Results tagged ‘ Player Profile ’

From the Pages of Vine Line: Q&A with IF Logan Watkins


(Photo by Stephen Green)

Cubs 2012 Minor League Player of the Year Logan Watkins got his first taste of the big leagues this season after a late-August call-up from Triple-A Iowa. Vine Line caught up with the infielder to talk about his 2012 accomplishments, making his major league debut, what it’s like to spell a Gold Glover and much more. For more information on the Cubs, check out the October issue of Vine Line.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR  That was awesome. Jed [Hoyer], Theo [Epstein] and all those guys, they inherited a lot of us. Just knowing they recognized me as someone they wanted to have stick around and that they like the way I play meant a lot to me confidence-wise.

DAY BY DAY  I had no expectations for this year. I’m just going to keep doing what I was doing. Triple-A is a lot different than Double-A. You get a lot more older, seasoned veteran guys you play with, so I was adjusting to that. Getting called up, that’s obviously what you work for. I started with the Cubs, and I want to make it with the Cubs.

GETTING TO KNOW YOU  [The offseason Rookie Development Program] just helped me get used to Chicago, so I knew what I was walking into when I got called up. I knew a lot of the staff, a lot of these clubhouse guys, and I knew a lot of the people. It helped make the transition process a lot easier.

BIG LEAGUE WELCOME  In rookie ball, I played with [Junior] Lake and [Starlin] Castro, so I knew [those guys]. Being in big league camp was probably the biggest help, because I knew everybody here. It’s kind of different when you walk onto the team, and you don’t know anybody. But when you feel like you know everybody, it’s a lot more comfortable, and everyone was really welcoming.

GAME ONE  It was crazy. It was a Sunday day game too, so it was a pretty good crowd. They just threw me into the fire right away. [They said], “The first day here, you’re starting.” Yeah, it was crazy. It’s something I’ll never forget.

HIT PARADE  [My first hit] was a good at-bat. It was a full count, and it was a tough spot in the game. There were guys on base, and we needed to keep the rally going. I got a—it wasn’t a line drive or anything—but it was a hit, and I’ll take it.

IN A PINCH  A lot of the guys who pinch-hit nowadays in the major leagues are veteran guys that have been around and know the kind of pitcher they’re going to step in on, so they’re ready right away. I’ve stepped in on some really good pitching that I’ve never seen before, and it’s hard to be aggressive in those situations. It’s something I’ve been learning to do.

GOLDEN ADVICE  I watch Darwin [Barney] a lot, because I’ve known him for a few years now and really like watching him play. But [the veterans] are always just telling me, “Don’t worry about anything. Just keep doing what you’re doing. Have good at-bats and stay level. Don’t live and die with one at-bat when you’re pinch-hitting, because it will drive you crazy if you do.”

MY MENTOR  Me and Darwin are obviously good friends. There’s a reason a lot of people are wearing Darwin Barney shirts around here, because he means a lot to this city. I’m just sitting back and watching him mostly and asking him questions when I need to know something. There’s a lot to learn from a guy like him.

From the Pages of Vine Line: Q&A with RHP Blake Parker


(Photo by Stephen Green)

Injuries kept Blake Parker out of action for much last season, so the 28-year-old reliever has been making the most of his opportunity in 2013. Vine Line caught up with right-hander to discuss his favorite places to play, advice he’s received from teammates and rebounding from trips to the disabled list. This and much more can be found in the September issue of Vine Line.

WINDING ROAD  For each player, the road to the big leagues varies. Everyone has his own way of getting here, and I think each individual story is just as unique as the next. But coming from a catcher’s background and not really pitching in college, I can appreciate the fact that it’s hard to get here. It’s hard to hit. It’s hard to pitch. To be able to play with a bunch of these guys and call yourself a big leaguer is pretty rewarding.

COMEBACK TRAIL  [The injury last year] was very frustrating. It was heartbreaking. Going six or seven years of my career and never getting hurt, and finally getting called up and then getting hurt, it was devastating. But to be able to make it back and recover from that is even better.

PUMP IT UP  Coming into my first major league appearance, all I ever heard was how nerve-racking it was. I was more anxious than anything. I just wanted to get out there and pitch. I really thrive off the crowd and off the energy. That really fires me up, so it’s always fun to come into 30,000 or 40,000 screaming fans.

CLOSING TIME  It’s always a little bit tougher at the end, especially when the game is on the line. I talk to Kevin Gregg a lot about closing and situational-type stuff. He’s been doing it for so long that he knows what he’s talking about. I just try to pick guys’ brains and learn as much as I can as a rookie. I’d like to stay around a while.

CREATURE OF HABIT  As far as superstitions go, my daily routine needs to be the same. If I don’t get myself ready the same way every day, or if I do something out of order, I might feel a little bit off. I do like to switch up my music, depending on my mood. Today I’ve got some old-school rap, hip-hop going. Some Bone Thugs, Tupac.

FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS  Stadium-wise, I think PNC Park in Pittsburgh is really neat. Atmosphere-wise, Oakland is my favorite place to play, because I feel like I’m back in high school football again and it’s Friday night. They have the drums and everything going in the outfield. It’s just got that feel to it. It makes me feel good. It makes me feel like I’m back home playing football.

FAN FAVORITE  I recently got into Twitter. It’s a little bit of a boredom cure. I like to interact with people. It’s always fun. As a kid, you dream of having fans, and you love looking up to and having role models. I think it’s a great way to reach out, but I haven’t gotten too deep into it yet.

—Gary Cohen

From the Pages of Vine Line: Q&A with Dioner Navarro


(Photo by Stephen Green)

Cubs backup catcher Dioner Navarro has been in the big leagues for 10 years, has gone to the postseason twice and was selected to the 2008 All-Star Game, but it’s unlikely he ever experienced a game like the one he played on May 25. The veteran backstop went 3-for-4 with three home runs, six RBI and a walk to lead the Cubs to a 9-3 win over the crosstown White Sox. Navarro has already blasted eight home runs this season—his career high is nine—and has taken on a valuable leadership role mentoring young Cubs catcher Welington Castillo. For the July issue of Vine Line, we talked to the 29-year-old Venezuelan about making the 2008 All-Star team, being a leader on the field and his growing menagerie.

 I think the All-Star Game is a goal for every individual player in the league. It doesn’t get any better than that. Once I realized I was surrounded with players like Manny Ramirez and Joe Mauer [in the 2008 game], I felt like part of a special group. It was really great for me. Watching Josh Hamilton [set a Home Run Derby record] and being part of a winning rally—I got a base hit off Brad Lidge to keep the 15th inning alive—was just amazing. It was a lot we had to go through in two or three days, but the end was well, well worth it. I had a blast. I took my son with me, so we both had a lot of fun.

BACKSTOP LEADER  As a catcher, I have the opportunity to communicate with a lot of different players. My No. 1 goal is to communicate with the pitcher and get on the same page—but still communicate with all the infielders. What I love about this position is that I get to hang out with guys of different cultures from all over the world. I try to get on a level [of trust] with everybody and keep everyone together as a family. In order for us to achieve our goals, there has to be a trust level between us. Once we are trusting of what we do, read and think, we’re going to be just fine.

FAMILY FIRST  My wife almost died in my hands [after having an aneurysm in 2003], and my son had his kidney removed when he was only 1. When all that happened, baseball came second in my life. I take the game a lot easier now, but I still respect it. Once the game is over, I know I get to go home and spend time with my family and then get ready for the next day.

MAN’S BEST FRIENDS  It all started with my wife. We went to the pet store to get my dog’s regular food, and she fell in love with a chameleon. From a chameleon, we went to a snake. From a snake, we went to Argentine tegu. Now we’ve got chinchillas, cats, dogs—we’ve got them all. I love animals, and my kids get to enjoy them too. It’s definitely a lot of fun during the offseason.

FOOTBALL FIEND  I’m a huge soccer fan—huge. I love it. In Venezuela, they play a lot of Spanish League, called “La Liga.” I grew up seeing Barcelona play, and ever since then I’ve just loved Barcelona. My brother had an opportunity to move to Spain, and he would bring back Barcelona gear to my little brother and me. I think my collection of jerseys spans about 50 years of soccer now. It’s a brilliant game, and I have a lot of respect for those guys.

To read the complete interview with Navarro, pick up the July All-Star issue of Vine Line, featuring the best seasons by a Cubs player at each position, available now at select Jewel-Osco, Walgreens, Meijer, Barnes & Noble, and other Chicago-area retailers. Or subscribe to Vine Line today.

2012 Player Profile: Matt Garza

Matt Garza altered his pitch selection this season, becoming more effective with his slider. (Photo by Stephen Green)

2012 Innings Pitched: 103.2 (18 G-18 GS)
2012 Pitching (all per 9 IP): 4.17 RA, 7.8 H, 2.8 BB, 1.3 HR, 8.3 K
2012 Wins Above Replacement (Fangraphs): 1.2
2013 Contract Status: Signed (Arbitration, Third Year)
Repertoire (Avg. MPH): Four-seam (94), Sinker (94), Change-up (86), Slider (85), Curve (76)

Few major league pitchers show Matt Garza’s fire. And it doesn’t matter if he’s fronting the Cubs rotation or being a top-step teammate. Unfortunately, he had to do a bit too much of the latter in 2012.

It could be said that it was an off year for Garza, but a large part of that was in comparison to his lofty first year in a Cubs uniform. He also missed almost the entire second half of the season due to a stress fracture in his elbow and finished with a 3.91 ERA, a few steps off the 3.32 mark he had in his Cubs debut. This will be an important offseason for the Cubs: Garza is under team control for one more year before he becomes eligible for free agency. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have publicly stated that they’d like to continue pursuing an extension with the soon-to-be 29-year-old, while also saying they’ll keep their options open until that happens.

Garza has perhaps been most notable for how he has reinvented himself as a pitcher since being acquired in a trade two winters ago. He’s induced significantly more ground balls, struck out more hitters and issued fewer free passes since coming over from the Rays.

We can deduce some of the reasons by taking a closer look with PITCHf/x data, as tagged by and Baseball Prospectus (player card). Our graphs to the right present pitch usage as variants of fastballs (blue) and offspeed pitches (green).

In 2011, his first year as a Cub, Garza threw 62 percent more sliders and twice as many change-ups than he did in 2010. While he more or less went away from the change this season, his slider remains his wipe-out pitch. Garza got swings and misses more than 20 percent of the time with his slider, part of a consistent improvement in the effectiveness of that pitch over his big league career.

Interestingly, this year, Garza also started throwing sinkers to right-handed batters at a much higher rate than he did in 2011. That’s the opposite sort of trend we discussed last week with Jeff Samardzija, who tends to lean on pitches that run away from lefties or righties. Instead, Garza went after righties by busting them inside, and he ended up with the highest ground ball percentage of his career (51%).

He primarily uses his other fastball, a four-seamer, to get ahead of hitters, and he had better control of it (less balls, more called strikes) than he has at any point of his career. Not coincidentally, when the ball wasn’t put into play on the first pitch, he has recorded an 0-1 count 59 percent of the time while in a Cubs uniform—compared to 52 percent with the Rays.

On the flip side, Garza didn’t help himself at all in the field, where he committed 10 errors (eight throwing) in the last two seasons. He also gave up an abnormally high—for him—rate of home runs per fly ball, at 16 percent. That’s a statistic known to fluctuate more randomly than a pitcher’s talent, so we’d expect his rate next year to “regress” back to his 10 percent career rate. A few more long fly balls caught at the wall would lead to a tangible decrease in ERA once again, particularly with Garza’s other components looking solid.

Will Garza be a long-term piece for the Cubs building effort or one used to acquire more organizational depth? One thing is for certain: As Hoyer said in Spring Training, the Cubs “need more Matt Garzas, not less Matt Garzas.” It’s easy to see why.