Results tagged ‘ James Russell ’

Cubs acquire C Caratini from Braves for LHP Russell, IF/OF Bonifacio

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Reliever James Russell has been sent to Atlanta in a deadline deal. (Photo by Stephen Green)

The Cubs acquired catching prospect Victor Caratini from the Braves for infielder/outfielder Emilio Bonifacio, left-handed pitcher James Russell and a cash consideration Thursday.

The 20-year-old Caratini, a second-round selection in the 2013 draft (65th overall) entered this season ranked by Baseball America as the eighth-best prospect in the Atlanta farm system. Baseball America named Caratini the best pure hitter in Atlanta’s 2013 draft class as well as its best power hitter.

In 2013, Caratini was named rookie-level Danville’s Player of the Year after hitting .290/.415/.430 (58-for-200) with 23 doubles, one homer and 25 RBI. He drew 19 walks versus 17 strikeouts, earning the organization’s Player of the Month honor for August.

Caratini has spent all of 2014 with Single-A Rome, where he was named a South Atlantic League midseason All-Star. He hit .279 (90-for-323) with 18 doubles, four triples, five home runs and 42 RBI in 87 games this season. According to GM Jed Hoyer, Caratini will report to the Cubs Single-A Kane County affiliate.

The 6-foot-1, 205-pounder is a native of Puerto Rico and attended Miami Dade Community College.

Russell, 28, was originally selected by the Cubs in the 14th round of the 2007 draft. He departs after going 10-16 with three saves and a 3.87 ERA (117 ER/272.0 IP) in 316 big league appearances, all but five in relief, since the start of the 2010 season. The lefty was 0-2 with one save and a 3.51 ERA (13 ER/33.1 IP) in 44 relief outings this season.

Bonifacio, 29, batted .279 (77-for-276) with 14 doubles, three triples, two home runs and 18 RBI in 69 games with the Cubs this year. He signed a minor league contract with the Cubs in February after being designated for assignment by the Kansas City Royals on February 2.

From the Pages of Vine Line: Cubs players reflect on their fathers’ influence

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Cubs reliever James Russell is following in the footsteps of his dad, Jeff. (Photo by Stephen Green)

You grew up watching baseball on TV with your father. Then you played Little League, and your dad was the coach. Later, he started taking you to games, making sure the two of you got there extra early so you could snatch a few stray home run balls during batting practice.

For generations, baseball has been bringing fathers and sons together. Chances are, when you became an adult and had a son of your own, you tried to get him into baseball, coached his Little League team and took him to games too.

To celebrate Father’s Day this month, Vine Line caught up with a few Cubs players to discuss the almost mystical connection the game engenders. Though each person may have attached to the sport in a different way, there’s no denying baseball served as a valuable link between fathers and sons—just like it has in the past and will in the future.

Ryan Sweeney and his dad, Gary
“I think baseball is definitely, of any of the sports, the bonding thing between father and son, especially now that I have a son,” said Cubs outfielder Ryan Sweeney. “Sharing that with him is something that brings [us] closer together.”

Ryan credits his dad, Gary, for the success he’s had in the game, especially early in his life. Gary always pushed his son to excel, even if that meant making him do some extra work when the younger Sweeney wasn’t fully invested.

“My dad pushed me pretty hard to get me where I’m at,” Ryan said. “I might not have liked it at the time, but looking back, I’m glad he pushed me the way he did. He was my coach growing up for a lot of the time too. He never played baseball, but he tried to read up and learn as much as he could so he could teach me to do the right things.”

When Ryan finally did break into the major leagues, Gary happened to be visiting his son in Charlotte (home of the White Sox’s Triple-A affiliate). Ryan was at the stadium when he got the news and promptly called his parents. Though they didn’t believe him at first, they ultimately made the trip to Kansas City to see Ryan put on a major league uniform for the first time.

Despite having spent the majority of the last seven years at the game’s highest level, Ryan said he still shares the occasional instruction-filled phone call with his father.

“He tries to tell me what to do now, still, and how to play,” Ryan joked. “He’s constantly watching games on TV, saving my games, watching my swings, everything.”

Justin Grimm and his dad, Mark
When Justin Grimm graduated from junior high, he was faced with a difficult athletic decision. Both soccer and baseball were played in the same high school season, so he was forced to choose between the two. Though Justin was ready to put away the glove and bat for good, his dad, Mark, wasn’t in favor of the idea.

“He definitely leaned me toward baseball,” Justin said. “I thought I was a better soccer player at the time than I was baseball. He didn’t say, ‘You’re not playing soccer,’ but he did [say it] at the same time.

“He was a football fan, he loved football. He played at East Tennessee State in college, and he had a love for football, especially when I was growing up. Even to when I was 9, I was playing football, and I think it kind of crushed him when I definitely decided I wasn’t going to play anymore.”

Despite straying from his dad’s favorite sport, Justin said his father always supported his decisions and was somebody he could confide in growing up—even on topics he wouldn’t discuss with his close friends.

“[He] helped keep me encouraged, always feeding me positive thoughts instead of the negative ones,” Justin said. “He was pretty good with that growing up. Him and my mom both. They kept me on the right path, kept me going in the right direction, helped me stay into the right things and out of the wrong things.”

These days, the reliever said he gets a kick out of how excited his dad gets when he visits the clubhouse or throws the ball around with Justin in a major league outfield.

“He enjoys it probably 200 times more than I do,” Justin said. “He loves just going places, especially to different [venues]. Every time he comes into town, he wants to go see the park and what I do every day. And he wants to go to the team shop and get a bunch of gear, so he can support me back home. He’s definitely one of my biggest fans.”

James Russell and his dad, Jeff
Though James Russell is the son of former big league closer Jeff Russell, there was never any pressure for him to follow in his father’s footsteps. Still, between playing baseball every day and spending countless afternoons and nights in major league locker rooms growing up, the left-hander quickly formed an affinity for the game.

“He never really pressured me into it,” James said of his father, who spent 14 seasons in the majors, including 10 with the Rangers. “It was just something that I was good at, and I enjoyed playing. I loved all sports. I played everything growing up—football, basketball and baseball being the bigger three of the sports.

“Fortunately, I grew up in clubhouses that are a little bigger than ours at Wrigley, but it was fun getting into trouble. There were always a bunch of other kids that I [got] to hang out with. We’d find our ways and [make] little batting cages and stuff, so we could just mess around until security came and kicked us out.”

As James got older, he’d go to the ballpark virtually every day with his dad. While the Cubs reliever credits those trips for stoking his desire to play professional ball, he also knows how important those moments were for his father.

“That was some of the most memorable stuff out of his career,” James said.

With the roles now reversed, James has been informed his dad can be a tough guy to watch a game with.

“I’ve always heard he’s a real nervous guy whenever I’m throwing,” Russell said. “He can never sit down in a seat. He’s always walking around. He’s usually drinking a couple of beers to ease his nerves. If he’s not around a TV, he’s got it on his phone.”

John Baker and his dad, Dave
Entering Spring Training, journeyman catcher John Baker was on the outside looking in when it came to finding a spot on the Cubs’ 25-man roster. However, after a strong preseason showing in which he consistently provided outstanding effort, the North Siders found room for the 33-year-old backstop. Baker can thank his dad, Dave, for his solid work ethic.

“He was the biggest baseball influence I had [growing up],” John said. “There are still a lot of things I think in my head that my dad told me. His favorite line was ‘It takes no talent to hustle.’ That was his favorite thing to say. That … and ‘The most important position is the ready position.’

“He was always about being prepared, hustling and playing the game the right way—developing a strong work ethic. I got to see that as a kid, watching him go to work every single day. He’d get up with me at five in the morning and flip me baseballs in the side yard.”

Though many people were surprised to see John make the team over veteran free agent George Kottaras, one person never doubted it for a second.

“When I called [my dad] and told him I made the team here, he told me, ‘Son, I believed you were going to make the team, so two weeks ago, I went ahead and bought a ticket to Chicago,’ which was a really cool, validating feeling for me, knowing that he really believed in me without even telling me,” John said.

Dave played a lot of baseball growing up, so he had a good idea of how much effort it was going to take to make a career out of the game.

“There were days where I didn’t want to go [out to the field to practice], where he made me go,” John said. “And there were days where he came home from work, and I probably said, ‘Dad, can you throw me some balls?’ and he kind of went, ‘Yeah, let me take you to the batting cage. Let’s go do it.’ So it was give and take, but I was never turned down.”

Mike Olt and his dad, George
Early in Mike Olt’s career, his father, George, served as a sort of “baseball whisperer” for his son. As a former college player, the elder Olt had spent a fair amount of time around the diamond and knew a thing or two about the game. But if there was one thing he knew better than baseball, it was Mike.

“He knows I’m a head case, so he usually would tell me one little thing, which I probably wasn’t doing any differently [anyway],” Mike said. “Like, ‘Hey, raise your hands’ or something small that meant nothing.

“But he knew that was the only thing I’d think about and not what the pitcher was throwing. Next thing you know, I’m 4-for-4, 4-for-5, it was crazy. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Mike grew up in Connecticut, listening to his dad tell stories about traveling to Yankee Stadium with his own father. Years later, Mike enjoyed taking those same trips to the Bronx with George.

“We always went to a ton of games at Yankee Stadium, me and him,” Mike said. “Those are the kind of memories you don’t forget.”

These days, the third baseman enjoys bringing his dad with him to Wrigley Field as often as possible. When Mike made his major league debut with the Rangers in 2012, George was in attendance, and his excitement was something Mike will never forget.

“Those are experiences that he’s going to be really proud of, and he’ll remember those forever,” Mike said. “I would do anything for him, anything for my family. To have him at the game and watching the highlights, seeing him and how happy he is, it does make me really happy. It’s kind of cool to see how excited he is for me and what’s to come.”

—Phil Barnes

Now Playing: Cubscast Mesa, The lighter side of the Cubs, Part Five

Playing professional baseball is a dream job, but it’s not the most likely career choice. So what would your favorite players be doing if their big league dreams hadn’t come true? We talked to Cubs personnel about some other possible career choices.

We’ll be posting videos and stories from Cubs Park throughout the spring, so watch the blog and our Twitter account, @cubsvineline.

Check out the other videos from our Spring Training series:

Cubscast Mesa: Positive Energy in Cubs Camp
Cubscast Mesa: Inside Cubs Park
Cubscast Mesa with Rick Renteria and the 2014 coaching staff
Cubscast Mesa with the top prospects
Cubscast Mesa: Meet the new guys
Cubscast Mesa: The lighter side of the Cubs, Part One
Cubscast Mesa: The lighter side of the Cubs, Part Two
Cubscast Mesa: The lighter side of the Cubs, Part Three
Cubscast Mesa: The lighter side of the Cubs, Part Four

Now Playing: Cubscast Mesa, Positive Energy in Cubs Camp

Spring is a time for hope, optimism and new beginnings. This season, the Cubs are welcoming a new manager, several new coaches and a host of new players to the fold.

We talked to Cubs personnel, new and old, about the feeling in camp this year and how things are different under skipper Rick Renteria.

We’ll be posting videos and stories from Cubs Park throughout the spring, so watch the blog and our Twitter account, @cubsvineline.

Check out the other videos from our Spring Training series:

Cubscast Mesa, Inside Cubs Park
Cubscast Mesa with Rick Renteria and the 2014 coaching staff
Cubscast Mesa with the top prospects
Cubscast Mesa: Meet the new guys
Cubscast Mesa: The lighter side of the Cubs, Part One
Cubscast Mesa: The lighter side of the Cubs, Part Two
Cubscast Mesa: The lighter side of the Cubs, Part Three
Cubscast Mesa: The lighter side of the Cubs, Part Four

Cubs bullpen has turned things around

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

The first two weeks of the season were a struggle for the Cubs relief corps. Despite strong efforts from one of the NL’s best rotations in the club’s first 12 games, the bullpen blew four save opportunities, compiled a 5.82 ERA and repeatedly failed to secure victories in winnable games.

But the ‘pen’s performance in the last two weeks is making those early-season woes look like a thing of the past. In the last 13 games, the relievers have compiled a 1.85 ERA, third in the NL during that stretch. Though they still walk too many hitters (9.5 walk percentage, second highest in NL since April 16), the bullpen has found a way to get out of jams, leaving an NL-best 92.4 percent of runners on base.

The Cubs have been in every game this season—all but three have been decided by three runs or fewer and none by more than four—which means a strong bullpen is often the difference between winning and losing. What the team looks to have gained in recent weeks is a “give me the-ball” type finisher. Though manager Dale Sveum has not named a closer and prefers a bullpen-by-committee approach, the North Siders acquired veteran late-innings reliever Kevin Gregg, who was released by the Dodgers at the end of Spring Training. Since making his debut on April 19, Gregg has been lights out, surrendering no earned runs in his first six appearances and racking up four saves.

Despite Opening Day closer Carlos Marmol’s early failures, surrendering five earned runs in his first 1.2 innings pitched, he hasn’t given up a run since April 6. He has still walked eight batters in those nine innings, but he’s managed to miss a lot of bats in that time too, striking out nine.

The most consistent relief pitcher all season has been southpaw James Russell. The 26-year-old has leaned heavily on his 80 mph slider, throwing it 45 percent of the time, while mixing in a fastball and change-up. So far this season, his strikeout totals have improved dramatically. He’s now fanning 10.6 batters per nine, three K/9 better than last season. In 11 innings, he’s walked just one batter and hasn’t given up an earned run. He’s been so effective that his 0.6 wins above replacement (according to fangraphs.com) is tied for the best among relief pitchers in baseball.

To round things out, Shawn Camp looks like he might have rediscovered his 2012 form after struggling early, and waiver pickup Kameron Loe has been reliable in his five innings since being claimed off waivers from Seattle. Though the relievers’ .269 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) might indicate they’re pitching a little above their ability (an average BABIP is around .300), a solid effort from these pitchers all season long could make a big difference in 2013.

Pitcher Profile: James Russell

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

Other Pitching Profiles:

• RHP Edwin Jackson

• LHP Travis Wood

• RHP Scott Feldman

• RHP Jeff Samardzija

• RHP Carlos Villanueva


James Russell was drafted as a starter in 2007, but the southpaw from the University of Texas was summoned to the bullpen during his 2009 minor league season—a move that has paid off for the organization. Russell posted a 4.96 ERA in 49 innings in 2010 and then a 4.12 ERA in 67.2 innings the following year. Though he showed improvement with each season, he really found his niche as a middle-to-late-innings reliever in a breakout 2012 season.

Recording a career-best 3.25 ERA in 69.1 innings of relief, he remained constant in a rather unstable bullpen. Both his strikeout and walk totals could stand a little improvement for a reliever (55 K, 23 BB), but he did manage a respectable 8.7 H/9 total. Throw in his seven wins (good for third on the team), and 2012 was a successful year for the 27-year-old.

Russell is one of several pitchers profiled in Vine Line’s 2013 Pitching Preview, available in the April issue, on sale now. We’ll be posting pitching profiles throughout the month, so be sure to check back to see what’s in store on the mound for 2013.

JAMES RUSSELL

Repertoire (Avg. MPH): 4-seam (90), 2-seam (89), Cutter (88), Change (82), Slider (82), Curve (74)

Age: 27

2012 Stats: 69.1 IP, 18.8 K%, 5.6 UBB%, 3.25 ERA, 121 ERA+, 1.30 WHIP

Last Season: The 2012 bullpen makeover elevated Russell and Shawn Camp to the team’s No. 2 relievers (based on Tom Tango’s metric Leverage Index), with Russell getting a greater share of the team’s critical innings as the season went along. Russell also became a more substantial bridge to the closer. In 2011, Russell faced one batter in 20 percent of his appearances; in 2012, he did that in just seven of 77 games (9 percent).

Plan of Attack: A reliever vs. lefties and a starter vs. righties. Russell lives away, away, away. It may be predictable, but his ability to locate with a deep arsenal makes it effective. His splits against lefties and righties were virtually the same—from AVG/OBP/SLG to K% and UBB%. It looks like there’s a reason for it, though he’ll have to prove he can sustain the trend.

Against left-handers, Russell becomes more or less a two-pitch guy, primarily relying on his low three-quarters arm angle to sweep sliders away. He also pitches backward. He threw a breaking ball on 76 percent of first pitches and went with 39 percent fastballs when ahead in the count. The first-pitch slider seems to work because it resulted in a ball only 24 percent of the time—and 62 percent strikes.

On the other hand, you can see Russell’s roots as a starter in how he attacks righties. The overall mix of hard and soft stuff is about half and half, and his cutter, two-seamer and change all play more significant roles. Using his full repertoire gives him a continuum of speeds and movement to keep hitters guessing.

Putaway Pitch: Slider. Though Russell relies on his breaking ball more on the first pitch, it’s still a weapon late in the count. Lefties have trouble laying off it, and righties struggle to pull the trigger as it comes through the backdoor.

Spring Training Preview: In the Bullpen

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

Baseball is finally back. Pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training this past weekend, and Cubs fans everywhere got a little more excited with the realization that the baseball season is almost here.

To get us back into gear, the February issue of Vine Line previewed the squad heading into Mesa, Ariz. We broke the team down into five categories—starting pitching, relief pitching, infielders, outfielders and catchers—to give fans a clearer picture of what to expect when the Cubs break camp and head to Chicago.

Below is a look at the bullpen. The February issue is on newsstands now, with single issues available by calling 800-618-8377. Or visit the Vine Line page on Cubs.com to subscribe to the magazine.


After a brutal start to the season and a demotion from the closer’s role, Carlos Marmol seemed to be back near peak form by the end of 2012. In 29.2 innings after the All-Star break, Marmol converted 12 of 13 saves, posted a 1.52 ERA and struck out 39 batters. However, there is speculation he may be traded before the season starts, which would open the door for new Cubs reliever Kyuji Fujikawa, 32, to assume closing duties. The Japanese import, who has closed in Japan, has a variety of pitches but relies mostly on his low-90s fastball and splitter.

Besides Marmol and Fujikawa, James Russell and Shawn Camp are the only bullpen arms who had strong 2012 seasons. However, relievers are the most inconsistent commodities in baseball, and one can never assume that previous success guarantees the same in the future.

There are several names that could step up in the bullpen. Arodys Vizcaino, acquired from the Braves last season, is recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Though the Cubs hope he can be a starter in the long run, he could also help as a reliever this season. Jaye Chapman, who showed his change-up could be a devastating out pitch, was impressive in limited duty toward the end of 2012. Players like Alberto Cabrera, Tony Zych (a 2011 draft pick who drew positive reviews in the Arizona Fall League) and former top prospect Trey McNutt could each surprise and end up as important cogs in the late innings.

Plus, with the Cubs’ surplus of starters, pitchers like Scott Feldman, Carlos Villanueva or Travis Wood could end up spending significant time in the ’pen.

1000 Words: Camp works on his short game

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

Cubs relievers Shawn Camp and James Russell, and bullpen coach Lester Strode, take some time out from the Cubs Caravan to work on their putting at D’Agostino’s Pizza in Lakeview. At the event, several Cubs players and coaches made pizzas with students from Blaine Elementary School.

From the Pages of Vine Line: Part 2 of our Q&A with Theo Epstein

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

For the January issue of Vine Line, we talked to Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein about the state of the organization. In part one of the interview, Epstein talked about his first year with the team and instituting the Cubs Way throughout the system. In part two, we cover the need for veteran leadership and the Cubs’ desire to add pitching at all levels. We’ll post part three on the blog next week. To read the entire interview, pick up the January issue or subscribe to Vine Line today.

Vine Line:  What’s your philosophy on the ideal mix of star players and role players on a team?

Theo Epstein: There are two ways to really improve your team in a hurry from one year to the next. One is sign impact players or bring in impact players from outside the organization. The other is to have a wave of young talent that’s approaching their prime years at the same time. Those teams that have a bunch of players going from 23 and 24 years old, when they’re first breaking into the big leagues, to 26 and 27, 27 being the start of a player’s prime in baseball, those teams get better in a hurry.

At some point in the future, if we have a bunch of those players who are entering their prime and improving together and we supplement that with some impact signings from outside the organization, we could really see a lot of improvement in a hurry.

VL:  After losing so many veterans at the trade deadline last season, who will fill the leadership void this year?

TE: We felt like we did get in a position where we traded some solid veteran leaders last year, but we also had some remaining. Alfonso Soriano doesn’t get a lot of credit for it, but he sets a tremendous example with his work ethic and his preparation. David DeJesus, as an example, is another great leader. He took Anthony Rizzo under his wing and gave him his daily workout routine and pregame prep. The two of them started working out together and getting ready for games together. That gave Anthony the confidence that he was going to be ready every game. Now he relies on that routine as part of his own mental preparation to be able to play at a high level.

So I do think we have some veterans remaining, but that’s certainly something we take into consideration as we put the team together. We don’t want to have a team that’s young and without the proper kind of veteran guidance in the clubhouse to help them adjust and become true pros and good teammates.

VL: It seems like the system is in a much better position in the infield and outfield, but is still lacking the pitching to compete consistently.

TE: To be blunt, I think you’re right. We simply don’t have enough talent yet. We have some really interesting arms down low—we have some guys who are going to be big leaguers—but we really need to focus on acquiring impact young pitching. No matter what we do with our position player corps, we’re not going to go anywhere unless we have the arms to match. So we made it a priority in just about every deal we made to get at least one arm back. After we took Albert Almora in the draft with our first pick, I think we took eight consecutive pitchers. And we’re going to continue to hammer away at acquiring young pitching. You have to do a lot of it through volume because of the amount of attrition involved in young pitching.

VL: What about the bullpen? James Russell really grabbed that Sean Marshall spot, and Carlos Marmol not only got his old stuff back but seems to have found his fastball. Were you happy with what you saw?

TE:  Overall, I wasn’t happy with the bullpen. It was disappointing as a whole, but there certainly were some bright spots. I think James Russell did a very admirable job continuing the progress he made toward the end of 2011, and really pitched even better when he was used deeper in the games, in more meaningful spots. He got left- and right-handed hitters out and showed a very consistent pitch mix, showed tremendous poise, and was a very reliable executor of pitches, even on the big stage. That was a big step forward for him. We see him as a guy who’s going to be in the ’pen for a long time.

And then Marmol did turn his season around. He got off to a really difficult start. I know it’s hard to look past that, but he worked really hard at following [pitching coach] Chris Bosio’s request to throw his fastball more, and all of a sudden his velocity crept up. He got some of that swing-and-miss quality back to his slider. And for the last three or four months of the season, he was a pretty good relief pitcher for us and closed games fairly consistently when we did give him that opportunity. So there were bright spots. … We just need to be more consistent from day one next year.

Woody’s Winter Warm-Up tickets on sale now

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(Art by Jerry Neumann)

Kerry Wood has spent most of his adult life honing his craft as a major league pitcher. So excuse him if he’s not a world-class bartender.

On Jan. 18, you’ll get your chance to see him in action and critique his skills as he slings drinks at the second annual Woody’s Winter Warm-Up at Harry Caray’s Tavern on Navy Pier. Starting at 8:30 p.m., Wood will join former and current Cubs players, as well as local celebrities, behind the bar, where they will compete for tips with all proceeds benefitting the Wood Family Foundation. Wood said the event is a good time, and current players like Darwin Barney, Jeff Samardzija and James Russell are expected to attend.

“People want to give back and do it for a good cause,” Wood said. “Last year … people got really into it, and it was really cool.”

At the inaugural mixer in 2012, the Grammy-nominated band Plain White T’s performed. They even got a little help from former Cub Randy Wells and baseball president Theo Epstein on a few songs. The event raised more than $85,000, thanks to about 30 current and former players, who pitched in behind the bar or simply enjoyed the evening.

But don’t count on Wood to make you the best Old-Fashioned or dirty martini of your life, as he admits this probably won’t be a new career path.

“I’m really good at taking the tops of beers off with the opener,” Wood joked. “I pour a mean glass of wine, but I’m not a mixologist.”

Tickets are on sale now and in limited supply. For more information, visit woodfamilyfoundation.org.

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