Results tagged ‘ From the Pages of Vine Line ’

The Best of 2014: No. 1, Soler homers in his first major league at-bat

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(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Every baseball season is filled with memorable moments, and this year’s Cubs campaign was no exception. Cornerstone players had bounceback seasons, newer additions stepped up, and top prospects made their big league debuts. To wrap up the year, we asked you to pick your top 10 moments of 2014. This was your favorite moment from the season.

No. 10: Rizzo’s late-season walk-off homer
No. 9: Hendricks makes an easy transition to the bigs
No. 8: Castro, Rizzo named All-Stars
No. 7: Maddux gets inducted into the Hall of Fame
No. 6: Wrigley Field celebrates its 100th birthday
No. 5: Baez hits the eventual game-winning homer in ML debut
No. 4: Baker scores the game-winning run after pitching a scoreless 16th inning
No. 3: Arrieta leaves Fenway Park to a standing ovation after pitching gem
No. 2: Arrieta tosses a complete-game one-hitter

As our top vote-getter, it’s clear Cubs super prospect Jorge Soler not only made an impression on his major league club, but on the fan base as well. In 89 big league at-bats, the 22-year-old put up an impressive .292/.330/.573 slash line with five home runs and 20 RBI. But no moment was more memorable than his first.

With the North Siders leading 1-0 in Cincinnati after a Luis Valbuena homer, Soler stepped to the plate for his first major league at-bat in the top of the second inning. The Cuban expat took two pitches down in the dirt from Reds righty Mat Latos and watched a third go by for a strike on the inner half. The fourth pitch sat up in the zone, and Soler was ready for it, taking it over the bullpen in deep center for his first career home run.

“I feel real proud about it,” Soler told MLB.com. “All of my family was watching the game, especially my father here at the game. I feel real happy and proud that I did well today.”

Injuries had caused Soler’s stock to drop prior to the season, but the young slugger put any lingering doubts to rest in his first 24 big league games. It will be interesting to see what he can accomplish in a full season in 2015.

The Best of 2014: No. 2, Arrieta tosses a complete-game one-hitter

Arrieta_One-hitter

(Photo by Stephen Green)

Every baseball season is filled with memorable moments, and this year’s Cubs campaign was no exception. Cornerstone players had bounceback seasons, newer additions stepped up, and top prospects made their big league debuts. To wrap up the year, we asked you to pick your top 10 moments of 2014. From now until the end of the year, we’ll be unveiling one moment per day.

No. 10: Rizzo’s late-season walk-off homer
No. 9: Hendricks makes an easy transition to the bigs
No. 8: Castro, Rizzo named All-Stars
No. 7: Maddux gets inducted into the Hall of Fame
No. 6: Wrigley Field celebrates its 100th birthday
No. 5: Baez hits the eventual game-winning homer in ML debut
No. 4: Baker scores the game-winning run after pitching a scoreless 16th inning
No. 3: Arrieta leaves Fenway Park to a standing ovation after pitching gem

Jake Arrieta tosses a complete-game one-hitter and strikes out 13—Sept. 16 vs. Cincinnati

The 2014 season was a breakout campaign for the dominant right-handed pitcher. An array of strong efforts and several near no-hitters (like No. 3 on our list) elevated Jake Arrieta from an inconsistent pitcher with great stuff to a legitimate staff ace. So it’s fitting that arguably his finest effort came toward the end of the season.

The 28-year-old was on cruise control throughout the contest with the Reds. He struck out the side in the first inning and had no problems until the fourth, when he walked speedster Billy Hamilton. But the rookie was quickly caught stealing, and Arrieta fanned the next two hitters.

It wasn’t until there was one out in the eighth inning that Arrieta gave up his first hit—a double to left by Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips. But the Cubs’ ace took down the next five batters in order for his first career complete game, a 110-pitch, 13-strikeout, one-hit effort.

“Today was as good as he’s been all season,” said then-Cubs manager Rick Renteria. “His pitch count was very well in check. His stuff was pretty electric.”

The Best of 2014: No. 3, Arrieta leaves to a standing ovation at Fenway Park after pitching a gem

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 (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Every baseball season is filled with memorable moments, and this year’s Cubs campaign was no exception. Cornerstone players had bounceback seasons, newer additions stepped up, and top prospects made their big league debuts. To wrap up the year, we asked you to pick your top 10 moments of 2014. From now until the end of the year, we’ll be unveiling one moment per day.

No. 10: Rizzo’s late-season walk-off homer
No. 9: Hendricks makes an easy transition to the bigs
No. 8: Castro, Rizzo named All-Stars
No. 7: Maddux gets inducted into the Hall of Fame
No. 6: Wrigley Field celebrates its 100th birthday
No. 5: Baez hits the eventual game-winning homer in ML debut
No. 4: Baker scores the game-winning run after pitching a scoreless 16th inning

Jake Arrieta leaves to a standing ovation at Fenway Park after giving up one hit over 7.2 innings and striking out 10—June 30 @ Boston

Every major leaguer dreams of tipping his cap as he exits a game to a standing ovation from a packed house. But few dream of actually receiving that recognition on the road against the defending World Series champs at one of the most storied venues in the country, Fenway Park. But that’s exactly what happened for Cubs starter Jake Arrieta.

The right-hander retired the first 13 batters he faced in Boston before walking Mike Napoli in the fifth inning. After that, he got right back on track, dominating until there were two outs in the eighth, when he surrendered a Stephen Drew single. He was pulled after 120 pitches and tipped his cap to the Fenway faithful, who lauded his efforts with a thunderous ovation—a real rarity for a visiting pitcher.

“Something like that in Fenway is pretty rare for an opposing team,” said Arrieta to reporters after the one-hit outing. “I got some goose bumps there. That’s why you play the game is for moments like that. I’m very thankful to be a part of something like that and to get another win.”

The Best of 2014: No 5, Baez hits the game-winning homer in his MLB debut

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(Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Every baseball season is filled with memorable moments, and this year’s Cubs campaign was no exception. Cornerstone players had bounceback seasons, newer additions stepped up, and top prospects made their big league debuts. To wrap up the year, we asked you to pick your top 10 moments of 2014. From now until the end of the year, we’ll be unveiling one moment per day.

No 10: Rizzo’s late-season walk-off homer
No 9: Hendricks makes an easy transition to the bigs
No 8: Castro, Rizzo named All-Stars
No 7: Maddux gets inducted into the Hall of Fame
No 6: Wrigley Field celebrates its 100th birthday

Javier Baez hits the game-winning home run in the 12th inning of his major league debut—Aug. 5 @ Colorado

Heading into the 2014 season, Cubs fans were champing at the bit to get a first look at top prospect Javier Baez, who hit 37 minor league home runs and was named the organization’s Minor League Player of the Year in 2013.

Even though his first five big league at-bats were nothing spectacular—the then-21-year-old went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts—Cubs fans in attendance at Coors Field got what they came for when Baez stepped up to lead off the 12th inning of a 5-5 game.

The young slugger took the first pitch he saw from southpaw Boone Logan to deep right-center field to give the Cubs a 6-5 lead and an eventual win.

“I’ve faced him before, and he threw me all curveballs,” Baez said of Logan, whom he saw in the minors when the left-hander was on a rehab assignment. “He has a good curveball. I wasn’t sitting on the curveball. I was sitting on the fastball, and he threw it, first pitch.”

While Baez showed great promise, he mostly struggled in his first major league action in 2014. Still, he managed to demonstrate the power potential that has had scouts raving for years and created an unforgettable Cubs memory.

The Best of 2014: No. 6, Wrigley Field celebrates its 100th birthday

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(Photo by David Durochik)

Every baseball season is filled with memorable moments, and this year’s Cubs campaign was no exception. Cornerstone players had bounceback seasons, newer additions stepped up, and top prospects made their big league debuts. To wrap up the year, we asked you to pick your top 10 moments of 2014. From now until the end of the year, we’ll be unveiling one moment per day.

No. 10: Rizzo’s late-season walk-off homer
No. 9: Hendricks makes an easy transition to the bigs
No. 8: Castro, Rizzo named All-Stars
No. 7: Maddux gets inducted into the Hall of Fame

The Cubs celebrate Wrigley Field’s 100th birthday—April 23

Reaching 100 years old deserves a little fanfare, and the Cubs pulled out all the stops to properly celebrate Wrigley Field’s big day on April 23.

A number of dignitaries were on hand for the special pregame ceremony, including Cubs alums like Andre Dawson and Ryan Dempster; Bears legends Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers, who called Wrigley Field home until the 1971 NFL season; then-Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig; and representatives of past Cubs ownership groups.

The Cubs took the field wearing 1914 Chi-Feds uniforms as part of the team’s yearlong throwback celebration. The visiting Arizona D-backs sported Kansas City Packers uniforms to re-create the Federal League matchup that took place 100 years ago when the stadium first opened its doors.

Fans dressed up in period costumes, everyone sang “Happy Birthday” during the fifth inning as balloons flew from behind the left-field wall, and Dutchie Caray, widow of beloved broadcaster Harry Caray, led a group of Wrigley alumni in a rousing rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch.

Though the Cubs/Chi-Feds ultimately dropped the game 7-5, it was certainly a day to remember for fans and alums alike.

The Best of 2014: No. 7, Maddux gets the call

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(Photo by Jim McIssac/Getty Images)

Every baseball season is filled with memorable moments, and this year’s Cubs campaign was no exception. Cornerstone players had bounceback seasons, newer additions stepped up, and top prospects made their big league debuts. To wrap up the year, we asked you to pick your top 10 moments of 2014. From now until the end of the year, we’ll be unveiling one moment per day.

No. 10: Rizzo’s late-season walk-off homer
No. 9: Hendricks makes an easy transition to the bigs
No. 8: Castro, Rizzo named All-Stars

Former Cubs pitcher Greg Maddux is inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame—July 27

Greg Maddux making his way into Cooperstown on the first ballot was probably just as much of a certainty as his winning an annual Gold Glove Award or confounding opposing hitters when he took the bump every fifth day. The 6-foot, 170-pound starter may not have looked like a prototypical ace, but he compiled 355 wins over a 23-year career and established himself as one of the best starting pitchers of the modern era.

“It’s sort of hard to believe I’m standing here today,” Maddux told MLB.com at the induction. “I never gave a thought about the Hall of Fame as I was going through my career. My goal as a baseball player was very simple: All I wanted to do was try to get better for my next start. To think it all ended up here is pretty cool.”

Maddux came up through the Cubs system and spent 10 years with the big league club, from 1986-92 and 2004-06. He captured his first Cy Young Award in 1992 before heading to Atlanta as a free agent. The right-hander returned to the Cubs staff 12 years later to serve as a mentor to a young, talented rotation.

He won six Gold Gloves on the North Side and captured 133 victories, posting a 3.61 ERA.

The Best of 2014: No. 8, Castro, Rizzo named All-Stars

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

Every baseball season is filled with memorable moments, and this year’s Cubs campaign was no exception. Cornerstone players had bounceback seasons, newer additions stepped up, and top prospects made their big league debuts. To wrap up the year, we asked you to pick your top 10 moments of 2014. From now until the end of the year, we’ll be unveiling one moment per day.

No 10: Rizzo’s late-season walk-off homer
No 9: Hendricks makes an easy transition to the bigs

Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo are named to the 2014 All-Star Game—July 10

Prior to the 2014 season, the Cubs’ biggest question mark was whether their two cornerstone players, Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, could bounce back from disappointing 2013 campaigns. By midseason, Castro and Rizzo had put those fears to rest, rebounding to capture well-deserved All-Star honors, their third and first selections, respectively.

Rizzo, who was chosen via 8.8 million fan votes for the final roster spot, headed into the Midsummer Classic with 20 homers (good for third in the NL), 49 RBI and a .275/.381/.499 (AVG/OBP/SLG) slash line, while playing solid defense at first base. His .879 OPS at the break ranked 14th in the National League, and his 53 walks ranked fifth.

Castro pulled into the break with 11 homers and 26 doubles (seventh in the NL), to go with his .276/.326/.440 line. He also improved his defense, a part of his game that had been viewed as a weakness in previous seasons. At just 24 years old, Castro joined Ernie Banks and Don Kessinger to become only the third Cubs shortstop to make three All-Star Games.

The Best of 2014: No. 9, Hendricks makes an easy transition to the bigs

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

Every baseball season is filled with memorable moments, and this year’s Cubs campaign was no exception. Cornerstone players had bounceback seasons, newer additions stepped up, and top prospects made their big league debuts. To wrap up the year, we asked you to pick your top 10 moments of 2014. From now until the end of the year, we’ll be unveiling one moment each day.

No. 10: Rizzo’s late-season walk-off homer

No. 9: Kyle Hendricks makes six straight starts with at least 6.1 inings pitched and no more than one earned run, July 22 – Aug. 18

Among the many vaunted prospects in the Cubs system, right-handed pitcher Kyle Hendricks tended to get overlooked. It’s not as if people necessarily doubted the 24-year-old, whose fastball averaged merely 87.9 mph last year, but few expected him to dominate the way he did.

Hendricks’ accuracy, combined with his meticulous pregame preparation and countless hours of video work, took him to another level once he reached the major leagues in July. In 13 big league starts, the Dartmouth grad put up a 7-2 record with a 2.46 ERA, went 5.1 innings in 12 of 13 starts and gave up more than two runs in just three of those efforts.

Hendricks’ finest work of his nascent major league career came during a six-game stretch from July 22-Aug. 18, in which he surrendered no more than one run in any game and twice recorded no earned runs.

“When guys get on base, they’re saying he’s tough, he’s sneaky, he has good pitches, he commands them,” Anthony Rizzo said of Hendricks to the Chicago Tribune. “The best part is, it seems he can induce a double-play ball whenever [he wants to].”

The Best of 2014: No. 10, Rizzo’s late-season walk-off homer

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(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

Every baseball season is filled with memorable moments, and this year’s Cubs campaign was no exception. Cornerstone players had bounceback seasons, newer additions stepped up, and top prospects made their big league debuts. To wrap up the year, we asked you to pick your top 10 moments of 2014. From now until the end of the year, we’ll be unveiling one moment a day.

No. 10: Anthony Rizzo ends a scoreless game with a walk-off home run—Sept. 15 vs. Cincinnati

After sitting out nearly three weeks due to a back injury, Anthony Rizzo returned to action in mid-September and made an immediate impact.

Lower back stiffness caused the power hitter to miss 18 games, but he certainly appeared healthy when he stepped to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning with the game knotted at 0-0 and launched a Pedro Villarreal pitch into the center-field bleachers for a walk-off home run.

The first baseman was greeted at home plate by his teammates, who doused him with water before piling on in celebration. While running away from the exuberant scrum, the slugger jokingly grabbed his back.

“I did it on purpose, just messing around with the guys,” Rizzo told MLB.com. “I definitely thought about [my back] the whole game. To get through the game tonight was nice.”

It was Rizzo’s third walk-off hit of the 2014 campaign, following a homer against Miami on June 6 and a single versus Tampa Bay on Aug. 10. His 32 homers in 2014 ranked second in the National League.

From the Pages of Vine Line: The Best Defense

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Kris Bryant has spent a lot of time working on his defense at third base. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Defense is often a forgotten element of baseball, yet many clubs find it just as important as a player’s offensive output. As an organization, the Cubs are working hard to ensure prospects become well-rounded players. The following story can be found in the December issue of Vine Line.

In an empty ballpark in Des Moines, Iowa, top prospect Kris Bryant walked over to the third-base bag, crouched down and waited for a coach to send another ground ball his way. Several hundred miles to the south, 2014 first-round pick Kyle Schwarber put on his catching gear and blocked pitches in the dirt hours before his game that night in Daytona.

Both Schwarber and Bryant will likely be big leaguers in the near future—their ability to hit the ball all but guarantees it—but to become well-rounded players, and to help the Cubs win tight games in a pennant race, they know they must become just as proficient on defense.

“Improving your defense is about drills and repetition and having the aptitude and instincts,” said Cubs Director of Player Development Jaron Madison. “But it’s also about buying into doing the extra work needed to get better.”

Though heady offensive numbers still generate headlines and move young players up the ladder, minor league prospects must also focus on their glove work to succeed. This includes everything from making better reads on the ball to moving away from their “natural” positions.

The Cubs have specialized coordinators who lay out plans for the minor league coaching staffs. Anthony Iapoce and Tom Beyers handle the outfielders in the system, Jose Flores covers the infielders, and Tim Cossins oversees the catchers.

The process begins with Madison and his staff evaluating what each player can do naturally on the field. That goes beyond just looking at stats like errors and fielding percentage.

“Footwork for infielders and catchers is huge,” Madison said. “Athleticism and quickness off the ball are things you bear down on. You can help players become more mechanically sound with their footwork, but if a guy is slow off the ball, you know you can’t keep him at short or second base long term.”

Outfielders, meanwhile, need more than just speed and athleticism to chase down fly balls. They also must develop a sixth sense for reading the ball as soon as it’s hit so they can anticipate where they need to be, all while taking the shortest route possible.

“Plus, you need to read the spin on the ball,” Madison said. “It’s different on a ball hit to right field than on a ball hit to left. That’s why you can stick your best infielder out there, and he’ll still have a hard time just catching a ball because of how the spin makes it move.”

Many players ultimately can’t cut it at the positions they came up playing. Madison said he likes to give them as much time as possible to prove they can play their natural spot, but often a change must be made.

Middle infielders with good arms, soft hands and baseball smarts, but not enough range, tend to move behind the plate, where their skills and intangibles are a big asset. Catchers who struggle with game calling often get moved to the outfield or first base. Many scouts in the Cubs organization figured that’s what would happen with Schwarber.

“On draft day, the room was split 60/40, with the majority thinking he wouldn’t be able to stay behind the plate,” Madison said.“But Tim Cossins spent 10 days with him working on drills and talking about the nuances of catching, and he really made huge improvements right away.”

Schwarber, who has said he wants to remain at catcher if possible, has bought into the importance of defense. And if the Royals and Giants proved anything this year, it’s that defense still wins championships.

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