The Cubs reach a player-development deal with Single-A South Bend

On Thursday, the Cubs agreed with South Bend, Indiana, on a new Player Development Contract to move the club’s Single-A Midwest League affiliate. The contract runs through the 2018 season.

“We are excited to partner with South Bend and look forward to a productive relationship with the team, as well as the entire South Bend community,” said Jason McLeod, the Cubs senior vice president of scouting and player development. “Making the decision to switch minor league affiliates is never an easy one, but we are confident that this agreement will further strengthen our farm system.

“The Cubs are fortunate to have had the opportunity to play in Kane County the past two years, and we thank Dr. Bob Froehlich, the entire front office and all of the Cougars fans for their support. We are proud that our relationship culminated with a Midwest League title this past season.”

The South Bend Silver Hawks have claimed five Midwest League titles and 12 division titles in their 26-season history, most recently in 2005. The club had been an affiliate of the Diamondbacks since 1997. South Bend broke into the league in 1988 as a Chicago White Sox affiliate, a partnership that ran through 1996.

“Today is a turning point,” said South Bend Silver Hawks Owner Andrew Berlin. “I made a promise to the thousands of people and local government officials who welcomed me with open arms three years ago. I promised that I would return the team to its former glory days. And I promised that I’d do everything I could to bring people back downtown and prove that this is a wonderful place to invest in.

“Now, one of the best and most beloved brands in the history of Major League Baseball is making a bold statement about this place too. The Chicago Cubs are giving this region a big vote of confidence.”

The South Bend franchise will unveil a new name, logo and uniform on Thursday, Sept. 25, during a press conference beginning at 9 a.m. ET at the local St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce.

From the Pages of Vine Line: Top pick Schwarber impressed in his rookie campaign

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(Photo by Aldrin Capulong)

The first thing you notice about Cubs 2014 No. 1 draft pick Kyle Schwarber is that no one will say a bad word about him. And it takes all of about 30 seconds to understand why.

On a rainy July day, Schwarber’s Kane County team had just lost a 3-2 affair in gut-wrenching fashion, after Tyler Marincov smashed a two-out, two-run, ninth-inning homer to give visiting Beloit the victory. It was a frustrating day all around, and the fourth-overall selection in this year’s draft had probably the worst showing of his nascent professional career, logging an 0-for-4 that included an ugly three-pitch strikeout.

As members of the media entered a quiet clubhouse filled with players licking their wounds, Schwarber stood with a plate of food in his hands. After a few seconds, the newest of the Cubs’ elite prospects realized the media scrum was there for him. He politely put down his tray, walked over to the gathering and ushered them into a small storage room outside the clubhouse so as not to disturb his teammates—most of whom he’d known for less than three weeks.

Even though he’d been a pro for only a short time, the Indiana University product was surprisingly poised, professional and conscientious. He has always been comfortable in his own skin, and he just wanted to make sure everyone else was comfortable too.

“It happens—0-fors can happen,” Schwarber said, shrugging his large shoulders. “I’ve got to realize that. You can’t be too negative on yourself because that can happen sometimes. … It’s a long season. You’ve just got to keep grinding each and every at-bat.”

The next thing you notice about Schwarber is how polished he looks at the plate. The Cubs rated the 21-year-old left-handed slugger as the best hitter in the 2014 draft, and he’s more than justified their confidence in him since he made his professional debut with Short-Season A Boise on June 13. In the Northwest League, Schwarber hit .600 with four home runs and 10 RBI in just five games. After that scorching start, he was quickly promoted to Low-A Kane County, where he played another 23 games, compiling a .361/.448/.602 (AVG/OBP/SLG) line with four homers and 15 RBI. In mid-July, he was bumped up to High-A Daytona, where he finished the season hitting .302/.393/.560 with 10 homers.

But when people are asked about Schwarber, the thing they generally rave about is not his powerful bat—it’s his selfless team-first attitude and the presence he brings to the clubhouse.

“We’re really happy with the quick adjustment he’s made to pro ball,” said Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein. “The on-field stuff takes care of itself with how he’s handled things mentally. He’s been through a lot this past month, and he’s been consistent, steady, and he’s off to a great start.”

TEAM FIRST
For former Indiana University coach Tracy Smith, it was virtually love at first sight. After hearing of a hulking catcher from Middletown, Ohio, who was posting huge numbers and consistently making hard contact, Smith figured he’d check it out. Though Schwarber was also recruited on the gridiron as an All-State middle linebacker, his first love was always baseball.

“I went to see a game, and he was facing a high school guy that ended up being drafted that year, a left-handed pitcher,” said Smith, who recently accepted the head-coaching job at Arizona State University. “The game I saw him, Schwarber took him out to left field, center field, right field. So that [scholarship] offer came on his way home.”

Indiana is generally known as a basketball school, but the baseball program has transformed into a national power in the past three seasons, largely behind the play of Schwarber.

From 2012-14, the catcher and outfielder hit .341/.437/.607 with 238 hits, 40 homers and 41 doubles, all while drawing 116 walks and striking out just 91 times in 180 games. He was named to multiple All-America teams, and Perfect Game, an amateur scouting company that hosts top-level national baseball showcases, named him the best college catcher in the country in 2013 after he bashed a school-record 18 home runs. That same season, Schwarber and his teammates reached baseball’s elite eight, advancing Indiana to the College World Series for the first time in program history.

All the while, the Cubs were watching.

At first, all eyes weren’t necessarily on Schwarber. The 2012 Indiana roster included eight players who eventually got drafted by major league clubs. But for Cubs scout Stan Zielinski, just knowing that the big catcher was batting second piqued his interest.

“Freshmen aren’t supposed to hit at the top of the order of a [Division 1] program. If they’re trusting a guy to top an order as a freshman, then they must think he’s pretty good,” Zielinski said. “Then he’s squaring up balls, hitting line drives, just playing with a lot of tenacity and just loving the game.”

The longtime scout came away impressed and decided to schedule some time in Bloomington during the ensuing seasons. While there may not have been a signature on-field moment that sold Zielinski on the collegiate star, he said it was a “series of blows” that made him a believer.

After identifying a potential draft pick, the next step the Cubs take is to try to gain a better understanding of that person off the field. Scouts and front office personnel talk to the player, coaches, family and any other influential voices. As Zielinski did his research, it became clear Schwarber’s mental toughness was just as potent a tool as his powerful bat.

When it came time for Zielinski to deliver his report, the scout sold the slugger hard to the Cubs front office—and the decision makers listened. Even though most teams had Schwarber as a mid-first-round talent, the Cubs felt strongly enough about him to take him fourth overall.

“He’s just a genuine All-American kid,” Zielinski said. “To know him is to like him. You can’t walk away without liking the kid. He’s just a fun-loving kid. If the team is too tight, he tries to loosen them up. If the team is too loose, he tells the guys to get their focus back.”

During Zielinski’s time on campus, he and the IU coaching staff had numerous conversations, many of them about Schwarber’s personality.

“Everybody talks about what a great player he is and all that, but he really is … a better person,” Smith said. “I’ve always thought you don’t have a good ballclub unless your best players are the hardest workers, and that’s something Kyle brought to the field every day. He’ll outwork everybody.”

GETTING DEFENSIVE
If there’s one knock on Schwarber, whether it’s justified or not, it’s about his ability to stick behind the plate. The Cubs front office admitted they selected the slugger primarily for his advanced bat. Catchers often require more time in the minor leagues to refine their skills, but team representatives said they didn’t want Schwarber’s defensive development to slow down his offensive process. In other words, if his bat is big league-ready, they might not hold him back waiting for his receiving skills to catch up.

“I love catching, but if they want me to do something else, I’ll do something else,” Schwarber said.

The one thing that is repeated by everyone you talk to about Schwarber—from Cubs front office personnel to college coaches to scouts—is that he is, first and foremost, a team-oriented guy. As such, he’s willing to pass on catching in the long run and make the full-time switch to a corner outfield spot. But that doesn’t mean he’s ready to hang up his catcher’s mitt just yet.

“I want to be able to help the team down the road, when it comes, if that opportunity does come,” Schwarber said. “I feel like if I can get better defensively, [catching] could be in the best interest of the team.”

The argument, for what it’s worth, is that he’s relatively new to calling his own games, and his release on throws is a little long. Those who have seen him play on a more consistent basis, however, say much of that criticism is unwarranted. While he might not ever be a top-tier glove man behind the plate, people who know his work ethic believe he could backstop at the major league level.

“As far as pro ball, there are some things he needs to learn, and he’s so open to it,” said Kane County manager Mark Johnson, who spent parts of eight major league seasons as a catcher. “He wants to learn, he wants to get better, and he busts his butt every day. That’s all you can really ask for.”

From a scouting standpoint, the pieces are there too. It’s evident Schwarber has spent the majority of his life being the field captain. He just needs to hone his game to make it major league-ready.

“Everybody knocks his defense … but everyone is a little afraid to make their own opinion on it,” Zielinski said. “I actually think he can catch. I think the ingredients are all there to make the cake. He needs some refinements and coaching.”

Schwarber spent most of his time in Daytona manning the outfield and logging a few games each week behind the plate. It remains to be seen where he’ll end up defensively, but it will certainly be a topic of discussion this offseason, when it looks like some questions might get answered.

“We’re going to sit down at the end of the minor league season and see whether it’s an appropriate time to make a call,” Epstein said. “That’s a good time of the year, because you can decide then that if catching is something we really want to pursue, we can get him a lot of work daily in the instructional league—a lot of focused attention on his defensive fundamentals.”

Schwarber admitted the first few months of his professional career have been a whirlwind. Wrapping up a college career, getting drafted, signing a multimillion-dollar contract and jumping through three professional levels would be a lot for anybody to handle. But Schwarber said he appreciates how supportive everyone in the organization has been since he signed, which has helped make the transition from amateur to pro ball as seamless as possible.

“I thought it was going to be a lot different being the new guy, especially being the guy that got picked first by them,” Schwarber said. “It’s a different story for everyone. But these guys … they brought me in. It’s like I haven’t missed a beat with these guys.”

Based on the stories, getting along with Kyle Schwarber hardly sounds like a difficult task. His natural personality, combined with the effort he gives on the field every day, makes it easy for coaches and peers to call him a good teammate.

The comfort level is already there, and everyone around him can feel it.

—Phil Barnes

Cubs reach agreement with Myrtle Beach

The Cubs agreed with Myrtle Beach (S.C.) on a new Player Development Contract to move the club’s Single-A affiliate to the Carolina League on Tuesday. The contract runs through the 2016 season.

“We are excited to reach an agreement with Myrtle Beach and begin working with Chairman Chuck Greenberg and General Manager and Vice President Andy Milovich,” said Jason McLeod, the Cubs senior vice president of scouting and player development. “Myrtle Beach is a well-respected franchise that will serve as a beneficial destination for our young players. We look forward to developing a successful relationship with the franchise and community.

“We would also like to thank Daytona for the organization’s dedication and professionalism in the past 22 seasons. We appreciate all their efforts and have the utmost respect for Andy Rayburn, Josh Lawther and the entire Daytona front office.”

The Myrtle Beach Pelicans have made eight postseason appearances in their 16-season history, including in each of the last four seasons as an affiliate of the Texas Rangers. Myrtle Beach joined the Carolina League in 1999 as an affiliate of the Atlanta Braves, a partnership that would continue through the 2010 season.

“The Cubs are an iconic national brand,” said Pelicans General Manager and Vice President Andy Milovich. “The success of our business is determined by fan interest, the quality of baseball and the impact on Myrtle Beach from a tourism perspective. In each of these instances, the Chicago Cubs clearly offered the most upside. The Cubs strengthen the Pelicans brand in a way that few, if any, other major league franchises could. Cubs fans can now visit their future stars in one of the iconic vacation destination spots in the U.S.”

ESPN’s Law names Bryant top prospect

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(Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Cubs prospect Kris Bryant announced his presence in a big way in his first full season of professional baseball in 2014. The slugger, who hit .325/.438/.661 (AVG/OBP/SLG) between Double-A and Triple-A, proved he was the top offensive player in the minors, with many publications naming him their unanimous Player of the Year selection. ESPN Insider’s Keith Law added to the chorus Tuesday, naming Bryant his 2014 Prospect of the Year. Here’s some of what he had to say:

Bryant blew away the field, dominating at two levels, leading the minor leagues in home runs and slugging percentage, finishing second in OBP (behind a 21-year-old in low-A) and ascending the rankings to become baseball’s top prospect, all in his first full year in professional baseball. The second overall pick in the 2013 Rule 4 draft, Bryant probably would have appeared in the majors in September if he were already on the 40-man roster, but the current collective bargaining agreement and major league rules gave the Cubs a real disincentive to promote him for a cup of coffee. He will almost certainly be up by May 2015, however, bringing his 30-plus-homer power and outstanding eye at the plate to the heart of the Cubs’ lineup.

The Cubs top prospect led the minors in home runs (43), extra-base hits (78), total bases (325), slugging percentage (.661) and OPS (1.098). His 118 runs scored were second among all minor league players, while his 110 RBI were third, and his .438 on-base percentage was fifth.

Cubs’ 2014 first-round pick Kyle Schwarber also received honorable mention in Law’s article for his solid campaign.

Rizzo nominated for Roberto Clemente Award

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Photo by Stephen Green

On Tuesday, Major League Baseball announced that Anthony Rizzo was named the Chicago Cubs’ 2014 nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, given to the major leaguer who best represents the game of baseball with contributions both on and off the field.

“We are pleased that Anthony has once again been selected as a national Roberto Clemente Award recipient,” said Cubs General Manager Jed Hoyer. “His commitment to the community and his teammates the last three seasons with the Cubs has made a tremendous impact within our organization.”

Each club nominates one player who truly understands the value of helping others for the Roberto Clemente Award in an effort to pay tribute to Clemente’s achievements and character.

Rizzo started the nonprofit Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation in 2012 to raise money for cancer research and to provide support to children and their families battling the disease. As a cancer survivor, he understands the impact cancer has on the entire family. Through fundraising for research and providing support for pediatric cancer patients and their families, the foundation aims to help give every family a fighting chance against the disease.

Since its inception, the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation has hosted two annual events, including the Walk-Off For Cancer held during the offseason in Anthony’s hometown of Parkland, Fla., and the Cook-Off For Cancer in Chicago, which raised close to $140,000 this year.

Together, these events have raised more than $500,000 for cancer research since 2012. Currently, the organizations selected as beneficiaries of this fundraising include Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, Bear Necessities Pediatric Cancer Foundation, Family Reach Foundation, Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital and The Lymphoma Program at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami Health System.

In addition to these fundraising efforts, Rizzo makes monthly visits to Lurie Children’s Hospital. He has become a welcomed and familiar face to those in the pediatric oncology floor, where he spends much of his time talking with patients and their families, signing autographs, taking photos and handing out Cubs memorabilia.

Wednesday marks the 13th annual Roberto Clemente Day, which was established by Major League Baseball to honor Clemente’s legacy and to officially recognize local nominees of the Roberto Clemente Award. The 15-time MLB All-Star and Hall of Famer died in a plane crash on New Year’s Eve 1972 while attempting to deliver supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.

Rizzo will be recognized for his nomination before the team’s Sept. 17 home game vs. the Cincinnati Reds. He will be presented a $7,500 grant to the charity of his choice, Cubs Charities, as a result of his nomination for this award.

Now Playing: In the Dugout with Rick Renteria, September 2014

The major league season can be a grind. After 162 games, 26 road series, and the inevitable ups and downs of a professional schedule, you could forgive a manager for being a little drained. But when we sat down with Cubs skipper Rick Renteria early in September, he was energized by his team’s recent run of good play. We talked with him about developing the organization’s young talent, managing the expectations placed on top prospects and learning on the job as a first-year big league manager.

Home Series No. 24 Preview: Cubs vs. Reds

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Devin Mesoraco and Todd Frazier (right) have been bright spots for an inconsistent Reds lineup. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

The Reds spent most of the first half pushing to make the NL Central a very intriguing four-team race, but a rash of injuries finally caught up with them. Since July, the team has been 28-40 and is now just 71-79 overall, a far cry from reaching the one-game NL playoff round like they did in 2013. Given Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Devin Mesoraco and Mat Latos have all missed significant time, it was almost inevitable the Reds would eventually fall off the pace. However, much like the Cubs, this year is hardly a complete loss, as they’ve seen several players emerge as key pieces that could help them contend in the near future.

PITCHING
(3.8 RA/G, 7TH IN NL)*

Tuesday’s starter Johnny Cueto has become the anchor of the Reds rotation and should be a legitimate Cy Young candidate. On Monday, the Cubs will see All-Star Alfredo Simon, who’s tailed off after having a strong start to the season. Despite the dropoff, he’s still 3-0 in four starts with a 1.40 ERA against the Cubs this year. Daniel Corcino is scheduled to make his second career MLB start Wednesday. His fastball/slider combo led to a 28 percent strikeout rate this year at Triple-A. The bullpen has had some issues this year as well. Aroldis Chapman is still one of the more dominant closers in baseball, but the innings leading up to Chapman’s have been troublesome. The Reds’ relief group is 14th in bullpen ERA and save percentage.

HITTING
(3.7 RS/G, 13TH IN NL)

The Reds have struggled to score runs for much of the season. A lot of that has to do with the absence of Votto and his career .417 on-base percentage. He’s only played in 62 games this season due to quad strains. Phillips has continued his downward trend, showing only modest on-base skills to go along with his diminished power. Mesoraco has had a good year, hitting .280/.366/.541 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 23 homers and 74 driven in, while Todd Frazier (.280 AVG, 26 homers, 75 RBI, 20 stolen bases) has helped carry the load. If inconsistent rookie Billy Hamilton can get his OBP to league-average levels, he could be a real asset.

Cubs name 3B Bryant, RHP Tseng organization’s MiLB Player, Pitcher of the Year

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The Cubs named Jen-Ho Tseng the club’s 2014 Minor League Pitcher of the Year. (Photo courtesy of Kane County Cougars)

The Cubs named third baseman Kris Bryant and right-handed pitcher Jen-Ho Tseng the organization’s Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Year, respectively, on Monday.

The award should come as no surprise for the 22-year-old Bryant, as publications like Baseball America and USA Today have already named him their Minor League Player of the Year. The 2013 first-round pick dominated all season, batting .325/438/.661 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with a minor league-best 43 home runs in 138 games between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa. He also tallied 34 doubles and 110 RBI and led the minors with 78 extra-base hits, 325 total bases, a 1.098 OPS as well as the aforementioned .661 slugging percentage. His 118 runs scored ranked second among all minor league players, while his RBI total was third, his on-base percentage was fifth and his 86 walks ranked eighth.

A right-handed hitting third baseman, Bryant began the season with Tennessee and batted .355 (88-for-248) with 20 doubles, 22 home runs, 58 RBI, a .458 on-base percentage and a .702 slugging mark in 68 games. He was named the Southern League Hitter of the Week three times, including in consecutive weeks (May 26-June 1 and June 2-8) when he combined to bat .447 (21-for-47) with five doubles, eight home runs, 12 RBI and 15 walks. Bryant was named a midseason Southern League All-Star and led the league in batting average, home runs and RBI at the break.

On June 19, the top prospect was promoted to Iowa following the Southern League All-Star break and went on to hit .295 (72-for-244) with 14 doubles, one triple, 21 home runs, 52 RBI, a .418 on-base percentage and a .619 slugging percentage in 70 games. He hit five home runs in his first six career games at the Triple-A level and went deep in consecutive games on five occasions.

Selected by the Cubs with the second overall pick in 2013, Bryant owns a .327 batting average (203-for-620) with 140 runs scored, 48 doubles, three triples, 52 home runs and 142 RBI in 174 career minor league contests. He has a .428 on-base percentage and a .666 slugging mark to contribute to a 1.094 career OPS. Named the Cubs second-best prospect heading into this season by Baseball America, Bryant owns a .942 fielding percentage at third base (27 E/464 TC), including a .963 mark (7 E/190 TC) with Iowa this season.

Tseng, 19, was a key component in Single-A Kane County’s run to a Midwest League title in 2014. The right-hander went 6-1 with a 2.40 ERA (28 ER/105.0 IP) in 19 games (17 starts), fanning 85 and walking just 15. Tseng limited opponents to a .204 batting average (76-for-373), a .241 on-base percentage and a .308 slugging percentage.

In his first professional season since he was signed by the Cubs as a non-drafted free agent in July of last season, Tseng allowed three or fewer earned runs in 16 of his 17 starts and surrendered two or fewer walks in 15 starts. He finished the regular season on a nice run, posting a 3-1 record and a 1.65 ERA (10 ER/54.2 IP) in nine games (eight starts) from July 6. The run included a seven-inning complete game in which he allowed just one run on three hits while walking none and striking out seven on July 13 vs. Beloit.

Bryant and Tseng will be honored during an on-field ceremony prior to the Cubs 7:05 p.m. contest this Wednesday, Sept. 17, against the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field.

Cubs Minor League Recap: Cougars claim MWL title

Kane County’s solid play throughout the season was rewarded Saturday, when the Cougars topped Lake County to win the Midwest League title. Here are some highlights from Saturday’s championship-clinching victory.

Kane County Cougars
First Half (45-25, 1st Place, +6.5)
Second Half (46-24, 1st Place, +4.0)

Kane County won the Midwest League title, and went 7-0 in the postseason, thanks to Saturday’s 7-2 victory over Lake County to complete a three-game sweep. Add that to their 91-49 regular-season record, and the Cougars finished the campaign 98-49 (.666).

  • RHP Daury Torrez gave up one earned run over five innings, striking out three to earn the win.
  • 1B Jacob Rogers (.259) belted his second homer of the postseason and finished the game 3-for-4 with two runs, three RBI and a walk.
  • 3B Jeimer Candelario (.429) added three hits, one RBI and two runs scored.
  • LHP Michael Heesch (1.35) appeared in relief of Torrez and allowed one run in three innings to pick up the hold.
  • RHP Francisco Carrillo finished the game with a scoreless ninth.

Cubs Minor League Recap: 9/11/14

Kane County jumped out to a 2-0 series lead with a dominant pitching performance Thursday. Here are some highlights from yesterday’s game:

Kane County Cougars
Midwest League Championship
Kane County leads best-of-five series 2-0

The Cougars held Lake County to just two hits for a 6-0 victory in Game 2 of the best-of-five MWL Championship Series. Kane County can clinch the title with a win tomorrow night at Lake County.

  • DH Mark Zagunis (.435) registered a game-high three hits, going 3-for-5 with a run scored, a double (1) and one stolen base (1).
  • LF Shawon Dunston (.348) went 2-for-3 with three runs scored, a walk, one RBI (2) and two stolen bases (7).
  • RHP Duane Underwood recorded the win after holding Lake County hitless in six innings of work. He struck out eight.
  • LHP Tyler Ihrig came on in relief and surrendered two hits while striking out four in three scoreless innings of relief to earn his second save of the postseason.
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