(Photo by Stephen Green)
If you needed further proof that the Cubs’ system is loaded with top talent, here it is. In MLB.com’s final installment of their positional top 10 lists unveiled on Thursday, Prospect Watch has Jorge Soler the No. 3 outfield prospect in baseball.
Though [Soler’s] first two full seasons were marred somewhat by a pair of suspensions and repeated leg injuries, he reached the Majors last August. He homered off Mat Latos in his first at-bat, delivered two more long balls in his third game and looked every bit the slugger Chicago hoped for.
A fine athlete with strength, leverage and explosive bat speed, Soler has huge raw power to all fields and the hitting ability to translate it into game production. He recognizes pitches and works counts well, so he should hit for average. He makes more consistent contact than Javy Baez and Kris Bryant, two other prodigious sluggers with whom he rose through the Cubs system.
With solid speed and a well above-average arm, Soler also can be an asset in right field.
Soler played in 24 games at the big league level in 2014 and made quite a debut. Though most of his success came during the early portion of his call-up, the outfielder hit .292/.330/.573 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with five homers and eight doubles, driving in 20. There’s certainly room to grow and he’ll need to remain healthy, but Soler could be a middle-of-the-order force for the Cubs for a long while.
The Cubs today released details for Saturday’s memorial service in honor of Ernie Banks at Fourth Presbyterian Church and the procession that will pass Ernie Banks’ statue in Daley Plaza and Wrigley Field.
Saturday’s memorial service will begin at 10 a.m. and will include remembrances, readings and tributes from the following dignitaries who will speak in the order listed below:
Tom Ricketts, Chairman of the Chicago Cubs, with a remembrance on behalf of the Chicago Cubs
Joe Torre, Chief Baseball Officer, with a remembrance on behalf of Major League Baseball
Billy Williams, Hall of Fame teammate, with a personal remembrance
Fergie Jenkins, Hall of Fame teammate, with a reading
Lou Brock, Hall of Famer and Cubs roommate, with a reading
The Hon. Bruce Rauner, Governor of Illinois, with a remembrance on behalf of the State
The Hon. Rahm Emanuel, Mayor of Chicago, with a remembrance on behalf of the City
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr., with a personal tribute
John Rogers, Friend of Ernie Banks, with a personal tribute
Jerry and Joey Banks, twin sons of Ernie Banks, with personal tributes
Following the memorial service at Fourth Presbyterian Church, the procession will embark on a route that will pass Ernie Banks’ statue in Daley Plaza and Wrigley Field. Due to the restoration of Wrigley Field, fans gathering at the ballpark are asked to view the procession from the following locations: the southwest corner of Sheffield Avenue and Addison Street in front of the Captain Morgan Club; along the south side of Addison Street between Sheffield Avenue and Clark Street; or along the west side of Clark Street between Addison Street and Waveland Avenue.
At the end of the service, the procession will leave Fourth Presbyterian Church and drive south on Michigan Avenue, west on Randolph Street, south on Clark Street and east on Washington Street, where it will pass the Ernie Banks statue in Daley Plaza. The procession will then head to Lake Shore Drive to the Belmont Avenue exit. The procession will head west on Belmont Avenue, northwest on Clark Street, north on Sheffield Avenue and west on Addison Street to Clark Street, where it will pass the Wrigley Field Marquee.
(Photo by Roger C. Hoover)
MLB.com unveiled another 2015 Prospect Watch list, and another Cubs prospect is near the top. On Wednesday, they posted their top shortstop prospects, and placed Addison Russell third on the list. Here’s what they had to say about his talents:
Few shortstops can match Russell’s offensive upside. He posted .300/.379/.522 numbers over his first three pro seasons, reached Double-A at age 20 and won’t require much more time in the Minors. He has explosive bat speed, a mature approach and a knack for barreling the ball that should allow him to continue producing for power and average when he gets to Chicago.
Though Russell isn’t as spectacular on defense, there’s no reason he can’t stay at shortstop and he’s a better defender there than Starlin Castro or Javier Baez. Russell has solid arm strength that plays up because he has a quick release, though he tends to drop his arm slot at times. He’s an average runner who gets to plenty of grounders and has good hands.
Russell played in only five games before tearing his hamstring at the beginning of the 2014 season. By the time he was traded to the Cubs on July 4, the injury was a thing of the past. In 50 games at Double-A, he hit .294/.332/.536 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 12 homers. Many—including MLB.com—predict Russell could be knocking on Wrigley Field’s door during the 2015 season. He’ll likely start the year in Triple-A.
Keith Law ranked Addison Russell the No. 4 prospect in baseball. (Photo by Rodger Wood)
A day after ESPN Insider Keith Law named the Cubs the top farm system in baseball, the analyst handed the organization another compliment Thursday, naming four Cubs to his top 100 prospects., including two in the top five.
As has become the consensus for the last six months, Law anointed third baseman Kris Bryant his No. 1 prospect in the game. Joining him on the list were Addison Russell (No. 4), Jorge Soler (No. 14) and Kyle Schwarber (No. 90).
After hitting .325/.438/.661 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with a minors-best 43 homers between Double- and Triple-A in 2014, Bryant received multiple minor league player of the year awards. Even though he was selected just 18 months ago as the second-overall pick of the 2013 draft, the slugger has quickly ascended the minor league ranks, and is primed to make his major league debut this year. Law ranked Bryant his No. 15 prospect prior to 2014. Here is what he thinks about the third baseman’s future:
Bryant’s swing is very balanced, with a wide setup and good use of his lower half to generate power. While there were concerns when he was an amateur that his bat speed might not catch up to major league velocity, he really has had no problem with better stuff in the pros, probably because his eye is so good and his swing is very short from load to contact. He’s a good enough athlete to be able to handle third base, although he’d probably be better defensively in right field with his plus arm and fewer quick-reaction plays to challenge him. Wherever he ends up, he has 30-homer, .400 OBP potential, and should challenge for MVP awards once he has a few years in the majors.
Though Russell’s name may be a little newer to Cubs fans, he has been hovering around the top ranks of prospect lists for a while now. Law ranked the muscular Russell No. 3 on this list last year when he was a member of the Athletics organization. A July trade brought the highly touted prospect into the Cubs system, and while a hamstring tear shortened his 2014, the shortstop still manged to hit .295 with a .350 on-base percentage and demonstrated a little more power to his game.
Russell is a true shortstop with one of the best pure hit tools in the minors, both of which are a function of his outstanding hands, which are strong enough to produce hard contact yet smooth enough that he makes difficult plays look easy at short, whether it’s a tough ground ball or a quick transfer on a 4-6-3 double-play turn. His swing did get a little longer in 2014, producing more power but also more ground ball contact, as he would get on top of balls he didn’t square up. Russell always will face questions about his position because he’s not a runner, but his footwork is more than adequate, and he has the hands and arm to be above-average there. Shortstops with the potential to hit .300-plus with double-digit homers are rare commodities — Troy Tulowitzki was the only major leaguer to do it in 2014 — which makes Russell’s skill set extremely valuable.
Cubs fans got a glimpse of Soler at the major league level in 2014, as the power-hitting outfielder spent 24 games on the big league stage. He demonstrated his exciting tools early on, slugging five home runs, driving in 20 and posting a .292/.330/.573 line. Many expect Soler to start the season as the Cubs’ Opening Day right fielder.
Soler has gotten much stronger since he first signed a nine-year, $30 million contract with the Cubs in 2012, retaining much of his athleticism but losing some running speed as he bulked up. He always had enormous power thanks to very rapid hand acceleration and a beautiful, rotational swing with long extension through contact. He has a right fielder’s arm and the ability to be an average or better defender there, but for now his routes are a bit suspect and he’ll need more work out there to avoid being the new Domonic Brown. Soler wasn’t patient in the majors, but he had been so in the minors, and I expect that skill to return as he gains experience in the majors and stops trying to recreate what he did in those first five games. He projects as a 25-30 homer guy who hits .270-280 with a solid OBP and, we hope, average defense, which would make him maybe the Cubs’ third- or fourth-best hitter in their suddenly loaded lineup.
Though Law doesn’t see Schwarber as an everyday catcher, the Cubs appear a lot more confident, having worked with the 2014 first-round pick extensively behind the plate this offseason. Regardless, the big sell on the catcher/outfielder is his bat, which helped Schwarber power through Short-Season Boise and Single-A Kane County before finishing in High-A in 2014. He hit .344/.428/.634 with 18 homers and 18 doubles in his first professional year.
He has a chance to end up with a plus hit tool and plus power, showing much better plate discipline this summer than he did as an amateur, although his front side can get soft and he can be vulnerable to soft stuff away because his typical swing is so hard. If he hits .280 or so with a strong OBP and 25-30 homers, he’ll be a good everyday player even if he ends up as a bad left fielder, and the Cubs certainly believe he has a chance to exceed even those marks.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
The 2015 Prospect Watch continued on MLB.com Tuesday with perhaps the least surprising unveiling of the week. Adding to his already-packed trophy case, Cubs farmhand Kris Bryant was named the top third baseman in the minors. The 23-year-old had a huge season in 2014 and is likely primed to make his major league debut in 2015. Here’s some of what MLB.com had to say:
[Bryant] won every Minor League player of the year award imaginable in 2014, when he led the Minors in home runs (43), extra-base hits (78), total bases (325), slugging (.661) and OPS (1.098) while reaching Triple-A in his first full pro season.
Bryant has everything needed to lead the Majors in homers at some point: size, strength, bat speed and loft in his swing, plus the willingness to work counts to find a pitch he can punish. He doesn’t sell out for power, instead letting it come naturally, and he can drive the ball out of the park to the opposite field as well as anyone. Though Bryant will pile up some strikeouts, he makes enough hard contact to hit for a solid average and draws enough walks to post a robust on-base percentage.
Chicago’s stockpile of young infielders eventually could push him to the outfield, where he played some in college at San Diego. Scouts love his makeup almost as much as his power and think he’ll be a star.
Though his ultimate defensive location is still in question, it’s the slugger’s bat that will undoubtedly get him to the majors. In 138 games between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa last year, he hit .325/.438/.661 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 34 doubles and showed some speed on the basepaths with 15 stolen bases.
Kris Bryant heads what Keith Law calls the best system in baseball. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
In July, ESPN prospect expert Keith Law raved about the Cubs’ system, naming it the best in the game at that point. He went so far as to say, “This has to be the most loaded the Cubs’ farm has been in at least 30 years.”
That feeling has continued to resonate with Law, who again named the Cubs’ farm system the best in baseball heading into the 2015 season.
1. Chicago Cubs
The Cubs’ draft strategy under the Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer regime has been to grab a polished hitter in the first round and load up on arms later. That, along with the trade of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel that netted two more top hitting prospects, has produced a system that’s full of hitting prospects but still a bit light on the pitching side. The first wave of bats reached the majors in the middle of 2014, with more coming this year, but there won’t be enough at-bats for Javier Baez and Jorge Soler and Arismendy Alcantara and Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber and Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo … and that’s not even everyone who might end up pushing for playing time. The Cubs are in prime position to flip a young hitter for a pitcher or even to swing a bigger deal, especially if they want to try to set themselves up to win the NL Central in 2016. There are young starting pitching prospects here to like, led by 20-year-old Duane Underwood, but they’re all a few years away.
Law ranked the Cubs the No. 4 system at this time in 2014, No. 5 in 2013, and No. 20 in 2012—mere months after Epstein and Hoyer took over.
Law will unveil his top 100 prospects on Thursday and list his top 10 prospects for each club on Friday.
(Photo by Aldrin Capulong/Daytona Cubs)
As MLB.com continues its positional top 10 prospect lists, the Cubs have another young player getting press. On Friday, the 2015 Prospect Watch unveiled its top minor league first basemen, with slugger Dan Vogelbach slotting in at No. 8. The big 2011 second-round pick has long been known as a deep-ball threat. Here’s some of what MLB.com had to say about Vogelbach:
Bryce Harper made a name for himself when he slammed a 502-foot home run at the 2009 Power Showcase, a high school homer run derby, and Vogelbach topped him the next year with a 508-foot blast. … Vogelbach is more than just a one-dimensional masher, however. He controls the strike zone, makes consistent contact and uses the entire field, so he should hit for a solid average while providing plus power. He has yet to fully tap into his pop, though he’s also still just 22.
There are two obstacles to him becoming a regular for the Cubs: All-Star Anthony Rizzo and persistent questions about whether Vogelbach has enough athleticism to be more than a DH.
Vogelbach spent the entire 2014 season at High-A Daytona with mixed results. He batted .268/.357/.429 (AVG/OBP/SLG) compiling a solid 66 walks and 28 doubles and driving in 76 runs. That said, he also only hit 16 home runs and his .787 OPS left something to be desired, especially given that power is by far his most prominent tool. Known as a slow starter, his production picked up as the season progressed. His 2015 could be an important year, especially if he gets an extended opportunity at Double-A Tennessee.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
The Cubs announced times for a public visitation and memorial service for Cubs icon Ernie Banks, who died of a heart attack on Friday. Services will be held this Friday, Jan. 30, and Saturday, Jan. 31. Friday’s public visitation will go from 12 p.m.-8 p.m. at the Fourth Presbyterian Church on 126 E. Chestnut St. in Chicago and Saturday’s memorial service will start at 10 a.m. with limited seating available. The church’s full address is as follows:
Fourth Presbyterian Church
126 E. Chestnut St.
Chicago, IL 60611
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Banks’ memory to Cubs Charities at the below address or by visiting cubs.com/give and clicking on “Donate Now.”
In Memory of Ernie Banks
1060 W. Addison
Chicago, IL 60613
The Chicago Cubs and Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Sunday that Ernie Banks’ Wrigley Field statue will be placed in Daley Plaza this week from Wednesday morning through Saturday, allowing fans to honor and remember the Hall of Famer. Banks passed away Friday night after suffering cardiac arrest at the age of 83.
Banks became the first player in Cubs history to be honored with a statue at Wrigley Field in 2008. Mayor Emanuel and the City of Chicago will host the statue, which has been temporarily removed from its home at the corner of Clark and Addison during the current phase of the Wrigley Field restoration project. The statue is being transported from a facility outside of the city where it is being restored and will be placed in Daley Plaza upon arrival in Chicago.
Mayor Emanuel called Banks a friend who was a great ambassador for the city.
“Ernie Banks’ legacy extends far beyond his Hall of Fame stats. He was beloved by generations of people for the way he played on the field and—more importantly—for the kind and warm person he was off the field,” Emanuel said. “We are bringing Ernie’s statue to Daley Plaza to honor not just one of the best ballplayers of all time, but a great man who made our city proud from the day we first met him in 1953.”
Inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1977, Banks was a lifelong Cub who played for 19 seasons. He was a 14-time All-Star and back-to-back National League Most Valuable Player in 1958 and 1959. He hit 512 home runs in his career, and his 277 home runs as a shortstop remain a National League record.
The greatest player in franchise history, Banks ranks first among Cubs in games played (2,528), at-bats (9,421), extra-base hits (1,009) and total bases (4,706); second in home runs (512), RBI (1,636) and hits (2,583); third in doubles (407); fifth in runs scored (1,305); seventh in triples (90); and eighth in walks (763).
He was the first Cub to have his number retired in 1982, was voted to Major League Baseball’s All-Century Team in 1999, and was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.
“Ernie Banks was a great player and an even better person,” said Tom Ricketts, Chairman of the Cubs. “He was a kind, gentle man who loved his fans as much as they loved him. We couldn’t think of a better way to honor Ernie than to allow those fans a way to pay their final respects to this great man.”
On Friday night, baseball fans across the country were saddened by the news that Cubs great Ernie Banks had died at the age of 83. Always in a chipper mood, Banks could put a smile on anybody’s face and was accurately nicknamed “Mr. Cub” for his passion towards the organization. When the Yankees made a rare appearance at the Friendly Confines in late May of last year, Vine Line had a rare opportunity to sit down with the Hall of Famer Banks and the recently retired Derek Jeter for a memorable conversation. The following story is from the July 2014 issue.
Mr. Cub and Mr. November. When it comes to playing shortstop in the major leagues, it’s hard to do better than Cubs legend Ernie Banks and all-time Yankees great Derek Jeter.
Between them, they have 28 All-Star appearances, two MVP Awards (with 10 top-10 finishes) and six Gold Gloves. They have also amassed nearly 6,000 hits and 800 home runs. Banks was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977. Assuming Jeter holds firm on his decision to retire after this season, he just needs the calendar to turn to 2019 for his certain enshrinement.
Both enjoyed long and distinguished careers with one organization; both spawned memorable moments and were the faces of their respective franchises; and both became great ambassadors for the game.
When Derek Jeter made a rare interleague appearance in Chicago this past May, Vine Line and Yankees Magazine couldn’t let the opportunity to get the two iconic players together slip away.
Yankees Magazine Editor-in-Chief Alfred Santasiere III spoke to the man affectionately known as Mr. Cub and the Yankees captain about playing a demanding defensive position, spending their entire careers with a single team, playing at the Friendly Confines and more.
For baseball fans, it doesn’t get any better than this.
Vine Line: First of all, it’s an honor to be here with two of the greatest shortstops the game has ever seen. Thank you both. Mr. Jeter, how did Mr. Banks, who is over 6 feet tall, impact the future of the position?
Derek Jeter: I’ve had the opportunity to meet Phil Rizzuto and Pee Wee Reese, who were two of the other great shortstops from Mr. Banks’ era. Those guys epitomized who played that position back then—shorter guys without a lot of power. Mr. Banks redefined the position, and he really paved the way for taller players like me to get the opportunity to play shortstop.
Ernie Banks: Who were the shortstops you watched when you were growing up?
DJ: I was a big Cal Ripken Jr. fan. He’s 6 foot 4, and he played the position as well as anyone I had seen. I also liked watching Barry Larkin, who played his college ball in my home state of Michigan. Alan Trammell played for the Detroit Tigers, and they were on TV a lot in my house when I was growing up, so I got to see him play frequently.
EB: Why didn’t they ever move you to third base?
DJ: I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure that out.
VL: Mr. Banks, what are your thoughts on Mr. Jeter’s ability to play such a demanding position so well for nearly two decades?
EB: Well, he’s a remarkable player, and that’s proven by the fact that he is still playing shortstop. We all slow down a little as we get older. I moved to first base after about 10 seasons at shortstop. But Derek has done what no one else has, and that’s remarkable.
VL: How much does it mean to each of you to have played for one team your entire careers—and to be synonymous with those teams?
DJ: Playing my entire career in New York has always been important to me. I’ve been fortunate because in this day and age, it’s more difficult to stay with one team than when Mr. Banks was playing. With free agency, there is so much player movement, and teams get rid of players when there are younger players available who can play the same position a little better. But I can’t imagine playing anywhere else.
EB: It means the world to me. We played all day games in Chicago back then because they didn’t have lights at Wrigley Field until 1988. That was something I got used to and really enjoyed. The only night games we played were when we were on the road. Like Derek said, I couldn’t have imagined what it would have been like to play for another team. If I had played for another team and I had to play most of the games at night, it would have felt like every game was an away game for me.
VL: How would each of you describe your respective fan bases?
EB: The fans here are loyal. When I was playing, I got to meet a lot of fans, and that was a lot of fun. I signed autographs for as many kids as I could because I thought that one day I might be asking one of those kids for a job. Cubs fans aren’t as loud as Yankees fans though. The first time I met Derek, I asked him what it’s like playing in New York. He looked at me and said, “When you win, it’s loud.”
DJ: That’s a great story. Yankees fans follow the team closely, and there’s a lot of energy in Yankee Stadium every time we take the field. The expectation level is high, but there’s no better place to win than in New York.
VL: The enthusiasm that both of you have for the game is well documented. What makes playing baseball for a living so enjoyable?
DJ: Every day is a new day. It’s kind of like life in that you wake up and you never know what’s going to happen when you get to the ballpark. Regardless of how you played the day before, you come to the ballpark with a clean slate the next day. I like that about baseball. I have enjoyed competing and being around my teammates as well. That’s why I have played the game for as long as I have.
EB: It was fun being out there every day. That’s why I said, “It’s a great day for baseball. Let’s play two.” I especially enjoyed playing the shortstop position. For me, making adjustments to where I was going to play in the field depending on who was on the mound and who was at the plate was part of the game I relished. I got as much fun out of the strategy of the game and making sure I was in the right place to turn double plays as I got out of hitting the ball out of the park.
VL: Mr. Banks, what were the most challenging aspects of going directly from the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues to the Cubs at a time when there were very few African-Americans in the majors?
EB: As far as being discriminated against, that’s all I knew since the time I was growing up. But the hardest thing about leaving the Monarchs for the Cubs was saying goodbye to my teammates in Kansas City. I liked being around those guys, and I didn’t want to leave them. They were like my family.
VL: How did you adjust to life in the big leagues?
EB: I played for [legendary Negro Leagues player and manager] Buck O’Neil in Kansas City, and I played alongside Gene Baker and Tony Taylor, who knew a lot about the game. I learned how to play the game from those guys. They taught me about the intricacies of the game and the shortstop position. That along with some God-given ability made it so I was prepared to play in the big leagues when I arrived in Chicago.
VL: Mr. Jeter, how was your career impacted by what Mr. Banks and others did in breaking the color barrier in the early 1950s?
DJ: It’s unimaginable for me. Mr. Banks is one of the players who paved the way for all African-Americans to play the game. I’m grateful to him for what he did on the field, and I also appreciate the way he has treated me since I was a young player.
VL: Mr. Banks, what stands out about Mr. Jeter’s accomplishments and the way he has represented himself and his team over the years?
EB: I really admire him. He’s accomplished so many great things. He’s knowledgeable about every aspect of playing the game. He studies the opposing pitchers, and he learned how to hit the ball to all fields at a young age. He’s an amazing young player. When he got his 3,000th hit on a home run, that was really special for me to watch. What was that like for you, Derek?
DJ: Well, I appreciate you referring to me as a young player. Hitting that home run felt great. More than anything, I was happy that it happened in front of our fans in New York.
EB: How did you do that?
DJ: I closed my eyes and swung the bat.
VL: Mr. Banks, what makes Wrigley Field such a special baseball destination?
EB: It’s special because it has been here for 100 years, and we’ve had some great teams. It’s a beautiful place, and so much history has taken place on this field. Babe Ruth stood a few feet from where we are sitting, pointed to the seats and then hit the ball out of the park. More than 80 years later, Derek Jeter will come up to the plate in the same place. That’s an amazing thing. Also, the fans are very close to the field, and that makes it an intimate setting for baseball. There’s no better place to watch a game.
VL: Mr. Jeter, how exciting is it to visit Wrigley Field in your final season—and during the stadium’s centennial?
DJ: I like being a part of history and tradition, and I’m thrilled to get one last chance to play here—especially since I was on the disabled list when we played here in 2011. I drove here with my class on my last day of high school, and that is a great memory. If I could have written a script for my career back then, I would have included a trip to Wrigley Field during my final season.
EB: You’re not really going to quit, are you?
DJ: After this season.
EB: You can’t do that.
DJ: Yes, I can.
EB: I wish guys like you never had to quit.
DJ: Well, let’s just say I’m moving on.
—Alfred Santasiere III