1000 Words: Dexter Fowler is ready for his close up

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New Cubs outfielder Dexter Fowler smiles for the camera as a storm front blows in at Cubs photo day in Mesa Monday.

Cactus Notes: Photo day + rain

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Monday was photo day at Cubs camp in Mesa, Arizona, so the players and coaches spent the morning running from station to station getting their pictures taken and doing interviews. The day includes everyone from team photographers to Topps to MLB.com to, well, us.

But just as the gauntlet was coming to an end, the skies opened up and washed out most of the training day in “sunny” Arizona. The players did their work in the batting cages, and they should be back at it on the practice fields Tuesday, when sunnier skies are expected. The Cubs open their Cactus League slate on Thursday with split-squad games against the Athletics at Sloan Park and the Giants in Scottsdale.

All spring long, watch for our video series with players and coaches here on the blog.

Hot off the Press: The March issue featuring a tribute to Ernie Banks

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On Jan. 31, 2015, the Cubs organization laid to rest the most beloved player in franchise history, Ernie Banks. For our special March issue, we talked to former players, front office members, fans and many others whose lives Ernie touched to find out what made Mr. Cub so special. We also have our 2015 season preview and a Q&A with new bench coach Dave Martinez. But, really, March is all about Ernie. Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts opened Banks’ memorial ceremony with a touching tribute. In lieu of our usual opening remarks, this month we let Ricketts, who got to know Mr. Cub well over the years as both a player and a man, kick things off. The following is a slightly condensed version of his speech from the service. I couldn’t have said it better myself.  – Gary Cohen

Hitting: good. Running: good. Attitude: very good.In 1953, baseball scout Hugh Wise typed these words into a report describing a 22-year-old Negro League baseball player named Ernest Banks. When asked on the scouting form how long it would be until the young shortstop was ready to play in the majors, Wise succinctly stated, “Can play now.” And while it was Mr. Wise’s intent to describe Ernie Banks the baseball player, he may as well have been describing Ernie Banks the man when he wrote in that very same report, “No outstanding weaknesses.”

Wise saw Ernie Banks play only three times that year, yet he knew he had found a special player and a special person. Later that summer, Ernie debuted as a Cub, and he went on to play 2,528 games over 19 seasons and collect 2,583 hits, 1,636 RBI and 512 home runs.

While those are incredible stats, never in history have numbers fallen so far short in describing the true greatness of an athlete.

Perhaps more so than any other great player in history, Ernie Banks was known as much for his off-the-field demeanor as for his on-the-field performance. Ernie was a model of decency and humility and was defined by his sunny, optimistic outlook on baseball and life.

Ernie was, of course, known as Mr. Cub. But you don’t get to be called Mr. Cub because you play in a lot of games or hit a lot of home runs. You become Mr. Cub because you love the game, the team, and the ballpark in a truly honest and sincere way.

After he retired, Ernie was asked if he missed going to work, to which he famously replied, “Work? I have never worked a day in my life. I always loved what I was doing.”

Ernie Banks was the most kind, sincere man I have ever known, and despite his fame and high profile, he always had time for everyone. The thing that sticks with me is how hard it was to get Ernie to talk about himself. He would say, “How are you doing? What do you do for a living? Do you have kids? Where do they live? How are your parents?”

Ernie was a warm, friendly human being who truly cared about those around him. I talked to dozens of people who dropped by the visitation yesterday, and almost everyone had a story in which Ernie somehow touched them in some small but meaningful way.

As we all know, Ernie Banks is not Mr. Cub because the fans loved him. Ernie Banks is Mr. Cub because he loved us back. It turns out Ernie became Mr. Cub through no other magic than just being himself. The bond he created with this city and with Cubs fans had no precedent in sport, and it will never be replicated.

For everyone who knew Ernie, and particularly for those of us who work at the Cubs, the thought of a summer at Wrigley Field without the smile of Ernie Banks, the laugh of Ernie Banks, the singing—and, sometimes, dancing—of Ernie Banks is just too painful to consider.

But the pain of the loss will always be balanced by the smiles that are only a memory away and the joy that will always be in our hearts, for we were all truly blessed to have known such a wonderful person.

So as we gather today to pay our final respects to this good and great man, I speak for all fans when I say, “Ernie, thank you. We love you, and we already miss you. And while we miss you dearly, we also know that as the Cubs take the field on a bright, sunny afternoon at Wrigley Field, you will be right there with us.”

From the Pages of Vine Line: Minor League Prospectus, Part 6 – Impressive Arms

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Jen-Ho Tseng is one of the many impressive arms in the Cubs system. (Photo courtesy Kane County Cougars)

As evidenced by the additions of players like Jon Lester and Miguel Montero, the Cubs front office is transitioning from a period in which it focused primarily on bringing in assets to help improve the future of the franchise to an extended period in which they expect to compete every year at the big league level. However, if you were to suggest to baseball president Theo Epstein or general manager Jed Hoyer that this transition means they are now less inclined to build through their farm system, they would be quick to correct you.

Just because Cubs fans may finally start seeing wins accumulate at Wrigley Field doesn’t mean the minor league pipeline is suddenly going to go overlooked. In fact, for the second year in a row, the North Siders will have arguably the best system in all of baseball. Boasting the top prospect in the game, an overabundance of high-profile shortstops and a suddenly large group of interesting arms at the lower levels, the Cubs have built the scouting and player development monster they promised to deliver more than three years ago.

In our annual minor league prospectus, Baseball Prospectus’ Sahadev Sharma helps us break down the names to know at all levels of the system. All month long, we’ve unveiled player bios on a section-by-section basis. Here is Part 6, the final portion of the Cubs minor league prospectus:

Part 1 – The Elite
Part 2 – The Up-And-Comers
Part 3 – A Phone Call Away
Part 4 – Ready to Rebound
Part 5 – Keep an Eye on

Impressive Arms
The Cubs system is known far and wide for its abundance of young bats—and rightfully so. But that doesn’t mean the organization is devoid of pitching talent. The front office has avoided arms in the first round of the draft lately, but has grabbed them in bulk in the subsequent rounds. They have also been aggressive in targeting pitchers on the international free-agent market and via trades.

Corey Black – RHP
Black’s 5-foot-11 frame has led many to believe he’s best suited as a reliever, but he also has a power arm and three legit pitches. For now, the Cubs are keeping him as a starter because of that three-pitch arsenal and the fact that he continues to work hard on building up his strength, which could allow him to assume the innings demand that comes with being part of a big league rotation. If he can’t stick as a starter, many believe the right-hander could easily transition into a high-leverage, late-inning reliever.

Paul Blackburn – RHP
Blackburn is another player frequently compared to Hendricks due to his advanced pitchability and his excellent command to all zones. The biggest question about Blackburn’s future is whether his fastball can play up as he continues to fill out his body. Currently, his velocity fluctuates. Sometimes it sits between 88-90, and other times it moves up to 93-94. Consistency in his pitch velocity will be improved through conditioning and by adding more weight to his frame so he can stay strong throughout the season. With his solid curveball and change-up, Blackburn currently has the look of a back-end starter, but if he does improve his fastball velocity, a mid-rotation grade is possible.

Juan Paniagua – RHP
Paniagua flashes three plus pitches and displays the type of dominant stuff that has some dreaming he could become an impressive starter. However, his command comes and goes, often due to problems with repeating his delivery. He also struggles with the finer points of attacking hitters over six or seven innings, which likely pushes him into a bullpen profile. With such an impressive repertoire, Paniagua could excel in a relief role where command is less of an issue over shorter bursts.

Jen-Ho Tseng – RHP
Tseng has an advanced feel for command, as evidenced by his 3.8 percent walk rate in his first professional season, and the stuff to be a solid mid-rotation starter in The Show. The Cubs’ 2014 Minor League Pitcher of the Year made a lot of adjustments over the course of the season, and when he’s going strong, he attacks the zone with a solid three-pitch mix. Though Tseng impressed this year, many feel he doesn’t have much projectability, making the floor high, but the ceiling relatively low. He did state that his offseason goal was to put on more weight, which could add a little zip to his fastball. At the very least, more lean muscle mass should allow the Taiwanese arm to go deeper into games on a consistent basis.

Daury Torrez – RHP
Torrez placed himself on the prospect radar after impressing this past summer at Kane County. He has a big, strong body, gets downhill while pitching, shows three plus offerings and goes deep into games. Unlike Tseng and Blackburn, who are command-first guys, Torrez has the tools. If his command comes around, he should be able to stick in a starting role. If it doesn’t, he’ll likely move into the bullpen where his stuff could play up as he becomes a two-pitch set-up guy.

 

From the Pages of Vine Line: Our February Q&A with pitching coach Chris Bosio

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

Now entering his fourth season with the Cubs, Chris Bosio has earned a reputation as one of the emerging pitching coaches in the game. His success stories include everyone from Jason Hammel and Scott Feldman to Jake Arrieta and Hector Rondon. And this season, he should boast one of the best staffs in the NL. The following feature is from the February issue of Vine Line.

Don’t let the Cubs’ record in each of the last three seasons fool you. While the team has struggled, the pitching has remained comparatively strong. Despite massive turnover and an influx of unproven arms, the staff has continued to surprise. Much of the credit for that steadiness amidst turmoil goes to emerging pitching coach Chris Bosio.

The 51-year-old former major leaguer came to the organization prior to the 2012 season, the first under the new baseball operations department headed by president Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer.

From 2012-14, the Cubs traded established pitchers like Paul Maholm, Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Scott Feldman, Jeff Samardzija, James Russell and Jason Hammel. In their place stepped everyone from Jason Berken and Justin Germano to Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks.

Talk about having to adjust on the fly. But Bosio has done it masterfully and managed to keep the staff running in a positive and consistent direction under three different managers. Now that the Cubs appear to be at the end of their “acquire-and-flip” phase when it comes to pitchers, he is ready to lead the organization’s arms into their next stage of development.

At any point in the season, a pitching coach has to keep tabs on between 11-13 pitchers, factoring in the rotation and the bullpen, but many more arms than that filter through the club during the course of six months thanks to injuries, ineffectiveness and trades. The Cubs trotted out 30 pitchers in 2013. Couple that with all the personnel a team uses in Spring Training, and that’s a lot of players for any single person to process, making the roles of associates such as bullpen coach Lester Strode and catching/strategy coach Mike Borzello all the more vital.

Bosio, known simply as “Bos” around Wrigley Field, brings a great deal of clubhouse credibility to the Cubs. The right-hander carved out an impressive career as a major league pitcher, going 94-93 with a 3.96 ERA over 11 seasons, seven with the Brewers and four with the Mariners, for whom he threw a no-hitter in 1993.

“I work great with Bos. He and I are kind of two of the same—very intense competitors,” said Hammel, who rejoined the Cubs on a two-year deal in December after spending the second half of last season with the Athletics. “I think he’s a little grumpy sometimes, but it is what it is. I kind of speak for everybody here. We’re tired of the old Cubs. This is the new Cubs. We want to change the feel.

“Coming back here, Bos called me back too. He made his pitch: ‘Hey, I want you back. I work great with you.’ He was very good with his words to help me make adjustments, very simple stuff. That’s what I’m looking for.”

Always approachable when media members need the latest update on one of his protégés, Bosio took some time out for a wide-ranging question-and-answer session with Vine Line just days after the Cubs re-obtained Hammel and signed Jon Lester to a six-year deal to be the ace of the staff.

Lester will lead a competitive rotation that, at midwinter, also included Jake Arrieta, Hammel, Hendricks and potentially Travis Wood in the five spot.

Vine Line: Did you feel like Christmas came early with the signing of Lester?

Chris Bosio: I think we all do. We’re adding not only a quality player, but we’re also adding a quality person. Everything I’ve heard about Jon—his upbringing, the things that he’s gone through (e.g., beating cancer) in his life—he’s a guy who has overcome a lot, and he’s a guy who has achieved a lot.

At the same time, he’s a guy who is hungry to achieve more. I think that’s what made Jon Lester so attractive for us, honestly.

VL: In addition to Lester being a great pitcher and giving you added depth, is there a residual effect on the rotation in that guys can now be slotted into more comfortable roles?

CB: No doubt. Any time you can add a guy, a 200-inning guy, it’s going to help everybody—not just on the pitching staff, but also on the 40-man roster. You have a guy who’s going to be out there longer, that third time through the batting order, in the sixth or seventh inning.

Jon Lester is going to be out there in those situations. We just haven’t had that. We haven’t had that No. 1 big gun in the past. We all knew how well Jeff Samardzija threw the ball, and his All-Star selection, and Jason Hammel. But for me, you can never have enough of these guys.

VL: Travis Wood struggled for much of 2014. What’s the key to getting him back on the track that made him an All-Star just two years ago?

CB: You know what? If you really jumped into the numbers, the No. 1 thing that pops out is the walks (Wood had a career high 76 bases on balls in 2014). Travis will be the first one to say that his command was not there. The big inning killed him. You reflect back on what caused the big innings, and it was the walks. In the year he was an All-Star, he had his fastball command. Being in that position of a starting pitcher, it comes and goes.

And Travis, not having an exceptional secondary pitch to bail him out, relied a lot on his fastball, his cut fastball. When the fastball command is not there, you’re really rolling the dice. That’s the kind of year he had. But I’m expecting him to bounce back. He’s durable. He’s a fighter. He’s everything that we are as the Chicago Cubs. I’m expecting him to come back with a vengeance like he did two years ago.

VL: The team has between 11-13 pitchers at any given time during the season, but more guys than that pass through, either from the minor leagues or via trades. How important is it to have Lester Strode and Mike Borzello to help you keep track of everything and everybody?

CB: We have a system that we work with in the spring. Everybody has a role, including our minor league coaches. We all trust it. We’ve had great success coming out of Spring Training with it. It’s even more so with fresh eyes on it. It’s always good to get fresh eyes and that fresh input.

The biggest thing is staying positive with guys, but at the same time being honest with guys. We’ve got a really good, open line of communication with our pitchers. We’re going to work on the things that we need to work on, and the things that we’re good at, we’re going to get better at. Having Lester Strode and Mike Borzello with me is huge in our pitching structure, as well as the [minor league] pitching coaches and pitching coordinators.

In Spring Training, you’ve seen it in action. All these guys have roles. We talk a lot with the minor league pitching coaches and coordinators during the season, and it’s not just the 12 guys on a pitching staff. We say in Spring Training, “We need 11 or 12 starters, and we’re going to need 11 or 12 relievers.” If we get to those numbers, then we’ve had a couple of hiccups, if you will.

If we don’t get to that number and we’re able to maintain a solid five or maybe even six starters, it means we haven’t had to make a lot of trades like we’ve had to in the last three years, and we’ve remained healthy. Being healthy has allowed some of our young pitchers to have really important innings. It’s a nice mix that we have, and it’s going to get better with the additions on our coaching staff and when you bring in All-Star- and world champion-caliber pitchers like Jon Lester and Jason Motte. We added an All-Star catcher in Miguel Montero, and Hammel could have been an All-Star.

VL: You mentioned Motte. The bullpen ended up being a strength as the season went along, but do you feel like you can never have enough arms out there?

CB: With Hector Rondon having the season he had—he was basically the seventh- and eighth-inning guy before that—and having 29 saves in basically four months is pretty impressive. Jason just gives us another arm down there to go along with the guys that we have, with Rondon, Pedro Strop, Neil Ramirez, Justin Grimm and Brian Schlitter.

We’ve got some guys down there. You add Motte to that equation, and our bullpen is becoming even more competitive. That’s what you want as an organization. You want to keep adding competition at every position. That’s how you close the gap on talent with so many other clubs, especially in a really tough National League Central.

VL: Do you consider yourself more of a mechanics guy or a psychology guy? Or do you have to be a bit of both to be a pitching coach in this day and age?

CB: You’ve got to be a little bit of both. Some of my best work is sitting and talking. Some of my other best work is a little of both, like with Jake Arrieta or Scott Feldman or Paul Maholm or Jason Hammel. You’ve got to be able to listen. You’ve got to be able to teach. You’ve got to be there not only for them, but also for the rest of the players on that club.

There are a lot of conversations that go on, not just with your pitchers and your catchers, but with your position players—what we’re going to be doing, how we’re going to be pitching certain guys. The communication is endless.

That’s where we made up a lot of ground in the second half of the season. We had really good communication with everybody on defense—where we’re going to play guys, how we’re going to pitch guys. It really didn’t matter who we threw out there because all the guys were following the game plan, and our preparation was better than it had been. That’s why we were winning more games against really tough clubs coming down the stretch.

We’re definitely going in the right direction. We’ve got a little more pop with our pitching staff. A lot of good things are happening, and the players and the coaching staff are aware of it.

—Bruce Miles, Daily Herald

From the Pages of Vine Line: Minor League Prospectus, Part 5 – Keep an Eye On

As evidenced by the additions of players like Jon Lester and Miguel Montero, the Cubs front office is transitioning from a period in which it focused primarily on bringing in assets to help improve the future of the franchise to an extended period in which they expect to compete every year at the big league level. However, if you were to suggest to baseball president Theo Epstein or general manager Jed Hoyer that this transition means they are now less inclined to build through their farm system, they would be quick to correct you.

Just because Cubs fans may finally start seeing wins accumulate at Wrigley Field doesn’t mean the minor league pipeline is suddenly going to go overlooked. In fact, for the second year in a row, the North Siders will have arguably the best system in all of baseball. Boasting the top prospect in the game, an overabundance of high-profile shortstops and a suddenly large group of interesting arms at the lower levels, the Cubs have built the scouting and player development monster they promised to deliver more than three years ago.

In our annual minor league prospectus, Baseball Prospectus’ Sahadev Sharma helps us break down the names to know at all levels of the system. As the month progresses, we’ll unveil player bios on a section-by-section basis. Here is Part 5 of the Cubs minor league prospectus:

Part 1 – The Elite
Part 2 – The Up-And-Comers
Part 3 – A Phone Call Away
Part 4 – Ready to Rebound

Keep an Eye On
Like everyone else who watches the game regularly, scouts often fall in love with certain players. Unless you spend a great deal of time digging deep into the farm system, which isn’t all that unusual for Cubs fans of late, you may not have heard of some of the following names. But these are the guys scouts have identified as having a legitimate shot to put themselves on the map in 2015.

Jeffrey Baez – OF
Though he is generally known as the less-famous Baez in the Cubs organization (for the record, he and Javier are not related), Jeffrey is a big, strong-bodied outfielder with a chance to hit for power. He has some speed for his size, which has allowed him to rack up stolen bases early in his professional career and play solid defense from a corner outfield spot. Baez dominated in Boise, and after a slow start following a promotion, he eventually hit his stride with the bat in Kane County. He has the upside to be a legit major league bat, but that depends on his ability to make adjustments and keep his body in shape.

Charcer Burks – OF
A former high school football player, Burks has the tools and athleticism to open some eyes. He possesses an advanced approach for a younger player, but must continue to get stronger and utilize his speed by hitting line drives or keeping the ball on the ground rather than trying to hit it in the air. He has a gap-to-gap, line-drive swing and will likely be more of a singles and doubles guy than a power hitter.

Victor Caratini – C/3B
Caratini plays both third base and catcher, but he will stick behind the plate for the time being. If he can prove he has the skills to remain there, he’ll join Zagunis and Schwarber to give the Cubs some depth at a position at which they were largely lacking just a year ago. The switch-hitter has the flexibility, soft hands, strong arm and overall tools to become a solid backstop. Either way, he has enough bat to provide value. If it’s behind the plate, that value suddenly becomes of the impact variety.

Trevor Clifton – RHP
Clifton was a top-round talent, but the Cubs were able to sign him to an over-slot bonus after selecting him in the 12th round of the 2013 draft. The big, physical righty has an easy plus fastball, and his body has filled out since he joined the organization. With the potential for a solid change-up and a strong breaking ball, he has the weapons to be a starter, but he hasn’t yet shown the necessary consistency

Kevonte Mitchell – OF
Mitchell is a great athlete with a body scouts say is a mix between Giancarlo Stanton’s and Matt Kemp’s. Kemp is the dream here, as he is for every toolsy player who needs everything to go just right to reach his potential. As of now, Mitchell has the tools, but needs his game to catch up, which can only happen with playing time and lots of it. He profiles in a corner outfield spot, but there are some who believe the former basketball player could be adequate in center. Mitchell is the type of athlete scouts dream about. The ball flies off his bat, and he looks the part, but everything needs to click. If it doesn’t, which is the case more often than not with these types of players, he could end up less like Kemp and more like Reggie Abercrombie—a player with monster tools who never fully puts it together and struggles to perform in the high minors.

Cubs duo tops ESPN’s 2015 impact prospects list

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

As described by ESPN Insider Keith Law, there’s a difference between being a top prospect and being an impactful rookie heading into 2015. The Cubs’ youth movement has been well documented, with most media outlets—including Law—ranking the Cubs as the top farm system in baseball.

On Tuesday, the ESPN writer ranked his top 20 impact prospects heading into 2015. These are not the top prospects in baseball, but the players he expects could make major league contributions this year. Law ranked super prospect Kris Bryant, who is expected to see action for the majority of the major league season, tops on his list. Directly following the third base phenom was Jorge Soler, who enjoyed a brief taste of the majors in 2014, following a late-August promotion. Here’s what Law had to say of the Cubs’ talented duo:

1. Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago Cubs

Bryant probably won’t head north with the Cubs on April 5, but he’ll be at Wrigley Field maybe two weeks later as the Cubs look to push off his eventual free agency by a year. He’s my pick right now to win NL Rookie of the Year, likely to hit 20-plus homers and get on base at a strong clip even with a strikeout rate that will probably top 25 percent.

2. Jorge Soler, RF, Chicago Cubs

If Bryant doesn’t win the ROY award, maybe his teammate will. Soler hit the majors like he was fusing deuterium and tritium nuclei, but it lasted only about a week before he discovered the travails of a hitter facing the major league strike zone. His hands are explosive, and he’s a more disciplined hitter than the raw strikeout rate he had with the Cubs last year might indicate. He should have 25 homers in him this year, but with a modest OBP and average to above-average defense in right.

Due to Bryant’s service clock, many believe the 23-year-old will make his big league debut a few weeks into the regular season, which would allow the Cubs one more full season of contractual control. Soler, who signed a nine-year major league deal in 2012, will likely start the year in the middle of the Cubs’ order and play right field. Those two, paired with 2014 All-Stars Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, could be the heart of the Cubs’ order for years to come.

Cubs finalize baseball ops hirings, promotions; establish mental skills program

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Former teammates with the Red Sox, Manny Ramirez (left) and Kevin Youkilis will both serve as consultants for the Cubs in 2015. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

The Cubs announced a series of hirings and promotions on Tuesday, including the establishment of the club’s new mental skills program. The team also finalized the hiring of Manny Ramirez as a hitting consultant and Kevin Youkilis as a scouting and player development consultant.

The club’s new mental skills program, which is designed to assist major and minor league players with the mental aspects of baseball, will be structured as follows:

- Josh Lifrak, Director, Mental Skills Program — Lifrak joins the Cubs after spending the last 10 years as the senior mental conditioning consultant at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. While at IMG, Lifrak developed and implemented mental skills training programs for hundreds of athletes spanning a multitude of sports, including baseball.
- Darnell McDonald, Coordinator, Mental Skills Program – McDonald has been promoted to this role after joining the club’s front office last April as a baseball operations assistant. McDonald retired from a 16-year professional career at the end of Spring Training last year, a career that included all or part of seven seasons at the big league level.
- Rey Fuentes, Latin Coordinator, Mental Skills Program – Fuentes begins his third season with the organization and first in this role following two years as cultural programs coordinator. Fuentes graduated from Barry University in Miami Shores, Fla., in 2002 with a degree in Exceptional Student Education.
- Dr. Ken Ravizza, Consultant, Mental Skills Program – Dr. Ravizza is a professor of Applied Sport Psychology at Cal-State Fullerton and has served as a consultant to the U.S. Olympics team for more than 20 years, as well as many professional organizations, including the Rays, under manager Joe Maddon, the Angels and Dodgers.

The club also added Ramirez and Youkilis in the following roles:

- Manny Ramirez, Hitting Consultant – Ramirez joined the Cubs last season as a player-coach at Triple-A Iowa. A two-time world champion and 2004 World Series MVP, Ramirez played 19 major league seasons with the Indians (1993-2000), the Red Sox (2001-08), Dodgers (2008-10), White Sox (2010) and Rays (2011). He batted .312 with a .411 on-base percentage and a .585 slugging percentage, good for a .996 OPS. In his new role, Ramirez will continue to work with the club’s major and minor league hitters on the fundamental and mental aspects of hitting.

- Kevin Youkilis, Scouting and Player Development Consultant – Youkilis recently retired from an 11-year major league career with the Red Sox (2004-2012), White Sox (2012) and Yankees (2013). He played briefly in Japan in 2014. The two-time world champion was a career .281 hitter with a .382 on-base percentage and a .478 slugging percentage, good for a .860 OPS. In his role, Youkilis will assist the front office by scouting amateur and professional hitters in Northern California and will work with hitters in the minor league system under the direction of the hitting coordinator.

The following promotions and additions have taken place in amateur scouting:

- Tim Adkins, named Midwest/Northeast Crosschecker. For Adkins, this is a promotion from area scout.
- Trey Forkerway, named Central Crosschecker. For Forkerway, this is a promotion from area scout.
- Daniel Carte, hired as an Area Scout, Ohio Valley. Carte joins the Cubs from West Virginia University, where he served as an assistant coach.
- Kevin Ellis, hired as an Area Scout, South Texas/Louisiana. Ellis joins the Cubs from the Padres, where he was an area scout.
- Greg Hopkins, hired as an Area Scout, Northwest. Hopkins most recently scouted the northwest for the Pirates through the 2013 campaign.
- Alex Levitt, hired as an Area Scout, Deep South. Levitt joins the Cubs from Vanderbilt University, where he served as baseball operations director in addition to recruiting and advanced scouting duties.

The following promotion and addition have taken place in professional scouting:

- Terry Kennedy, Major League Scout. For Kennedy, this is a promotion from professional scout.
- Jason Parks, Professional/Amateur Scout. Parks joined the Cubs last year after spending the better part of the previous four years at Baseball Prospectus as the head prospect writer for the site.

Cubs announce single-game ticket options for 2015 season

On Tuesday morning, the Cubs announced details for purchasing single-game tickets for the 2015 season. Single-game tickets go on sale Friday, March 6, at 10 a.m. CST, and will be available on cubs.com or by calling 1-800-THE-CUBS (800-843-2827).

Fans may once again participate in the MasterCard Pre-sale prior to the general on-sale date. Starting Tuesday, March 3, at 10 a.m. CST, single-game tickets will be available at cubs.com at a 20 percent premium, or a 15 percent premium for fans using a MasterCard.

“After an offseason filled with exciting additions to the team and improvements to Wrigley Field, we can’t wait to get started on the 2015 season,” said Colin Faulkner, vice president of sales and partnerships for the Cubs. “Our fans will enjoy a schedule with fun promotions, rare Interleague visits and classic rivalry matchups, including Major League Baseball’s Opening Night game versus the St. Louis Cardinals.”

The single-game sale will include a selection of tickets to Opening Night vs. the St. Louis Cardinals, weekend bobblehead promotional games, Family Sundays and Interleague matchups with visits from the Indians, Tigers and Royals. The 2015 Cubs promotional schedule will feature unique items including a Cubs winter aviator hat, Wrigley Field football, Chicago Whales replica throwback jersey and several Cubs player debut bobbleheads.

For the 2015 season, there will be a new “Weekends Start Here” promotion in the Budweiser Bleachers for Friday games. On select Fridays from May-September, the Budweiser Bleachers may feature pre- or postgame entertainment, exclusive giveaway items, special food and beverages, and more. For the most up-to-date promotional schedule, visit cubs.com.

Fans interested in purchasing Cubs tickets in person can visit The Cubs Store located at 3616 N. Clark St., beginning Monday, March 9, at 9 a.m. CST. Due to the ongoing restoration and expansion of Wrigley Field, single-game tickets will be sold at The Cubs Store during regular store hours, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. every day leading up to Opening Night with the exception of Saturday, March 14.

Details for each single-game purchasing option follow:

MASTERCARD PRE-SALE:
The Cubs will once again offer the MasterCard Pre-sale starting Tuesday, March 3, at 10 a.m. through Wednesday, March 4, at 10 p.m. Fans using a MasterCard can purchase single-game tickets in advance of the general on-sale date at a 15 percent premium, while fans using other forms of payment may purchase tickets at a 20 percent premium. MasterCard Pre-sale tickets can be purchased at cubs.com.

SINGLE GAME GENERAL ON-SALE:
Via Internet: On Friday, March 6, fans can purchase tickets at cubs.com. A virtual waiting room will begin accepting customers 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. It is recommended customers register for an account prior to March 6.

By Telephone: Tickets can be purchased by telephone beginning March 6 at 10 a.m. by dialing 1-800-THE-CUBS (800-843-2827).

At The Cubs Store: Tickets will be available for purchase starting Monday, March 9, at 9 a.m. Due to offseason construction happening in and around the ballpark, the team will offer in-person single-game tickets for purchase at The Cubs Store every day through Opening Night during regular hours with the exception of Saturday, March 14.

For updated ticket pricing, please visit cubs.com. For more information, please contact the Chicago Cubs Ticket Office at 1-800-THE-CUBS (800-843-2827).

From the Pages of Vine Line: Minor League Prospectus, Part 4 – Ready to Rebound

Hannemann1

The 2015 season will be an important one for outfielder Jacob Hannemann. (Photo by Kane County Cougars)

As evidenced by the additions of players like Jon Lester and Miguel Montero, the Cubs front office is transitioning from a period in which it focused primarily on bringing in assets to help improve the future of the franchise to an extended period in which they expect to compete every year at the big league level. However, if you were to suggest to baseball president Theo Epstein or general manager Jed Hoyer that this transition means they are now less inclined to build through their farm system, they would be quick to correct you.

Just because Cubs fans may finally start seeing wins accumulate at Wrigley Field doesn’t mean the minor league pipeline is suddenly going to go overlooked. In fact, for the second year in a row, the North Siders will have arguably the best system in all of baseball. Boasting the top prospect in the game, an overabundance of high-profile shortstops and a suddenly large group of interesting arms at the lower levels, the Cubs have built the scouting and player development monster they promised to deliver more than three years ago.

In our annual minor league prospectus, Baseball Prospectus’ Sahadev Sharma helps us break down the names to know at all levels of the system. As the month progresses, we’ll unveil player bios on a section-by-section basis. Here is Part 4 of the Cubs minor league prospectus:

Part 1 – The Elite
Part 2 – The Up-And-Comers
Part 3 – A Phone Call Away

Ready to Rebound

While it may seem like everything went right for the Cubs at the minor league level last season, that obviously was not the case. Whether it was due to injury or just flat-out poor performance, there were several talented prospects who struggled in 2014. However, these players still have great potential and certainly could provide value as they look to regain their form in 2015.

Jeimer Candelario – 3B
Candelario has never put up eye-popping numbers, but he’s always been young for his level and has shown an advanced approach at the plate. When challenged with a High-A assignment at just 20 years old, he failed to make the necessary adjustments and was sent back to Low-A, where the struggles continued. Hope still remains he can return to the form that generated such high expectations.

Candelario has one of the best swings from both sides of the plate in the organization, which is why many believe he’s eventually going to hit and develop power. The key will be understanding what pitchers are trying to do to him. He has the tools to be an impact bat, but because he has a stocky body and slow feet, Candelario’s defense may always be in question.

Dylan Cease – RHP
Though he comes with a first-round pedigree, Cease was drafted in the sixth round in 2014 after struggling early in his senior season of high school and eventually being shut down with an elbow issue. The Cubs took a chance on the righty, giving him a bonus well above slot even though they knew he’d require Tommy John surgery. By all accounts, his rehab has gone well, and he’s currently undergoing a modified throwing program.

Assuming no setbacks, Cease should be ready to take the mound competitively in late April. When healthy, he flashes a plus fastball that sits 93-95, a plus curve and mid-rotation-or-better potential.

C.J. Edwards – RHP
After a breakout 2013 campaign that put Edwards on the prospect radar, many were looking for him to take the next step in 2014. But barely a month into the season, he suffered a shoulder injury. Therefore, the biggest question—whether his extremely lean frame can handle the 200-plus innings required of a major league starter—remains unanswered.

The Cubs were very conservative with Edwards after the shoulder issues, allowing him to fully recover so he would be ready to go without any restrictions upon his return. He tossed 15 innings in the Arizona Fall League, posting a 1.80 ERA and striking out 13. He has swing-and-miss stuff and displays three legit pitches, with the fastball and curve both as plus offerings.

Jacob Hannemann – OF
The Cubs surprised many when they took the BYU product in the third round of the 2013 draft, but the organization fell in love with his athleticism. Hannemann’s baseball development has been stunted due to two years away from the game on a Mormon mission as well as his time playing cornerback on the BYU football team.

The lefty struggled for much of 2014, but the Cubs still pushed him with a promotion to High-A, where his struggles continued. This offseason, the front office presented him with another challenge, the Arizona Fall League, where he was solid, but still failed to wow scouts. Currently, Hannemann gets by on his natural ability, but he has a lot to learn about the nuances of baseball.

Rob Zastryzny – LHP
Zastryzny has two keys to focus on to turn things around in 2015: commanding his fastball and working down in the zone. He also lacked consistency last year. Some scouts reported him hitting 95 with his fastball, while others saw him sitting 88-90. If he can repeat his delivery on a consistent basis, he should be able to level that out.

This past summer, the Missouri product was often caught between commanding his pitches and really letting them fly. He’s in the process of finding that middle range, which could create more consistency and allow his stuff to play up. He is very competitive and has a tremendous work ethic. That’s why many in the organization are confident he’ll work through his issues.

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