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

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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.

Cubs announce 2015 TV broadcast schedule

Pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training is a signal that the regular season is just around the corner. On Friday, the Cubs announced their 2015 regular season television schedule featuring broadcasts from Comcast SportsNet Chicago, WGN-TV and WLS-TV/ABC 7.

WGN-TV’s first of 45 broadcasts will take place on Tuesday, April 7, at 7:05 p.m. vs. the St. Louis Cardinals, the club’s second game of the season following the national opener on ESPN2 on Sunday, April 5. WLS-TV/ABC 7, a new television home for the Cubs in 2015, will air the first of its 24 games on Wednesday, April 8, at 1:20 p.m. vs. the Cardinals. Comcast SportsNet Chicago will broadcast its first of as many as 87 games on Saturday, April 11, at 7:10 p.m. at the Colorado Rockies (this game is scheduled for CSN+).

Cubs games have been televised by WGN since 1948 (some of the 45 WGN-TV produced games will be televised by WPWR My50). This will be Comcast SportsNet’s 11th season televising the Cubs and the first for WLS-TV/ABC 7. FOX is also scheduled to televise up to six games during the season.

Len Kasper returns for his 11th season in the Cubs’ television booth and will be joined by Jim Deshaies, who is entering his third year with the club.

The 2015 television broadcast schedule is as follows:

Day     Date    Opp.               First Pitch   Station
Sun     4/5      vs. St. Louis      7:05 PM       ESPN2
Mon     4/6      OFF DAY
Tue     4/7      vs. St. Louis      7:05 PM       WGN
Wed    4/8      vs. St. Louis      1:20 PM       ABC7
Thur    4/9      OFF DAY
Fri       4/10    @ Colorado       3:10 PM       WGN
Sat      4/11    @ Colorado       7:10 PM       CSN+
Sun     4/12    @ Colorado       3:10 PM       WGN
Mon     4/13    vs. Cincinnati    7:05 PM       CSN+
Tue     4/14    vs. Cincinnati    7:05 PM       CSN
Wed    4/15    vs. Cincinnati    7:05 PM       WPWR
Thur    4/16    OFF DAY
Fri       4/17    vs. San Diego   1:20 PM       ABC7
Sat      4/18    vs. San Diego   1:20 PM       CSN
Sun     4/19    vs. San Diego   1:20 PM       WGN
Mon     4/20    @ Pittsburgh     6:05 PM       CSN
Tue     4/21    @ Pittsburgh     6:05 PM       WGN
Wed    4/22    @ Pittsburgh     6:05 PM       CSN
Thur    4/23    @ Pittsburgh     11:35 AM     CSN
Fri       4/24    @ Cincinnati     6:10 PM       CSN
Sat      4/25    @ Cincinnati     12:10 PM     ABC7
Sun     4/26    @ Cincinnati     12:10 PM     WGN
Mon     4/27    vs. Pittsburgh    7:05 PM       CSN
Tue     4/28    vs. Pittsburgh    7:05 PM       WPWR
Wed    4/29    vs. Pittsburgh    7:05 PM       CSN
Thur    4/30    OFF DAY
Fri       5/1      vs. Milwaukee   1:20 PM       CSN
Sat      5/2      vs. Milwaukee   1:20 PM       CSN
Sun     5/3      vs. Milwaukee   1:20 PM       WGN
Mon     5/4      @ St. Louis       7:10 PM       CSN
Tue     5/5      @ St. Louis       7:15 PM       WGN
Wed    5/6      @ St. Louis       7:15 PM       CSN
Thur    5/7      @ St. Louis       12:45 PM     CSN
Fri       5/8      @ Milwaukee    7:10 PM       CSN
Sat      5/9      @ Milwaukee    6:10 PM       CSN
Sun     5/10    @ Milwaukee    1:10 PM       WGN
Mon     5/11    vs. NY Mets      7:05 PM       CSN
Tue     5/12    vs. NY Mets      7:05 PM       CSN+
Wed    5/13    vs. NY Mets      7:05 PM       WGN
Thur    5/14    vs. NY Mets      1:20 PM       CSN
Fri       5/15    vs. Pittsburgh    1:20 PM       CSN
Sat      5/16    vs. Pittsburgh    3:05 PM       ABC7
Sun     5/17    vs. Pittsburgh    1:20 PM       WGN
Mon     5/18    OFF DAY
Tue     5/19    @ San Diego     9:10 PM       WGN
Wed    5/20    @ San Diego     9:10 PM       CSN
Thur    5/21    @ San Diego     8:10 PM       CSN+
Fri       5/22    @ Arizona         8:40 PM       CSN+
Sat      5/23    @ Arizona         9:10 PM       CSN
Sun     5/24    @ Arizona         3:10 PM       WGN
Mon     5/25    vs. Washington 1:20 PM       WGN
Tue     5/26    vs. Washington 6:05 PM      CSN
Wed    5/27    vs. Washington 7:05 PM       CSN+
Thur    5/28    OFF DAY
Fri       5/29    vs. Kansas City  3:05 PM       CSN
Sat      5/30    vs. Kansas City  6:15 PM       FOX
Sun     5/31    vs. Kansas City  1:20 PM       ABC7
Mon     6/1      @ Miami           6:10 PM       CSN
Tue     6/2      @ Miami           6:10 PM       CSN
Wed    6/3      @ Miami           6:10 PM       WPWR
Thur    6/4      @ Washington  6:05 PM       WGN
Fri       6/5      @ Washington  6:05 PM       CSN
Sat      6/6      @ Washington  11:05 AM     CSN
Sun     6/7      @ Washington  3:05 PM       CSN
Mon     6/8      OFF DAY
Tue     6/9      @ Detroit          6:08 PM       CSN
Wed    6/10    @ Detroit          6:08 PM       CSN
Thur    6/11    vs. Cincinnati    7:05 PM       CSN
Fri       6/12    vs. Cincinnati    3:05 PM       WGN
Sat      6/13    vs. Cincinnati    6:15 PM       FOX
Sun     6/14    vs. Cincinnati    TBD         CSN or ESPN
Mon     6/15    vs. Cleveland    7:05 PM       WPWR
Tue     6/16    vs. Cleveland    7:05 PM       CSN
Wed    6/17    @ Cleveland     6:10 PM       CSN+
Thur    6/18    @ Cleveland     6:10 PM       CSN
Fri       6/19    @ Minnesota     7:10 PM       WGN
Sat      6/20    @ Minnesota     1:10 PM       ABC7
Sun     6/21    @ Minnesota     1:10 PM       ABC7
Mon     6/22    vs. LA Dodgers  7:05 PM       WGN
Tue     6/23    vs. LA Dodgers  7:05 PM       CSN
Wed    6/24    vs. LA Dodgers  7:05 PM       CSN
Thur    6/25    vs. LA Dodgers  1:20 PM       ABC7
Fri       6/26    @ St. Louis       7:15 PM       ABC7
Sat      6/27    @ St. Louis       6:15 PM       FOX
Sun     6/28    @ St. Louis       1:15 PM       CSN
Mon     6/29    OFF DAY
Tue     6/30    @ NY Mets        6:10 PM       CSN
Wed    7/1      @ NY Mets        6:10 PM       WGN
Thur    7/2      @ NY Mets        12:10 PM     WGN
Fri       7/3      vs. Miami         1:20 PM       CSN
Sat      7/4      vs. Miami         6:15 PM       FOX
Sun     7/5      vs. Miami         TBD         CSN or ESPN
Mon     7/6      vs. St. Louis      7:05 PM       WGN
Tue     7/7      vs. St. Louis      7:05 PM       CSN
Wed    7/8      vs. St. Louis      7:05 PM       CSN
Thur    7/9      OFF DAY
Fri       7/10    vs. White Sox    3:05 PM       CSN
Sat      7/11    vs. White Sox    3:05 PM       ABC7
Sun     7/12    vs. White Sox    1:20 PM       ABC7
7/13-16                ALL-STAR BREAK (Cincinnati)
Fri       7/17    @ Atlanta         6:35 PM       CSN
Sat      7/18    @ Atlanta         6:10 PM       ABC7
Sun     7/19    @ Atlanta         4:05 PM       WGN
Mon     7/20    @ Cincinnati     6:10 PM       CSN
Tue     7/21    @ Cincinnati     6:10 PM       CSN
Wed    7/22    @ Cincinnati     11:35 AM     ABC7
Thur    7/23    OFF DAY
Fri       7/24    vs. Philadelphia 3:05 PM       WGN
Sat      7/25    vs. Philadelphia 3:05 PM       ABC7
Sun     7/26    vs. Philadelphia 1:20 PM       ABC7
Mon     7/27    vs. Colorado     7:05 PM       CSN+
Tue     7/28    vs. Colorado     7:05 PM       CSN+
Wed    7/29    vs. Colorado     1:20 PM       WGN
Thur    7/30    @ Milwaukee    7:10 PM       CSN
Fri       7/31    @ Milwaukee    7:10 PM       WGN
Sat      8/1      @ Milwaukee    6:10 PM       ABC7
Sun     8/2      @ Milwaukee    1:10 PM       ABC7
Mon     8/3      @ Pittsburgh     6:05 PM       CSN
Tue     8/4      @ Pittsburgh     6:05 PM       WGN
Wed    8/5      @ Pittsburgh     6:05 PM       CSN
Thur    8/6      vs. SF Giants     7:05 PM       CSN
Fri       8/7      vs. SF Giants     3:05 PM       WGN
Sat      8/8      vs. SF Giants     3:05 PM       ABC7
Sun     8/9      vs. SF Giants     TBD         CSN or ESPN
Mon     8/10    OFF DAY
Tue     8/11    vs. Milwaukee   7:05 PM       CSN
Wed    8/12    vs. Milwaukee   7:05 PM      WGN
Thur    8/13    vs. Milwaukee   1:20 PM       ABC7
Fri       8/14    @ White Sox     3:10 PM       CSN
Sat      8/15    @ White Sox     6:10 PM       ABC7
Sun     8/16    @ White Sox     1:10 PM       CSN
Mon     8/17    OFF DAY
Tue     8/18    vs. Detroit        7:05 PM       ABC7
Wed    8/19    vs. Detroit        7:05 PM       WPWR
Thur    8/20    vs. Atlanta        7:05 PM       CSN
Fri       8/21    vs. Atlanta        3:05 PM       CSN
Sat      8/22    vs. Atlanta        3:05 PM       ABC7
Sun     8/23    vs. Atlanta        1:20 PM       WGN
Mon     8/24    OFF DAY
Tue     8/25    @ SF Giants      9:15 PM       WGN
Wed    8/26    @ SF Giants      9:15 PM       CSN
Thur    8/27    @ SF Giants      2:45 PM       CSN
Fri       8/28    @ LA Dodgers   9:10 PM       WGN
Sat      8/29    @ LA Dodgers   8:10 PM       WGN
Sun     8/30    @ LA Dodgers   TBD         CSN or ESPN
Mon     8/31    vs. Cincinnati    7:05 PM       CSN
Tue     9/1      vs. Cincinnati    7:05 PM       WGN
Wed    9/2      vs. Cincinnati    1:20 PM       CSN
Thur    9/3      OFF DAY
Fri       9/4      vs. Arizona        1:20 PM       CSN
Sat      9/5      vs. Arizona        1:20 PM       CSN
Sun     9/6      vs. Arizona        1:20 PM       WGN
Mon     9/7      @ St. Louis       1:15 PM       WGN
Tue     9/8      @ St. Louis       7:15 PM       CSN
Wed    9/9      @ St. Louis       12:45 PM     CSN
Thur    9/10    @ Philadelphia  6:05 PM       CSN
Fri       9/11    @ Philadelphia  6:05 PM       CSN
Sat      9/12    @ Philadelphia  6:05 PM       CSN
Sun     9/13    @ Philadelphia  12:35 PM     WGN
Mon     9/14    OFF DAY
Tue     9/15    @ Pittsburgh     6:05 PM       WGN
Wed    9/16    @ Pittsburgh     6:05 PM       CSN
Thur    9/17    @ Pittsburgh     11:35 AM     WGN
Fri       9/18    vs. St. Louis      1:20 PM       ABC7
Sat      9/19    vs. St. Louis      12:05 PM     FOX
Sun     9/20    vs. St. Louis      TBD         CSN or ESPN
Mon     9/21    vs. Milwaukee   7:05 PM       CSN
Tue     9/22    vs. Milwaukee   7:05 PM        CSN+
Wed    9/23    vs. Milwaukee   7:05 PM       CSN
Thur    9/24    OFF DAY
Fri       9/25    vs. Pittsburgh    1:20 PM       ABC7
Sat      9/26    vs. Pittsburgh    TBD         CSN or FOX
Sun     9/27    vs. Pittsburgh    TBD         CSN or ESPN
Mon     9/28    OFF DAY
Tues    9/29    @ Cincinnati     6:10 PM       CSN
Wed    9/30    @ Cincinnati     6:10 PM       WGN
Thur    10/1    @ Cincinnati     11:35 AM     CSN
Fri       10/2    @ Milwaukee    7:10 PM       CSN
Sat      10/3    @ Milwaukee    6:10 PM       CSN
Sun     10/4    @ Milwaukee    2:10 PM        WGN

From the Pages of Vine Line: Minor League Prospectus, Part 3 – A Phone Call Away

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Eric Jokisch should be ready to step in and help the big league club in 2015. (Photo by Stephen Green)

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 3 of the Cubs minor league prospectus:

Part 1 – The Elite
Part 2 – The Up-And-Comers

A Phone Call Away

While prospects are always fun to follow, no player dreams of a long career in the minor leagues. The ultimate goal for each is to help out at the big league level. Most everyone is aware that guys like Bryant and Russell will be making an impact at Wrigley Field in the near future, but there are other, less-heralded players who could contribute this year as well in a variety of roles.

Dallas Beeler – RHP
Beeler isn’t the kind of prospect who wows you with his stuff, but he still made his major league debut last season after missing much of 2013 with a finger injury. His ability to work down in the zone, primarily with his sinker and splitter, means he has a chance to induce a significant number of ground balls, which could offset the fact that he’ll likely never be a big strikeout guy. And that’s where Beeler must live—down in the zone—if he’s going to carve out a career in the back end of a major league rotation. His modus operandi is relying on his defense while coaxing weak contact from hitters. The big righty is well aware of this fact and does his best to always work to his strengths. He’ll likely enter Spring Training contending for a spot in the big league bullpen.

Eric Jokisch – LHP
Jokisch is often called a left-handed version of Kyle Hendricks, and the comparison works for multiple reasons. Both pitchers are highly intelligent and attended acclaimed colleges (Jokisch went to Northwestern, Hendricks to Dartmouth), both rely more on command than stuff, and both soak up knowledge, using every bit of information they can get their hands on to try and make themselves better at their craft. Jokisch works hard on scouting the opposition, learning hitters’ tendencies and working to expose their weaknesses. While he could find success at the back of the rotation, he has the advantage of being a southpaw, which many believe will allow him to be most effective out of the bullpen. The Cubs, like most teams, could certainly use more left-handed help in the late innings.

Armando Rivero – RHP
Rivero has a solid chance to join a big league bullpen that rapidly improved throughout the 2014 season. He has an explosive fastball that hitters have difficulty picking up, especially when it’s down in the zone. It’s a special pitch with late cutting life, and he combines it with a power slider that’s one of the best breaking balls in the organization. No matter where he ends up, Rivero will likely rack up strikeouts (as evidenced by his 38 percent K rate last season). He also has a change-up that grades out as average or better, leading some to believe he could be a starter. However, he rarely uses it out of the bullpen, and the Cubs have determined that his best role right now is as a reliever. After missing some time following his defection from Cuba, Rivero has moved quickly through the Cubs system. It’s not unreasonable to think he could have a significant impact at the major league level this summer.

Christian Villanueva – 3B
After Villanueva enjoyed an impressive 2013 campaign that had many projecting a bright future, the 23-year-old struggled in his first taste of Triple-A action in 2014 and was eventually sent back to Tennessee when Bryant earned his promotion to Iowa. One thing that will never be in doubt is his glove. He offers plus defense at the hot corner—the type that could garner a Gold Glove or two if the bat ever comes around to the point where he’s getting regular playing time.

However, the bat does leave major question marks, as Villanueva struggled even when sent back to Double-A. He needs to stop giving away at-bats if he’s ever going to live up to the potential some saw after his breakout 2013 season. Either way, his glove makes him a valuable piece, and he could provide some versatility, as he did see time at second base last season and in the outfield in the Mexican Winter League.

Baseball America unveils its top 100 prospects with Kris Bryant at No. 1

SolerSwing

Jorge Soler should be featured in the middle of the Cubs’ order in 2015. (Photo by Stephen Green)

Scouting publication Baseball America unveiled its 25th preseason top 100 prospects list on Friday. Of course, there were plenty of Cubs farmhands scattered throughout the rankings, including Kris Bryant as the top prospect and Addison Russell coming in at No. 3. Also included on the link are the player grades on a 20-80 scouting scale and the estimated time before each player makes his major league debut.

The publication also released a coinciding story titled “What Could Go Wrong?” for each of baseball’s top 10 prospects. Here’s where each member of the Cubs organization fell on Baseball America’s list, as well as the pros and cons of the elite-level Cubs minor leaguers:

1. Kris Bryant, 3b, Cubs

What Could Go Wrong: Like many sluggers, Bryant’s power has always come with some swings and misses. Bryant’s strikeout rate in the minors isn’t all that much better than Javier Baez’s was at similar levels, although Bryant’s understanding of the strike zone has been better. If Bryant’s strikeout rate climbs even further in the majors like Baez’s did, it could quickly end up higher than 30 percent, which puts a massive amount of pressure on the rest of his plate appearances.

Why You Shouldn’t Worry: Bryant has shown an advanced understanding of hitting and has made steady adjustments throughout his career. His production got better and better in his three years at San Diego and he’s shown little trouble adjusting to tougher pitching as a pro. His work ethic and understanding of his swing makes him more likely to replicate Giancarlo Stanton’s steady strikeout rate improvement than an Adam Dunn feast-or-famine approach.

3. Addison Russell, ss, Cubs

What Could Go Wrong: There are no clear red flags in Russell’s game that should clearly derail his big league dreams. He’s an outstanding athlete with a sweet swing and a track record of hitting. If you’re looking to nitpick, the crowded Cubs infield may force Russell to move off of shortstop, and he became a little more aggressive upon joining the Cubs’ Double-A club. His bat should handle a move to pretty much any other spot, but he’s most valuable as a shortstop with a corner outfielder’s bat.

Why You Shouldn’t Worry: The worst-case scenario for Russell is still a pretty solid player, whose solid but not spectacular arm strength could move him off short. His athleticism should make him as least a useful defender if he moves, and his power would make him playable even is his batting average were to dip.

12. Jorge Soler, of
19. Kyle Schwarber, c/of
38. C.J. Edwards, rhp
83. Billy McKinney, of

Cubs to honor Ernie Banks at Spring Training, Opening Night at Wrigley Field

Banks-Statue
Following the passing of Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks, the Chicago Cubs have announced plans to pay tribute to the Hall of Famer during Spring Training, Opening Night at Wrigley Field and throughout the 2015 season.

Beginning in Spring Training and continuing throughout 2015, the team will wear a commemorative No. 14 patch on both its home and away jerseys. The Cubs will open their Spring Training schedule by wearing No. 14 hats during both split-squad games on March 5, with additional acknowledgments planned for that day’s opening game at Sloan Park.

Banks will also be honored with a pregame ceremony before Major League Baseball’s Cubs vs. Cardinals Season Opener at Wrigley Field on April 5. Each fan attending that night’s game will receive a commemorative pin in honor of the Cubs’ beloved shortstop. Fans will see many other tributes paying homage to Banks’ remarkable life and career throughout the evening.

A collection of videos, photos and articles have been posted to Cubs.com over the last several weeks, and Vine Line will publish a special feature edition honoring Mr. Cub in March.

Additional tributes will be finalized and incorporated throughout the 2015 season.

“There is no level of recognition that can properly acknowledge how much Ernie Banks meant to this franchise and fan base,” said Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts. “Collectively, we must ensure Mr. Cub’s legacy rightfully lives on at the Friendly Confines and with future generations of baseball fans.”

Inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1977, Banks was a lifelong Cub who played for 19 seasons. He was a 14-time All-Star and back-to-back National League Most Valuable Player in 1958 and 1959. He hit 512 home runs in his career, and his 277 home runs as a shortstop remain a National League record.

Among Cubs players, Banks ranks first in games played (2,528), at-bats (9,421), extra-base hits (1,009) and total bases (4,706); second in home runs (512), RBI (1,636) and hits (2,583); third in doubles (407); fifth in runs scored (1,305); seventh in triples (90); and eighth in walks (763).

While still a player in 1967, Banks turned his eye to coaching and served in that role through 1973, becoming the first African-American to manage a major league team on May 8, 1973, when he took over for the ejected Whitey Lockman.

He was the first Cub to have his number retired in 1982, was voted to Major League Baseball’s All-Century Team in 1999, and was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.

1000 Words: Welcome back, Cubs baseball

SpringTrainingClubhouse

(Photo by Stephen Green)

While many players arrived early in Mesa to get the season started, pitchers and catchers officially reported to Spring Training on Thursday. After a number of notable offseason acquisitions—including pitchers Jon Lester and Jason Hammel and catchers Miguel Montero and David Ross—the Cubs are primed for a dramatic improvement in the standings and are now viewed as dark-horse playoff contenders. Whatever happens this season, the journey begins today.

From the Pages of Vine Line: Remembering Harry Caray’s legacy

HarryCaray

(Photo courtesy Chicago Cubs)

Holy cow! From 1982-98, there was no bigger personality at Wrigley Field than Hall of Fame broadcaster and man about town Harry Caray. His passion for the Cubs was rivaled only by his passion for life. In November, Vine Line ran a feature on Caray, who died 17 years ago today.

As was commonplace with Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray, the game call took an unusual turn—this time to seedless grapes. A fruit lacking the ability to self-propagate spawned a conversation so lengthy, so in keeping with the legend, Caray’s longtime work partner still laughs about it decades later.

“It was mostly carefully crafted, the lunacy,” said former Cubs pitcher and broadcaster Steve Stone. “Out of his mind came the most unusual things.”

Stone, who now works for the crosstown White Sox, shared the WGN-TV broadcast booth with Harry Caray for 15 seasons until Caray’s death in 1998, and stories about the beloved broadcaster still pour out of him. Stone credited Caray with teaching him about loyalty, fans, calling a good game and calling a bad game well.

He recalled Caray launching into this yarn, on air, about riding in the back of a limousine and seeing a grocery store sign advertising seedless grapes. Caray marveled at the novelty of this “new” fruit—which, for the record, was neither new nor novel—and baited his partner for a good explanation of how such a thing could exist.

Stone, the college-educated straight man to Caray’s blue-collar wild card, cobbled together a workable theory about selective pollination, hybridization and the like.

“Well, that doesn’t sound right,” Caray grumbled, later adding, “Imagine if they came up with a seedless watermelon!”

“We talked an entire inning about seedless grapes,” Stone recalled with a laugh. “This is a story he was waiting to tell.”

These days, the legend of Harry Caray—and fans’ memories of him—tend to skew toward caricature. Everyone from Will Ferrell to Ryan Dempster can do a spot-on Caray impression. He was so beloved, so funny, so seemingly hapless, it’s easy to forget what a good baseball mind he had.

The grape conversation and others were hardly the ramblings of an eccentric older man. They were the deliberate selling of an experience, a persona and a ballpark that made Caray the beating heart of a club that still pulses with his legacy today. During his lengthy career, the Hall of Famer bellowed through 50 years of big league broadcasts, including two Cubs division titles, and took generations of fans out to the ballgame—his way.

* * * *
Atlanta Braves broadcaster Chip Caray said a Hollywood screenwriter couldn’t have penned a better story: A scrappy, St. Louis-bred orphan spends the bulk of his working life peddling the Chicago Cubs’ biggest rivals before climbing into the booth behind home plate at Wrigley Field.

“And he’s the most beloved announcer in the history of the franchise,” said the younger Caray, Harry’s grandson. “He ended up doing pretty damn well for himself.”

By the time Caray was born as Harry Christopher Carabina on March 1, 1914, he had already been abandoned by his father. His mother remarried but died in 1928, leaving her teenage boy to be raised by an aunt.

Caray was a decent high school baseball player and earned a scholarship to the University of Alabama. But he declined the offer because he couldn’t afford room and board, according to Cubs historian Ed Hartig.

“When people are brought up without much, they desire to get ahead,” said Caray’s widow, Dutchie.

And so he did. After listening to countless Cardinals broadcasts, the kid felt he could convey the sport’s excitement better than the team’s radio broadcasters, and he was cocky enough to let the station’s general manager hear about it. The GM gave Caray an audition and liked what he saw, but he preferred Caray start in small-market Joliet, Illinois, where he could gain some experience.

The newly minted broadcaster kicked off the 1940s with a new beat (high school and junior college basketball, bowling and softball), a new name (out with Carabina, in with Caray) and, after a promotion to sports director of a station in Kalamazoo, Michigan, a new catchphrase—a rousing “Holy cow!” belted out after home runs.

In an era when prominent announcers were scrambling to find on-air calling cards, Caray’s served a dual purpose: It was memorable, and it kept him from swearing, Hartig said.

In 1944, Caray returned to his beloved hometown Cardinals, where he spent 25 years in the booth despite some personal entanglements. His growing fame and hectic schedule led to a divorce from his first wife, Dorothy, in 1949 (he would marry and divorce a second time before marrying Dutchie in 1975).

Later, rumors of an affair with an owner’s wife arose, and Caray did little to dispel them.

Following the 1969 campaign, he was fired by the Cardinals and spent one season calling games for the Oakland Athletics.

In 1971, he headed back to the Midwest to replace Bob Elson as the voice of the White Sox. The club capitalized on the broadcaster’s ability to self-promote by offering him an incentive-laden contract based on attendance numbers at Comiskey Park.

Caray quickly became immensely popular. When he wasn’t hobnobbing with South Siders, buying fans beers or broadcasting from the bleachers, he was carousing downtown and hitting bars and restaurants after games, earning himself the nickname “the Mayor of Rush Street.”

Personnel changes at the Sox and rumblings about a pay-per-view system for the 1982 season prompted Caray to contact the Cubs about replacing legend Jack Brickhouse, who was retiring after the 1981 season, Hartig said. Caray was ultimately hired, and the nationally viewed WGN Superstation, which had launched just prior to Caray’s arrival, sent his popularity into orbit.

“He was fun to listen to,” Dutchie Caray said. “He was just nuts.”

The Cubs capitalized on Caray’s oddball personality by promoting him almost as heavily as they did the team—and Caray followed suit by pursuing his own endorsements as the de facto face of the Cubs. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement, especially during bleak years on the field when the stretch-singing, microphone-waving Caray was the one putting butts in seats.

“Harry sold the city of Chicago, Wrigley Field, the Cubs, and he sold Harry Caray,” Stone said. “And beer. That goes without saying.”

While Caray rarely met a party he didn’t like, stories of him being drunk in the booth during games are patently false. When fans heard the pop of a can followed by a long, gulping pull during broadcasts, Caray was generally drinking soda, not beer, Chip Caray said. While the elder Caray would hoist a glass during the seventh-inning stretch, its contents generally remained untouched. Stone said during their 14 years together in the WGN booth, he watched Caray drink a total of maybe 45 beers—roughly three per season.

“It was show business,” said the younger Caray, adding that his grandfather might enjoy a cold brew only on the hottest of days in the steamiest of cities, where the booth was like a “Japanese pillbox on Iwo Jima”—his grandfather’s words.

And perhaps it was Caray’s words—and his famous delivery of them—that compelled listeners to believe he was soused. He’d jumble players’ names, make silly puns, and dip into a vast well of ridiculous, incongruous stories during slow moments. Most fans can, and frequently do, quote them from memory.
“Alou’s name spelled backwards is Uola.”

“How could that guy lose the ball in the sun? He’s from Mexico.”

“The good Lord wants the Cubs to win.”

Said Stone: “He was never boring.”

* * * *
Caray first crossed paths with his longtime wingman at Comiskey Park, where Stone pitched for the White Sox in 1973 and from 1977-78. Stone was also part owner of The Pump Room, a swanky Chicago restaurant located in what was then the Ambassador East Hotel. He recalled sitting at the bar with teammate Ken Brett one night when Harry, who was living at the hotel at the time, walked in.

“He looks at Brett and says to him, ‘Boy, last year you were good! What the hell happened to you?’” Stone said. “And Kenny says, ‘Nice talking to you, Harry.’”

Caray’s no-nonsense style irked some and downright alienated others, such as former Cubs broadcaster Milo Hamilton and Sox owner John Allyn, who both “probably had the Harry Caray dartboard,” Hartig said.

“Harry would be a guy who’d be very difficult to hire today,” his grandson said.

And the same hard lines he drew professionally leaked into his home life as well.

“He didn’t know how to be a dad, to be a granddad,” Chip Caray said. “There are a lot of holes in my life and in my dad’s life.”

Chip Caray credited his step-grandmother, Dutchie, with working to mend any familial rifts.

“I tried to get Harry to realize he needed to treat all his kids alike,” she said, adding that he tended to favor the boys within his own brood of five. At home, the usually voluble Caray was quiet and typically buried in newspapers. He read about seven papers a day, prompting Dutchie to lay out towels to protect their home’s white carpeting.

“He would come into the house, and his hands would be black from newsprint,” Dutchie Caray said. “I’d say, ‘Don’t touch anything!’”

Stone recalled that same devotion to print. Caray would often amble into the booth and drop a gigantic tome he was working his way through onto the table, and his gameday prep was poring over everything he could get his ink-stained mitts on.

* * * *
The roar of the Wrigley Field crowd between innings of an uneventful game often left WGN-TV’s director of production Bob Vorwald puzzled—that is, until he realized Caray was making his way from the TV booth to the radio booth.

“He was a force of nature,” Vorwald said.

Caray had a knack for appealing to “regular guys” and relished talking to fans and signing autographs. When Stone began working with Caray, the legend told him: “Never talk down to your audience.”

Prior to going on-air, Caray would often ask his partner to pick any side on any issue, and the veteran broadcaster would counter it. From seedless grapes to Stone’s cigar smoking, Caray had a retort for everything, and it usually was consistent with the opinions of the guy bellying up to the bar.

“He’d say, ‘Don’t take it personally. That’s good television,’” Stone remembered.

But baseball always came first.

“I think people remember the personality,” Vorwald said. “But they don’t always remember what an outstanding broadcaster he was and how well he knew the game.”

Caray missed the start of the 1987 season after suffering a stroke. His return was heralded by an on-air phone call from no less than President Ronald Reagan—a call ridiculously cut short.

“He hung up on Ronald Reagan because Bobby Dernier got a bunt single,” said Stone, laughing.

While Caray’s bits weren’t an act, they weren’t an accident either. For many of the seasons he covered the Cubs, the team struggled, so the broadcast had to be more interesting to keep viewers from changing the channel.

“He saw a lot of bad baseball,” Vorwald said. “You have to work harder when teams and games are not so good.”

In the strike-shortened 1981 season, the Cubs suffered a dismal 38-65 record and drew an unusually low half-million in attendance. The following year, Caray’s first, the team still came in under .500, yet attendance doubled. And it continued to grow for years after that.

Late in his career and in declining health, Caray cut back on his travel—and his drinking. He collapsed at a Palm Springs Valentine’s Day dinner with Dutchie in 1998 and died of cardiac arrest and brain damage four days later—just shy of his 84th birthday. His funeral was held at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago and was followed by a motorcade around Wrigley Field.

Chip Caray remembered sitting in a limousine with his dad when the procession to the North Side halted. They slowed through downtown roadwork on that frigid Chicago winter’s day and looked out the window. Construction workers stood in silent salute as the caravan passed, hard hats held steady over their hearts for someone they recognized as uniquely their own.

And that’s just how Caray would have wanted it.

Cubs fill FanGraphs’ top 200 prospects list

Edwards,-CJ

C.J. Edwards is one of the Cubs’ top pitching prospects. (Photo by Roger C. Hooever)

The fact that Cubs farmhands continue to pop up all over prospect rankings is an ongoing testament to the job Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have been doing since they took over the baseball operations department in late 2011. On Tuesday, baseball website FanGraphs released its top 200 prospects, which included 11 members of the Cubs’ organization.

Seeing Kris Bryant and Addison Russell as high as they are is no longer much of a surprise, but 2014 first-round pick Kyle Schwarber’s inclusion in the top 25 puts him in elite territory. It’s also worth mentioning that three of the Cubs’ first four picks in the 2012 draft are included.

Each capsule below includes a brief segment from the individual’s FanGraphs scouting report. Check out the link above for a more comprehensive report on each player.

1. Kris Bryant, 3B
Scouting Report: Bryant is the top prospect in the game for me and for a majority of sources I talked to, but it isn’t by a landslide. Bryant still has some questions, and the guy right behind him could be terrifyingly good. Bryant has either 75 or 80 raw power for scouts, but the two questions about him are 1) how much contact he’ll make/how much of his power will he get to in games, and 2) if he will play third base or right field.

3. Addison Russell, SS
Scouting Report: [Russell] went 11th overall to Oakland and surprised from day one with how advanced he was offensively, while continuing to improve defensively. He was dealt to the Cubs last year in the Jeff Samardzija deal and joins a glut of talented young hitters for the Cubs. The biggest remaining question for Russell is if he can still stick at shortstop due to a hitch in his release that limits how quickly he can unload the ball deep in the hole.

13. Jorge Soler, RF
Scouting Report: He’s an explosive quick-twitch power hitter with easy plus bat speed and raw power, along with just enough huge cuts and erratic stuff to his game that you never know what you might see. The erratic aspects of his game slowly melted away this year as he matured mentally and had his first full year of reps in the system with a clean bill of health.

21. Kyle Schwarber, LF
Scouting Report: The Cubs took him #4 overall out of Indiana. … They’ll develop him as a catcher this year, but most assume his bat will be ready before his glove, meaning he’ll be a part-time catcher at best. There’s legit 30 homer power and surprising feel to hit with a realistic chance for a big league look in late 2016.

64. C.J. Edwards, RHP
Scouting Report: Edwards was a near unknown pitcher as an amateur; you don’t see many pitchers this high on prospect lists that signed for $50,000 out of high school in the 48th round. The Cubs smartly grabbed him from Texas in the Matt Garza trade late in his breakout season in 2013. He’s still a rail-thin righty that some think will never add the necessary bulk to throw 200 innings in the big leagues, but the stuff and command projects for the middle of the rotation.

92. Albert Almora, CF
Scouting Report: He’ll need to make some adjustments to his approach since Double-A was the first level where he couldn’t hit with that approach. If he makes some progress there, he has 15+ homer power and near Gold Glove defense, so there’s some real ceiling despite just solid raw tools.

124. Duane Underwood, RHP
Scouting Report: Underwood was an inconsistent prep arm from Atlanta in the 2012 draft that, early in his pro career, look to be more bust than boom. He turned things around and had a breakout 2014 campaign in Low-A, flashing three plus pitches at times.

125. Pierce Johnson, RHP
Scouting Report: Johnson popped up in his draft year at Missouri State flashing above average stuff, slipping on draft day due to some concerns about his delivery, command and future health prospects. Johnson has avoided major injuries and performed well, with his above average to plus fastball-curveball combo giving him #3 starter upside, but the command and consistency have been bugaboos and he may ultimate fit best in the bullpen.

First baseman Dan Vogelbach, outfielder Billy McKinney and shortstop Gleyber Torres were also listed among the unranked players to round out FanGraphs’ top 200 prospects.

Baseball Prospectus puts Cubs atop organizational rankings

Zagunis2-(Photo-by-Ethan-Chivari)

Mark Zagunis demonstrates the Cubs’ organizational depth. (Photo by Ethan Chivari)

With one organization possessing two of baseball’s top five prospects, that fact alone would probably force everyone else to play catch up. But then you add in the depth the Cubs’ organization provides even behind those players, and the gap between the North Siders and everyone else widens. On Monday, prospect publication Baseball Prospectus unveiled its 2015 organizational rankings, where the Cubs found themselves with top billing.

Last week, BP released its top 101 individual prospects, which included Addison Russell (2), Kris Bryant (5), Jorge Soler (19), Albert Almora (38), Kyle Schwarber (77), Billy McKinney (81) and Pierce Johnson (83). Even with the combination of quality and quantity on the top 101 list, Baseball Prospectus came away impressed with the depth even behind the ranked players.

1. Chicago Cubs

Farm System Ranking in 2014: 2
2015 Top Ten Prospects: Link
Top Prospect: Addison Russell (2)
Prospects on the BP 101: 7
State of the System: Despite graduating infielders Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez, and mildly uninspiring years from former Top 10 prospects like C.J. Edwards and Christian Villanueva, the Cubs are the proud owner of the game’s top system. With the 2014 arrival of shortstop Addison Russell via trade, the explosive emergence of third baseman Kris Bryant, and the selection of a hit-first prospect like Kyle Schwarber, the Cubs remain absolutely loaded with impact talent. The arrival and emergence of those players doesn’t even begin to touch on the continued presence of outfielders Jorge Soler and Albert Almora, as well as quality depth of high ceiling players like Gleyber Torres, Eloy Jimenez, Carson Sands, and Mark Zagunis. The Cubs’ system is loaded to the gills with talent that could help their roster continue to improve internally, or via trade.
Must-See Affiliate: Triple-A Iowa
Prospects to See There: Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Pierce Johnson

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