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Cubs announce 2015 spring broadcast schedule

Cubs-Park-5

(Photo by Stephen Green)

The Cubs released their 2015 Spring Training broadcast schedule late Wednesday and announced that almost every game will be available via television, radio or internet radio broadcast.

The schedule features 10 games televised by Cubs broadcast partners (seven by Comcast SportsNet Chicago, three by WGN-TV), eight on the WBBM Newsradio 780 Cubs Radio Network and 21 via internet radio broadcast on cubs.com. Fans will be able to access the Cubs webcasts on cubs.com and MLB.com for free by registering for a log-in account with the website.

WBBM-AM Newsradio 780, the club’s new radio rights-holder, will air its first game on Saturday, March 7, when the Cubs play at the Rockies with Pat Hughes and Ron Coomer on the call. Comcast SportsNet Chicago’s first game will come from Las Vegas on Friday, March 13, when the Cubs play the Athletics. WGN-TV has its first game on Sunday, March 15, when the Cubs host the Cincinnati Reds at Sloan Park. Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies return to call all Cubs TV games.

Kasper will again join Mick Gillispie, radio broadcaster for Chicago’s Double-A Tennessee affiliate, for most of the cubs.com internet radio broadcasts.

All games start at 1:05 p.m. Arizona time unless otherwise noted. Chicago is one hour ahead of Arizona through Saturday, March 7, before moving to two hours ahead on Sunday, March 8.

Day    Opponent, Location, Broadcast Availability
3/5     Athletics (SS), Sloan Park, Cubs.com
3/5     Giants (SS), Scottsdale, —-
3/6     Reds, Sloan Park, Cubs.com
3/7     Rockies, Scottsdale (1:10), WBBM 780
3/8     Rangers, Sloan Park, WBBM 780
3/9     Padres, Sloan Park, Cubs.com
3/10   Indians, Goodyear, Cubs.com
3/11    Dodgers, Sloan Park, Cubs.com
3/12    Angels, Tempe (1:10), Cubs.com
3/13    Indians (SS), Sloan Park, Cubs.com
3/13    Athletics (SS), Las Vegas (5:05 PT), CSN-TV
3/14    Brewers (SS), Maryvale, WBBM 780
3/14    Athletics (SS), Las Vegas (12:05 PT), —-
3/15    Reds, Sloan Park, WGN-TV, WBBM 780
3/16    Padres, Peoria, Cubs.com
3/17    Royals, Sloan Park, Cubs.com
3/18    Dodgers, Glendale, Cubs.com
3/19    Diamondbacks, Scottsdale (6:40), CSN-TV, Cubs.com
3/20    White Sox, Glendale, Cubs.com
3/21    Mariners, Sloan Park, WBBM 780
3/22    Padres, Sloan Park, CSN-TV, WBBM 780
3/23    OFF
3/24    Athletics, Mesa, Cubs.com
3/25    Mariners, Peoria (7:05), CSN-TV, Cubs.com
3/26    Angels, Sloan Park (4:05), ESPN TV, Cubs.com
3/27    White Sox, Sloan Park, CSN-TV, Cubs.com
3/28    Rockies (SS), Sloan Park, WBBM 780
3/28    Reds (SS), Goodyear, —-
3/29    Royals, Surprise, WGN-TV, WBBM 780
3/30    Giants, Sloan Park, CSN-TV, Cubs.com
3/31    Rangers, Surprise, Cubs.com
4/1      Brewers, Sloan Park, CSN-TV, Cubs.com
4/2     OFF
4/3     Diamondbacks, Chase Field (6:40 p.m.), Cubs.com
4/4     Diamondbacks, Chase Field (1:10 p.m.), WGN-TV, Cubs.com

Hot Off the Press: The February issue featuring the minor league prospectus

VL1502_Cover

It’s nice to see Chicago back at the center of the baseball universe. Though the Cubs were a national sensation throughout most of the early 2000s, they’ve more or less fallen off a cliff publicity-wise since their last postseason appearance in 2008.

Things have changed in that regard heading into the 2015 season. Baseball insiders started seeing the Cubs as a sleeping giant a while back, and it’s easy to understand why. They have two of the sport’s smartest organizational architects, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, leading the charge, untapped big-market resources at their ready disposal and a player development machine that’s churning out bats at a time when offense is down around the game.

Prospect experts and scouts have been raving about the collection of young players speeding their way through the Cubs system for years, but things hit critical mass in 2014. Suddenly there was All-Star-caliber talent at the major league level to complement what many were already calling the best farm system in the game.

Just before the 2014 season, Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus (full disclosure: now a Cubs employee) wrote: “Through the amateur draft, trades and the international market, the Cubs have built one of the strongest systems in baseball, with high-impact talent that everybody knows and better depth than people might realize.”

Rany Jazayerli wrote in Grantland last August: “If they do sign a Max Scherzer or a Jon Lester this offseason, the Cubs won’t just be a sexy pick to make the playoffs in 2015—they might be a smart one. This franchise is a whole lot closer to being a contender than most people realize.”

Under the auspicious title “Next Year Really Might Be the Year, Cubs Fans,” Dave Cameron of Fangraphs wrote: “The Cubs have so much young talent that people are actually stressing out over whether the team will actually have room for all of the youngsters on the roster at the same time.”

The Cubs will likely enter the 2015 season as a playoff dark horse. That’s a lot of movement from a year ago when the team finished 73-89. The way the club has accomplished this quick turnaround—because, despite the pain of the last several seasons, changing the outlook of an entire organization in just three years is quick—is not exactly a secret. They have built primarily through the amateur draft, the international free-agent market and by trading proven veterans for young talent.

Of course, the big reason the Cubs have been making news lately will be standing on the mound before a national TV audience during ESPN’s Opening Night festivities on April 5. This month, we look at how the Cubs were able to land free-agent ace Jon Lester, a playoff-tested veteran many are hoping can lead the North Siders to the promised land. Despite Lester’s $155 million price tag, this deal was about much more than money.

“After Jon gave us his decision at the winter meetings, when we went back to the suite, we had a big part of our baseball front office there and a lot of our scouts and our player development people,” Epstein said. “I thanked them and told them that I think from our perspective, Jon’s decision in part was a tribute to the work that they had done over the last three years.”

We also examine the fruits of the organization’s labor in our annual minor league prospectus. Despite graduating players like Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Kyle Hendricks to the big leagues, the Cubs are still seen as arguably the top farm system in the game. Baseball Prospectus’ Sahadev Sharma takes us deep into the weeds to break down the guys you’ve been waiting for (e.g., Kris Bryant, Addison Russell) and a few you may not have heard of yet (e.g., Charcer Burks, Mark Zagunis). As the month goes on, we’ll unveil some of the player profiles here on the Vine Line blog.

Finally, we talk to perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the Lester signing: Chris Bosio, who has firmly established himself as one of the better pitching coaches in the game.

If you’re anything like us, you can’t wait for the 2015 season to get underway. We’ll be there when things kick off in Mesa later this month, so make sure you’re also following us on Twitter at @cubsvineline.

Let’s get ready to make some headlines.

—Gary Cohen

Bryant’s power tops in the minors

Bryant

(Photo by Stephen Green)

Whether it was from his home run tally or his slugging percentage, Kris Bryant’s ability to mash was easy to identify in 2014. MLB.com columnist Jim Callis today unveiled his best tools in the minors, and credited Bryant with the best power—which was probably an easy decision after Bryant put up one of the finest seasons in recent minor league history.

Best power: Bryant, 3B, Cubs

Fellow Las Vegas native [Rangers prospect Joey] Gallo has more raw power than any prospect, but usable power is what matters most, and Bryant beats him in that regard. With his size, strength, bat speed and loft, Bryant doesn’t have to swing for the fences. His opposite-field power is off the charts, and he has the patience to wait out pitchers until he gets an offering he can drive. Bryant topped the Minors in virtually every power category in 2014 — homers, extra-base hits (78), total bases (325) and slugging (.661) — and he also ranked eighth with 86 walks.

Last week, Bryant rated as MLB.com’s No. 2 prospect, trailing only Byron Buxton of the Twins organization. The No. 2 pick of the 2013 draft has hit 52 home runs in 174 pro games and owns a career line of .327/.428/.666 (AVG/OBP/SLG). Many expect Bryant to be on the major league club at some point in early 2015.

Fellow Cubs prospect Jorge Soler was also in the running for best power.

Soler named one of MLB.com’s top outfield prospects

SOLER-J-022113-SG-01

(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.

Cubs release details for Ernie Banks memorial and procession

Banks-Statue
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.

Prospect Watch lists Russell among top shortstops

Russell,-Addison-2-(Roger-C

(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.

Law lists a quartet of Cubs among his top 100 prospects

Addison-Russell

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.

Bryant named top 3B prospect by MLB.com

Bryantpose

(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.

ESPN’s Law ranks the Cubs’ system best in baseball

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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.

 

Vogelbach among minor leagues’ best first basemen

Vogelbach-5

(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.

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