Results tagged ‘ From the Pages of Vine Line ’

From the Pages of Vine Line: Checking in on the new minor league affiliates

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South Bend Cubs players will be able to relax here before and after games. (Photo courtesy of the South Bend Cubs)

At the conclusion of the minor league season, the dance begins. Player development contracts between major and minor league teams expire, often resulting in a frantic search for new partners.

This fall, the Cubs were the belle of the ball with three openings, all at the Single-A level. And it’s easy to see why, as the organization has one of the most widespread and devoted fan bases in all of sports.

“With the Cubs on WGN for all those years, every TV in America was able to pick up Cubs games,” said Director of Player Development Jaron Madison. “In almost every area of the country, you’ll find Cubs fans.”

The team chose two of its new affiliates for the usual reason: they offered better facilities. After striking a deal with the Short-Season Eugene Emeralds, the Cubs will now assign newly drafted players and young prospects to a state-of-the-art complex on the University of Oregon campus.

The Emeralds share PK Park with the school, which reinstated its baseball program in 2010. Set in the shadow of the Ducks’ football facility, Autzen Stadium, PK Park has all the latest training and clubhouse facilities big league organizations need.

“One area we don’t mess around with is player development,” said Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein. “Our success will be impacted in large part by how we develop our young players and get them ready for the big league level.”

One of the tougher decisions the Cubs faced was moving the Low-A affiliate from Kane County, located just 40 miles down the road from Wrigley Field, to South Bend, Indiana. Madison said the organization was satisfied with the Kane County partnership and was ready to re-up, but South Bend impressed Cubs executives with a list of improvements, including upgrades to the turf, video room and clubhouse at Four Winds Field, and the construction of a new strength-and-conditioning facility. The team even rebranded itself, changing its name from the South Bend Silver Hawks to the Cubs.

“The owner there was committed to wowing the Cubs and really making us a part of their community,” Madison said. “They went all out with the presentation [and] with all the upgrades they were willing to make.”

As for the change to High-A Myrtle Beach, the organization wasn’t necessarily swayed by facilities. It was more about the weather. Cubs fans who have climbed atop the third-base bleachers at Jackie Robinson Ballpark in Daytona Beach, Florida, know they can get a great view of the marina and downtown area. They also get a good look at advancing storm fronts blowing in.

In the last three seasons, the Daytona Cubs have suffered 33 rainouts, second most in the Florida State League to Lakeland’s 34.

“It puts a lot of strain on the players to have to play rescheduled games on their days off and back-to-back doubleheaders,” Madison said. “It’s no fault of anyone in Daytona. When Myrtle Beach became available, we knew we’d get more consistency with the weather and more getting our games in on time.”

The decision to move ended a fruitful 22-year relationship with Daytona that culminated in back-to-back years of record attendance at Jackie Robinson Ballpark. It was easily one of the longest affiliations in professional baseball.

But player development isn’t about looking back. It’s about the future, and Madison likes where his prospects will be headed for at least the next several years.

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.

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