Archive for the ‘ Vine Line ’ Category

Baseball America releases Cubs top 10 prospect rankings


Jorge Soler is one of the Cubs top prospects by any measure. (Photo by Stephen Green)

When it comes to prospect rankings, there are several offensive weapons in the Cubs system that find themselves atop almost every list. Baseball America unveiled its 2015 Cubs Top 10 Prospects Monday, and sure enough, the familiar bats make up the top half.

Here are Baseball America‘s best Cubs prospects and some of the more interesting comments:

1. Kris Bryant, 3B
The Cubs have a surplus of athletic infielders who can hit, and it’s conceivable either big league shortstops Baez and Starlin Castro or Double-A shortstop Addison Russell could wind up at third base, with Bryant shifting to the outfield. Bryant also could stay at third, where Luis Valbuena is keeping the hot corner warm in Chicago. Barring a poor start back Triple-A Iowa, Bryant should arrive on the North Side as soon as the Cubs deem it financially feasible. Bryant has the talent, confidence and makeup to be one of the game’s biggest stars. All he’s waiting for is the playing time.

2. Addison Russell, SS
Russell combines above-average athleticism with extremely quick hands and impressive strength to produce both plus hitting ability and power. He’s nearly impossible to beat with a fastball when he’s looking for it and stays back on offspeed stuff, trusting his fast hands and making plenty of high-impact contact. Defensively, Russell has the range and improved footwork to stay at shortstop.

3. Jorge Soler, OF
Kris Bryant hits more homers, but Soler’s create more buzz. His vicious bat speed, top-of-the-scale raw power and impressive feel for hitting make him a terror to pitchers. When locked in, he generates scorching line drives to all fields; some just don’t stop going until they’re over the fence. He’s coachable, takes quality at-bats and isn’t fazed by hitting with two strikes.

4. Kyle Schwarber, C/OF
Schwarber has thick, strong legs and swings from the ground up, incorporating his powerful lower half to deliver plus power with a short, furious stroke. He keeps his hands back and has the strength to hit the ball out to any part of the park. He has a .300-hitting, 30-homer ceiling. A college catcher, Schwarber has leadership skills and solid-average arm strength, but his receiving was rudimentary as an amateur, frequently dropping to one knee to handle breaking balls. He has the tools to be a capable left fielder, having shown instincts for the position.

5. C.J. Edwards, RHP
At his best, Edwards delivers three above-average to plus pitches, with excellent body control leading to an easy, rhythmic delivery and strike-throwing ability. He’s very tough for hitters to square up due to late cutting action on his fastball, which generally sat 90-93 mph in August and in his Arizona Fall League stint. The late life on the pitch has allowed him to allow just two home runs in 237 career pro innings.

6. Billy McKinney, OF
The Cubs were stunned they were able to pry both Addison Russell and McKinney, the Athletics’ top two prospects, away in the Jeff Samardzija/Jason Hammel trade. Signed in 2013 for $1.8 million, McKinney jumped to high Class A for his first full season and hit better in the high Class A Florida State League after the trade than in the offense-first California League.

7. Albert Almora, OF
Almora has first-round tools, starting with a line-drive bat with present strength, fine hand-eye coordination, bat speed to catch up to good fastballs and average raw power. He was pitched backwards much of the season and struggled to adjust. He still employs a big leg kick and can get streaky, as evidenced by a .377/.395/.649 finishing kick with high Class A Daytona before his promotion. A bit more patience would go a long way to making him a big league regular considering Almora’s defense, which remains advanced.

8. Gleyber Torres, SS
A $1.7 million signee, Torres finished his U.S. pro debut by earning a promotion to short-season Boise before his 18th birthday. His maturity showed as he maintained his focus despite turmoil in his native Venezuela that prompted his family to come to the U.S.

9. Pierce Johnson, RHP
If Johnson puts it all together, he profiles as a No. 2 or No. 3 starter with two plus pitches and potentially above-average control. Chicago’s 2014 ace, Jake Arrieta, had a similar (albeit more durable) career path, and Johnson’s stuff is worth the wait. He could pitch his way to Triple-A Iowa with a strong, healthy spring training.

10. Duane Underwood, RHP
No one took as big of a step forward for the organization in 2014 as Underwood, who has the system’s most electric stuff. If he combines better control with more consistent displays of the best of his repertoire, he could move quickly. He’ll start 2015 with Chicago’s new high Class A Myrtle Beach affiliate.

Cubs Winter League Recap: 1/4/15

Christian Villanueva blasted a big postseason home run, and Frank Batista pitched well in relief Sunday. Here are some notes from yesterday’s action around the Caribbean:

Dominican Republic

  • RHP Frank Batista pitched two scoreless innings of relief in the Aguilas Cibaenas’ loss to the Gigantes del Cibao. Batista did not allow an opponent to reach base and struck out three.
  • RHP Starling Peralta struggled in relief, giving up two earned runs over 1.1 innings as the Estrellas de Oriente fell to the Toros del Este. He gave up one hit and one walk in the effort.
  • LF Junior Lake went 0-for-3 with a walk for the Estrellas.


  • 3B Christian Villanueva hit the eventual game-winning home run for the Yaquis de Obregon in their win over Aguilas de Mexicali. Trailing by a run with two on in the eighth inning, Villanueva launched his first homer of the postseason. He was 1-for-4 on the day.

Puerto Rico

  • 2B Javier Baez went 1-for-4 with a run-scoring single in the Cangrejeros de Santurce’s win over Criollos de Caguas.


  • 3B Jonathan Herrera went 1-for-3 with a double as the Navegantes del Magallanes edged out the Caribes de Anzoategui 1-0.

Cubs release Spring Training report dates and game times

The start of a new year means spring baseball is just around the corner. On Monday, the Cubs released report dates and game times for their entire Spring Training slate.

Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report on Thursday, Feb. 19 with their first workout taking place on Friday, Feb. 20. Position players are scheduled to report on Tuesday, Feb. 24 with the first full-squad workout on Wednesday, Feb. 25.

The Cubs have also added four games to the schedule since its original release. The club will play a pair of games in Las Vegas against the Oakland Athletics on Friday, March 13 and Saturday, March 14. They will conclude Spring Training with two games against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on Friday, April 3 and Saturday, April 4.

All the Cubs’ Spring Training games will start at 1:05 p.m. Arizona time unless otherwise noted. Below is the Cubs’ schedule:

3/5 – Athletics (ss), Cubs Park
3/5 – Giants (ss), Scottsdale
3/6 – Reds, Cubs Park
3/7 – Rockies, Scottsdale (1:10)
3/8 – Rangers, Cubs Park
3/9 – Padres, Cubs Park
3/10 – Indians, Goodyear
3/11 – Dodgers, Cubs Park
3/12 – Angels, Tempe (1:10)
3/13 – Indians (ss), Cubs Park
3/13 – Athletics (ss), Las Vegas (5:05 PT)
3/14 – Brewers (ss), Maryvale
3/14 – Athletics (ss), Las Vegas (12:05 PT)
3/15 – Reds, Cubs Park
3/16 – Padres, Peoria
3/17 – Royals, Cubs Park
3/18 – Dodgers, Glendale
3/19 – Diamondbacks, Scottsdale (6:40)
3/20 – White Sox, Glendale
3/21 – Mariners, Cubs Park
3/22 – Padres, Cubs Park
3/24 – Athletics, Mesa
3/25 – Mariners, Peoria (7:05)
3/26 – Angels, Cubs Park (4:05)
3/27 – White Sox, Cubs Park
3/28 – Rockies (ss), Cubs Park
3/28 – Reds (ss), Goodyear
3/29 – Royals, Surprise
3/30 – Giants, Cubs Park
3/31 – Rangers, Surprise
4/1 – Brewers, Cubs Park
4/3 – Diamondbacks, Chase Field (6:40)
4/4 – Diamondbacks, Chase Field (1:10)

From the Pages of Vine Line: Planning the Party of the Century


(Photo by David Durochik)

Wrigley Field’s 100th birthday season is in the books. To celebrate the milestone, the Cubs embarked on an unprecedented and ambitious plan for a yearlong celebration. Now that it’s over, we take a look back at how it all came together. The following can be found in the December issue of Vine Line.

Under the best of circumstances, party planning can be stressful. There’s deciding on the menu, stocking the bar, planning activities to ensure revelers have a good time, figuring out what to wear, and compiling an interesting and appropriate guest list.

Now imagine your party swelled to include some 2.6 million people and lasted for 81 days. Daunting doesn’t even begin to describe it.

When the Cubs set out to throw fans the Party of the Century during the 2014 season to celebrate Wrigley Field’s 100th birthday, it was a nearly unprecedented task. The only other franchise that had attempted anything near this scale was the Boston Red Sox, who celebrated Fenway Park’s centennial with an amazing one-day blowout on April 20, 2012.

But, unlike their Boston counterparts, the Cubs decided to make their celebration last all season long, thereby embarking on one of the most ambitious and lengthy promotional campaigns ever attempted in professional sports.

Throughout the year, the Cubs tied in most of their activities during 10 different decade-themed homestands to the Wrigley Field 100 theme. They brought in special guests who had a connection with the decade being celebrated, including Pat Brickhouse, the widow of late, great broadcaster Jack Brickhouse, and Lennie Merullo, the last living link to the Cubs’ most recent World Series team in 1945; they wore 10 different throwback uniforms, more than any other team had ever attempted; they created a set of 10 era-specific bobbleheads, from Babe Ruth’s called shot to a Rick Sutcliffe first night game edition with working lights; they offered 10 different historic toys to children on Sundays, like a Cubs Etch A Sketch and a Gracie the Swan Beanie Baby; and they served up historic food and drink options, from a classic Old Fashioned to the famous Vienna Beef Decade Dogs.

This, coupled with an improved team, added up to an increase in attendance over the previous season and some 2.25 billion media impressions—double what the Cubs were expecting—about the Wrigley Field 100 celebration on TV and radio, in print and online, including in nonsporting outlets like The New York Times, The Today Show and Forbes magazine.

So how did it all come together?

* * * *

Though the organization had its collective eye on the centennial for years, the real planning kicked off with an email sent in December 2012, a full 16 months before the key season was set to kick off on April 4, 2014. Cubs Senior Director of Marketing Alison Miller, who had just joined the Cubs from General Mills in July 2012, gathered her team for a kickoff meeting and brainstorming session about Wrigley Field’s 100th anniversary. To get everyone in the mood, there were cupcakes, hats and party favors.

“It was an exciting time because you’re sitting around a table throwing ideas around, and you realize the opportunities are almost endless,” said John Morrison, manager of brand activation. “The difficulty was figuring out, oh, there are so many opportunities and so many wonderful things we can do that the players, front office, fans, single-game ticket purchasers and season ticket holders would all love. Let’s really dial this thing in on what are going to be the coolest, most impactful things.”

To generate ideas for the celebration, the Cubs looked for inspiration off the field. Because there were really no other sports teams that had attempted anything like this, the Cubs looked at companies that were adept at celebrating key milestones—first and foremost, Disney.

The Mouse House has always had a keen eye for integrating its promotions throughout the company.

“It’s one thing to have the anniversary, but it’s all in how you integrate it, not only in your advertising, but in your own organization,” Miller said. “Then you’re in meetings, and people are saying, ‘Well, what if we tied it into the 100th, or how can we make this tie into the campaign?’ That’s what I want as a marketing person. If anybody’s thinking of an idea, they’re bringing it back to the campaign.

“Then, as the consumer, you’re seeing a very holistic look from us. You’re seeing anything from the Cubs this year was all tied to Wrigley Field turning 100. Everything from the boxes of tickets that you got, to when you show up at the ballpark, to the giveaways that we did, to the uniforms that we’re wearing, to the food that we served—everything is really synced into one campaign.”

Early on, the brain trust decided the celebration should focus on Wrigley Field, not just the Cubs. That opened up a world of possibilities for the marketing team. Though the Cubs have now played at the ballpark for 98 years, they were not the original tenants. That honor belongs to the Chi-Feds of the old Federal League. And Wrigley has hosted much more than just baseball over the years, including Bears football, boxing, ski jumping, hockey, soccer and concert events.

Once the Cubs settled on the yearlong decades concept, they enlisted Chicago advertising agency Schafer Condon Carter to help them flesh out how they would put the idea into action. The agency came up with the 10 Decades/10 Homestands theme and the Party of the Century tag, and the Cubs were off and running.

The next goal was to get everybody in the organization on board. To make a promotion of this magnitude work, the marketing team needed buy-in from all levels of the organization. This necessitated a number of meetings to get everyone pulling in the same direction, but it also included little things like making sure every team employee received Cubs merchandise with the Wrigley Field 100 logo to wear throughout the season.

“I remember at one of the first meetings, [business president Crane Kenney] was like, ‘Everyone has to get behind the 100th. This is our big initiative,’” Miller said. “That set the tone, but orchestrating that is a lot.

Making sure everyone’s synced up. … That was a little bit more of a challenge, but that’s personally rewarding as well when it all comes together. I think we look back, and it’s like, holy cow, this was a lot that we did. But we pulled it off.”

* * * *

One of the first fan-facing initiatives of the 100th birthday celebration was the Wrigley Field Turns 100 Logo Contest, which allowed people to submit logo designs to be featured on all Cubs promotional items, in the ballpark and on team uniforms throughout the 2014 season. The Cubs received more than 1,200 submissions in February 2013, and fans voted on the designs through April 23, 2013.

The reason this was done so early is because the Cubs needed the lead-time to produce the Wrigley Field 100 merchandise, complete with logo. This included team uniforms, which had to be submitted to the league and manufacturer Majestic Athletic early in the 2013 season. The now-ubiquitous winning logo, designed by Brandon Ort of New Bremen, Ohio, was unveiled in August, but by then, the merchandising machine was already in full swing.

The 10 decade-specific throwback uniforms, which made their debut with 1914 Chi-Feds attire at the 100th birthday game, turned out to be one of the more popular promotions the team ran. Following April 23, the Cubs and their visitors each wore historic uniforms on the first home Sunday of each decade celebration.

Throwbacks have been popular throughout the game in recent years, but, according to Majestic, no team had ever attempted something as ambitious as creating 10 uniforms to be worn by both the home team and the visitors.

“[Majestic] kind of looked at us like, ahh, do you know what you’re getting into?” said Lyndsey Wittemann, coordinator of Authentics and licensing, who was in charge of the season’s retro looks.

The goal was to find uniforms that harkened back to significant events at Wrigley Field during each decade of the ballpark’s history. The marketing team put together a committee, which included Cubs board member Todd Ricketts, to help decide which uniforms to use. Wittemann had to coordinate with Major League Baseball, Majestic and the visiting teams to make sure everyone was on board and the uniforms were as historically accurate as possible.

“We obviously looked into the top moments at Wrigley Field to kind of figure out which one from each decade we wanted to celebrate,” she said. “From there, we would go and try to find some historical images of each uniform, and make sure we had one of every angle and of every component. Then we sent over the images and the years we wanted to do to Majestic. They did their own background research on top of ours and compiled everything all into one uniform and sent a sample out to us.”

This was also one of the more interesting promotions because it actually impacted the players, who found new, historic uniforms hanging in their lockers 10 times in 2014.

“The players absolutely loved the uniforms,” Wittemann said. “A lot of the players actually wanted them for themselves. Many players were like, ‘Oh, this is my favorite. I’m keeping this one.’”

By this point, the marketing team was also cranking out ideas and designs for the 10 bobblehead and toy giveaways. Before producing the bobbleheads, the Cubs needed to work with either the individuals or the estates representing the individuals for each idea to get likeness clearances. For the retro toy series, they had to work with the different toy manufacturers. But all parties quickly realized what a unique opportunity it was to feature themselves, their family member or their product at the Wrigley Field 100 celebration.

“This was really an opportunity for us to showcase all the unbelievable events and historic events and milestones that have taken place at Wrigley Field,” Morrison said. “There was an opportunity here to showcase things we’ve never before had such an ideal opportunity to showcase—and probably won’t in the near future.”

The real trick, according to the marketing team, was settling on just 10 concepts for each type of giveaway.

“To take 100 years of history and only represent 10 moments or figures is a very difficult thing to do,” Morrison said. “There were concerts at Wrigley Field. There have been ski jumps, boxing matches, basketball games, soccer matches. They’re all so unique and neat, and a lot of fans don’t even know these ever existed. So, yeah, there was tons of discussion. Do we do this boxing match, or do we do the Harlem Globetrotters, or do we do the Chicago Sting? We could have done a 50-bobblehead set. No question.

“You’d be surprised, with all the big issues that come across people’s desks when working for a professional sports team, how much discussion about which 10 moments we should celebrate [there was]. How those can quickly get prioritized to the top of the list. It was comical.”

Once the season drew near, it was time to start scheduling visits from the people who made the Wrigley Field 100 festivities so special. Every year, the Cubs bring in guests to throw out the first pitch and sing the seventh-inning stretch at home games. For 2014, they decided each visitor should tie in to the promotion or decade if possible. They still went for A-list celebrities like Chris Pratt and Charles Barkley when the opportunity arose, but they also tried to bring in former Cubs players from each decade or people who had a special connection to the era.

Over the course of the season, the Cubs welcomed guests like Joe Tinker’s family members; Sue Quigg, the grandniece of former Cubs owner Charles Weeghman; Merullo; and former Bears players Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus. Quigg, who passed away during the 2014 season, was on hand for the birthday game, where she tossed a 100-year-old ball her grandmother once threw at a Federals game.

“When you get someone who hasn’t been back here in 30, 40 years, and they step onto the field for that first time, it’s like they’re going back in time,” said Jim Oboikowitch, manager of game and event production. “When [the media] talks to them, it’s just exciting for them, and they’re back in that same spot they were in 30, 40, 50 years ago.”

* * * *

The crown jewel of the Wrigley Field 100 celebration was obviously the 100th birthday blowout on April 23. That was the day the marketing team and the entire Cubs organization breathed a collective sigh of relief that this was actually happening—that they had pulled it off—after more than a year of planning.

Well, perhaps it would be more accurate to say they breathed that sigh of relief on April 24. On the previous day, much of the Cubs team, including Manager of Broadcast Relations Joe Rios, had been up for more than 24 hours helping coordinate the various photo shoots, newscasts and media requests from outlets around the world. But, ultimately, the day was still all about the fans.

“I think when you really had that ‘ah ha!’ moment that this is a special day was before the pregame festivities even started, when lines started to form around Wrigley Field,” Morrison said. “They were wrapping from under the marquee north down Clark. The lines at Gate K were wrapping east down Waveland, and the fans were lined up north along Sheffield hours before first pitch.

“At that moment, I understood, wow, this is important to all these people. It’s not that the newscasters are here, and these historic figures are here. These are the people of Chicago. These are the people that have come to Wrigley Field over the past 100 years, taking their moment to celebrate and take this all in.”

To make the day worthy of the venue, the team brought in former athletes or their relatives, team representatives and dignitaries who helped shape Wrigley Field; actors and grounds crew members dressed in period costumes; the first 30,000 fans went home with replica 1914 Chi-Feds jerseys; a biplane flyover punctuated the pregame festivities; the Cubs released balloons from behind the left-field wall; the crowd serenaded Wrigley Field with “Happy Birthday” after the fifth inning; and everyone went home with a cupcake thanks to Jewel-Osco.

Feedback from fans and the media was universally positive, and the marketing team was able to finally enjoy the moment later that night at the Cubs Charities Bricks and Ivy Ball at the Field Museum. To a person, the only thing the group said they regret is that the Cubs couldn’t bring home a victory to cap the afternoon. The Cubs (dressed as the Federal League’s Chi-Feds) dropped the game 7-5 to the Arizona Diamondbacks (dressed as the Kansas City Packers).

“The 23rd will always stand out because we’re not going to see the 200th birthday,” Oboikowitch said. “You and I are only here for one of these.”

While it’s nearly impossible to explain all the work that went into—and all the people who played a part in—pulling off the Party of the Century at Wrigley Field, it was definitely a labor of love for everyone in the Cubs organization.

“It was certainly daunting to a certain degree,” Morrison said. “But any sense of being overwhelmed is quickly squashed when you step back and realize, as a lifelong Cub fan, I am in a position to evaluate what are all the figures and moments that make up Wrigley Field, and how can we represent those the best to showcase them to people just like me, who grew up fans of the team and of the ballpark.”

—Gary Cohen

Cubs Winter League Recap: 12/30/14

Junior Lake had a two-hit game, and Joseph Ortiz pitched well in relief Tuesday. Here are some notes from yesterday’s action around the Caribbean:

Dominican Republic

  • LF Junior Lake recorded a double and two walks as the Estrellas de Oriente picked up a 4-1 playoff victory over the Aguilas Cibaenas. He also scored a run in the win. Postseason play resumes Friday, Jan. 2.


  • LHP Joseph Ortiz pitched a scoreless ninth inning, earning his first save of the winter in a Tiburones de La Guaira victory over the Aguilas del Zulia. He surrendered one hit but struck out two to end the game.
  • 2B Jonathan Herrera went 0-for-4 in the Navegantes del Magallanes’ loss to the Caribes de Anzoategui.


The Best of 2014: No. 1, Soler homers in his first major league at-bat


(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Every baseball season is filled with memorable moments, and this year’s Cubs campaign was no exception. Cornerstone players had bounceback seasons, newer additions stepped up, and top prospects made their big league debuts. To wrap up the year, we asked you to pick your top 10 moments of 2014. This was your favorite moment from the season.

No. 10: Rizzo’s late-season walk-off homer
No. 9: Hendricks makes an easy transition to the bigs
No. 8: Castro, Rizzo named All-Stars
No. 7: Maddux gets inducted into the Hall of Fame
No. 6: Wrigley Field celebrates its 100th birthday
No. 5: Baez hits the eventual game-winning homer in ML debut
No. 4: Baker scores the game-winning run after pitching a scoreless 16th inning
No. 3: Arrieta leaves Fenway Park to a standing ovation after pitching gem
No. 2: Arrieta tosses a complete-game one-hitter

As our top vote-getter, it’s clear Cubs super prospect Jorge Soler not only made an impression on his major league club, but on the fan base as well. In 89 big league at-bats, the 22-year-old put up an impressive .292/.330/.573 slash line with five home runs and 20 RBI. But no moment was more memorable than his first.

With the North Siders leading 1-0 in Cincinnati after a Luis Valbuena homer, Soler stepped to the plate for his first major league at-bat in the top of the second inning. The Cuban expat took two pitches down in the dirt from Reds righty Mat Latos and watched a third go by for a strike on the inner half. The fourth pitch sat up in the zone, and Soler was ready for it, taking it over the bullpen in deep center for his first career home run.

“I feel real proud about it,” Soler told “All of my family was watching the game, especially my father here at the game. I feel real happy and proud that I did well today.”

Injuries had caused Soler’s stock to drop prior to the season, but the young slugger put any lingering doubts to rest in his first 24 big league games. It will be interesting to see what he can accomplish in a full season in 2015.

The Best of 2014: No. 2, Arrieta tosses a complete-game one-hitter


(Photo by Stephen Green)

Every baseball season is filled with memorable moments, and this year’s Cubs campaign was no exception. Cornerstone players had bounceback seasons, newer additions stepped up, and top prospects made their big league debuts. To wrap up the year, we asked you to pick your top 10 moments of 2014. From now until the end of the year, we’ll be unveiling one moment per day.

No. 10: Rizzo’s late-season walk-off homer
No. 9: Hendricks makes an easy transition to the bigs
No. 8: Castro, Rizzo named All-Stars
No. 7: Maddux gets inducted into the Hall of Fame
No. 6: Wrigley Field celebrates its 100th birthday
No. 5: Baez hits the eventual game-winning homer in ML debut
No. 4: Baker scores the game-winning run after pitching a scoreless 16th inning
No. 3: Arrieta leaves Fenway Park to a standing ovation after pitching gem

Jake Arrieta tosses a complete-game one-hitter and strikes out 13—Sept. 16 vs. Cincinnati

The 2014 season was a breakout campaign for the dominant right-handed pitcher. An array of strong efforts and several near no-hitters (like No. 3 on our list) elevated Jake Arrieta from an inconsistent pitcher with great stuff to a legitimate staff ace. So it’s fitting that arguably his finest effort came toward the end of the season.

The 28-year-old was on cruise control throughout the contest with the Reds. He struck out the side in the first inning and had no problems until the fourth, when he walked speedster Billy Hamilton. But the rookie was quickly caught stealing, and Arrieta fanned the next two hitters.

It wasn’t until there was one out in the eighth inning that Arrieta gave up his first hit—a double to left by Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips. But the Cubs’ ace took down the next five batters in order for his first career complete game, a 110-pitch, 13-strikeout, one-hit effort.

“Today was as good as he’s been all season,” said then-Cubs manager Rick Renteria. “His pitch count was very well in check. His stuff was pretty electric.”

Hot Off the Press: The January issue featuring new ace Jon Lester



Now things are starting to get fun. Last month when I sat down to write this letter, I was reflecting on the improvements of the past year and the splash the Cubs made by signing free-agent manager Joe Maddon to a five-year contract. President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein had recently spoken about how the organization was turning a corner and how he expected the Cubs to contend for the NL Central crown in 2015.

“We’re going to be very involved [in the free-agent market],” Epstein said. “It’s starting to be the right time to add impact talent.”

I think it’s safe to say he wasn’t exaggerating. Christmas came early for Cubs fans when the team landed coveted left-hander Jon Lester, righty Jason Hammel, All-Star catcher Miguel Montero and backup catcher David Ross around December’s Winter Meetings.

Lester, whom the Cubs signed to a six-year deal with an option for a seventh, was the jewel of the offseason pitching market, and several top teams—including the Red Sox, Giants and Dodgers—waged a fierce battle over him. Though those teams have been postseason fixtures in recent years, Lester ultimately chose to come to Chicago and reunite with Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer, the executives who drafted him back in 2002 with Boston.

For years, people have questioned the front office’s plan for the organization, and many wondered aloud if and when they could get a major free agent to buy into their vision. But the Cubs’ plan all along has been to rebuild the minor league system as quickly as possible and add impact players from outside the organization when the time was right.

These recent moves weren’t a deviation. They were a confirmation.

The Cubs’ pitch to Lester, who turns 31 years old on Jan. 7, centered around the lure of bringing a World Series title to the North Side, the unrivaled young talent filling the system and the restoration of Wrigley Field, which will soon provide players with some of the best facilities in the game.

“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think [the Cubs] were going to win in 2015,” Lester said. “So that’s how I think. I’m never going to say, ‘Well, we’ll be all right this year, and we’ll get ‘em next year.’ I’m going in with the intention of winning in 2015. And that means the division, that means the World Series, that means everything. Like I said, I don’t like to lose. You can call it arrogant, you can call it cocky, whatever you want. But I like to win, and that’s what I’m here to do.”

The baseball world has long been drooling over the Cubs’ preponderance of young bats, from Javier Baez to Kris Bryant to Addison Russell to Jorge Soler. Add that to an already solid bullpen and proven major league players like Jake Arrieta, Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Hammel, Lester and Montero, and you’ve really got something.

This month, we only touch on the recent signings, which hit the Chicago area like a tsunami moments before we went to press. Next month, we’ll take a deep dive into all the moves (along with providing our annual minor league prospectus).

It’s funny how fast things change. Last I checked, the Cubs were at 12-1 odds to win the World Series at online sports book Bovada. Like I said, things are starting to get fun.

Speaking of fun, in this month’s issue, we get the backstory on three decades of the Cubs Convention, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary from Jan. 16-18 at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers. We also shed some light on the charitable work the team performed in the last year as part of its 100 Gifts of Service, the club’s most ambitious philanthropic initiative ever. Finally, we get our first chance to talk to new hitting coach John Mallee about his philosophy and what he hopes to achieve on the North Side. With a talented crop of young players now under his tutelage, it’s safe to say the Chicago native is eager to get started.

Here’s the good news: We’re just one month away from pitchers (Lester, Hammel) and catchers (Montero, Ross) reporting to Spring Training. As always, look for us at the convention, where we’ll be renewing subscriptions, meeting fans, and possibly hosting a player or two. See you there.

—Gary Cohen

Cubs Winter League Recap: 12/28/14

Both Junior Lake and Christian Villanueva continued their strong winter league play Sunday. Here are some notes from yesterday’s action in the Caribbean:


  • LHP Jeffry Antigua pitched 0.2 scoreless, hitless innings of relief for the Toros del Este in an 8-2 loss to the Aguilas Cibaenas.
  • LF Junior Lake continued his hot stretch for the Estrellas de Oriente, going 2-for-3 with a walk and a stolen base in a 4-1 loss to the Gigantes del Cibao. Lake’s winter average now stands at .429.
  • RHP Starling Peralta closed out the Estrellas losing effort with one scoreless, one-hit inning of relief.


  • Christian Villanueva had another big game in the Yaquis de Obregon’s 11-inning, 7-6 win over the Naranjeros de Hermosillo. The third baseman went 2-for-4 with three RBI. He hit a two-run single with one out in the ninth inning to tie the game, and then delivered a sac fly in the 11th to give his team the victory.

Puerto Rico

  • 2B Javier Baez had another rough day at the plate, going 0-for-5 with four strikeouts in the Cangrejeros de Santurce’s 4-2 win over the Gigantes de Carolina. In 11 games, Baez is hitting .233/.306/.442 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with three doubles, two home runs and seven RBI. He has also struck out 21 times in 43 at-bats.


  • c-1B Willson Contreras went 1-for-4 with a double and two runs scored, bringing his winter average to .273 for the Tigres de Aragua, who cruised to a 13-1 victory over the Navegantes del Magallanes.
  • In the Navegantes losing effort, 3B Jonathan Herrera went 3-for-4 with three singles.

The Best of 2014: No. 3, Arrieta leaves to a standing ovation at Fenway Park after pitching a gem


 (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Every baseball season is filled with memorable moments, and this year’s Cubs campaign was no exception. Cornerstone players had bounceback seasons, newer additions stepped up, and top prospects made their big league debuts. To wrap up the year, we asked you to pick your top 10 moments of 2014. From now until the end of the year, we’ll be unveiling one moment per day.

No. 10: Rizzo’s late-season walk-off homer
No. 9: Hendricks makes an easy transition to the bigs
No. 8: Castro, Rizzo named All-Stars
No. 7: Maddux gets inducted into the Hall of Fame
No. 6: Wrigley Field celebrates its 100th birthday
No. 5: Baez hits the eventual game-winning homer in ML debut
No. 4: Baker scores the game-winning run after pitching a scoreless 16th inning

Jake Arrieta leaves to a standing ovation at Fenway Park after giving up one hit over 7.2 innings and striking out 10—June 30 @ Boston

Every major leaguer dreams of tipping his cap as he exits a game to a standing ovation from a packed house. But few dream of actually receiving that recognition on the road against the defending World Series champs at one of the most storied venues in the country, Fenway Park. But that’s exactly what happened for Cubs starter Jake Arrieta.

The right-hander retired the first 13 batters he faced in Boston before walking Mike Napoli in the fifth inning. After that, he got right back on track, dominating until there were two outs in the eighth, when he surrendered a Stephen Drew single. He was pulled after 120 pitches and tipped his cap to the Fenway faithful, who lauded his efforts with a thunderous ovation—a real rarity for a visiting pitcher.

“Something like that in Fenway is pretty rare for an opposing team,” said Arrieta to reporters after the one-hit outing. “I got some goose bumps there. That’s why you play the game is for moments like that. I’m very thankful to be a part of something like that and to get another win.”


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