Cubs announce new free remote parking lot

As part of an ongoing commitment to ease vehicle traffic and reduce the number of cars near Wrigley Field, the Chicago Cubs are launching a free remote parking lot operation two miles west of the ballpark during night and weekend games. The new remote parking lot is located at 3900 N. Rockwell St., just east of the Chicago River and immediately south of Irving Park Road. The lot has a capacity of 1,000 vehicles and will be secured by Cubs personnel. The parking service includes free shuttle transportation to and from the remote lot and Wrigley Field.

“We believe free parking is a great incentive for our guests and encourages fans to take advantage of this new remote parking lot,” said Manager, Government & Neighborhood Relations Kam Buckner. “We recognize many fans drive to Wrigley Field, and this easy-to-use remote parking operation will help alleviate traffic congestion in the neighborhood before and after games.”

Shuttles will begin running two and a half hours prior to the start of games and will run continuously for approximately an hour postgame. At the conclusion of night and weekend games, the shuttle bus will pick up fans at the designated drop-off location on Addison Street.

This shuttle service will also be available for postseason games and night games of a day-night doubleheader. The Cubs’ first day-night doubleheader of the season will take place Sat., June 28.

This newly introduced free remote parking lot replaces the team’s previous remote parking operation at DeVry University.

Now Playing: Cubscast Mesa, Positive Energy in Cubs Camp

Spring is a time for hope, optimism and new beginnings. This season, the Cubs are welcoming a new manager, several new coaches and a host of new players to the fold.

We talked to Cubs personnel, new and old, about the feeling in camp this year and how things are different under skipper Rick Renteria.

We’ll be posting videos and stories from Cubs Park throughout the spring, so watch the blog and our Twitter account, @cubsvineline.

Check out the other videos from our Spring Training series:

Cubscast Mesa, Inside Cubs Park
Cubscast Mesa with Rick Renteria and the 2014 coaching staff
Cubscast Mesa with the top prospects
Cubscast Mesa: Meet the new guys
Cubscast Mesa: The lighter side of the Cubs, Part One
Cubscast Mesa: The lighter side of the Cubs, Part Two
Cubscast Mesa: The lighter side of the Cubs, Part Three
Cubscast Mesa: The lighter side of the Cubs, Part Four

ESPN speaks highly of Cubs in future power rankings

ArodysVizcaino

(Photo by Stephen Green)

ESPN analysts Jim Bowden, Keith Law and Buster Olney recently ranked all 30 major league clubs in five separate categories to see how they fared in their 2014 Future Power Rankings. And their findings put the Cubs seventh-best on the list, largely due to the state of the farm system as well as the people in charge.

The rankings are designed to evaluate how an organization will fare over a five-year period. Organizations were ranked on a 1-30 scale (30 being the best in the category) on their major league roster, the quality of minor leaguers, the club’s financial state, the management—from the front office on down—and finally the mobility of the current state of finances and age with the payroll. These categories were weighted (majors and minors received full weight, finance and management received 2/3 and mobility was worth 1/3), and the formula produced a single score.

Here’s how the Cubs were scored on each of the five categories:

Majors: 3 (28th in MLB)
Minors: 27 (4th in MLB)
Finance: 21 (10th in MLB)
Management: 23 (8th in MLB)
Mobility: 20 (11th in MLB)

That total means they amassed 58.8 percent of the possible 110 points, good for the top 10 spot. Here are a few more tidbits from the article:

The Overview
The Cubs are poised to lose 90 games again, and there are growing questions about exactly when club ownership will start building a payroll worthy of a team of such financial power. But if you talk to execs around the National League, you can tell they are already worrying about this sleeping giant. With prospects like Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler on the horizon, the Cubs could soon have a powerful lineup. — Buster Olney

The Dilemma
The Cubs’ elite hitting prospects should begin to arrive this year and have them ready to compete by 2016. That gives club president Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer two years to find a pitching staff worthy of those hitters. They tried to sign Masahiro Tanaka, but lost out to the Yankees, and don’t be surprised if they look to free agency again next winter when the likes of James Shields and Max Scherzer could be available. — Jim Bowden

Make-or-break year
Arodys Vizcaino appears to be back after two years lost due to arm injuries, including Tommy John surgery; once among the top starting pitching prospects in the minors, he’ll likely have to work his way back as a reliever given all the time he’s lost. — Keith Law

Cubs trim spring roster to 54 players

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Slugger and 2013 first-round draft pick Kris Bryant has been assigned to minor league camp. (Photo by Stephen Green)

The Chicago Cubs have assigned 12 players to minor league camp, reducing their spring roster from 66 to 54 players.

Infielders Arismendy Alcantara and Logan Watkins, outfielder Matt Szczur and right-handed pitcher Dallas Beeler have been optioned to Triple-A Iowa. Outfielder Jorge Soler has been optioned to Double-A Tennessee.

Six nonroster invitees have been assigned to minor league camp: right-handed pitchers Marcus Hatley and Carlos Pimentel, left-handed pitcher Eric Jokisch, infielders Kris Bryant and Jeudy Valdez, and outfielder Albert Almora.

Additionally, outfielder Aaron Cunningham has been granted his release.

Chicago’s spring roster now consists of 27 pitchers (seven nonroster invitees), five catchers (three nonroster invitees), 11 infielders (four nonroster invitees) and 11 outfielders (five nonroster invitees).

Former Cubs president Bill Veeck Sr. changed the face of baseball

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(National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

Once upon a time, early in the 20th century, the Confines were not so friendly. Cubs games drew nattily dressed men to Weeghman Park’s sleepy Lakeview neighborhood by trolley or elevated train to cheer on the likes of Max Flack and Jigger Statz. Fans took to their seats, likely among the festering trash abandoned by the previous day’s crowd. They might lose a few bucks when a favorite pitcher “threw” a fixed game. Some may have had a box seat reserved only to find it occupied by a friend of one of the many unscrupulous ushers. They’d slam some beers, eat hot dogs, and not surprise a soul if they walked out with a black eye after an all-too-typical tussle.

You know, just your average day at the ballpark.

“It was kind of a rough crowd,” said Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field historian Ed Hartig, of the ballpark experience in the early 1900s. “It was not a place for families.”

This hardscrabble climate was a common feature of baseball parks at the time. The Cubs drew about 600,000 fans per season, and the crowds were primarily male and often intimidating.

“The team wasn’t complaining,” Hartig said. “That was fine.”

But it wasn’t enough, at least not for one man.

In 1918, a baseball writer was plucked off his beat and deposited into the Cubs front office, where his years of outsider observations and unbiased criticism of management were put to the test.

As the ’20s roared loud and proud at Wrigley Field, the rough-and-tumble tumult of gamedays gave way to memorable, safe and pleasant afternoons at the park. Home games were broadcast on the radio. Attendance records were set. The park grew. Women and children arrived in droves. And most of this can be traced directly to the efforts of then-Cubs President Bill Veeck Sr.

“He’s right up there at the top,” Hartig said of Veeck’s place in baseball history. “You go to a game [today], and 40 percent of the crowd is women, there are kids at games, the ballpark is clean.”

Veeck was an integral cog in the team’s front office, from his hiring in 1918 to his death in 1933 at the age of 56. During his time at the helm, he led the Cubs out of the Dark Ages and revolutionized the marketing of baseball. He had such a profound and lasting impact on the game that campaigns are underway to get him elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame at the next available opportunity, in December 2015.

“He was a pioneering executive who changed baseball from a cottage industry into an entertainment colossus,” said Dr. David Fletcher, president and founder of the Chicago Baseball Museum and one of those pushing for Veeck’s Cooperstown enshrinement. “It’s sad—most Cubs fans have never heard of him.”

* * * *
William Louis Veeck Sr.—not to be confused with his legendary, franchise-owning, promotional stuntman of a son (think exploding scoreboards and Disco Demolition)—was a by-the-book but out-of-the-box leader who rewarded loyalty and regularly took the long view. A baseball fan from a young age, Veeck was born in Indiana in 1877 and had his roots in journalism, not management. His first job was selling newspapers, and as a teenager he worked as a printer’s apprentice.

Veeck never attended college and eventually landed a job in the cutthroat world of Chicago newspapers. He bounced around among publications until gaining purchase at the Chicago Evening American, first reporting on the city desk and later on sports, where his lifelong love of baseball paid off. He wrote under the pen name “Bill Bailey,” and there was a quality to his work that went beyond simply posting gameday recaps and churning out stats.

He demonstrated a nuanced understanding of the game that caught the baseball world’s attention—so much so that when the Cubs began considering a new management direction, Veeck’s name was on the short list.

“[He] was more critic than critical,” Hartig said.

In 1918, then-Cubs President Charles Weeghman was underwater financially and had to choose between his baseball career and his restaurant business. The team had just won the National League pennant during a season abridged by World War I, but both his restaurant and his namesake Weeghman Park, where the Cubs played, were suffering from dismal attendance due to the aftereffects of the war and a worldwide influenza epidemic that caused the U.S. government to urge people to stay out of crowded places. To make matters worse, he had a German-sounding last name during the acrimonious postwar period. Ultimately, he stepped down from the team, and Cubs manager Fred Mitchell took over.

Veeck—somewhat improbably by today’s standards—was hired by the Cubs as vice president and treasurer. The following summer, the National League determined Mitchell could not serve as both manager and president. As he preferred to stay on the field, Veeck was bumped up to the big job.

“To hire a sportswriter with little or no business background,” Hartig said, “today you’d be like, ‘What are they thinking?’”

* * * *
But the Cubs had good reason for optimism. Almost immediately, Veeck began to combat the scourge of player gambling.

“He basically saved baseball with his role in the Black Sox scandal,” Fletcher said. “He blew the whistle on his own team.”

With his swift punitive measures, the Cubs president set a league-wide standard for transparency. Yet Veeck’s cleanup efforts were only beginning.

In 1922, he insisted the team wear freshly laundered uniforms for each game. According to Veeck’s logic, a tidy team upped the park’s allure and would put more fans in the seats, as would the newly hired Andy Frain uniformed ushers.
Before Frain, the park’s ushers weren’t known for their courteous service, often giving otherwise reserved seats to friends or to those proffering bribes, resolving conflicts with fisticuffs, or generally ignoring the safety and comfort of their charges. Not so with the new fleet.

And then there was the mess. Ballparks typically only underwent a cleaning after every series, so fans were often sitting amid piles of days-old trash. Veeck upped the size of the grounds crew and instituted park-wide cleanup after every home game.

He also expanded concessions beyond the standard beer and hot dogs to include items such as lemonade, soda, candy and popcorn—all in the name of courting a new crop of fans.

But nothing did more to bring a different crowd to the ballpark than his championing of Ladies Day. With the help of team Vice President John Seys and club Secretary Margaret Donahue (who later served as VP), Veeck fought to welcome women to the newly christened Wrigley Field.

The league wasn’t wild about the idea of a regular day on which women didn’t have to surrender the buck or so to buy a ticket, as it would chip away at revenues. The promotion was actually first introduced in the 1880s, but the NL abolished it in 1909. When Weeghman took over the Cubs in 1916, he made his case for Ladies Day, but the NL again said no. Finally, in 1918 and ’19, the NL allowed the Cubs to attempt the concept on a trial basis.

It was the promotion of the event by Veeck, Seys and Donahue in the 1920s that convinced NL owners that offering Ladies Days would eventually lead to women attending other games. With that, the NL removed the restriction, and the Cubs turned it into a regular Friday event. By the mid-1920s, the team was drawing close to 10,000 women for a single Ladies Day game. In 1929, one August game drew 29,000 women, and the numbers only swelled from there, according to Hartig.

The Ladies Day promotion continued in some form until 1990.

* * * *
Veeck’s sweeping changes never would have been possible without the support of chewing gum magnate and team owner William Wrigley Jr.

“They understood marketing before the whole science of marketing was studied,” Hartig said of the Wrigley family, which boldly sent a pack of their eponymous gum to every telephone customer in the country—twice.

One of the harder sells Wrigley and Veeck teamed up on was the idea of broadcasting home games on the radio. Popular opinion decried such a practice as a deterrent to actual attendance. If a fan could hear games on the radio, why would he or she feel the need to hop on a train to see a game in person? But on Oct. 1, 1924, the Cubs made their successful radio debut, broadcasting a city series 10-7 win over the White Sox on WGN. In the 1925 season, the Cubs became the first major league franchise to broadcast all of their home games.

“The announcers are going, ‘It’s a beautiful day at the ballpark,’” Hartig said. “People want to go.”

And people did. While the Cubs ended the year well below .500, their attendance totaled 622,610, nearly 100,000 more than the National League average, according to the Baseball Research Journal.

Thanks to this surge in fandom, a second tier of grandstands was added to Wrigley Field in 1927. In 1929, manager Joe McCarthy, a Veeck hire, nabbed his first pennant. The team also won the NL in ’32, ’35 and ’38, due in large part to Veeck’s management. During this time, the team began drawing more than a million fans per season, becoming the first NL club to do so.

Veeck died of leukemia in 1933, shortly after championing interleague play as a way to combat the dismal Depression-era attendance. He also supported the creation of the All-Star Game. Veeck even helped negotiate a deal to bring a football team called the Decatur Staley’s to Chicago. They are better known these days as the Chicago Bears, a franchise that went on to play for 50 years at Wrigley Field.

While a Veeck bid for the Hall of Fame was unsuccessful in 2012, the effort is far from over. Fletcher is gearing up to take another shot in December 2015, more than 100 years after the president’s heyday.

“I think he’s the most unsung hero of Major League Baseball,” Fletcher said. “His footprints are significant.”
And they’re all over Wrigley Field.

Now Playing: Cubscast Mesa, The Lighter Side of the Cubs, Part Four

Professional baseball players live an odd life. They work late hours, face enormous pressures and spend half their year on the road—which means they have a lot of down time before they have to be at the park.

In Part Four of our Lighter Side video series, we ask Kris Bryant, Carlos Villanueva, Edwin Jackson and others about their favorite movies.

We’ll be posting videos and stories from Cubs Park throughout the spring, so watch the blog and our Twitter account, @cubsvineline.

Check out the other videos from our Spring Training series:

Cubscast Mesa, Inside Cubs Park
Cubscast Mesa with Rick Renteria and the 2014 coaching staff
Cubscast Mesa with the top prospects
Cubscast Mesa: The lighter side of the Cubs, Part One
Cubscast Mesa: Meet the new guys
Cubscast Mesa: The lighter side of the Cubs, Part Two
Cubscast Mesa: The lighter side of the Cubs, Part Three

From the Pages of Vine Line: Our Spring Training roster preview

RizzoDefense

(Photo by Stephen Green)

Major League Baseball’s offseason got off to a fast start roughly a week before the Winter Meetings began in December. There was an early rush that included address changes for multiple All-Stars; then marquee players like Robinson Cano and Clayton Kershaw nabbed record-setting contracts. And the frenzy stretched into late January this year as organizations, including the Cubs, awaited the decision of Japanese free agent Masahiro Tanaka, who eventually signed with the again-free-spending Yankees.

As for the Cubs’ roster? On paper, the squad looks quite similar to the one that wrapped up the 2013 campaign. Though that might worry some fans, especially after a 96-loss season, one of baseball’s youngest lineups should only improve with another year under its belt. Many members of the young Cubs core got their first full season at their respective positions in 2013, and that experience should pay dividends. Plus, the Cubs have one of the top farm systems in baseball, and many of those coveted players are getting closer to making their debuts at Wrigley Field.

“There’s room for improvement,” said Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein. “There are a lot of talented players on the roster who didn’t have their best year. I know they’re really committed to the work they’re doing this offseason and to doing better this year. And we had guys who did have big breakthroughs last year, and they want to sustain that progress and build from there.”

The team also added depth at several positions and bolstered the bullpen. Last season, the rotation was good enough to win, but the team struggled to close things out. This offseason, they plugged Wesley Wright and closer Jose Veras into the back end of the ’pen, which should keep the squad in a lot more games.

To get you ready for the upcoming season, we go around the horn to see what the roster could look like as the Cubs open up the season in Pittsburgh in late March.

The Infield
Defensively, nobody plays the second-base position better than Darwin Barney. He captured a Gold Glove Award in 2012, and the 28-year-old had comparable numbers in 2013. But if Barney hopes to move into the Cubs core, the defense-first player is going to have to improve his offensive production. His on-base percentage and wins above replacement ranked worst of all qualifying NL second basemen last season.

“I think you have to remember that this game is hard, and that you’re not always going to play as well as you want,” Barney said. “Unfortunately, nothing came together last year, but I’m very confident that isn’t going to happen again.”

Logan Watkins, the Cubs’ 2012 Minor League Player of the Year, will continue his playing-time push at second and compete with the versatile Emilio Bonifacio and nonroster invitee Ryan Roberts for the extra infield spot.

Around the diamond, nobody’s job appears to be safer than first baseman Anthony Rizzo’s. Despite a dip in his slash line, the power numbers were pretty much as expected, including a position-leading 40 doubles. It’s easy to forget the 24-year-old just concluded his first full season in the majors, and the grind of a 162-game schedule might have gotten the best of him. The slugger’s numbers dipped midway through the year—he hit .210 in July and just .190 in August. But throw in his Gold Glove-caliber defense, and it’s safe to assume mistakes will be kept to a minimum on the right side of the infield.

The left side, however, has a few question marks surrounding its personnel. Sure, young veteran Starlin Castro will begin the season as the team’s shortstop. New manager Rick Renteria has gone out of his way to describe the great communication he’s had with the 23-year-old two-time All-Star, who is under contract for at least six more seasons. But it’s hard to ignore the production of top shortstop prospect Javier Baez, who has received plaudits from the front office, minor league experts and anyone else who has seen his lightning-fast, ultraviolent swing.

Depending on Castro’s production, as well as Baez’s continued development, the incumbent may have to eventually make way for baseball’s No. 4 prospect according to Baseball Prospectus, and shift to second or third. For now, the position is Castro’s to lose. He’s never been a patient hitter, but he’ll have to cut down on his 18.3 percent strikeout rate, which was second highest among qualifying NL shortstops last year. A simpler approach might be necessary to get the 2011 NL hits leader back to that level of success.

“I can’t really speak to what was the change or what transpired to cause how he approached his at-bats,” Renteria said of Castro’s offensive struggles in 2013. “But I can assure you that [the new coaches] are just looking to have Starlin Castro be himself and swing at good pitches.”

Third base is the grab-bag section of the Cubs infield. There are upward of five players who could realistically man the position at any point this season, and that doesn’t include the overflow from short. As it currently stands, the underrated duo of Luis Valbuena and Donnie Murphy should begin the year as a hot-corner platoon, with the left-handed Valbuena likely seeing more time. Despite a .230 batting average between the two, they combined for 23 homers, 23 doubles and a .327 on-base percentage last year.

Trade deadline acquisition Mike Olt also has an outside shot of breaking camp as the everyday third baseman if he can regain the form that once made him an untouchable prospect in the Rangers organization. But that will depend on whether he can put last year’s concussion- and allergy-related eye issues behind him and show the power/defense combination that got him all the way to the major leagues with Texas in 2012.

Catcher
The first full season of the Welington Castillo era was a resounding success. The 26-year-old backstop exceeded expectations offensively while serving as one of the finest defensive catchers in the game. At the January Cubs Convention, pitching coach Chris Bosio and catching instructor Mike Borzello both took time to praise Castillo’s work ethic and the strides he made over the course of the year.

Typically, catchers don’t get to call their own games until they have years of experience, but Castillo picked up the ins and outs of the position so quickly—and so impressed Bosio with his ability to dissect the scouting report—that he had free rein on pitch selection in 2013. According to baseball website Fangraphs, he also posted 19 defensive runs saved, tops at the catcher position and sixth best for any player in the NL.

Former Royal George Kottaras will replace Dioner Navarro, who signed with Toronto this offseason, as the club’s backup backstop. Though Kottaras is only a career .214 hitter, he is a base-on-balls machine, drawing walks in 14 percent of his 820 career plate appearances. He should be a good addition for a team that had the third-lowest on-base percentage in the game last season.

The Outfield
Much like the infield, the outfield appears to be pretty well set, at least for Opening Day.

Expectations are high for 30-year-old right fielder Nate Schierholtz, a 2013 free-agent signee who opened eyes in the Cubs outfield last year. He led all of the team’s returning outfielders in WAR and nearly doubled his career home run total with 21, though he’s significantly better against right-handers (.262 average and 20 homers against righties vs. .170 against lefties).

It’s also a safe assumption that Junior Lake will get plenty of regular playing time in left field this season. Thanks to his slightly surprising but solid major league debut in mid-July, fans are expecting big things from the Dominican, who will turn 24 four days before the season opener. If Lake can cut down on his strikeout rate of 26.8 percent, it will bode well in other categories. His 27.8 percent line-drive rate ranked second in the NL among players with 250 plate appearances, and his .377 batting average on balls in play ranked third among NL outfield rookies. If Lake can cut his K total down, even to just his career minor league average of 23.8 percent, he could finish with a near .300 average.

The biggest offensive acquisition this offseason came in the form of Justin Ruggiano, a 31-year-old former Marlin with the ability to man all three outfield spots. Traded from Miami during the Winter Meetings for Brian Bogusevic, Ruggiano adds much-needed right-handed pop to the lineup and could form an effective platoon with Schierholtz. The lifetime .251 hitter had a career-high 18 homers last season and looks to improve on that total now that he is away from the spacious Marlins Park, where he hit only three dingers in 2013.

“I don’t think it can get much tougher [as a] ballpark than Miami,” Ruggiano said. “I’ve seen so many balls go 420-plus feet and go for doubles. [Wrigley Field] is going to be a good park to hit at.”

Ryan Sweeney, who re-upped this offseason to stay on the North Side, could see a lot of playing time in center field. Sweeney got off to a fast start in 2013, hitting .295/.342/.527 in 44 games before fracturing a rib trying to make a play on June 29. Though his return was less than stellar, he is a singles machine. More than 20 percent of his at-bats have resulted in singles since he started playing regularly with Oakland in 2008. That ranks 21st of all players during that time.

Ryan Kalish, Darnell McDonald and former NL Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan will compete with prospects Brett Jackson and Matt Szczur for a potential fifth outfield spot.

The Rotation
The starting rotation was undoubtedly the strong point of last season’s squad, as fans saw many young talents evolve with more playing time and higher inning totals. But the byproduct of two active trade deadlines under Epstein and Hoyer has been a lack of depth. Though the Cubs fell short in the bidding war for Japanese ace Tanaka, they did make a few under-the-radar acquisitions, adding Jason Hammel and James McDonald late in the offseason, that should serve them well.

Former manager Dale Sveum tabbed Jeff Samardzija as the squad’s Opening Day starter in 2013, and the power arm fought to live up to that honor all year. Though his 8-13 record and 4.34 ERA were not what Samardzija or Cubs fans had hoped for out of a No. 1 starter, he did strike out 214 hitters, reach 213.2 innings and complete an entire season for the first time as a starter. His 9.01 strikeouts per nine innings were fifth in the NL, and his cumulative strikeout total was good for fourth.

“I really feel like last year was a big learning process, coming off starting 30 times the year before and, before that, throwing 80 innings of relief. I really feel like I had to adjust myself toward the end of the year,” Samardzija said. “I think you look at August and July, and they weren’t great. You look at my September, and I really liked my September and how I finished.”

Though Samardzija slotted in as the ace last year, nobody put up a better season in the rotation than left-hander Travis Wood. The Cubs’ lone All-Star representative was as consistent as it came, going at least six innings in 26 of his 32 starts and making it into the fifth inning on all but two occasions. His 3.11 ERA was good for 12th in the NL, and he kept his team in a lot of games with his 6.9 percent home run-to-fly ball ratio, fifth best in the NL.

After signing a four-year, $52 million contract last offseason, Edwin Jackson will need to step up in his second year in Cubbie blue. Though he showed glimpses of the top-end guy the Cubs hoped he’d be last year, Jackson’s ERA ballooned to one of the worst in baseball, and his 18 losses led the NL.

The good news is E-Jax has dealt with adversity before, having been traded six times in a five-year period. At 30 years old, he has already been around the game for 11 major league seasons and has earned a reputation as a solid workhorse. The last time he finished with such a high ERA, he cut the total down by well over a run the following season.

A newcomer to the fray, right-hander Hammel adds some veteran experience to the rotation. The Cubs signed the 31-year-old, who was Baltimore’s Opening Day starter a year ago, to a one-year deal on Jan. 31. Hammel got off to a fast 7-2 start in 2013, despite a 4.98 ERA during that time. However, he dropped his next six starts and spent more than a month on the DL with a forearm injury. When he returned, he was inserted into Baltimore’s bullpen.

Many predict a successful first half for Hammel could lead to a trade, similar to what happened with Scott Feldman a year ago. Looking at the right-hander’s career splits, he could make a perfect midseason trade candidate, as he has proven to be significantly better in the first half (36-30, 4.47 ERA, 1.40 WHIP in the first half vs. 13-29, 5.29 ERA, 1.49 WHIP post-All-Star break).

Jake Arrieta looks to slot into the final spot despite and while he had arm issues as camp got underway, he comes off a successful spell with the North Siders in 2013. The once highly touted prospect came over in the Scott Feldman deal, and gave up one run or fewer in five of his nine starts to finish his Cubs run 4-2 with a 3.66 ERA.

That should give the Cubs a solid (and hard-throwing) front five, but the team also has some depth behind them, with lefty Chris Rusin and right-handers Justin Grimm and Carlos Villanueva. Rusin came up after the Cubs parted ways with Matt Garza in July and made 13 late-season starts. Though he definitely faded in the last month, he showed he has the ability to get major league hitters out.

Grimm, one of the arms exchanged for Garza, was told to prepare to compete for a starting job prior to Spring Training. Despite having just 19 career major league starts, the 25-year-old has an effective fastball/cutter combination and is still viewed as a solid prospect going forward.

Villanueva will serve as a nice cushion for the Cubs, who know exactly what they’ll get out of the 30-year-old swingman. He won a starting job out of Spring Training in 2013 and was great in April (2.29 ERA, .171 OBA) before stepping in to stabilize the bullpen. If Villanueva doesn’t win a rotation spot, he’ll likely serve as a long reliever while Grimm and Rusin are sent to Triple-A to hone their skills in the I-Cubs’ rotation.

The Bullpen
If the rotation was the strong point last year, the bullpen was definitely its weaker counterpoint. Cubs relievers finished with a 4.04 ERA, a 1.35 WHIP (both 13th in the NL), 26 blown saves and 210 walks (both 14th in the NL).

The front office spent the early part of the offseason overhauling the ’pen, adding closer Veras as the group’s centerpiece.

“I think we’re bringing [Veras] in because I have confidence that he can follow through in the ninth inning. That’s a special inning in baseball,” Renteria said. “Obviously you guys have seen in times past that there have been particular issues in that particular inning.”

The 33-year-old finished last year with a 3.02 ERA and converted 21 of 25 save opportunities between stints in Houston and Detroit. He also brought his WHIP down nearly half a point from 2012 to an impressive 1.07, while striking out a respectable 8.6 batters per nine innings.

Pedro Strop should continue to improve since his July arrival via trade. The right-hander got off to a rough start to open the year in Baltimore, but finished with a 2.83 ERA, a 0.94 WHIP and 10.8 K/9 over 35 innings with the Cubs. He fits the mold of a two-pitch, late-innings power arm, and could spell Veras in the closer’s role if needed.

James Russell will again operate as the top lefty in the ’pen—but this year, he won’t be the lone lefty, thanks to the acquisition of free agent Wesley Wright. Though Russell gave the club all it could ask for in the first half of 2013, pulling into the All-Star break with a 2.78 ERA, the southpaw was plagued by overuse down the stretch.

Wright should help ease the load this season. The veteran lefty uses a combination of a two-seamer and a slider to get batters out, and he fanned 55 hitters over 53.2 innings in 2013.

Aside from Arodys Vizcaino—who hasn’t pitched since 2011 because of complications following Tommy John surgery—and possibly Villanueva, there are a number of arms who could compete for the final bullpen spots, including Alberto Cabrera, Blake Parker, Justin Grimm, Hector Rondon and Zac Rosscup. Last year’s big free-agent acquisition Kyuji Fujikawa should also be back in the mix by the All-Star break.

Down the Line
For the past two-plus years, Epstein and Hoyer have been preaching patience. Just one look at the Spring Training invitee list is proof positive that the club’s patience is close to paying off. The five biggest offensive prospects will all be in attendance to start the preseason, including the aforementioned Baez.

Kris Bryant will likely begin the year as Double-A Tennessee’s third baseman, but he could really push Valbuena, Murphy and Olt in camp. Though his professional career just started late last year, the game’s No. 17 prospect (Baseball Prospectus) has hit at every stop along the way, including in the Arizona Fall League. A productive half season of minor league ball could have him knocking on Wrigley Field’s door by the end of the season.

Another name to keep an eye on at the hot corner is Christian Villanueva, a return from the Ryan Dempster deal with Texas in 2012. Villanueva will start the season at Triple-A Iowa, but most scouts believe the plus defender could excel at third base right now. The only questions in the past have surrounded his bat, but an impressive offensive campaign in 2013, in which he showed strong doubles power and drove in runs, opened eyes around the game.

Infielder Arismendy Alcantara started gaining recognition after his scorching first half at Double-A Tennessee in 2013 and his productive Futures Game performance, in which he hit a homer for the International side. Though he’ll begin 2014 at Triple-A, the five-tool player could give Barney a run for his money at the keystone sooner rather than later.

A year from now, we might be having similar conversations about top outfield prospects Albert Almora and Jorge Soler. Though hopes of seeing the two manning the Wrigley outfield when camp breaks are a little premature, the duo will get an opportunity to impress in spring camp before being sent to their respective minor league destinations.

1000 Words: Rizzo is ready for action

Spring Training Chicago Cubs

(Photo by Stephen Green)

Cubs photographer Stephen Green captures another great shot of Cubs Park, as first baseman Anthony Rizzo gets ready for the start of a Spring Training game. In four Cactus League games so far, Rizzo is hitting .500, with two doubles, an RBI and a walk in 10 at-bats.

Now Playing: Cubscast Mesa, Inside Cubs Park

Building a model organization is about much more than just acquiring the right players. Those players also need world class facilities in which to practice and train. Following the opening last year of their new training facility in the Dominican Republic, the Cubs took another step in the right direction this spring when they unveiled their new Cubs Park complex in Mesa, Ariz.

The facility includes Cubs Park—which seats 15,000 people—a two-story player development facility and a rebuilt Riverview Park. It all sits on a 146-acre site, making it the largest facility in the Cactus League.

“There are two things that all our baseball operations people have been saying since we walked in for the first time,” said baseball president Theo Epstein at the park’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. “One is no more excuses. This place is as good as it gets. And the second is related to that. If we can’t get better here, we can’t get better anywhere. We will work extremely hard to put that World Series flag on top of this complex to finish it off.”

If you didn’t get a chance to head out to Mesa, this spring, we give you an inside look at the Cubs spectacular new Spring Training facility, inside and out.

We’ll be posting videos and stories from Cubs Park throughout the spring, so watch the blog and our Twitter account, @cubsvineline.

Check out the other videos from our Spring Training series:

Cubscast Mesa with Rick Renteria and the 2014 coaching staff
Cubscast Mesa with the top prospects
Cubscast Mesa: The lighter side of the Cubs, Part One
Cubscast Mesa: Meet the new guys
Cubscast Mesa: The lighter side of the Cubs, Part Two
Cubscast Mesa: The lighter side of the Cubs, Part Three

Cubs single-game tickets go on sale today

Party Like It's 1914 Ad

The Cubs today announced details for purchasing single-game tickets for the 2014 season. This year, Cubs fans will be able to watch their favorite team while taking part in a season-long celebration of the last 100 years of baseball and other events at Wrigley Field. Guests will enjoy unique promotional items, retro food and beverage options, throwback uniforms and entertainment specific to the time period being celebrated during 10 decade-specific homestands.

Single game tickets go on sale Friday, March 7, at 10 a.m. CST at http://www.cubs.com and by phone at 800-THE-CUBS (800-843-2827).

As referenced last year, the team will no longer host a two-hour on-sale event at Wrigley Field prior to online and phone sales. The Wrigley Field Ticket Windows will open Saturday, March 8, at 9 a.m.

In celebration of Wrigley Field’s milestone, the team has introduced a section of MasterCard Century Seats with tickets priced at $19.14 before tax for every game of the season. This 350-seat section is located in the Upper Deck Box level in left field. These tickets must be purchased with a MasterCard and are available at http://www.cubs.com/CenturySeats or 800-THE-CUBS with no service or delivery fees.

“We’re excited to host the ‘Party of the Century’ at Wrigley Field this year while honoring our historic ballpark,” said Cubs Vice President of Sales and Partnerships Colin Faulkner. “Our fans will notice a unique look and feel when they attend each homestand as we recognize a century of events, milestones, people and teams who play a significant role in Wrigley Field’s iconic history.”

Following Opening Week, Cubs fans will be treated to a variety of elements to celebrate 10 decades, during 10 unique homestands at Wrigley Field. These festivities include historic bobblehead giveaways on the first Friday of each homestand to honor key individuals or events from the corresponding decade; “Throwback Sunday” games on the first Sunday of each homestand, in which the Cubs and many visiting teams will wear throwback uniforms; retro toy promotional giveaways to children 13-and-under on those same Sundays; a dedicated “Decades Diner” with rotating food and beverage options; plus commemorative ballpark décor, guests and game entertainment.

While the entire season is dedicated to celebrating 100 years of Wrigley Field, one game stands out as Wrigley Field’s actual 100th birthday. On April 23, the Cubs will host the Arizona Diamondbacks exactly a century after the Chicago Federals opened then-Weeghman Park against the Kansas City Packers on April 23, 1914. Both teams will wear commemorative uniforms, and the first 30,000 fans in the ballpark will receive a replica 1914 Chi-Feds jersey. Like any good birthday party, Wrigley Field’s celebration will feature special guests, gifts, cake, entertainment and even a serenade to the tune of “Happy Birthday.”

Details for each single game purchasing option follow:

SINGLE GAME GENERAL ON-SALE:

Via the Internet: Visitors to http://www.cubs.com can purchase tickets beginning at 10 a.m. A virtual waiting room will be used for all Internet orders. The virtual waiting room will begin accepting customers Friday, March 7, at 9:30 a.m. At 10 a.m., customers will be selected from the virtual waiting room to begin purchasing tickets. All Internet customers will need a valid cubs.com account. Customers are recommended to register for an account prior to March 7.

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

At the Wrigley Field Ticket Office: Tickets will be available for purchase at the Wrigley Field Ticket Windows Saturday, March 8, beginning at 9 a.m. Due to offseason construction in the main concourse and fans’ increased use of online ticket purchasing, the team will no longer host a two-hour on-sale event at Wrigley Field prior to online and phone sales.

MASTERCARD CENTURY SEATS:

In celebration of Wrigley Field’s 100th birthday, the Cubs and MasterCard have partnered to offer a consistently low-priced seating option for every game during the 2014 regular season. Cubs fans can use their MasterCard to buy tickets priced at $19.14 before tax with no service or delivery fees. This 350-seat section is located in the Upper Deck Box level in left field.

MasterCard Century Seats must be purchased with a MasterCard, which serves as the buyer’s day-of-game ticket for admittance along with a photo ID. Guests will receive email confirmation of their purchase, however print-at-home tickets are not available for MasterCard Century Seats. These tickets are non-transferable. MasterCard Century Seats are available at http://www.cubs.com/CenturySeats or 800-THE-CUBS beginning Saturday, March 8, at 10 a.m.

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

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