Cubs acquire Ovando, lose three prospects in Rule 5 Draft

The 2014 Winter Meetings were whirlwind few days for the baseball community, as numerous teams made blockbuster moves and signed highly sought after free agents. Another annual aspect of the meetings took place Thursday with the Rule 5 Draft, and the Cubs were active participants.

In the Triple-A phase of Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft, the Cubs selected outfielder Ariel Ovando. In four minor league seasons in the Astros’ farm system, the 21-year-old hit .233/.299/.335 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 14 home runs and 43 doubles. It’s reported by MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat that the club will try to convert the lefty thrower into a pitcher.

Unlike the first portion of the draft, the club is not required to keep Ovando on the major league club this season.

However, the draft also resulted in a loss of three Cubs farmhands, with the Marlins selecting lefty reliever Andrew McKirahan in the first round, while slugger Rock Shoulders and catcher Luis Flores were taken by the Rangers and Astros, respectively, in the minor league portion.

The 24-year-old McKirahan has had a solid four-year minor league career, posting a 2.16 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 128 strikeouts over 120.2 innings. He split 2014 between High-A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee, posting a 2.08 ERA over 65.0 innings and fanning 57 batters. He was originally drafted by the Cubs in the 21st round of the 2011 draft out of the University of Texas. The Marlins must keep McKirahan on the 25-man roster this season or send him back to the Cubs’ organization.

Shoulders hit 30 home runs over the last two seasons in Single-A ball and has the ability to draw walks, earning 121 free passes in that span. He has a career slash line of .243/.343/.427, but most of his numbers took a significant dip when he made the jump from Kane County to Daytona in 2014. The Cubs selected Shoulders in the 25th round of the 2011 draft.

Flores will join the Astros’ organization after seven seasons in the Cubs’ system. The 28-year-old split time between Double-A and Triple-A in 2014, amassing a .253/.388/.371 line with five homers in 67 games. He’s a career .213 hitter, a number weighed down by a poor offensive start to his career. Flores was originally drafted in the seventh round of the 2008 draft.

The Cubs also selected shortstop Taylor Featherston from Colorado in the first-round selection, but traded the 25-year-old to the Angels for cash considerations.

Cubs Winter League Recap: 12/10/14

Christian Villanueva went yard, and Junior Lake got on base three times Wednesday for their respective winter league clubs. Here are some notes from all of yesterday’s action around the Caribbean:

Mexico

  • 3B Christian Villanueva hit his seventh home run of the season as the Yaquis de Obregon edged out the Venados de Mazatlan 7-5 Wednesday. Villanueva reached on an error in the third and later scored a run. He finished 1-for-4.

Dominican Republic

  • LF Junior Lake reached base three times, going 1-for-1 with a single and two walks for the Estrellas de Oriente. He scored the game’s lone run in a win over the Leones del Escogido.
  • 2B Arismendy Alcantara recorded an RBI single in the Tigres del Licey’s 2-0 win over the Gigantes del Cibao. He went 1-f0r-4.

Venezuela

  • 2B Luis Valbuena had an RBI double and drew a walk in the Cardenales de Lara’s 9-4 win over the Bravos de Margarita.
  • DH Jonathan Herrera reached base twice with two singles and scored a run as the Navegantes del Magallanes topped the Tiburones de La Guaira.
  • LHP Joseph Ortiz had a rough outing, allowing two earned runs on three hits over one inning for La Guaira.

Cubs Winter League Recap: 12/9/14

Starling Peralta’s efforts out of the bullpen were the highlight of Cubs representatives in the Caribbean Tuesday. Here are some notes from the rest of yesterday’s Winter League action:

Dominican Republic

  • RHP Starling Peralta pitched three scoreless innings of relief for the Estrellas de Oriente in their loss to the Leones del Escogido. He surrendered just one hit and struck out two.
  • LF Junior Lake went hitless in three at-bats but drew a walk in the Estrellas’ loss.
  • CF Arismendy Alcantara finished 0-for-4 as the Tigres del Licey were blanked by the Gigantes del Cibao Tuesday.

Mexico

  • LF Christian Villanueva had a base hit in the Yaquis de Obregon’s 10-2 loss to the Venados de Mazatlan. He finished 1-for-4.

Puerto Rico

  • CF John Andreoli singled and scored a run despite his Senadores de San Juan side getting edged out by the Indios de Mayaguez in a 4-3 ballgame.

 

Cubs acquire catcher Montero from Arizona

MiguelMontero

(Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty)

The Cubs acquired catcher Miguel Montero from the Arizona Diamondbacks for minor league right-handed pitchers Jeferson Mejia and Zack Godley in a trade that was finalized Tuesday afternoon at the Winter Meetings.

The 31-year-old Montero went to his second career All-Star Game last season and hit .243/.329/.370 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 13 home runs and 72 driven in on the year. The backstop has spent his entire career in Arizona, where he originally signed as an amateur free agent in 2001.

The left-handed hitting catcher made his major league debut in 2006 and was was Arizona’s primary catcher by the 2009 campaign. He enjoyed his finest year in 2011, when he batted .282 (139-for-493) with 36 doubles, 18 home runs, 86 RBI and an .820 OPS in 140 games. He also earned his first All-Star appearance that season and helped the Diamondbacks to the NL West title.

Montero carried that effort into the following year, batting .286/.391/.829 with 15 homers, 25 doubles and 88 RBI in 486 at-bats in 2012. During the 2012 campaign, he signed a five-year extension through 2017.

Overall, he is a career .264 hitter (795-for-3,017) with 172 doubles, 97 home runs, 448 RBI and a .342 on-base percentage in 906 major league contests, averaging 31 doubles, 17 home runs and 80 RBI per 162 games.

The 20-year-old Mejia went 2-4 with a 2.48 ERA in 12 games (two starts, 40.0 innings pitched) in rookie ball last season, his first year pitching in the United States. He signed with the Cubs as a non-drafted free agent out of the Dominican Republic.

Godley, 24, combined to go 4-3 with 15 saves and a 3.09 ERA (55.1 IP) in 40 relief appearances between Single-A Kane County and Daytona last season. He was drafted by the Cubs in the 10th round of the 2013 Draft out of the University of Tennessee.

From the Pages of Vine Line: What will the Cubs do with their surplus of shortstops?

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

The Cubs may be only a brief stop away from their next destination. Or, perhaps, a shortstop. That is, if they are willing to trade one.

In his postseason address to season ticket holders, President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein said he expects the team to contend for a division title in 2015. And that was before marquee manager Joe Maddon first put on the pinstripes at the Cubby Bear.

With holes still to fill, the Cubs can’t stop short with their hiring of Maddon. In their quest to be the best, middle-infield depth could be the key to acquiring more pieces to the puzzle.

Since arriving in October 2011, Epstein and his front office mates have done a lot of heavy lifting to strengthen the organization—signing international free agents, making astute picks in the June amateur draft and trading for other teams’ top prospects. As a result, the Cubs’ system is rated among the consensus top three in the majors.

At this stage, moving surplus talent, notably at shortstop, could be vital to improving the major league product.

“I believe the Cubs potentially have three All-Stars in [Starlin] Castro, [Javier] Baez and [Addison] Russell,” said a top major league executive. “I watched Russell last year in the Arizona Fall League. This year in the minor leagues, he got a little thicker and stronger. This young man is going to be a fine hitter and could very well be an All-Star shortstop. I love his natural instincts. Nothing about his game is below average.”

The Cubs acquired Oakland’s top draft picks from 2012 and 2013—Russell and outfielder Billy McKinney—along with pitcher Dan Straily in a July 4 deal for starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. Athletics General Manager Billy Beane said he didn’t want to trade the 20-year-old Russell, rated the No. 5 prospect in the game by MLB.com, but succumbed to the urge to add pitching depth in hopes of making a deep playoff run last season.

Of the three shortstops in question, Baez has the greatest power potential. His lack of contact at the major league level—95 strikeouts in his first 213 at-bats—hasn’t tempered the club’s confidence in him. Epstein said Baez will start the 2015 campaign on the Cubs’ 25-man roster, “barring anything out of the ordinary.”

A top National League scout raved about the raw skills he sees in Baez, who turns 22 on Dec. 1.

“I love his power, and he really seems comfortable at shortstop,” the scout said. “He’s not a flashy fielder—just gets the ball and throws the runner out. Baez has less moving parts than Castro.

“Will he hit? I really think so. Remember when [Anthony] Rizzo first came up in San Diego? He struck out almost 40 percent of the time. That bat speed and the quick hands cannot be taught. [Baez] is 21 and struck out at every level a lot of times until he figured it out. I like him as a shortstop, second baseman or third baseman. And I see a lot of extra-base hits in his future.”

The Cubs’ third shortstop jewel is the young veteran Castro, already a three-time All-Star at just 24 years old. His recovery from a disappointing 2013 season was a boon for both him and the organization.

After landing a seven-year, $60 million contract in August 2012, Castro seemed to enter 2013 as if he had nothing to prove. He reported to camp 10 pounds heavier and never hit his stride, batting just .245 on the season (39 points below his current lifetime average).

In 2014, a rededicated Castro led the team in hitting with a .292 mark from the middle of the order and regained his All-Star status. Working with infield instructor Gary Jones, he also reduced his errors from 22 to 15—the first season in four he didn’t lead major league shortstops in miscues.

The question of what the Cubs will do with their surplus of middle-infield talent could be answered this winter. If so, Castro might be the likeliest to go. At least three major-market teams will be seeking a top shortstop, and Castro would seem the most marketable commodity as an already-established big league star.

Ultimately, the Cubs could elect to keep all three shortstops—each 24 or younger—and move two of them to different positions. Baez is currently scheduled to be the Opening Day second baseman, with Russell ticketed to play shortstop at either Double-A Tennessee or Triple-A Iowa.

Maddon’s arrival seems to accelerate the team’s timetable for winning. A blockbuster deal for a top young pitcher could be the next step.

In other words, don’t sell Epstein short. Not so long as he has shortstops to sell.

—Bruce Levine and Joel Bierig

Cubs Winter League Recap: 12/7/14

Luis Valbuena had another solid day at the plate, and multiple Cubs relievers pitched scoreless innings Sunday. Here are some notes from yesterday’s action around the Caribbean:

Venezuela

  • 2B Luis Valbuena had a pair of hits, including a double, and scored two runs as the Cardenales de Lara captured a 7-3 win over the Caribes de Anzoategui. The infielder also added a walk.
  • DH Jonathan Herrera recorded a hit and scored a run in the Navegantes del Magallanes’ loss to the Braves de Margarita. He also drew a walk.
  • C Willson Contreras hit a single, finishing 1-for-3, as the Tigres de Aragua topped the Aguilas del Zulia.
  • RHP Loiger Padron pitched to one batter and got him out despite the Leones del Caracas falling to the Tiburones de La Guaira.
  • LHP Joseph Ortiz pitched 2/3 of an inning, giving up one hit and striking out one in the win for the Tiburones.

Dominican Republic

  • RHP Frank Batista pitched two scoreless innings as the Aguilas Cibaenas captured a win over the Tigers del Licey. Batista gave up one hit and struck out one to earn his first hold of the season.
  • LF Junior Lake struggled at the plate, going 0-for-4 with four strikeouts and a walk, as his Estrellas de Oriente side fell to the Gigantes del Cibao.

Mexico

  • DH Christian Villanueva went hitless but drove in his 16th run of the season on a fourth-inning, bases-loaded walk. His club, the Yaquis de Obregon, topped the Naranjeros de Hermosillo Sunday.

 

Cubs Winter League Recap: 12/4/14

In a relatively quiet day for Cubs prospects in the Caribbean, infielder Luis Valbuena managed a pair of singles despite his Venezualian side falling Thursday. Here are some notes from yesterday’s action around the Winter Leagues:

Venezuela

  • 2B Luis Valbuena recorded a pair of singles, but it wasn’t enough as his Cardenales de Lara team lost to the Tiburones de La Guaira.
  • RHP Loiger Padron pitched a scoreless fourth inning in the Leones del Caracas’ loss to the Tigres de Aragua. He gave up no hits but walked two.
  • 2B Jonathan Herrera went 0-for-4 for the Navegantes del Magallanes in their win over the Caribes de Anzoategui. Herrera was recently signed to a minor league deal.

Puerto Rico

  • CF John Andreoli went hitless in three at-bats as his Senadores de San Juan squad was crushed 17-0 by the Gigantes de Carolina.

Ryan Dempster announces retirement, will join Cubs front office

DEMPSTER R

(Photo by Stephen Green)

After 16 seasons in the majors, longtime Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster has announced he will retire from baseball and take a position in the Cubs’ front office.

The right-hander was able to retire as a member of the Cubs organization and will become a special assistant to baseball president Theo Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer.

The 37-year-old concludes his career as a two-time All-Star and a 2013 World Series Champion with the Red Sox, in what would become his final active season in the majors. He was an All-Star with the Marlins in 2000 and the Cubs in 2008, a year that marked his return to the rotation in which he went 17-6 with a 2.96 ERA to help the team to a second straight NL Central division title.

Overall, the well-liked Dempster spent nine seasons with the Cubs from 2004-12 and posted 67 wins and 87 saves, the only pitcher in club history with more than 50 wins and 50 saves.

For his career, the right-hander went 132-133 with 87 saves and a 4.35 ERA in 579 appearances (351 starts). Along with his time on the North Side and his season in Boston, Dempster played for Florida (1998-2002), Cincinnati (2002-03) and Texas (2012).

His new role with the organization will include spending time with the club during Spring Training, visiting the club’s minor league affiliates during the season, evaluating amateur players leading up to the draft and going on professional scouting assignments.

Now Playing: Cubs ring in the holidays with 100 Gifts of Service

The Cubs welcomed the Lake View community to their annual tree-lighting ceremony Thursday to celebrate the holidays and conclude the team’s 100 Gifts of Service initiative. The 100 Gifts of Service projects were part of a yearlong program featuring Cubs players and associates engaging in community service in celebration of Wrigley Field’s 100th birthday season. Hall of Fame pitcher Fergie Jenkins was on hand along with Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts, Cubs Charities Chair Laura Ricketts, President of Business Operations Crane Kenney and representatives from many of the organizations that benefited from the team’s charitable acts this year. The large tree, donated by Christy Webber Landscapes, is located in front of the Cubs Store at the northwest corner of the Clark and Addison intersection. We were at Wrigley Field last night to help ring in the holiday season. And look for a feature story on the 100 Gifts of Service project in the January issue of Vine Line.

Cubs name Dave Martinez bench coach

Martinez_Maddon

Dave Martinez served as Joe Maddon’s bench coach in Tampa Bay. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

The Cubs named Dave Martinez the club’s major league bench coach and shifted Brandon Hyde to first base coach Thursday.

They also appointed Henry Blanco the club’s major league quality assurance coach. Doug Dascenzo, who had been named first base coach on Oct. 9, will remain in the organization as outfield and baserunning coordinator with responsibilities in the major and minor leagues.

The announcement completes manager Joe Maddon’s coaching staff for the 2015 campaign: Martinez (bench coach), Chris Bosio (pitching coach), Hyde (first base coach), Gary Jones (third base coach), John Mallee (hitting coach), Lester Strode (bullpen coach), Mike Borzello (catching and strategy coach), Eric Hinske (assistant hitting coach), Blanco (quality assurance coach) and Franklin Font (staff assistant).

The 50-year-old Martinez served as Maddon’s bench coach in Tampa Bay and returns to the organization that originally drafted him in the third round of the 1983 Draft. Martinez was first named as a Spring Training coach for Maddon in 2006 and 2007 before being named to the big league staff on Oct. 11, 2007.

A former outfielder, Martinez played 16 seasons in the big leagues with nine teams: the Cubs (1986-88, 2000), Montreal (1988-91), Cincinnati (1992), San Francisco (1993-94), the White Sox (1995-97), Tampa Bay (1998-2000), Texas (2000), Toronto (2000) and Atlanta (2001). Over his career, he batted .276 with 91 homers and 580 RBI in 1,919 major league games.

Blanco, 43, completed a 25-year professional catching career last year when he retired with the Diamondbacks at the end of Spring Training and joined the club’s big league coaching staff as an assistant. He spent four seasons with the Cubs, helping the club to consecutive National League Central titles in 2007 and 2008.

Overall, Blanco played in 971 major league games covering 16 seasons and 11 teams: Los Angeles Dodgers (1997), Colorado (1999), Milwaukee (2000-01), Atlanta (2002-03), Minnesota (2004), the Cubs (2005-08), San Diego (2009), the New York Mets (2010), Arizona (2011-12), Toronto (2013) and Seattle (2013), finishing his career with a .223 batting average, 145 doubles, 72 home runs and 298 RBI.

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