 10 on the press box, though Tom suggests that would conflict with the planned bust of Len Kasper. “That’s OK, Tom,” Kasper replies.
2:20 – The team is “in no way right now” looking for an expansion in night games. They would like to explore with the neighborhood some more leniency in being able to have Friday night games when the team returns from a road trip so that the Cubs are not at a disadvantage.
2:15 – Regarding the infamous quote about not hiring a “baseball guy to watch his baseball guy,” Tom explains that at the time that was said, it was important to preserve accountability for the front office. But when he was looking for a new GM, he had read that Theo would consider a move up to a president-type role, thus putting it back on the table when the Ricketts had identified him as their target. He said it also has had the added benefit of being able to also bring in someone like Jed Hoyer.
2:12 – Tom explains that the purchase of the McDonald’s lot across from Wrigley Field is partly borne out of the fact that the team has not in the past done a good job of looking at real estate opportunities around the ballpark. He says to look out for some cool merchandise stuff there this coming year.
Introductions are underway with Dale Sveum and five members of his staff. Bob Brenly is your emcee. Keep refreshing for updates with another exciting panel introducing all that’s new with the 2012 Cubs
1:58 – How much of situational approach can be instilled? Sveum likens it to making a student write something on the chalkboard a thousand times. Sometimes guys forget, believe it or not, what they’re supposed to do, so you have to harp on these guys that all they have to do is sometimes hit a ground ball or go with a pitch. He says some guys just aren’t capable of moving guys over — the at-bat is so bad that they don’t accomplish anything — so he’ll also let them swing away if the personnel dictates that. He’ll make sure they understand that the RBI is key.
1:56 – Asked about taking first pitches, Sveum says he had to suggest to Ron Roenicke last year to put on the take sign with Yuniesky Betancourt sometimes. “I have no problem with that, absolutely.”
Jaramillo says Sveum will set the tone and the coaches and players will follow that tone. Already began doing that in Mesa, working with some players.
1:53 – McKay initially talked to Pete Mackanin about a coaching job with the Cubs, but once Sveum got the job instead, they sat down. McKay says that he saw some La Russa in Sveum, in routines, expectations. He called back a week later to offer the job and McKay said his response was “absolutely.”
1:50 – What’s the plan going forward? It’s to win right now. We’re building. We have the resources to be good for a long time. But you have to put that money to good use. Bottom line is we’re trying to win every day we go out there and consistently every year.
1:49 – Sveum hates when players embarrass the organization and says he’s willing to bench guys or do what’s necessary to fix any problems.
1:47 – Youngsters will get a chance in spring training because Sveum expects to use some of them during the season. Will give them a lot of at-bats for experience and evaluation.
1:44 – Bullpen philosophy/roles are discussed. Sveum says that often the players have dictated their roles by the beginning of the season. Marshall last year could pitch late vs lefties and righties, but now it’s on Marmol and Wood, with the seventh inning somewhat up in the air. Sveum does feel that mentality is important late and that the fixed roles help out a player in a position to succeed.
1:42 – One fan played for Sveum! … In a Brewers fantasy camp. Turns out he chewed them out after two opening losses and they went on to win the championship.
1:37 – “Welcome to Chicago,” says one fan particularly fond of this sports town. Sveum explains the long process interviewing with the Cubs and Red Sox. He loves the challenge of managing in the NL, in a classic ballpark, with the opportunity to win a long-awaited championship. He calls it a no-brainer for himself.
Sveum also talked about the process of building a great coaching staff, flying around to meet them all. He said No. 1 beyond their experience was the willingness to talk to all players equally and tell them what they need to fix. He expects his players to have a thick skin when told to fix something.
1:34 – Sveum declines to set a timetable or make predictions but says the team has already attacked deficiencies in left-handed hitting, getting on base, starting pitching and defense. He says two months ago he didn’t think he’d have this kind of team, particularly pointing to the additions of Maholm, Wood and Volstad.
Building for a long time He pegs it as needing to win 90 games annually and that the Cubs will be competitive this year.
1:29 – Bosio about general philosophy: aggressive over the plate, work quickly, use the defense and keep them ready, may knock some guys down. Big on scouting — was self-taught and by Vukovich and Molitor as players in advance scouting.
1:27 – Strode enjoys answering a question about his role as a bullpen coach in seeing relievers wild warming up. He explains how he does give some input but also performance in warm ups and on the mound can go different ways often.
Sveum said as short-term manager in Milwaukee in 2008 there was a time Seth McClung kept throwing balls past his bullpen catcher by the dugout. He called down to the bullpen to essentially ask “what is going in down there?” So he will ask, But often there’s not another pitcher warmed up.
1:24 – No leadoff hitter yet, but David DeJesus is mentioned as a front runner. Sveum says that spring training could help determine it. “We have a universal-type lineup right now,” meaning there could be a lot of flexibility in lineup roles. He also adds Campana’s speed — if he can get on base and catch the ball — could be a big asset.
1:23 – Brenly getting lots of applause for “telling it like it is.”
McKay adds that they’re going to do something about the problems — “trust us, it’s not going to happen.”
1:20 – Sveum answers a question about players jogging around the bases by saying that he will let a player know as it happens. He admits he can’t magically do it for a player but that it’s something that has to be stopped so it doesn’t spread to other players.
1:19 – Jaramillo and the coaches have already gotten together with each other and two new acquisitions. The returning hitting coach praised David DeJesus for his versatility, athleticism and willingness to do the little things in several areas. He also praised Ian Stewart’s power and dedication to getting on track.
1:17 – The roster:
Manager Dale Sveum
Bench coach Jamie Quirk
Pitching coach Chris Bosio
First base coach Dave McKay
Hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo
Bullpen coach Lester Strode
1:15 – After introductions, Jamie Quirk talks about all the managers he has worked for. Started with Whitey Herzog and ended with Tony La Russa.
Dave McKay adds that preparation was the No. 1 thing to learn from La Russa. Expectations and consistency for players. And being ready in the dugout.
The next panel we’ll be covering today is expected to feature some exciting updates on the organization’s minor league and spring training facilities. Visual presentation included. Stick here for highlights as well as exciting new photos.
Wrap-up: What a great panel from everyone. Many people, including the media, where at the baseball management session with Jed Hoyer, Dale Sveum and others, but the new details on the minor league facilities were stunning. Stay tuned to Vine Line for official renderings and details.
11:30 – Last question is for Samardzija about deciding on baseball instead of football. “My answer is the facilities in the Dominican.” Huge laughter.
But the short answer is the Cubs were close to home, a great franchise and a great opportunity.
11:29 – The Cubs even bring over some Australian coaches because he feels that cultural and baseball change is big, even if the language is the same. The Cubs also send their coaches to other countries to see how different the experience is.
11:26 – Fleita talks about treating everyone equally and the importance of gaining the trust of players’ families as they sign them and leave home. The Cubs have done a lot of work hiring Korean trainers, coaches and interpreters to work at the various lower levels.