1000 Words: Baez’s near miss

Spring Training Chicago Cubs

(Photo by Stephen Green)

Cubs top prospect Javier Baez just misses a soft line drive off the bat of fellow shortstop Starlin Castro in the top of the third inning of Wednesday’s intrasquad game at Cubs Park in Mesa, Ariz.

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

Major league baseball players have a tendency to make things look easy. That’s because they’re the best at what they do. But getting to the pinnacle of the sport takes countless hours of practice and hard work—and even the best of the best make mistakes sometimes.

As part of our Spring Training video series, Vine Line talked with Anthony Rizzo, Jason Hammel and several others to find out about some of the moments they aren’t overly proud of. Check back later this week for more in our Lighter Side video series.

We’ll be posting videos and stories from Cubs Park all week long, 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

Cactus Notes: Cubs Park opens with an intrasquad matchup

Intrasquad-Game

It was Cub on Cub today at Cubs Park in Mesa, Ariz., as the team test drove the new facility with an intrasquad matchup in preparation for tomorrow’s home opener. Last year’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year Kyle Hendricks, who put up a 13-4 record and a 2.00 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A last season, got things off to a fast start, retiring all eight batters he faced. Hendricks doesn’t throw particularly hard, but he knows how to pitch and was able to keep the ball on the ground.

“He has got a tremendous amount of poise on the hill, and obviously has a mix of pitches,” said Cubs manager Rick Renteria.”He’s probably put himself on everybody’s radar by the way he went about his business last year. It doesn’t hurt anybody to come out and do well.”

Opposing starter Eric Jokisch, who threw a no-hitter last season with Double-A Tennessee, was also effective, giving up no runs over two innings and striking out four.

Though players have said the park plays big, you wouldn’t have known it Wednesday, as Welington Castillo, Justin Ruggiano and Christian Villanueva all hit long solo home runs. Junior Lake and Ryan Kalish singled in runs, and 2009 NL Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan drove one in on a squeeze bunt. Brett Jackson and Jorge Soler each stole a base.

Strong-armed pitching prospect Arodys Vizcaino, who hasn’t seen game action since 2011 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, pitched one inning. He gave up no runs, but walked two and gave up a hit.

“His arm is live,” Renteria said. “It comes out of there pretty easy. It looks like he’s using his secondary pitches … the way he wants to. If he wants to bury a pitch, he does it. If he wants to go off the corners, he can.”

The white “home” team won the game 5-3.

The inaugural Cactus League game at Cubs Park will be tomorrow, Feb. 27, against the Arizona Diamondbacks. First pitch is at 2 p.m. CST, and the game will be televised on WGN-TV.

Here’s the early lineup:

1. Emilio Bonifacio, 2B
2. Luis Valbuena, 3B
3. Starlin Castro, SS
4. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
5. Junior Lake, CF
6. Welington Castillo, C
7. Justin Ruggiano, LF
8. Mike Olt, DH
9. Darnell McDonald, RF
SP Jeff Samardzija

Other pitchers expected to see action: LHP Wesley Wright; RHPs Alberto Cabrera, Justin Grimm, Pedro Strop, Blake Parker, Hector Rondon, Jose Veras

The Cubs dedicate the Under Armour Performance Center at Cubs Park

UnderArmour

The Cubs and Under Armour announced a multi-year naming rights agreement for the Under Armour Performance Center at the new Cubs Park training facilities in Mesa, Ariz on Wednesday.

The fitness center includes a two-story weight and cardiovascular facility, along with a hydrotherapy room, 120-seat theater, video room and cafeteria. The major league clubhouse has an oval-shaped locker room with 68 lockers wile the minor league clubhouse has 206 lockers to accommodate players training year-round.

“The Under Armour Performance Center gives our players the opportunity to train in a strength and conditioning facility that rivals any in baseball,” said Cubs Executive Vice President and General Manager Jed Hoyer in a press release. “We’re thankful to partners like Under Armour who help us bring this vision to life.”

Now Playing: Cubscast Mesa with the top prospects

When Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took the Cubs’ reins in 2011, they talked about building the system the right way from the ground up and rejuvenating the franchise with young, cost-controlled talent. In the years since, the Cubs have gathered some of the best minor league players in the game, including top 10 prospects Javier Baez and Kris Bryant. ESPN prospect guru Keith Law had the Cubs ranked as the fourth-best farm system in baseball, and Baseball Prospectus’ Jason Parks put the club second behind only the Astros.

Vine Line sat down with some of the best young talent in baseball this week to talk about their experience in big league camp, goals for the upcoming season and creating momentum in the minor leagues.

We’ll be posting videos and stories from Cubs Park all week long, 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

Baez, Villanueva in Baseball Prospectus’ best defensive tools categories

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Christian Villanueva is one of the best defensive infielders in the minors. (Photo by Rodger Wood)

Baseball stats website Baseball Prospectus continued its Top Tools series Tuesday and switched to the defensive end of the game, giving honorable mention to Cubs prospects Christian Villanueva and Javier Baez for best infield defense and best infield arm, respectively.

Many have speculated that the third baseman Villanueva would be ready for the major leagues already from a defensive perspective. Here’s what BP had to say:

Villanueva might not play the toughest defensive position on the infield, but that hasn’t stopped him from drawing ample praise from scouts. He has hands that can rival those of Francisco Lindor and he moves well for the position, making every play necessary at the hot corner.

Lindor, the Indians’ prized shortstop, was viewed as the best defensive infielder. In 124 games last season, Villanueva did commit 24 errors, but he has been viewed as a prospect with great hands and solid footwork.

Baseball Prospectus sees Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons as the ceiling for best defensive infielder in the game right now, with Cardinals legend and Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith as the best all time.

Everybody knows Baez for his bat, as his 37 homers last year made a lot of noise in the minor league circuit, but he also has a cannon for an arm. Coincidentally, it was his arm that got him in little trouble defensively. He committed 44 errors in 123 games at shortstop. But his ability to get the ball to first quickly is one of the reasons he hasn’t been moved off of the position yet.

Young shortstops Baez, [Carlos] Correa and [Dixon] Machado can rifle balls to first base from any spot on the dirt. All three players consistently earn plus-plus grades from scouts, and the occasional elite grade will pop onto the radar.

Orioles phenom Manny Machado set the standard for current players while former Cub Shawon Dunston set the all-time bar, according to Baseball Prospectus.

1000 Words: Fergie and the Red Baron

FergieSut

(Photo by Stephen Green)

The day got off to an exciting start on Tuesday as Cubs legends Fergie Jenkins and Rick Sutcliffe addressed the team before morning workouts. They talked about their time with the Cubs, setting goals and having a long major league career. Jenkins’ goals were fairly lofty; he said he always strove for 250 innings, 20 wins and the league lead in strikeouts. Jenkins posted 20 wins seven times in his career, logged 200 innings 13 times (and 300 innings five times), and was in the top 10 in strikeouts 11 times.

Cubs announce lineups for first instrasquad game

Cubs-park1

The Cubs will get a chance to test drive the new Cubs Park stadium for the first time Wednesday in an intrasquad affair at 1 p.m. local time (2 p.m. CST). Gates open at the ballpark at 12:30 local time.

Cubs prospect (and Northwestern alum) Eric Jokisch will start for the “visiting” team against 2013 Minor League Pitcher of the Year (and recent Dartmouth grad) Kyle Hendricks for the home side.

“[Hendricks] has got a tremendous amount of poise on the hill, and obviously has a mix of pitches,” said Cubs manager Rick Renteria. “But more than anything, from all of these guys, I’m just seeing how they’re locating and how they’re using their secondary pitches. As the spring progresses, we’ll see how they look and if they’re maintaining what they have and how they’re going to go into the season.”

The Cubs first Cactus League game is Thursday at Cubs Park versus the Diamondbacks. Jeff Samardzija will take the hill.

Here are manager Renteria’s lineups for Wednesday’s game:

Visitor
3B Luis Valbuena
CF Junior Lake
SS Starlin Castro
RF Nate Schierholtz
DH Roberts
LF Darnell McDonald
1B Chris Valaika
2B Darwin Barney
C John Baker
P Eric Jokisch

Bench: Logan Watkins, Rafael Lopez, Brett Jackson, Josh Vitters, Jeudy Valdez, Christian Villanueva, Aaron Cunningham, Mike Olt, Matt Szczur, Luis Flores

Relievers: Tsuyoshi Wada, Arodys Vizcaino, Brian Schlitter

Home
2B Emilio Bonifacio
RF Justin Ruggiano
1B Anthony Rizzo
CF Ryan Sweeney
DH Welington Castillo
3B Donnie Murphy
SS Javier Baez
C George Kottaras
LF Chris Coghlan
P Kyle Hendricks

Bench: Mitch Maier, Ryan Kalish, Arismendy Alcantara, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, Casper Wells, Eli Whiteside, Will Remillard

Relievers: Chang-Yong Lim, Marcus Hatley, Neil Ramirez, Armando Rivero

Cubs farm system ranks second in baseball

BryantBP

Kris Bryant is a big reason why the Cubs have one of the best farm systems in baseball. (Photo by Stephen Green)

The Cubs haven’t fared that well on the field at the major league level for a few seasons now, but they’ve still earned a well-deserved pat on the back for the transformation that’s taken place at the minor league stages. On Wednesday, Baseball Prospectus ranked the Cubs the second best farm system in the game.

To put that into perspective, the list Baseball Prospectus unveiled during the 2011 Spring Training—the last before baseball president Theo Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer’s arrival—had them ranked No. 23.

In the 2014 list, the Cubs trail only the Twins for the best farm system. Here is what they had to say about the club:

2. Chicago Cubs
Farm System Ranking in 2013: 12
2014 Top Ten Prospects: Link
State of the System: Thanks to a strong draft, clever trades, an aggressive acquisition plan in the international market, and developmental progress from some of the big names in the system, the Cubs became one of the strongest systems in the game.
Top Prospect: Javier Baez (4)
Breakout Candidates for 2014: Jeimer Candelario and Paul Blackburn
Prospects on the BP 101: 7
Must-See Affiliate: Double-A Tennessee
Prospects to See There: Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, CJ Edwards, Pierce Johnson, Dan Vogelbach
Farm System Trajectory for 2015: Up. While its likely that several of the Cubs’ top prospects will get a taste of the majors in 2014, the majority of the talent will remain eligible for next season’s list, and if you add to the mix a high draft pick this June and an extreme amount of young depth ready to make their stateside debuts, the system could take over the coveted rank of number one in baseball.

Cactus Notes: Fergie stops by the park and the Cubs prep for game action

SolerB&W

Cubs prospect Jorge Soler takes a swing at Cubs Park Tuesday.

The day kicked off Tuesday with Cubs legend Fergie Jenkins addressing the 66 players in major league camp and about 50 others from the minor league mini camp. The Hall of Famer talked about his time as a player and what it takes to survive in the major leagues.

In 10 years with the Cubs, Jenkins posted six consecutive 20-win seasons (1967-72) and four consecutive seasons with more than 300 innings (1968-71). During his Cy Young season in 1971, Jenkins went 24-13 with a 2.77 ERA and threw 325.0 innings with 263 strikeouts versus only 37 walks. Jenkins was joined by fellow Cy Young winner Rick Sutcliffe, who is in camp all spring as an instructor.

“I thought Fergie was good,” said Cubs manager Rick Renteria. “I don’t know that he’s ever spoken to the group like that, so it was nice to have him out there to talk to everybody. Here’s a guy who’s a Hall of Famer, who’s worked from a different era and brings in a different perspective … gives them a perspective of the things we should all appreciate about where we’re at.”

After about two weeks of practice, the Cubs will finally crank things up to game speed for the first time Wednesday in a six-inning exhibition game at Cubs Park. The contest will start at 1 p.m. local time, with Kyle Hendricks and Eric Jokisch facing off against one another.

“It’s a whole different atmosphere here,” Jokisch said. “You get to meet all the big league guys and the big league coaches and learn from them. I’m excited to get the games started.”

Other pitchers slated to see action are Marcus Hatley, Chang-Yong Lim, Neil Ramirez, Armando Rivero, Brian Schlitter, Arodys Vizcaino and Tsuyoshi Wada. Renteria has not yet decided on the lineups, but he said he plans to mix it up so both veteran players and prospects can see some live pitching before the Cactus League campaign kicks off Thursday.

“We’re looking forward to playing the game. We’re excited. They’ve been working hard, and they want to put their work to use. We’re looking forward to letting them play and finding out what things we’re going to have to continue to improve on,” Renteria said. “It’s going to be good for me and for the staff to see the guys just put themselves out there between the lines with a little bit more of a competitive aspect to the game. [They can see] where they’re at as far as timing, and pitchers obviously [will see] where they’re at with hitters in game-type situations, which is what we’re building up to do.”

Renteria also mentioned that Japanese reliever Kyuji Fujikawa, who underwent Tommy John surgery last June, threw a side session off the mound Monday. He threw some long toss and about 20-25 pitches off the mound, and it went very well.

“He gave me the thumbs up that it came out well,” Renteria said. “Like all our guys that are improving their health, we’re just going to take it one day at a time and continue to be patient and hope that they continue to progress.”

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