Archive for the ‘ Vine Line ’ Category

From the Pages of Vine Line: Minor League Prospectus, Part 5 – Keep an Eye On

As evidenced by the additions of players like Jon Lester and Miguel Montero, the Cubs front office is transitioning from a period in which it focused primarily on bringing in assets to help improve the future of the franchise to an extended period in which they expect to compete every year at the big league level. However, if you were to suggest to baseball president Theo Epstein or general manager Jed Hoyer that this transition means they are now less inclined to build through their farm system, they would be quick to correct you.

Just because Cubs fans may finally start seeing wins accumulate at Wrigley Field doesn’t mean the minor league pipeline is suddenly going to go overlooked. In fact, for the second year in a row, the North Siders will have arguably the best system in all of baseball. Boasting the top prospect in the game, an overabundance of high-profile shortstops and a suddenly large group of interesting arms at the lower levels, the Cubs have built the scouting and player development monster they promised to deliver more than three years ago.

In our annual minor league prospectus, Baseball Prospectus’ Sahadev Sharma helps us break down the names to know at all levels of the system. As the month progresses, we’ll unveil player bios on a section-by-section basis. Here is Part 5 of the Cubs minor league prospectus:

Part 1 – The Elite
Part 2 – The Up-And-Comers
Part 3 – A Phone Call Away
Part 4 – Ready to Rebound

Keep an Eye On
Like everyone else who watches the game regularly, scouts often fall in love with certain players. Unless you spend a great deal of time digging deep into the farm system, which isn’t all that unusual for Cubs fans of late, you may not have heard of some of the following names. But these are the guys scouts have identified as having a legitimate shot to put themselves on the map in 2015.

Jeffrey Baez – OF
Though he is generally known as the less-famous Baez in the Cubs organization (for the record, he and Javier are not related), Jeffrey is a big, strong-bodied outfielder with a chance to hit for power. He has some speed for his size, which has allowed him to rack up stolen bases early in his professional career and play solid defense from a corner outfield spot. Baez dominated in Boise, and after a slow start following a promotion, he eventually hit his stride with the bat in Kane County. He has the upside to be a legit major league bat, but that depends on his ability to make adjustments and keep his body in shape.

Charcer Burks – OF
A former high school football player, Burks has the tools and athleticism to open some eyes. He possesses an advanced approach for a younger player, but must continue to get stronger and utilize his speed by hitting line drives or keeping the ball on the ground rather than trying to hit it in the air. He has a gap-to-gap, line-drive swing and will likely be more of a singles and doubles guy than a power hitter.

Victor Caratini – C/3B
Caratini plays both third base and catcher, but he will stick behind the plate for the time being. If he can prove he has the skills to remain there, he’ll join Zagunis and Schwarber to give the Cubs some depth at a position at which they were largely lacking just a year ago. The switch-hitter has the flexibility, soft hands, strong arm and overall tools to become a solid backstop. Either way, he has enough bat to provide value. If it’s behind the plate, that value suddenly becomes of the impact variety.

Trevor Clifton – RHP
Clifton was a top-round talent, but the Cubs were able to sign him to an over-slot bonus after selecting him in the 12th round of the 2013 draft. The big, physical righty has an easy plus fastball, and his body has filled out since he joined the organization. With the potential for a solid change-up and a strong breaking ball, he has the weapons to be a starter, but he hasn’t yet shown the necessary consistency

Kevonte Mitchell – OF
Mitchell is a great athlete with a body scouts say is a mix between Giancarlo Stanton’s and Matt Kemp’s. Kemp is the dream here, as he is for every toolsy player who needs everything to go just right to reach his potential. As of now, Mitchell has the tools, but needs his game to catch up, which can only happen with playing time and lots of it. He profiles in a corner outfield spot, but there are some who believe the former basketball player could be adequate in center. Mitchell is the type of athlete scouts dream about. The ball flies off his bat, and he looks the part, but everything needs to click. If it doesn’t, which is the case more often than not with these types of players, he could end up less like Kemp and more like Reggie Abercrombie—a player with monster tools who never fully puts it together and struggles to perform in the high minors.

Cubs duo tops ESPN’s 2015 impact prospects list

Soler

(Photo by Stephen Green)

As described by ESPN Insider Keith Law, there’s a difference between being a top prospect and being an impactful rookie heading into 2015. The Cubs’ youth movement has been well documented, with most media outlets—including Law—ranking the Cubs as the top farm system in baseball.

On Tuesday, the ESPN writer ranked his top 20 impact prospects heading into 2015. These are not the top prospects in baseball, but the players he expects could make major league contributions this year. Law ranked super prospect Kris Bryant, who is expected to see action for the majority of the major league season, tops on his list. Directly following the third base phenom was Jorge Soler, who enjoyed a brief taste of the majors in 2014, following a late-August promotion. Here’s what Law had to say of the Cubs’ talented duo:

1. Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago Cubs

Bryant probably won’t head north with the Cubs on April 5, but he’ll be at Wrigley Field maybe two weeks later as the Cubs look to push off his eventual free agency by a year. He’s my pick right now to win NL Rookie of the Year, likely to hit 20-plus homers and get on base at a strong clip even with a strikeout rate that will probably top 25 percent.

2. Jorge Soler, RF, Chicago Cubs

If Bryant doesn’t win the ROY award, maybe his teammate will. Soler hit the majors like he was fusing deuterium and tritium nuclei, but it lasted only about a week before he discovered the travails of a hitter facing the major league strike zone. His hands are explosive, and he’s a more disciplined hitter than the raw strikeout rate he had with the Cubs last year might indicate. He should have 25 homers in him this year, but with a modest OBP and average to above-average defense in right.

Due to Bryant’s service clock, many believe the 23-year-old will make his big league debut a few weeks into the regular season, which would allow the Cubs one more full season of contractual control. Soler, who signed a nine-year major league deal in 2012, will likely start the year in the middle of the Cubs’ order and play right field. Those two, paired with 2014 All-Stars Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, could be the heart of the Cubs’ order for years to come.

Cubs finalize baseball ops hirings, promotions; establish mental skills program

RamirezYoukilis

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.

Cubs announce single-game ticket options for 2015 season

On Tuesday morning, the Cubs announced details for purchasing single-game tickets for the 2015 season. Single-game tickets go on sale Friday, March 6, at 10 a.m. CST, and will be available on cubs.com or by calling 1-800-THE-CUBS (800-843-2827).

Fans may once again participate in the MasterCard Pre-sale prior to the general on-sale date. Starting Tuesday, March 3, at 10 a.m. CST, single-game tickets will be available at cubs.com at a 20 percent premium, or a 15 percent premium for fans using a MasterCard.

“After an offseason filled with exciting additions to the team and improvements to Wrigley Field, we can’t wait to get started on the 2015 season,” said Colin Faulkner, vice president of sales and partnerships for the Cubs. “Our fans will enjoy a schedule with fun promotions, rare Interleague visits and classic rivalry matchups, including Major League Baseball’s Opening Night game versus the St. Louis Cardinals.”

The single-game sale will include a selection of tickets to Opening Night vs. the St. Louis Cardinals, weekend bobblehead promotional games, Family Sundays and Interleague matchups with visits from the Indians, Tigers and Royals. The 2015 Cubs promotional schedule will feature unique items including a Cubs winter aviator hat, Wrigley Field football, Chicago Whales replica throwback jersey and several Cubs player debut bobbleheads.

For the 2015 season, there will be a new “Weekends Start Here” promotion in the Budweiser Bleachers for Friday games. On select Fridays from May-September, the Budweiser Bleachers may feature pre- or postgame entertainment, exclusive giveaway items, special food and beverages, and more. For the most up-to-date promotional schedule, visit cubs.com.

Fans interested in purchasing Cubs tickets in person can visit The Cubs Store located at 3616 N. Clark St., beginning Monday, March 9, at 9 a.m. CST. Due to the ongoing restoration and expansion of Wrigley Field, single-game tickets will be sold at The Cubs Store during regular store hours, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. every day leading up to Opening Night with the exception of Saturday, March 14.

Details for each single-game purchasing option follow:

MASTERCARD PRE-SALE:
The Cubs will once again offer the MasterCard Pre-sale starting Tuesday, March 3, at 10 a.m. through Wednesday, March 4, at 10 p.m. Fans using a MasterCard can purchase single-game tickets in advance of the general on-sale date at a 15 percent premium, while fans using other forms of payment may purchase tickets at a 20 percent premium. MasterCard Pre-sale tickets can be purchased at cubs.com.

SINGLE GAME GENERAL ON-SALE:
Via Internet: On Friday, March 6, fans can purchase tickets at cubs.com. A virtual waiting room will begin accepting customers at 9:30 a.m. At 10 a.m., customers will be selected from the virtual waiting room to begin purchasing tickets. All Internet customers will need a valid cubs.com account. It is recommended customers register for an account prior to March 6.

By Telephone: Tickets can be purchased by telephone beginning March 6 at 10 a.m. by dialing 1-800-THE-CUBS (800-843-2827).

At The Cubs Store: Tickets will be available for purchase starting Monday, March 9, at 9 a.m. Due to offseason construction happening in and around the ballpark, the team will offer in-person single-game tickets for purchase at The Cubs Store every day through Opening Night during regular hours with the exception of Saturday, March 14.

For updated ticket pricing, please visit cubs.com. For more information, please contact the Chicago Cubs Ticket Office at 1-800-THE-CUBS (800-843-2827).

From the Pages of Vine Line: Minor League Prospectus, Part 4 – Ready to Rebound

Hannemann1

The 2015 season will be an important one for outfielder Jacob Hannemann. (Photo by Kane County Cougars)

As evidenced by the additions of players like Jon Lester and Miguel Montero, the Cubs front office is transitioning from a period in which it focused primarily on bringing in assets to help improve the future of the franchise to an extended period in which they expect to compete every year at the big league level. However, if you were to suggest to baseball president Theo Epstein or general manager Jed Hoyer that this transition means they are now less inclined to build through their farm system, they would be quick to correct you.

Just because Cubs fans may finally start seeing wins accumulate at Wrigley Field doesn’t mean the minor league pipeline is suddenly going to go overlooked. In fact, for the second year in a row, the North Siders will have arguably the best system in all of baseball. Boasting the top prospect in the game, an overabundance of high-profile shortstops and a suddenly large group of interesting arms at the lower levels, the Cubs have built the scouting and player development monster they promised to deliver more than three years ago.

In our annual minor league prospectus, Baseball Prospectus’ Sahadev Sharma helps us break down the names to know at all levels of the system. As the month progresses, we’ll unveil player bios on a section-by-section basis. Here is Part 4 of the Cubs minor league prospectus:

Part 1 – The Elite
Part 2 – The Up-And-Comers
Part 3 – A Phone Call Away

Ready to Rebound

While it may seem like everything went right for the Cubs at the minor league level last season, that obviously was not the case. Whether it was due to injury or just flat-out poor performance, there were several talented prospects who struggled in 2014. However, these players still have great potential and certainly could provide value as they look to regain their form in 2015.

Jeimer Candelario – 3B
Candelario has never put up eye-popping numbers, but he’s always been young for his level and has shown an advanced approach at the plate. When challenged with a High-A assignment at just 20 years old, he failed to make the necessary adjustments and was sent back to Low-A, where the struggles continued. Hope still remains he can return to the form that generated such high expectations.

Candelario has one of the best swings from both sides of the plate in the organization, which is why many believe he’s eventually going to hit and develop power. The key will be understanding what pitchers are trying to do to him. He has the tools to be an impact bat, but because he has a stocky body and slow feet, Candelario’s defense may always be in question.

Dylan Cease – RHP
Though he comes with a first-round pedigree, Cease was drafted in the sixth round in 2014 after struggling early in his senior season of high school and eventually being shut down with an elbow issue. The Cubs took a chance on the righty, giving him a bonus well above slot even though they knew he’d require Tommy John surgery. By all accounts, his rehab has gone well, and he’s currently undergoing a modified throwing program.

Assuming no setbacks, Cease should be ready to take the mound competitively in late April. When healthy, he flashes a plus fastball that sits 93-95, a plus curve and mid-rotation-or-better potential.

C.J. Edwards – RHP
After a breakout 2013 campaign that put Edwards on the prospect radar, many were looking for him to take the next step in 2014. But barely a month into the season, he suffered a shoulder injury. Therefore, the biggest question—whether his extremely lean frame can handle the 200-plus innings required of a major league starter—remains unanswered.

The Cubs were very conservative with Edwards after the shoulder issues, allowing him to fully recover so he would be ready to go without any restrictions upon his return. He tossed 15 innings in the Arizona Fall League, posting a 1.80 ERA and striking out 13. He has swing-and-miss stuff and displays three legit pitches, with the fastball and curve both as plus offerings.

Jacob Hannemann – OF
The Cubs surprised many when they took the BYU product in the third round of the 2013 draft, but the organization fell in love with his athleticism. Hannemann’s baseball development has been stunted due to two years away from the game on a Mormon mission as well as his time playing cornerback on the BYU football team.

The lefty struggled for much of 2014, but the Cubs still pushed him with a promotion to High-A, where his struggles continued. This offseason, the front office presented him with another challenge, the Arizona Fall League, where he was solid, but still failed to wow scouts. Currently, Hannemann gets by on his natural ability, but he has a lot to learn about the nuances of baseball.

Rob Zastryzny – LHP
Zastryzny has two keys to focus on to turn things around in 2015: commanding his fastball and working down in the zone. He also lacked consistency last year. Some scouts reported him hitting 95 with his fastball, while others saw him sitting 88-90. If he can repeat his delivery on a consistent basis, he should be able to level that out.

This past summer, the Missouri product was often caught between commanding his pitches and really letting them fly. He’s in the process of finding that middle range, which could create more consistency and allow his stuff to play up. He is very competitive and has a tremendous work ethic. That’s why many in the organization are confident he’ll work through his issues.

Cubs announce 2015 TV broadcast schedule

Pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training is a signal that the regular season is just around the corner. On Friday, the Cubs announced their 2015 regular season television schedule featuring broadcasts from Comcast SportsNet Chicago, WGN-TV and WLS-TV/ABC 7.

WGN-TV’s first of 45 broadcasts will take place on Tuesday, April 7, at 7:05 p.m. vs. the St. Louis Cardinals, the club’s second game of the season following the national opener on ESPN2 on Sunday, April 5. WLS-TV/ABC 7, a new television home for the Cubs in 2015, will air the first of its 24 games on Wednesday, April 8, at 1:20 p.m. vs. the Cardinals. Comcast SportsNet Chicago will broadcast its first of as many as 87 games on Saturday, April 11, at 7:10 p.m. at the Colorado Rockies (this game is scheduled for CSN+).

Cubs games have been televised by WGN since 1948 (some of the 45 WGN-TV produced games will be televised by WPWR My50). This will be Comcast SportsNet’s 11th season televising the Cubs and the first for WLS-TV/ABC 7. FOX is also scheduled to televise up to six games during the season.

Len Kasper returns for his 11th season in the Cubs’ television booth and will be joined by Jim Deshaies, who is entering his third year with the club.

The 2015 television broadcast schedule is as follows:

Day     Date    Opp.               First Pitch   Station
Sun     4/5      vs. St. Louis      7:05 PM       ESPN2
Mon     4/6      OFF DAY
Tue     4/7      vs. St. Louis      7:05 PM       WGN
Wed    4/8      vs. St. Louis      1:20 PM       ABC7
Thur    4/9      OFF DAY
Fri       4/10    @ Colorado       3:10 PM       WGN
Sat      4/11    @ Colorado       7:10 PM       CSN+
Sun     4/12    @ Colorado       3:10 PM       WGN
Mon     4/13    vs. Cincinnati    7:05 PM       CSN+
Tue     4/14    vs. Cincinnati    7:05 PM       CSN
Wed    4/15    vs. Cincinnati    7:05 PM       WPWR
Thur    4/16    OFF DAY
Fri       4/17    vs. San Diego   1:20 PM       ABC7
Sat      4/18    vs. San Diego   1:20 PM       CSN
Sun     4/19    vs. San Diego   1:20 PM       WGN
Mon     4/20    @ Pittsburgh     6:05 PM       CSN
Tue     4/21    @ Pittsburgh     6:05 PM       WGN
Wed    4/22    @ Pittsburgh     6:05 PM       CSN
Thur    4/23    @ Pittsburgh     11:35 AM     CSN
Fri       4/24    @ Cincinnati     6:10 PM       CSN
Sat      4/25    @ Cincinnati     12:10 PM     ABC7
Sun     4/26    @ Cincinnati     12:10 PM     WGN
Mon     4/27    vs. Pittsburgh    7:05 PM       CSN
Tue     4/28    vs. Pittsburgh    7:05 PM       WPWR
Wed    4/29    vs. Pittsburgh    7:05 PM       CSN
Thur    4/30    OFF DAY
Fri       5/1      vs. Milwaukee   1:20 PM       CSN
Sat      5/2      vs. Milwaukee   1:20 PM       CSN
Sun     5/3      vs. Milwaukee   1:20 PM       WGN
Mon     5/4      @ St. Louis       7:10 PM       CSN
Tue     5/5      @ St. Louis       7:15 PM       WGN
Wed    5/6      @ St. Louis       7:15 PM       CSN
Thur    5/7      @ St. Louis       12:45 PM     CSN
Fri       5/8      @ Milwaukee    7:10 PM       CSN
Sat      5/9      @ Milwaukee    6:10 PM       CSN
Sun     5/10    @ Milwaukee    1:10 PM       WGN
Mon     5/11    vs. NY Mets      7:05 PM       CSN
Tue     5/12    vs. NY Mets      7:05 PM       CSN+
Wed    5/13    vs. NY Mets      7:05 PM       WGN
Thur    5/14    vs. NY Mets      1:20 PM       CSN
Fri       5/15    vs. Pittsburgh    1:20 PM       CSN
Sat      5/16    vs. Pittsburgh    3:05 PM       ABC7
Sun     5/17    vs. Pittsburgh    1:20 PM       WGN
Mon     5/18    OFF DAY
Tue     5/19    @ San Diego     9:10 PM       WGN
Wed    5/20    @ San Diego     9:10 PM       CSN
Thur    5/21    @ San Diego     8:10 PM       CSN+
Fri       5/22    @ Arizona         8:40 PM       CSN+
Sat      5/23    @ Arizona         9:10 PM       CSN
Sun     5/24    @ Arizona         3:10 PM       WGN
Mon     5/25    vs. Washington 1:20 PM       WGN
Tue     5/26    vs. Washington 6:05 PM      CSN
Wed    5/27    vs. Washington 7:05 PM       CSN+
Thur    5/28    OFF DAY
Fri       5/29    vs. Kansas City  3:05 PM       CSN
Sat      5/30    vs. Kansas City  6:15 PM       FOX
Sun     5/31    vs. Kansas City  1:20 PM       ABC7
Mon     6/1      @ Miami           6:10 PM       CSN
Tue     6/2      @ Miami           6:10 PM       CSN
Wed    6/3      @ Miami           6:10 PM       WPWR
Thur    6/4      @ Washington  6:05 PM       WGN
Fri       6/5      @ Washington  6:05 PM       CSN
Sat      6/6      @ Washington  11:05 AM     CSN
Sun     6/7      @ Washington  3:05 PM       CSN
Mon     6/8      OFF DAY
Tue     6/9      @ Detroit          6:08 PM       CSN
Wed    6/10    @ Detroit          6:08 PM       CSN
Thur    6/11    vs. Cincinnati    7:05 PM       CSN
Fri       6/12    vs. Cincinnati    3:05 PM       WGN
Sat      6/13    vs. Cincinnati    6:15 PM       FOX
Sun     6/14    vs. Cincinnati    TBD         CSN or ESPN
Mon     6/15    vs. Cleveland    7:05 PM       WPWR
Tue     6/16    vs. Cleveland    7:05 PM       CSN
Wed    6/17    @ Cleveland     6:10 PM       CSN+
Thur    6/18    @ Cleveland     6:10 PM       CSN
Fri       6/19    @ Minnesota     7:10 PM       WGN
Sat      6/20    @ Minnesota     1:10 PM       ABC7
Sun     6/21    @ Minnesota     1:10 PM       ABC7
Mon     6/22    vs. LA Dodgers  7:05 PM       WGN
Tue     6/23    vs. LA Dodgers  7:05 PM       CSN
Wed    6/24    vs. LA Dodgers  7:05 PM       CSN
Thur    6/25    vs. LA Dodgers  1:20 PM       ABC7
Fri       6/26    @ St. Louis       7:15 PM       ABC7
Sat      6/27    @ St. Louis       6:15 PM       FOX
Sun     6/28    @ St. Louis       1:15 PM       CSN
Mon     6/29    OFF DAY
Tue     6/30    @ NY Mets        6:10 PM       CSN
Wed    7/1      @ NY Mets        6:10 PM       WGN
Thur    7/2      @ NY Mets        12:10 PM     WGN
Fri       7/3      vs. Miami         1:20 PM       CSN
Sat      7/4      vs. Miami         6:15 PM       FOX
Sun     7/5      vs. Miami         TBD         CSN or ESPN
Mon     7/6      vs. St. Louis      7:05 PM       WGN
Tue     7/7      vs. St. Louis      7:05 PM       CSN
Wed    7/8      vs. St. Louis      7:05 PM       CSN
Thur    7/9      OFF DAY
Fri       7/10    vs. White Sox    3:05 PM       CSN
Sat      7/11    vs. White Sox    3:05 PM       ABC7
Sun     7/12    vs. White Sox    1:20 PM       ABC7
7/13-16                ALL-STAR BREAK (Cincinnati)
Fri       7/17    @ Atlanta         6:35 PM       CSN
Sat      7/18    @ Atlanta         6:10 PM       ABC7
Sun     7/19    @ Atlanta         4:05 PM       WGN
Mon     7/20    @ Cincinnati     6:10 PM       CSN
Tue     7/21    @ Cincinnati     6:10 PM       CSN
Wed    7/22    @ Cincinnati     11:35 AM     ABC7
Thur    7/23    OFF DAY
Fri       7/24    vs. Philadelphia 3:05 PM       WGN
Sat      7/25    vs. Philadelphia 3:05 PM       ABC7
Sun     7/26    vs. Philadelphia 1:20 PM       ABC7
Mon     7/27    vs. Colorado     7:05 PM       CSN+
Tue     7/28    vs. Colorado     7:05 PM       CSN+
Wed    7/29    vs. Colorado     1:20 PM       WGN
Thur    7/30    @ Milwaukee    7:10 PM       CSN
Fri       7/31    @ Milwaukee    7:10 PM       WGN
Sat      8/1      @ Milwaukee    6:10 PM       ABC7
Sun     8/2      @ Milwaukee    1:10 PM       ABC7
Mon     8/3      @ Pittsburgh     6:05 PM       CSN
Tue     8/4      @ Pittsburgh     6:05 PM       WGN
Wed    8/5      @ Pittsburgh     6:05 PM       CSN
Thur    8/6      vs. SF Giants     7:05 PM       CSN
Fri       8/7      vs. SF Giants     3:05 PM       WGN
Sat      8/8      vs. SF Giants     3:05 PM       ABC7
Sun     8/9      vs. SF Giants     TBD         CSN or ESPN
Mon     8/10    OFF DAY
Tue     8/11    vs. Milwaukee   7:05 PM       CSN
Wed    8/12    vs. Milwaukee   7:05 PM      WGN
Thur    8/13    vs. Milwaukee   1:20 PM       ABC7
Fri       8/14    @ White Sox     3:10 PM       CSN
Sat      8/15    @ White Sox     6:10 PM       ABC7
Sun     8/16    @ White Sox     1:10 PM       CSN
Mon     8/17    OFF DAY
Tue     8/18    vs. Detroit        7:05 PM       ABC7
Wed    8/19    vs. Detroit        7:05 PM       WPWR
Thur    8/20    vs. Atlanta        7:05 PM       CSN
Fri       8/21    vs. Atlanta        3:05 PM       CSN
Sat      8/22    vs. Atlanta        3:05 PM       ABC7
Sun     8/23    vs. Atlanta        1:20 PM       WGN
Mon     8/24    OFF DAY
Tue     8/25    @ SF Giants      9:15 PM       WGN
Wed    8/26    @ SF Giants      9:15 PM       CSN
Thur    8/27    @ SF Giants      2:45 PM       CSN
Fri       8/28    @ LA Dodgers   9:10 PM       WGN
Sat      8/29    @ LA Dodgers   8:10 PM       WGN
Sun     8/30    @ LA Dodgers   TBD         CSN or ESPN
Mon     8/31    vs. Cincinnati    7:05 PM       CSN
Tue     9/1      vs. Cincinnati    7:05 PM       WGN
Wed    9/2      vs. Cincinnati    1:20 PM       CSN
Thur    9/3      OFF DAY
Fri       9/4      vs. Arizona        1:20 PM       CSN
Sat      9/5      vs. Arizona        1:20 PM       CSN
Sun     9/6      vs. Arizona        1:20 PM       WGN
Mon     9/7      @ St. Louis       1:15 PM       WGN
Tue     9/8      @ St. Louis       7:15 PM       CSN
Wed    9/9      @ St. Louis       12:45 PM     CSN
Thur    9/10    @ Philadelphia  6:05 PM       CSN
Fri       9/11    @ Philadelphia  6:05 PM       CSN
Sat      9/12    @ Philadelphia  6:05 PM       CSN
Sun     9/13    @ Philadelphia  12:35 PM     WGN
Mon     9/14    OFF DAY
Tue     9/15    @ Pittsburgh     6:05 PM       WGN
Wed    9/16    @ Pittsburgh     6:05 PM       CSN
Thur    9/17    @ Pittsburgh     11:35 AM     WGN
Fri       9/18    vs. St. Louis      1:20 PM       ABC7
Sat      9/19    vs. St. Louis      12:05 PM     FOX
Sun     9/20    vs. St. Louis      TBD         CSN or ESPN
Mon     9/21    vs. Milwaukee   7:05 PM       CSN
Tue     9/22    vs. Milwaukee   7:05 PM        CSN+
Wed    9/23    vs. Milwaukee   7:05 PM       CSN
Thur    9/24    OFF DAY
Fri       9/25    vs. Pittsburgh    1:20 PM       ABC7
Sat      9/26    vs. Pittsburgh    TBD         CSN or FOX
Sun     9/27    vs. Pittsburgh    TBD         CSN or ESPN
Mon     9/28    OFF DAY
Tues    9/29    @ Cincinnati     6:10 PM       CSN
Wed    9/30    @ Cincinnati     6:10 PM       WGN
Thur    10/1    @ Cincinnati     11:35 AM     CSN
Fri       10/2    @ Milwaukee    7:10 PM       CSN
Sat      10/3    @ Milwaukee    6:10 PM       CSN
Sun     10/4    @ Milwaukee    2:10 PM        WGN

From the Pages of Vine Line: Minor League Prospectus, Part 3 – A Phone Call Away

Jokisch2
Eric Jokisch should be ready to step in and help the big league club in 2015. (Photo by Stephen Green)

As evidenced by the additions of players like Jon Lester and Miguel Montero, the Cubs front office is transitioning from a period in which it focused primarily on bringing in assets to help improve the future of the franchise to an extended period in which they expect to compete every year at the big league level. However, if you were to suggest to baseball president Theo Epstein or general manager Jed Hoyer that this transition means they are now less inclined to build through their farm system, they would be quick to correct you.

Just because Cubs fans may finally start seeing wins accumulate at Wrigley Field doesn’t mean the minor league pipeline is suddenly going to go overlooked. In fact, for the second year in a row, the North Siders will have arguably the best system in all of baseball. Boasting the top prospect in the game, an overabundance of high-profile shortstops and a suddenly large group of interesting arms at the lower levels, the Cubs have built the scouting and player development monster they promised to deliver more than three years ago.

In our annual minor league prospectus, Baseball Prospectus’ Sahadev Sharma helps us break down the names to know at all levels of the system. As the month progresses, we’ll unveil player bios on a section-by-section basis. Here is Part 3 of the Cubs minor league prospectus:

Part 1 – The Elite
Part 2 – The Up-And-Comers

A Phone Call Away

While prospects are always fun to follow, no player dreams of a long career in the minor leagues. The ultimate goal for each is to help out at the big league level. Most everyone is aware that guys like Bryant and Russell will be making an impact at Wrigley Field in the near future, but there are other, less-heralded players who could contribute this year as well in a variety of roles.

Dallas Beeler – RHP
Beeler isn’t the kind of prospect who wows you with his stuff, but he still made his major league debut last season after missing much of 2013 with a finger injury. His ability to work down in the zone, primarily with his sinker and splitter, means he has a chance to induce a significant number of ground balls, which could offset the fact that he’ll likely never be a big strikeout guy. And that’s where Beeler must live—down in the zone—if he’s going to carve out a career in the back end of a major league rotation. His modus operandi is relying on his defense while coaxing weak contact from hitters. The big righty is well aware of this fact and does his best to always work to his strengths. He’ll likely enter Spring Training contending for a spot in the big league bullpen.

Eric Jokisch – LHP
Jokisch is often called a left-handed version of Kyle Hendricks, and the comparison works for multiple reasons. Both pitchers are highly intelligent and attended acclaimed colleges (Jokisch went to Northwestern, Hendricks to Dartmouth), both rely more on command than stuff, and both soak up knowledge, using every bit of information they can get their hands on to try and make themselves better at their craft. Jokisch works hard on scouting the opposition, learning hitters’ tendencies and working to expose their weaknesses. While he could find success at the back of the rotation, he has the advantage of being a southpaw, which many believe will allow him to be most effective out of the bullpen. The Cubs, like most teams, could certainly use more left-handed help in the late innings.

Armando Rivero – RHP
Rivero has a solid chance to join a big league bullpen that rapidly improved throughout the 2014 season. He has an explosive fastball that hitters have difficulty picking up, especially when it’s down in the zone. It’s a special pitch with late cutting life, and he combines it with a power slider that’s one of the best breaking balls in the organization. No matter where he ends up, Rivero will likely rack up strikeouts (as evidenced by his 38 percent K rate last season). He also has a change-up that grades out as average or better, leading some to believe he could be a starter. However, he rarely uses it out of the bullpen, and the Cubs have determined that his best role right now is as a reliever. After missing some time following his defection from Cuba, Rivero has moved quickly through the Cubs system. It’s not unreasonable to think he could have a significant impact at the major league level this summer.

Christian Villanueva – 3B
After Villanueva enjoyed an impressive 2013 campaign that had many projecting a bright future, the 23-year-old struggled in his first taste of Triple-A action in 2014 and was eventually sent back to Tennessee when Bryant earned his promotion to Iowa. One thing that will never be in doubt is his glove. He offers plus defense at the hot corner—the type that could garner a Gold Glove or two if the bat ever comes around to the point where he’s getting regular playing time.

However, the bat does leave major question marks, as Villanueva struggled even when sent back to Double-A. He needs to stop giving away at-bats if he’s ever going to live up to the potential some saw after his breakout 2013 season. Either way, his glove makes him a valuable piece, and he could provide some versatility, as he did see time at second base last season and in the outfield in the Mexican Winter League.

Baseball America unveils its top 100 prospects with Kris Bryant at No. 1

SolerSwing

Jorge Soler should be featured in the middle of the Cubs’ order in 2015. (Photo by Stephen Green)

Scouting publication Baseball America unveiled its 25th preseason top 100 prospects list on Friday. Of course, there were plenty of Cubs farmhands scattered throughout the rankings, including Kris Bryant as the top prospect and Addison Russell coming in at No. 3. Also included on the link are the player grades on a 20-80 scouting scale and the estimated time before each player makes his major league debut.

The publication also released a coinciding story titled “What Could Go Wrong?” for each of baseball’s top 10 prospects. Here’s where each member of the Cubs organization fell on Baseball America’s list, as well as the pros and cons of the elite-level Cubs minor leaguers:

1. Kris Bryant, 3b, Cubs

What Could Go Wrong: Like many sluggers, Bryant’s power has always come with some swings and misses. Bryant’s strikeout rate in the minors isn’t all that much better than Javier Baez’s was at similar levels, although Bryant’s understanding of the strike zone has been better. If Bryant’s strikeout rate climbs even further in the majors like Baez’s did, it could quickly end up higher than 30 percent, which puts a massive amount of pressure on the rest of his plate appearances.

Why You Shouldn’t Worry: Bryant has shown an advanced understanding of hitting and has made steady adjustments throughout his career. His production got better and better in his three years at San Diego and he’s shown little trouble adjusting to tougher pitching as a pro. His work ethic and understanding of his swing makes him more likely to replicate Giancarlo Stanton’s steady strikeout rate improvement than an Adam Dunn feast-or-famine approach.

3. Addison Russell, ss, Cubs

What Could Go Wrong: There are no clear red flags in Russell’s game that should clearly derail his big league dreams. He’s an outstanding athlete with a sweet swing and a track record of hitting. If you’re looking to nitpick, the crowded Cubs infield may force Russell to move off of shortstop, and he became a little more aggressive upon joining the Cubs’ Double-A club. His bat should handle a move to pretty much any other spot, but he’s most valuable as a shortstop with a corner outfielder’s bat.

Why You Shouldn’t Worry: The worst-case scenario for Russell is still a pretty solid player, whose solid but not spectacular arm strength could move him off short. His athleticism should make him as least a useful defender if he moves, and his power would make him playable even is his batting average were to dip.

12. Jorge Soler, of
19. Kyle Schwarber, c/of
38. C.J. Edwards, rhp
83. Billy McKinney, of

Cubs to honor Ernie Banks at Spring Training, Opening Night at Wrigley Field

Banks-Statue
Following the passing of Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks, the Chicago Cubs have announced plans to pay tribute to the Hall of Famer during Spring Training, Opening Night at Wrigley Field and throughout the 2015 season.

Beginning in Spring Training and continuing throughout 2015, the team will wear a commemorative No. 14 patch on both its home and away jerseys. The Cubs will open their Spring Training schedule by wearing No. 14 hats during both split-squad games on March 5, with additional acknowledgments planned for that day’s opening game at Sloan Park.

Banks will also be honored with a pregame ceremony before Major League Baseball’s Cubs vs. Cardinals Season Opener at Wrigley Field on April 5. Each fan attending that night’s game will receive a commemorative pin in honor of the Cubs’ beloved shortstop. Fans will see many other tributes paying homage to Banks’ remarkable life and career throughout the evening.

A collection of videos, photos and articles have been posted to Cubs.com over the last several weeks, and Vine Line will publish a special feature edition honoring Mr. Cub in March.

Additional tributes will be finalized and incorporated throughout the 2015 season.

“There is no level of recognition that can properly acknowledge how much Ernie Banks meant to this franchise and fan base,” said Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts. “Collectively, we must ensure Mr. Cub’s legacy rightfully lives on at the Friendly Confines and with future generations of baseball fans.”

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.

Among Cubs players, Banks ranks first 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).

While still a player in 1967, Banks turned his eye to coaching and served in that role through 1973, becoming the first African-American to manage a major league team on May 8, 1973, when he took over for the ejected Whitey Lockman.

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 the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.

1000 Words: Welcome back, Cubs baseball

SpringTrainingClubhouse

(Photo by Stephen Green)

While many players arrived early in Mesa to get the season started, pitchers and catchers officially reported to Spring Training on Thursday. After a number of notable offseason acquisitions—including pitchers Jon Lester and Jason Hammel and catchers Miguel Montero and David Ross—the Cubs are primed for a dramatic improvement in the standings and are now viewed as dark-horse playoff contenders. Whatever happens this season, the journey begins today.

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