Results tagged ‘ Starlin Castro ’

Cubscast Mesa: Goals for the 2015 season

Success can be defined in many ways by Major League Baseball players. Some set personal goals, while others just want to stay healthy for the duration of the season. But when we sat down with Cubs personnel to find out their goals for the 2015 season, one thing became abundantly clear: This club expects to win.

We’ll be posting videos and stories from Sloan Park all spring, so make sure you’re watching the blog and our Twitter account, @cubsvineline.

Check out the other videos from our Spring Training series:

Cubscast Mesa: Spring sit-down with manager Joe Maddon
Cubscast Mesa: The Lighter Side, If I weren’t a ballplayer …
Cubscast Mesa: Checking in with the 2015 Cubs coaching staff
Cubscast Mesa: The Lighter Side, If I could have one talent or superpower
Cubscast Mesa: The Cubs are setting a positive tone in camp
Cubscast Mesa: The Lighter Side, What the Cubs are watching on TV
Cubscast Mesa: The next wave of Cubs talent
Cubscast Mesa: The Lighter Side, The best thing I did this offseason

Cubs Spring Training Lineup: 3/16/15

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

Cubs vs. Padres @ Peoria
First Pitch: 3:05 CST
Cubs Starter: Jon Lester, LHP
Padres Starter: Brandon Morrow, RHP
Broadcast: MLB Network

Lineup
1. Arismendy Alcantara, 3B
2. Chris Coghlan, LF
3. Starlin Castro, SS
4. Jorge Soler, RF
5. Kris Bryant, DH
6. Ryan Sweeney, CF
7. Welington Castillo, C
8. Mike Olt, 1B
9. Chris Valaika, 2B

1000 Words: Watch and Learn

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

Three-time National League All-Star Starlin Castro fields a ball during an infield drill at Spring Training while highly regarded prospect Addison Russell looks on. Russell is viewed as a top five prospect in baseball by ESPN, Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America.

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.

From the Pages of Vine Line: What will the Cubs do with their surplus of shortstops?

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

The Cubs may be only a brief stop away from their next destination. Or, perhaps, a shortstop. That is, if they are willing to trade one.

In his postseason address to season ticket holders, President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein said he expects the team to contend for a division title in 2015. And that was before marquee manager Joe Maddon first put on the pinstripes at the Cubby Bear.

With holes still to fill, the Cubs can’t stop short with their hiring of Maddon. In their quest to be the best, middle-infield depth could be the key to acquiring more pieces to the puzzle.

Since arriving in October 2011, Epstein and his front office mates have done a lot of heavy lifting to strengthen the organization—signing international free agents, making astute picks in the June amateur draft and trading for other teams’ top prospects. As a result, the Cubs’ system is rated among the consensus top three in the majors.

At this stage, moving surplus talent, notably at shortstop, could be vital to improving the major league product.

“I believe the Cubs potentially have three All-Stars in [Starlin] Castro, [Javier] Baez and [Addison] Russell,” said a top major league executive. “I watched Russell last year in the Arizona Fall League. This year in the minor leagues, he got a little thicker and stronger. This young man is going to be a fine hitter and could very well be an All-Star shortstop. I love his natural instincts. Nothing about his game is below average.”

The Cubs acquired Oakland’s top draft picks from 2012 and 2013—Russell and outfielder Billy McKinney—along with pitcher Dan Straily in a July 4 deal for starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. Athletics General Manager Billy Beane said he didn’t want to trade the 20-year-old Russell, rated the No. 5 prospect in the game by MLB.com, but succumbed to the urge to add pitching depth in hopes of making a deep playoff run last season.

Of the three shortstops in question, Baez has the greatest power potential. His lack of contact at the major league level—95 strikeouts in his first 213 at-bats—hasn’t tempered the club’s confidence in him. Epstein said Baez will start the 2015 campaign on the Cubs’ 25-man roster, “barring anything out of the ordinary.”

A top National League scout raved about the raw skills he sees in Baez, who turns 22 on Dec. 1.

“I love his power, and he really seems comfortable at shortstop,” the scout said. “He’s not a flashy fielder—just gets the ball and throws the runner out. Baez has less moving parts than Castro.

“Will he hit? I really think so. Remember when [Anthony] Rizzo first came up in San Diego? He struck out almost 40 percent of the time. That bat speed and the quick hands cannot be taught. [Baez] is 21 and struck out at every level a lot of times until he figured it out. I like him as a shortstop, second baseman or third baseman. And I see a lot of extra-base hits in his future.”

The Cubs’ third shortstop jewel is the young veteran Castro, already a three-time All-Star at just 24 years old. His recovery from a disappointing 2013 season was a boon for both him and the organization.

After landing a seven-year, $60 million contract in August 2012, Castro seemed to enter 2013 as if he had nothing to prove. He reported to camp 10 pounds heavier and never hit his stride, batting just .245 on the season (39 points below his current lifetime average).

In 2014, a rededicated Castro led the team in hitting with a .292 mark from the middle of the order and regained his All-Star status. Working with infield instructor Gary Jones, he also reduced his errors from 22 to 15—the first season in four he didn’t lead major league shortstops in miscues.

The question of what the Cubs will do with their surplus of middle-infield talent could be answered this winter. If so, Castro might be the likeliest to go. At least three major-market teams will be seeking a top shortstop, and Castro would seem the most marketable commodity as an already-established big league star.

Ultimately, the Cubs could elect to keep all three shortstops—each 24 or younger—and move two of them to different positions. Baez is currently scheduled to be the Opening Day second baseman, with Russell ticketed to play shortstop at either Double-A Tennessee or Triple-A Iowa.

Maddon’s arrival seems to accelerate the team’s timetable for winning. A blockbuster deal for a top young pitcher could be the next step.

In other words, don’t sell Epstein short. Not so long as he has shortstops to sell.

—Bruce Levine and Joel Bierig

From the Pages of Vine Line: Strength in Numbers

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Javier Baez got his first taste of major league action this summer. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

When Theo Epstein sat in front of the assembled media last October and announced, “The story [around the league] is that the Cubs are coming fast, and the Cubs are coming strong,” many had trouble stifling laughter. How could Epstein suggest a team fresh off its third-consecutive 90-loss season was on the rise—especially during a press conference announcing the firing of the club’s manager, Dale Sveum?

It seemed preposterous at the time, but Epstein was hardly joking. He knew what he and his staff had built over the previous two seasons, and he believed it wouldn’t be long before that lofty statement was accepted as fact—even by those not paying close attention to what’s been happening in the Cubs system.
Sure enough, while the 2014 season didn’t produce a dramatic increase in wins, the media and fans finally got a chance to see what the Cubs have been building, as the first wave of prospects finally funneled into Wrigley Field.

It all began with Arismendy Alcantara and Kyle Hendricks, two somewhat under-the-radar prospects, but intriguing players nonetheless. Next, one of the best power hitters in the minors, Javier Baez, arrived in the big leagues—along with the corresponding media maelstrom. Finally, the Cubs called up Cuban slugger Jorge Soler toward the end of August.

Not every one of these young players immediately took the National League by storm. There have been ups and downs. But each has provided a spark and shown the potential to be a big contributor to the next Cubs playoff run—which is exactly how the front office drew it up.

“It’s a lot of fun, and there’s definitely a lot of energy,” Hendricks said. “I’m just glad a lot of us have been able to perform well. I think that’s a testament to the coaching we have in the minor leagues. The guys got us ready for this level.”

Epstein understands that this process, which has included many losses, has been tough for both the players and the fans. That’s why finally being able to display the fruits of the front office’s labor has been so rewarding.

“These are players who have been part of our plan, part of our vision, for a while now,” Epstein said. “Now that they’re up here, people can get excited about it. It creates a little bit of momentum, which is nice to have around the organization.”

MASTER PLAN
So what exactly is the Cubs’ vision, and what has the organization been doing to realize it?

When Epstein was first introduced as president of baseball operations in late October 2011, he laid out his plan for how he wanted to rebuild an organization that had gone from being the toast of the National League to 91 losses in just three years.

“Our goal will be to build the best scouting department in the game—one that makes an annual impact in the draft and internationally,” Epstein said at the time. “As far as player development goes, we will define and implement a Cubs Way of playing the game, and we won’t rest until there is a steady stream of talent coming through the minor league system trained in that Cubs Way making an impact out here at Wrigley Field.”

Epstein didn’t waste much time in following through with those promises. A week after his introduction, he sat in front of the media yet again, this time introducing Jed Hoyer as his new executive vice president and general manager and Jason McLeod, a man Epstein referred to as the “rarest commodity in the industry—an impact evaluator of baseball talent,” as his senior vice president of scouting and player development.

The three men spent the next year evaluating what they were working with from the bottom of the organization all the way to the top. After a year, they made a few tweaks to the scouting department, and completely revamped the player development side. Brandon Hyde was brought in as the farm director, but has since moved on to become manager Rick Renteria’s bench coach, while Jaron Madison has transitioned from amateur scouting director to Hyde’s old position.

Under Hyde, the Cubs hired four new minor league coordinators and had one of their better developmental seasons throughout the system in 2013.

Of course, it certainly helped that so much talent had been added to the mix—and continues to be added to this day—through astute trades, the amateur draft and international signings.

“In order to have success in this game, the foundation has to be through scouting and player development,” Hoyer said when he was introduced as general manager. “There’s no shortcut. There’s no magic bullet. All three of us believe in the philosophy wholeheartedly.”

Hoyer acknowledged the ultimate goal is to win a championship, so the baseball operations department first had to build a team that went into Spring Training every season with a realistic shot at making the playoffs. Less than three years later, it appears the Cubs are on the verge of achieving that goal.

And it’s not just the players who have reached the majors this year that have so many people both inside and outside the game optimistic about the Cubs’ immediate future. While the influx of top-notch talent is undeniable, it’s quite likely the best is yet to come.

Last year’s top draft pick, Kris Bryant, dominated every level of the minor leagues, making it all the way to Triple-A Iowa in his first full professional season. His otherworldly stat line of .325/.438/.661 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 43 home runs and 110 RBI has pushed the third baseman to the top of the national prospect rankings. Shortly after the season, he was named both USA Today’s and Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year. Addison Russell, a consensus top 10 prospect in the game, was acquired in early July via trade and has continued to excel, hitting for both power and average while playing strong defense at shortstop.

Kyle Schwarber was the fourth pick in June’s amateur draft and has already shot up two levels in the Cubs system. So far, he has displayed an impressive combination of power and patience at the plate and appears to be on the fast track to the majors.

And that’s not all. The regime’s first draft pick from 2012, Albert Almora, made it to Double-A at the tender age of 20, and the international scouts flexed their muscles in 2013, as the Cubs spent more money than any other organization. Thanks to those efforts, they added big-time prospects like Jen-Ho Tseng, Eloy Jimenez, Gleybar Torres and Jefferson Mejia, all of whom are proving advanced for their age and are ranked as top 20 organizational prospects by MLB.com.

The system is not only loaded with talent, it’s also deep, ensuring that as the Cubs continue to graduate players to the big leagues, the cupboard won’t suddenly be left bare. It looks like Epstein and Hoyer have built the scouting and player development “machine” they promised to work toward when they were first brought into the organization.

CALL TO ARMS
Of course, since the majority of the Cubs’ young players grabbing headlines are bats, there are still questions about where the organization is going to find the right combination of arms to lead the charge. But even on that front, the team is better off than most people realize.

The front office has now divested the organization of the many onerous contracts from the Hendry regime—meaning there is money to spend—and has proven quite adept at identifying and acquiring undervalued pitching talent. Names like Paul Maholm, Scott Feldman and Jason Hammel, who all excelled under the tutelage of pitching coach Chris Bosio, have been used to acquire players who fit into both the short- and long-term plans.

Feldman, in particular, netted a huge piece in pitcher Jake Arrieta. A former top prospect, the 28-year-old underwhelmed during parts of four years in the majors with the Baltimore Orioles. Though Arrieta was perhaps at his lowest value at the time, the Cubs were bullish about the struggling righty. After missing the first month of the 2014 season with shoulder soreness, Arrieta went on to make the move look like a stroke of genius, putting together a season that rivals those of some of the best pitchers in the game.

Hendricks, acquired from the Rangers in the 2012 Ryan Dempster deal, also opened eyes with a strong run of starts to begin his major league career. Though many had the 24-year-old pegged as a fringe major leaguer and back-end starter at best, his poise and control are making some wonder whether he can exceed expectations and become a big part of the rotation’s future.

“He’s doing exactly what he did in the minor leagues,” Epstein said. “He’s as polished and prepared as you’ll see with any rookie. We speculated that he might even take it to another level when he got to the big leagues because he uses all the tools available to him as well as anybody.

“We have video in the minor leagues, but we don’t have this much video. We have scouting reports in the minor leagues, but we don’t have scouting reports this extensive. He just attacks the video and attacks scouting reports. They’re a huge weapon for him. You see the confidence he has. No matter how good a hitter he’s facing, he’s likely to have identified one area he can attack and put [himself] in a good position to have a chance to get him out. I think that’s been big for him. We’re awfully proud of how he’s adjusted.”

Epstein has acknowledged that while he doesn’t think the Cubs’ position player group is a finished product, he certainly feels great about the nucleus the organization has built. Even with Arrieta, Hendricks and the surprisingly impressive Tsuyoshi Wada (who will be 34 next season, but could still find himself competing for a spot in the Cubs rotation), the obvious focus becomes how to build up the front five.

“I like some of the pitchers we have coming along in the minor leagues, and I think our big league staff has done sort of an underrated job this year,” Epstein said. “There are some bright spots. But we’ve been open about the fact that it would be nice to add an impact pitcher or two. When you look over the next 18 months or so, that’s certainly a priority for us. Whether we develop one from an unlikely spot like might be happening with Arrieta or acquire someone who’s already at those heights remains to be seen.”

FINISHING THE JOB
Surprise success stories like Arrieta and Hendricks, coupled with bounce-back years from Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, have certainly boosted the optimism around the team as the prospects are rising to the big leagues.

“It’s good for the fans,” Hendricks said. “They’ve needed some winning the last few years, and unfortunately we haven’t been able to give it to them. I think with a lot of us young guys coming up—a lot of young hitters especially—they’re doing an unbelievable job. And there’s more to come.”
While the narrative may have recently changed as far as the media and average fans are concerned, nobody within the Cubs organization considers the work done.

“Our fans deserve to get excited. I’m happy for them,” Epstein said. “Ultimately, the only thing that matters is winning. That’s what’s on our mind, and we’re working hard to get there. Having young players that are worth following and at-bats you can’t miss, we’re human and that makes us feel good that our fans have something like that in their lives at this point, because certainly there’s been some tough times that they’ve had to endure.”

Epstein and company know they’ve still got work to do. They’re aware that pitching is a need, as is a veteran presence in the clubhouse to lead by example. But they strongly believe they’re on the right path and have felt that way for some time now. Still, the ultimate goal has yet to be accomplished.

“We’ve felt really good about it for a period now, and we also feel like there’s so much more work to do that we don’t deserve any kudos or pats on the back,” Epstein said. “On the other hand, we’re all human, and we feel the optimism of our fans and our players. It only makes us want to work harder and finish it off. We’ll feel like it’s finished when we win the last game in October.”

—Sahadev Sharma, Baseball Prospectus

Cubs place Castro on bereavement list; move Jackson to DL

The Cubs today placed shortstop Starlin Castro on the bereavement list and placed right-handed pitcher Edwin Jackson on the 15-day DL with a right lat strain. Infielder Logan Watkins and left-handed pitcher Zac Rosscup have been recalled from Triple-A Iowa.

Both Rosscup and Watkins, who will wear uniform No. 45, will be available for the Cubs this afternoon when they resume their suspended game with the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field at 4:05 p.m.

Rosscup, 26, joins the Cubs for his fifth stint this season and has no record and a 7.50 ERA (5 ER/6.0 IP) in seven big league relief outings. He began the year with four scoreless appearances but allowed five runs in 2.0 innings covering three appearances during his last big league stay and was optioned to Iowa on July 20. With Iowa, Rosscup is 2-0 with four saves and a 2.10 ERA (7 ER/30.0 IP) in 29 relief appearances.

Watkins, 24, joins the Cubs for the first time this season after batting .256 (81-for-316) with 20 doubles, one triple, four home runs and 38 RBI in 101 games with Iowa this year. The left-handed hitter made his big league debut with the Cubs last season and batted .211 (8-for-38) with one double in 27 games.

Castro is batting .284 (141-for-496) with 31 doubles, one triple, 13 home runs and 64 RBI during his 2014 All-Star season. Bereavement list rules allow for a stay of a minimum of three days and a maximum of seven days.

Jackson is 6-14 with 6.09 ERA (94 ER/139.0 IP) in 26 starts for the Cubs this season.

1000 Words: The John Baker Show

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(Images by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)

Cubs catcher John Baker picked up his first career win, coming in as an emergency reliever in the top of the 16th inning of the Cubs’ 4-3 marathon win over Colorado. Then in the bottom half of the inning, Baker walked and scored the game-winning run on a Starlin Castro sacrifice fly to right field. The six-hour, 27-minute game was the longest in team history.

Now Playing: Castro and Rizzo are ready for the 2014 All-Star Game

The heart of the Cubs order will be on hand for Tuesday night’s 2014 MLB All-Star Game in Minneapolis, as Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo will represent the North Siders in the Midsummer Classic.

Despite just being 24 years old, Castro is already participating in his third All-Star Game. After struggling for much of 2013, the shortstop has bounced back this season, hitting .276/.326/.440 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 11 home runs and 52 RBI.

Joining Castro in the NL dugout is first baseman Rizzo, who is making his first All-Star appearance. The National League’s Final Vote winner has hit 20 home runs (third in the NL) to go along with his .275/.381/.499 line and is quickly earning comparisons to some of the game’s top first basemen.

Castro and Rizzo spoke to Vine Line this week about what it means to be selected to the All-Star Game.

Castro, Samardzija elected to NL All-Star team; Rizzo needs your votes

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Sunday night, it was announced that Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro was elected to the 2014 National League All-Star team. It’s the third All-Star selection of his major league career, and Castro will represent the Cubs at the 85th Major League All-Star Game Tuesday, July 15 at Minnesota’s Target Field.

Like Castro, right-handed pitcher Jeff Samardzija was also elected to the NL squad by way of the player vote. While Samardzija is eligible to attend and participate in All-Star activities and will receive full NL All-Star honors and recognition, he will be ineligible to play for the NL team due to his recent trade to the Oakland Athletics.

First baseman Anthony Rizzo is one of five players nominated for the NL’s 2014 All-Star Game MLB.com Final Vote ballot. Fans can now vote to select the final player for each league’s roster via cubs.com, MLB.com and on their mobile phones (fans can text the choice “N4” to 89269 to vote for Rizzo). Voting concludes at 3 p.m. CT on Thursday, July 10.

The 24-year-old Castro becomes only the third shortstop in franchise history to be selected to at least three All-Star teams, joining Ernie Banks (nine times as a shortstop) and Don Kessinger (six times). He is one of only six shortstops to be named an All-Star in franchise history, joining the aforementioned Banks and Kessinger, Billy Jurges (once), Woody English (once) and Shawon Dunston (twice), who was the most-recent Cubs shortstop to earn All-Star recognition (in 1990) leading up to Castro’s first All-Star season in 2011.

In 2011, Castro became the youngest player in franchise history to be named to an All-Star team at age 22. In 2012, he became the first Cubs shortstop to be named to the All-Star team in consecutive seasons since Don Kessinger’s five-year run from 1968-72.  Castro, Dunston and Kessinger are the only three Cubs shortstops to earn All-Star honors in the last 50 years.

Castro entered play on Sunday batting .290 with 26 doubles, one triple, 11 home runs and 50 RBI while starting every game at shortstop for the Cubs. He entered the day leading all major league shortstops with 38 extra-base hits and was one of only four players in baseball with 12 games of three or more hits.

Samardzija, 29, departed the Cubs with a 2-7 record and a 2.83 ERA in 17 starts this season. This is Samardzija’s first career All-Star honor. He is the first right-handed pitcher to earn All-Star honors for the Cubs since Ryan Dempster, Carlos Marmol, Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano were all named to the NL team in 2008.

The 24-year-old Rizzo entered play on Sunday leading all NL first basemen with 17 home runs and was tied for the NL lead with 14 home runs since April 30. He ranked first among league first basemen in walks (50), was tied for first with 16 go-ahead RBI and was fourth with an .873 OPS. Overall, he was batting .274 with 13 doubles, one triple, 17 home runs and 45 RBI in 84 games.

Besides using the web to vote for the final player for each league’s 34-man roster, fans can use their mobile phones to cast votes via the mobile web at MLB.com/vote or via text message. To receive the All-Star Game MLB.com Final Vote Sponsored by Experian mobile ballot, text the word “VOTE” to 89269.  To vote specifically for Rizzo, text the choice “N4” to 89269. Standard message and data rates may apply.  Text “STOP” to end and “HELP” for information.  Mobile voting in Canada also is available and fans should text their choices to 101010.

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