Results tagged ‘ Theo Epstein ’

2012 Player Profile: Starlin Castro

Castro has proved himself as the Cubs’ top player and will be in Chicago through the end of the decade. (Photo by Stephen Green)

2012 Positions Played: SS (100%)
2012 Batting (AVG/OBP/SLG): .283/.323/.430 in 691 PA
2012 Wins Above Replacement (Fangraphs): 3.3
2013 Contract Status: Signed (through 2019, plus club option)

When Theo Epstein joined the Cubs, he said the organization would focus on acquiring impact talent. He did, however, know he had one out of the box in shortstop Starlin Castro.

In August, the Cubs locked up Castro through the end of the decade, buying up three years of his free-agency eligibility (with the option to snag a fourth, in 2020). The idea behind an extension like this is simple: The player gains security from the risks of injury and underperformance, while the team in turn gets cost certainty and the chance to hold a true bargain contract.

Castro’s extension has an additional feature, however—a relatively flat salary structure. The reported annual salaries range from $5 million in the first year to $11 million in the last. The takeaway is that Castro’s contract shouldn’t ever become a burden to the team. It’s common for general managers to backload contracts so that they can maximize their payroll flexibility in the present while, presumably, planning for the future. Instead, Epstein and Jed Hoyer have sent a real signal here of their long-term thinking and intentions to build a consistent winner.

Since Castro’s hit tool already is so strong—somewhere around plus-plus, or a 70 grade on the 20-80 scouting scale—his approach becomes the key to unlocking another level in his game. And there’s reason to believe there was real progress made in that area under manager Dale Sveum and hitting coach James Rowson.

The 22-year-old’s walk rate by month tells a visible story of improvement. Entering 2012, Castro’s career standard was just over 5 percent, and he was trailing that below-average figure pretty well over the season’s first three months. But starting in July, he made tangible strides in his plate discipline that brought him closer to the NL non-pitcher average of 8 percent walks. His strikeout rate showed an opposite trend overall, peaking at 18 percent in June before dropping to 14, 16 and finally 9 in the last three months.

Let’s take a closer look with PITCHf/x location data, as presented by BrooksBaseball.net and Baseball Prospectus (player card), to see if we can identify a difference in Castro’s first- and second-half approaches.

In the first half of the season, Castro was susceptible to swinging at any pitches middle-in to inside, including those off the plate or above/below the zone. In the second half, he cut his chase percentage in these areas significantly, to the tune of about 13 percentage points. He correspondingly let loose on more pitches in the zone, and he did more damage on pitches low and in.

(Note: The outside edges here are to scale—so they include pitches within about seven inches of the strike zone, not further.)

Another part of Castro’s game that appeared to improve this season was his defense, where he showed above-average range and more consistent throwing. He got to balls at a higher rate than before, especially relative to the league. A lot of that credit goes to Sveum, bench coach Jamie Quirk and the front-office analysts whose intel better positioned Cubs fielders than in the past. But their indirect effect on Castro’s improved throwing was also apparent. In 2012, Castro made a throwing error on 1.7 percent of his chances (assists plus throwing errors). That was half the rate from 2011.

Now, Castro didn’t universally show improvement this year, as his .283 batting average was the lowest of his career—and it brought his on-base percentage down with it. But there appears to be meaningful under-the-hood development. It’s a positive trend that the Cubs organization is betting continues over the next several seasons.

Hot Off the Presses: October Vine Line featuring the best of 2012

The Cubs’ 2012 season has been all about adjustments. Year One of the Theo Epstein regime is in the books, and despite the struggles at the major league level, the future is looking a little brighter. The Cubs took advantage of the draft and trade deadline to bolster their minor league system, but Epstein is far from complacent.

“I think we’ve made some pretty significant changes in direction as well as philosophy,” Epstein said. “It’s hard to talk about the year, though, without talking about the frustration that goes with it. We aren’t even close to where we want to be.”

One of the biggest changes late in the season has been the Cubs’ infusion of youth. Anthony Rizzo was called up on June 26 and made an immediate impact. On Aug. 5, top prospects Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters joined him on the parent club. In the October issue of Vine Line, we talk to the two good friends about their paths through the Cubs system and what they hope to accomplish at Wrigley.

“I can remember countless times just over the past couple of years, where either one of us was struggling or both of us were struggling, and we’d talk about it,” Vitters said. “I think we both know each other as a player enough that we have a decent idea of what it is the other person’s doing if they’re struggling a little bit or going through a rough patch.”

For our end-of-season issue, we also went to our blog to ask readers to help us determine the best highlights from the Cubs’ 2012 season. Despite the down year record-wise, the Cubs had a surprising amount of incredible memories, from Kerry Wood’s retirement to Ron Santo’s Hall of Fame induction to Alfonso Soriano’s bounceback year. You’ll find the results in our cover story, 12 for ’12.

Finally, we went into the booth with Len Kasper and Bob Brenly to get an inside look at what it really takes to put on a major league broadcast. If you think talking about baseball for four hours every day seems easy, think again.

For all these stories and more, subscribe to Vine Line or pick up an issue at select Chicago-area retailers. We’ve also launched a Vine Line Twitter account at @cubsvineline to keep you posted on Cubs happenings up to the minute—from Wrigley Field events like the Bruce Springsteen concert last month to all the breaking hot stove news.

1000 Words: Jorge Soler at Wrigley

(Photo by Stephen Green)

The Cubs brass got a glimpse of the future on Saturday, as Cuban import Jorge Soler paid his first visit to Wrigley Field. As it turns out, it was actually the power hitting outfielder’s first visit to any major league stadium. Soler signed a $30 million deal with the Cubs in June and finished the season at Single-A Peoria, where he hit .338 with three home runs and 15 RBI in 20 games.

Northwest League Playoffs Preview: Boise hosts Yakima in Game 1

Albert Amora, Gioskar Amaya, Jeimer Calendario, Dan Vogelbach and Pierce Johnson—if you’re a Vine Line reader, you know these are some of the Cubs organization’s newest and most promising players. They may be years away from the big leagues, but they’ve already earned a playoff appearance on their developmental path to Chicago.

The Boise Hawks host the Yakima Bears (Diamondbacks) in Game 1 of the Northwest League Division Playoffs, beginning at 7:45 p.m. Central Time tonight. The game will be shown on MiLB.tv thanks to the excellent production work out in Boise, and we’ll recap the games this week. Here are some notes to get you ready for tonight’s matchup, the first of a best-of-three series.

Season Recap: The Hawks rebounded from a poor first half (13-25) to take the Northwest League East Division with a 24-14 second half.

Roster Breakdown: The Hawks dugout currently features 11 players from the 2012 draft, seven from 2011, three from 2010 and 10 international signings.

Tonight’s Starting Pitchers: Pierce Johnson starts for the Hawks, though it will effectively be a bullpen-by-committee night. The 43rd overall pick of the 2012 draft, Johnson was selected out of Missouri State and battled some minor injury issues earlier in the spring. The Cubs have been keeping him on a strict pitch count, which has resulted in just two-inning starts each time out.

Watching video of his two home starts for Boise (August 11 and 28), Johnson features a hard fastball with good run, a power curveball that moves away from right-handed hitters thanks to his three-quarters arm slot, and an occasional straight change. His fastball sits in the 93-96 mph range, and he was able to locate his curveball well for strikes. Listed at 6-foot-3 and 170 pounds, he’s tall and lean and looks very projectable. As the second player drafted in the Theo Epstein/Jason McLeod era, he’ll definitely be one to watch.

Last time around, Johnson was followed by Jose Arias, who had previously started all 13 of his appearances. He throws a fastball with some sink, a slider-type breaking ball that he can bury and a change-up. We’ll see if those two form a tandem again in the postseason.

Blake Perry, Arizona’s sixth-round pick in 2010, takes the hill for Yakima. He threw four shutout innings against Boise earlier this season.

Hitters to Watch: First baseman Dan Vogelbach was Boise’s best hitter for the season, powering his way to a .324/.427/.619 line with 10 home runs in 36 games. He was Chicago’s supplemental-round pick in 2012 and is just 19 years old.

There is no shortage of positional talent on this squad, so it’s quite impressive that infielder Stephen Bruno has been able to stand out as much as he has. He led the Northwest League with a .361 average and rides a 22-game hitting streak into tonight’s game. A product of the University of Virginia, Bruno was the Cubs’ seventh-round pick this June. Not only has he shown a mature approach at the plate, but he’s also made several nice defensive plays around the diamond.

Now Playing: Anthony Rizzo Safe at Home

Since his June 26 call-up to the big leagues, Anthony Rizzo has certainly lived up Cubs fans’ expectations. In just 57 games, his highlights include driving in the game-winning RBI in three of his first five games, hitting a dramatic walk-off home run against the Cardinals and capping an improbable rally last night with a key ninth inning double to tie the game 11-11 with Milwaukee.

Rizzo’s early success with the Cubs made us wonder about the goals he set for himself heading into the season. Vine Line looked back at our Spring Training conversation with the slugging first baseman in which he talked about coming to the Cubs, saying goodbye to the minor leagues and playing at Wrigley Field.

Deadline dealing

Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer’s first non-waiver trade deadline as members of the Cubs passed at 3 p.m. CST Tuesday with a flurry of activity. The front office made three trades in the last 24 hours, and they waited until the last minute to complete a deal sending away the team’s biggest trade chip, Ryan Dempster. Here’s a recap of the Cubs’ moves and a summary of what they received in the deals.

Cubs send left-handed starter Paul Maholm and outfielder Reed Johnson to the Braves for right-handed pitchers Arodys Vizcaino and Jaye Chapman

What they got:

Arodys Vizcaino: Baseball America rated the right-hander the Braves’ No. 2 preseason prospect and the 40th best prospect in all of baseball. Vizcaino, who has a live arm with a fastball that touches the high 90s, was the centerpiece of the Braves 2009 deal that sent Javier Vazquez to the Yankees. He’ll miss all of 2012 recovering from Tommy John surgery, but should be ready to go by early next season.

2011 stats: 5-5, 3.06 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 9.3 K/9, 97 IP at three minor league levels;
1-1, 4.67 ERA, 17 K, 17.1 IP for Braves

Jaye Chapman: The 25-year-old has climbed his way through the minor league ranks since he was drafted in 2006. In two seasons at Triple-A Gwinnett, the reliever has struck out more than one-fourth of the batters he’s faced, and he’s only allowed three home runs in 2012.

2012 stats: 3-6, 3.52 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 10.1 K/9, 53.2 IP at Triple-A Gwinnett

Cubs send catcher Geovany Soto to the Rangers for right-hander Jake Brigham

What they got:

Jake Brigham: A sixth-round pick in the 2006 draft, Brigham went 5-5 with a 4.28 ERA in 21 starts for Double-A Frisco this season. Baseball America rated him the seventh-best righty reliever in the Texas farm system. Last season, he went 3-1 with a 3.60 ERA in 21 appearances.

2012 stats: 5-5, 4.28 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 8.4 K/9, 124.0 IP at Double-A Frisco

Cubs send right-handed pitcher Ryan Dempster to the Rangers for right-handed pitcher Kyle Hendricks and infielder Christian Villanueva

What they got:

Christian Villanueva: Baseball America rated Villanueva the Rangers’ eighth-best prospect prior to the season. The publication called him “an easy plus defender with soft hands and easy actions.” The 22-year-old stole 32 bases last season in Low-A and finished with a .278 batting average.

2012 stats: .285/.356/.421, 10 home runs, 59 RBI, 9 SB, 425 PA at Single-A Myrtle Beach

Kyle Hendricks: The 2011 eighth-round draft pick had a 5-8 record with 2.82 ERA in 20 starts for Single-A Myrtle Beach this season, earning him a spot on the Carolina League All-Star team. He spent last season at both Low-A Spokane and Double-A Frisco.

2012 stats: 5-8, 2.82 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 7.7 K/9, 15 BB, 130.2 IP at Single-A Myrtle Beach

Red Sox Nation storms into Wrigley

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For just the second time ever during the regular season and first time since 2005, the Red Sox will take to the Wrigley Field grass this weekend. The all-time regular-season series is knotted at 3-all, but the Cubs took two of three at the Friendly Confines back in 2005.

The series marks a reunion of sorts for Cubs baseball president Theo Epstein. Epstein acted as the Red Sox’s general manager from 2002-11 before taking his position with the North Siders and is largely responsible for the current makeup of Boston’s lineup. GM Jed Hoyer and senior vice president Jason McLeod also spent time over the last decade in Sox upper management.

While both squads currently sit at the bottom of their respective divisions, there’s no shortage of excitement when these historic teams get together.

Former Cub Carpenter to have surgery

Former Cubs reliever Chris Carpenter, who went to Boston as compensation for Theo Epstein, will have surgery Thursday to remove a bone spur from his throwing elbow and is expected to miss significant time.

The righty passed physicals performed by both the Cubs and the Red Sox, so it isn’t likely the Cubs will have to surrender anyone else in the deal.

Carpenter had thrown just 1.2 innings this spring. Last season, he pitched in 10 games of relief for the Cubs, compiling a 2.79 ERA.

The surgery will be conducted by Dr. James Andrews.

Old faces in new places

When looking at the 2011-12 offseason, there is one word that best describes the Chicago Cubs from top to bottom: Change.

The Ricketts group hired Theo Epstein to act as President of Baseball Operations and subsequently hired a new GM in Jed Hoyer. Payroll was cut in favor of stocking the farm system, and probably most important, many player moves were made. While the Cubs signed a plethora of young talent hoping to help the organization in the future, if not this year, many notable Cubs became “former Cubs” either by trade or free agency.

Let’s see how some of the old faces have fared thus far with their new teams:

Andrew Cashner: Cubs 2008-11; Traded to Padres Jan. 2012
Spring Training line: 8 IP, 11 K’s, 6 HA, ER, 1.13 ERA

Tyler Colvin: Cubs 2006-11; Traded to Rockies Dec. 2011
Spring Training line: 41 AB, HR, 10 RBI, 16 hits, .390/.429/.610

Sean Marshall: Cubs 2003-11; Traded to Reds Dec. 2011
Spring Training line: 8 IP, 12 K’s, 5 HA, 4 ER, 4.50 ERA

Carlos Pena: Cubs 2011; Free agent signed with Rays Jan. 2012
Spring Training line: 28 AB, 0 HR, RBI, 4 hits, .143/.333/.250

Aramis Ramirez: Cubs 2003-11; Free agent signed with Brewers Dec. 2011
Spring Training line: 32 AB, HR, 2 RBI, 8 hits, .250/.273/.406

Carlos Zambrano: Cubs 1997-11; Traded to Marlins Jan. 2012
Spring Training line: 13.2 IP, 17 K’s, 14 HA, 7 ER, 4.61 ERA

Cubs send reliever Carpenter to Red Sox

After months of back-and-forth, the Theo Epstein compensation issue has finally been settled with the Boston Red Sox. The Chicago Cubs today assigned right-handed pitcher Chris Carpenter and a player to be named to the Red Sox for a player to be named.

“I am relieved that this process is over and particularly pleased that the teams were able to reach agreement on their own without intervention from MLB,” Epstein said. “I truly hope and believe that this resolution will benefit both clubs, as well as Chris, who is an extremely talented reliever joining a great organization at a time when there’s some opportunity in the major league bullpen.”

Last season, Carpenter combined to make 42 relief appearances between Double-A Tennessee, Triple-A Iowa and the Cubs, his first major league action. The 26-year-old right-hander spent most of his time with Iowa, going 2-3 with one save and a 6.53 ERA (22 ER/30.1 IP) in 22 relief outings. Carpenter posted no record and a 2.79 ERA (3 ER/9.2 IP) in 10 relief outings in the majors.

The Red Sox and Cubs have been locked in a disagreement over the Epstein compensation package for months, ever since he left the Red Sox shortly after the end of the 2011 season to become the Cubs president of baseball operations. The Red Sox initially asked for some of the Cubs’ top major and minor league talent, including pitcher Matt Garza and outfielder Brett Jackson.

“More than anything, I’m excited that we can all move forward and focus exclusively on getting ready for the season,” Epstein said. “I wish Chris and the Red Sox nothing but the best in 2012 and beyond.”

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