Results tagged ‘ Chicago Cubs ’
Despite the many practice fields at new Cubs Park in Mesa, Ariz., it’s always easy to spot catcher George Kottaras because he usually has a friend in tow. One of the most popular new members of the Cubs has been Kottaras’ dog, Leo, who even managed to sneak into some of Monday’s photo day shots.
The 8-month-old yellow lab is remarkably well-behaved and usually sits patiently by the Cubs training complex while Kottaras is at work on the field. The dog has a big legacy to live up to, as he was named after King Leonidas of Sparta.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
Cubs prospect Jorge Soler turns 22 years old Tuesday. The La Habana, Cuba native signed a nine-year deal with the club in the summer of 2012 and has been viewed as one of baseball’s top prospects since his arrival. MLB.com recently named him the Cubs’ No. 3 prospect and No. 26 in baseball.
Injuries shortened what looked to be a promising 2013 campaign, where he hit .281/.343/.467 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with eight home runs, 13 doubles and 35 RBI in 55 High-A Daytona games. A member of the 40-man roster, Soler has been in Mesa with the major league side, though it’s likely he’ll start the 2014 season in Daytona or Double-A Tennessee.
Monday morning was photo day at the brand new Cubs Park Spring Training Facility in Mesa, Ariz. The players and coaches went from station to station posing for the camera and answering questions from various media outlets.
Vine Line got a chance to talk to Cubs manager Rick Renteria, pitching coach Chris Bosio, hitting coach and former Cubs third baseman Bill Mueller, and first-base coach Eric Hinske about the early days of spring camp and their expectations for the 2014 season.
We’ll be posting videos and stories from Cubs Park all week long, so watch the blog and our Twitter account, @cubsvineline.
Much has been made of the fact that new Cubs manager Rick Renteria speaks both English and Spanish. He opened his daily press conference Monday by testing a new language on some Japanese reporters. With players like Kyuji Fujikawa and Tsuyoshi Wada in camp, Renteria has been learning new Japanese phrases daily to better communicate with his team.
Renteria and the rest of the Cubs coaching staff had high praise for the Cubs new training facility, including the Cubs Park stadium, which saw it’s first action Monday afternoon.
“It’s a beautiful facility. Obviously, we came and saw it earlier but to have them go out there and hit will allow them to get a feel for the field,” Renteria said. “It’s brand new, it’s expansive seating, it’s incredible. For a Spring Training facility, it’s almost a big league ballpark.”
Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood both threw off the mound at the stadium, and many of the major leaguers—including Darwin Barney, Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and Ryan Sweeney—took batting practice. Though Rizzo blasted a few shots onto the outfield berm, he said the park plays big.
The Cubs also announced their early Cactus League rotation. Jeff Samardzija will inaugurate Cubs Park at the home opener on Thursday against the Diamondbacks’ Bronson Arroyo. Chris Rusin will take the mound Friday in Tempe against the Angels. The Cubs play a doubleheader on Saturday, with Travis Wood pitching the day game in Mesa against the Giants, and Edwin Jackson starting the nightcap versus the D-backs in Scottsdale. New Cubs starter Jason Hammel will start Sunday at home against the Royals.
The Cubs will play a six-inning intrasquad exhibition game at 1 p.m. local time on Wednesday at Cubs Park. Cubs 2013 Minor League Pitcher of the Year Kyle Hendricks will start against Northwestern alum Eric Jokisch.
The following can be found in the Profile section of March’s edition of Vine Line.
Former American League batting champ Bill Mueller is back in Cubbie blue as the new big league hitting coach.
Born: 3/17/71 in Maryland Heights, Mo.
Resides: Mesa, Ariz.
Joined Cubs: 11/22/13
Position: Hitting Coach
COMING HOME It’s a wonderful experience to be back in this city. Being a part of the team again is exciting. And being a part of an organization like this, with Theo [Epstein] and Jed [Hoyer] and everyone, I think it’s an exciting time to be in this organization. I’m looking forward to having a great year and enjoying this wonderful opportunity.
TOP DOG [Rick Renteria] is as genuine as they come. And knowledgeable, very experienced. Basically, you know what you’re going to be getting. You know what you’re going to have in that [dugout] every single day. Same with the coaching staff. All of these guys are excellent, solid individuals with an enormous amount of experience.
FEELING GOOD We all know the pressures of performance in what we do out there. With our [coaching staff’s] experience, it’s just a matter of working with each individual and working with where they are. It’s our job to figure that out and enhance all that and get them consistent. We’re all about enhancing their confidence and minimizing their insecurities.
IN THE SWING You just want to be a good listener and listen to where they’re at, where they place value in their swing, how cognitive they are, what’s their approach, where do they see their role on the team. You’ve got to get these questions going, and then you can dissect it better if you want to take it in a certain direction—whether it’s a swing path or a lower half thing or an approach thing—and start interjecting things at the right time so they make an impact.
ME, MYSELF AND I When we were in the minor leagues, a lot of us didn’t even have hitting coaches. You had to watch the good hitters in that league and figure things out. I wasn’t ultratalented, so you had to ask questions of other guys on your team, and you had to tinker around with things. You had to learn who you were, your strengths, your weaknesses, what made you tick, swing path, timing, rhythm and all that stuff. You started becoming your own coach.
ON THE FARM It’s an enormous amount of talent [in the Cubs system]. On top of that, there’s an enormous amount of character. That’s what’s really special, because there’s a lot more growing mentally as well as physically for all these guys. No matter how talented you are, there’s always that big step of transitioning to get to the big leagues and stay in the big leagues. With that foundation of character and their work ethic and their talent, they’re fortified to really come up here and start having some success.
TOP MOMENT The one that comes to mind first is my first at-bat in the big leagues. When you’re not really a prospect coming up and you’re not 6-foot-4, 225 pounds—not highly skilled where I’m pumping jacks just because—that moment was an unbelievable experience and an enormous accomplishment, to make it to that point and reach my dream that I had been dreaming about since I was 7 years old.
HOME TURF I was born and raised in St. Louis. [Before playing in the 2004 World Series with the Red Sox], the last World Series game I was ever at was in 1982 with my dad in the nosebleeds—[the Brewers’] Cecil Cooper hit a home run up there. The next moment, I’m part of a World Series, and I’m winning it at Busch Stadium with my mom and dad in the stands and friends and family. So it was an exciting time, breaking a curse of 86 years and winning a World Series on my home soil.
The following is from the Inside Pitch section of March’s Vine Line.
From 1929-38, as the world suffered through the Great Depression, the Cubs ironically experienced their last sustained run of on-field prosperity. Over that 10-year stretch, they had the best record and most World Series appearances (four) of any NL team.
Since then, whether the organization has attempted a quick fix or a measured reconstruction, efforts to rekindle that flame have produced only flickers.
Two and a half years ago, Ricketts family ownership hired Theo Epstein as president of baseball operations and Jed Hoyer as general manager to end the organization’s 75-year drought of inconsistency. Now entering their third season, Epstein and Hoyer realize the progress they see internally isn’t always obvious to fans.
“We take grief from friends, family and critics,” Epstein said. “But we know what’s coming. We have to continue to build with our group, because it’s going to be a lot of fun when we get there.”
The Cubs’ aim all along has been to become baseball’s next model organization, and, unfortunately, there isn’t a quick fix for that.
“We feel great about the people we have in place now,” Epstein said. “We’re talking about our scouting department, player development, professional scouts and major league staff. You’re constantly looking for new ways to improve. We look to do this by putting people in the right place, promoting the right guys and making sure everyone gets better at their job every year.”
Epstein’s goal is not to generate a single World Series title, but to create a consistent contender as he did in Boston. In his nine seasons there, the Red Sox made six postseason appearances and won both World Series in which they played. Moreover, almost half of Boston’s 2013 World Series championship roster was traceable to Epstein and his BoSox staff.
“We’re looking to be in position to win 90 games every year, which puts you in postseason [range],” Epstein said. “Winning 95 games gives you a chance to win your division. That’s our plan—not only to win a World Series, but to get into the postseason every year.
“Our group concentrates on a 10-year period, and we hope to be in contention at least eight out of 10 years, rather than going for one super team that might be fleeting—disappearing the next year and getting old the next.”
That’s why the Cubs have concentrated so heavily on amateur draft picks, international free agents and minor league prospects.
“We want to build a core that can be our nucleus for a long time,” Epstein said. “We’re not going to define our organization by scouting major league free agents. By the time they’re free agents, the good players are mostly 30 or older and huge investments. Our goal is to be an organization that doesn’t need to go into free agency that often because it has homegrown players.”
Since 2011, Jim Hendry’s final season as GM, the Cubs have enjoyed the bittersweet gift of drafting high after finishing low. But this process is already starting to bear fruit. Their last three No. 1 picks—Javier Baez, Albert Almora and Kris Bryant—rank among baseball’s top 20 prospects, and the club has seven players in the top 100, according to MLBPipeline.com.
Despite falling short in a valiant winter effort to land Japanese pitching prize Masahiro Tanaka, Epstein’s energetic group remains undeterred.
“You first and foremost cannot put together a successful organization without drafting well,” Epstein said. “Most of our trades in this phase will be about acquiring prospects.”
Just as the little things that win games don’t always show up in the box score, small details that produce a winning organization seldom make hot-stove headlines.
“Our group looks to find something every day to make this organization healthier,” Epstein said. “Hiring a good scout or making the right choice on a 10th-round draft pick, adding a quality coach or player development person—all are good short-term goals to become a great system. Finding a better bunt play to run or picking up a guy on waivers is all part of what we do to put us in a position to have more homegrown talent coming through our system—and to provide preprime and prime-age players to our roster and core.”
Still, Epstein realizes fans judge the front office by what occurs on the field.
“You can’t put in all your systems the first year,” he said. “It takes time. The market is different in each major league city. That’s part of the adjustment tour people must make when coming here. Take player development. You start a development program, bring in people and create a manual. Still, it takes years for the plan to be completely institutionalized and ingrained.
“Our analytics department took us a while. We wanted to make sure we had the right people. … We now have a full-fledged department working to get an advantage on our competition, and that only this year has come into play. We’re just hitting our stride in prioritizing player development and scouting first. We were objectively behind in those areas.”
So how do you gauge progress?
“Two and a half years into this,” Epstein said, “we’re spending a lot less time in our meetings talking about the process we have to go through.”
—Bruce Levine and Joel Bierig
(Photo by Jon Antonoff)
Starting next week, Vine Line will take the field along with the rest of the Cubs at Spring Training in Mesa, Ariz. We’ll be at the new facilities talking to the team and front office, watching the home opener at Cubs Park and blogging throughout the week.
Be sure to stay tuned for photos, stories and more from Mesa. And, if you don’t already, follow us on Twitter at @cubsvineline to get all the news first.
(Photo by Charles Sollars)
Baseball analytics website Baseball Prospectus continued its Top Tools series Thursday, naming Cubs prospect Albert Almora as an honorable mention for his makeup. The 19-year-old, who was the organization’s top pick in the 2012 draft, has always been seen as a player with a good baseball mind. On many occasions, the club’s front office has applauded Almora for his ability to get quick reads on fly balls and his vast understanding of the game. While in high school, he played on a record six national teams for USA Baseball.
Here’s what BP had to say about Almora:
Among the best prospects in the game, Almora, [Dylan] Bundy, and [Reese] McGuire offer makeup that is universally lauded by scouts, coaches, and teammates alike. Each player demonstrates the work ethic, confidence, leadership, and on-field demeanor that defines positive makeup in the scouting industry.
The site listed Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter as the current major league gold standard for makeup, while Jackie Robinson assumes the role as best all time.
Arismendy Alcantara has established himself as a top 100 prospect. (Photo by Rodger Wood)
At this point, fans shouldn’t be surprised to see Cubs farmhands taking up some prime real estate on baseball’s top prospect lists. Throughout the offseason, various publications and websites have released their top 100, and the Cubs routinely land seven players among the best in the game.
Baseball America unveiled its Top 100 list Thursday, and the Cubs’ elite seven were again present—and that included two in the top eight. BA also provided fans with an estimation of when to expect these minor leaguers to arrive at Wrigley Field. According to the publication, six of the seven could be at the Friendly Confines sometime in the next two years.
Here’s what BA had to say about the Cubs seven:
5. Javier Baez
Major League ETA: 2014
Slow down—not his bat, the minors’ fastest, but the rest of the game, especially at shortstop. Otherwise, Baez’s task will be learning to play another position.
8. Kris Bryant
Major League ETA: 2014
Bryant could have a successful season even if he doesn’t match his 31-homer season in college; a move to the outfield could be in the offing.
28. C.J. Edwards
Major League ETA: 2015
Edwards can’t post better results than he did last year, when he moved from the Rangers to the Cubs in the Matt Garza deal. He’ll aim to reach 150 innings while maintaining his high-quality stuff and control.
36. Albert Almora
Major League ETA: 2016
Almora is another prospect who just needs to show he can stay healthy. Evaluators love his bat and defense in center—when he’s on the field.
41. Jorge Soler
Major League ETA: 2015
It’s easy to be satisfied when you’ve already signed a $30 million contract. If Soler plays with an edge, he’ll be a big league right fielder sooner than later.
87. Pierce Johnson
Major League ETA: 2015
Durability is at the top of the list for the slender Johnson, who could beat the similarly built C.J. Edwards to Chicago if he can repeat his 2013 production at higher levels.
100. Arismendy Alcantara
Major League ETA: 2015
With a crowd ahead of him at shortstop, Alcantara’s best path to the majors is as an everyday second baseman. Honing his skills on the right side of the infield is job one.