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Both Kris Bryant and Wes Darvill got starts Wednesday night, while Albert Almora came in as a defensive replacement in the ninth inning for Mesa. Bryant and Darvill each recorded hits, but it wasn’t enough, as the Solar Sox fell to Scottsdale 2-1 in 10 innings. Here are some highlights from yesterday’s action.
Kris Bryant, DH – Batting third for Mesa, Bryant got off to a fast start, ripping a one-out double to left that advanced Taylor Lindsey (Angels) to third in the top of the first inning. Both runners were left stranded. That was Bryant’s only hit of the day. He finished 1-for-5.
Wes Darvill, RF – Darvill opened up the scoring in the top of the sixth, driving in Steven Souza Jr. (Nationals) from third. Almora was brought in as a defensive replacement for Darvill in the bottom of the ninth. Darvill finished 1-for-4.
Cubs prospect Dallas Beeler is scheduled to make his third start of the fall on Thursday. The right-hander will go up against Scottsdale’s Phil Irwin (Pirates). Beeler is 1-0 with a 6.00 ERA over six AFL innings. Jorge Soler is expected to bat sixth and play right field for the Sox. First pitch is scheduled for 2:35 CST.
(Photo by Aldrin Capulong/Daytona Cubs)
Though the minor league season finished more than a month ago, the Cubs organization keeps picking up accolades. Daytona Cub C.J. Edwards is the most recent farmhand to receive praise, as he was named Starting Pitcher of the Year by MiLB.com Wednesday.
Edwards started the 2013 campaign as a relative unknown, though that changed quickly. The 22-year-old former 48th-round pick was 8-2 with a 1.83 ERA and 122 strikeouts in 93.1 innings for Texas’ Class-A Hickory Crawdads of the Sally League.
On July 22, “String Bean,”—a nickname given for his 6-foot-2, 155-pound frame—was sent along with Justin Grimm, Mike Olt eventually Neil Ramirez to the Cubs in exchange for Matt Garza. And the right-hander did not disappoint when he got to High-A Daytona, a club in the midst of a title race.
“The transition [to the Cubs] is going great,” Edwards told Vine Line prior to the postseason. “I had one goal with my last team, and that was to have a playoff run. Once I got traded, I found the same mentality here. I’m here to help them.”
In six starts for the D-Cubs, Edwards recorded no decisions, but posted a 1.96 ERA over 23 innings, fanning 33 batters. His efforts were good enough to help lead Daytona to a Florida State League championship. On the season, he finished 8-2 with a 1.86 ERA, 12.0 K/9, a 1.01 WHIP and just one home run allowed over 116.1 innings.
Fellow farmhand and Cubs pitcher of the year Kyle Hendricks was also among the 12 finalists.
Cubs prospects drove in both runs in a 4-2 Solar Sox loss to Surprise Tuesday night. The defeat drops Mesa to 8-3-1 on the season. Here are some highlights from yesterday’s action.
Albert Almora, CF – In Almora’s third at-bat, he reached on a fielding error, but after a pair of singles, the outfielder was left stranded on third. Almora put Mesa ahead in the seventh with a single, scoring Adrian Nieto (Nationals) from second. He finished the day 1-for-5 to drop his average to .379.
Kris Bryant, 3B – With runners on first and second in the top of the first inning, Bryant hit a line drive to center, scoring Brian Goodwin (Nationals) and giving the Sox an early lead. He singled again in the sixth inning to finish 2-for-4. Bryant leads the AFL in batting average (.438), home runs (4), RBI (13) and slugging percentage (.906).
Mesa heads out to Scottsdale Wednesday, where Matt Purke (Nationals) will take the mound for the Solar Sox opposite Hansel Robles (Mets). First pitch is scheduled for 2:35 CST.
(AP Photo/Micah Tapman)
Welington Castillo was a force both offensively and defensively for the Cubs this season. Despite the club’s poor record, his emergence as a Gold Glove-caliber backstop provided some hope for the Northsiders. His stellar ability behind the plate is something he’s worked hard at over the years and he’s gotten some help along the way. The following appears in the October issue of Vine Line.
When Welington Castillo arrived in the big leagues, he knew he needed to work on his defense. Now, thanks to a few adjustments and a lot of hard work, he could legitimately be a Gold Glover.
The Cubs brass has always thought highly of catcher Welington Castillo. Early on, the 26-year-old prospect-turned-starter showed the organization he had the ability to hit and the raw tools to develop into a strong defensive backstop. But there was something holding him back from truly reaching his potential behind the plate.
Prior to the 2012 season, the Cubs hired staff assistant Mike Borzello, a former minor league player and longtime bullpen catcher for the Yankees and Dodgers, to work with the organization’s catchers. His two years were a big factor in Castillo’s career trajectory changing for the better (manager Dale Sveum and the entire coaching staff were relieved of their duties on Sept. 30. It’s currently unknown if Borzello will return with a new manager).
“He’s been a blessing for me,” Castillo said. “He’s been helping me a lot. We go out to work on little things that sometimes I don’t feel comfortable with. He’s been really good to me. He’s been around a lot of good players, he knows what he’s doing, and I’m blessed to be around him.”
During his time with the Dodgers, Borzello helped turn Russell Martin (now with the Pirates) into one of the best defensive catchers in the game. He also spent nearly a dozen years with the Yankees, where he helped improve Jorge Posada’s defense enough to keep him behind the plate and allow New York to utilize his plus offensive skills in a position often occupied by easy outs.
Borzello said he looked at video of Cubs catchers throughout the system when he was hired, but focused particularly on Castillo because of how highly he was viewed throughout the organization. The coach immediately noticed some inefficiency in Castillo’s defensive approach.
“He was having trouble receiving certain pitches, especially to his left,” said Borzello prior to the season’s conclusion. “It was something that kind of alarmed me, and I thought we needed to make some changes. I approached him on it and thought we could change his setup. He was open to it and immediately admitted to some of what he thought were the weaknesses in his game, and they were similar to what I thought I had seen already. With him being open to it, we changed his setup, and we changed the way he holds his glove.”
The modifications required Castillo to alter the placement of his feet, which allowed him to receive pitches to his left easier, frame pitches better (leading to umpires calling more strikes for his pitchers), and create a more efficient exchange of the ball from glove to hand when attempting to throw out would-be base stealers.
Both Borzello and Castillo admitted it was a pretty major overhaul of his catching mechanics, but it was necessary to help the player reach his potential. While the changes may not be obvious to the average fan, they were quite impactful for a guy attempting to make the transition from top prospect to everyday major league catcher.
“He was open to it, we made these changes, and he seemed very comfortable with it,” Borzello said. “It took a little while to where it was second nature, but we got there. It’s like changing your swing. You’re comfortable a certain way, but you’re not getting the results you want. You’re not possibly maximizing your abilities, and I thought we could get more out of him with this change. And it worked.”
It would be hard to argue that point. Now, according to most defensive metrics, Castillo has not only become a legitimate major league catcher, he might also be deserving of 2013 Gold Glove consideration. Using Baseball Info Solutions’ Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) metric, Castillo has had the best defensive season for a catcher in the major leagues. As of mid-September, his 17 DRS was two better than Pittsburgh’s Russell Martin and six better than his defensive idol, St. Louis’ Yadier Molina.
Borzello emphasized that all the credit for the improvement goes to Castillo, who not only was open to the adjustments, but also worked on implementing the changes every day over the past two Spring Trainings as well as during the regular season.
Undoubtedly, Castillo still has room to grow. Throughout the year, pitchers like former Cub Matt Garza and current staff leader Jeff Samardzija have gone out of their way to praise veteran catcher Dioner Navarro, who served as Castillo’s backup this year. But it’s not something Castillo takes as a negative. He knows as he gets more playing time, he’ll continue to build a rapport with each pitcher on his staff.
“I think you never stop learning from this game,” Castillo said. “Something that made me better is just playing time. It makes you know and improve what you can do. You learn from game calling, knowing the situation. It’s hard, but the more you get to know [the pitchers], the more confidence you develop in your relationship. Then the pitcher knows what you’re doing behind the plate. You build a relationship, and you really know who’s on the mound.”
Borzello echoed Castillo’s sentiments that playing time is the key to becoming a complete, all-around catcher. He watched Navarro go through some of the same growing pains as a young player.
“You can’t rush the process,” Borzello said. “When Navarro came up with the Yankees, I was there as well, and his evolution over time has happened by trial and error. You learn from your mistakes, and you learn by dealing with different pitchers, different pitching coaches and just watching the game. Playing the game, you become a little more seasoned. It’s something you don’t just show up and know how to do. You don’t know how to run a Major League Baseball game behind the plate until you’ve experienced a number of games.
“Every staff is different, and every pitcher has different things about them you need to know. You need to know which guys need a pat on the back and who needs to be pushed. You can yell at some, and you have to hug others. You’re not only a catcher; you’re a psychologist. You have to befriend these guys, and they need to know you’re in their corner.”
Learning the ins and outs of an entire staff—especially a staff that has experienced as much turnover as the Cubs’—takes time, but Castillo already appears to be figuring things out.
“Sometimes it’s tough when you’re catching this and that from so many different guys,” said Samardzija, who just completed his second year in the rotation. “I like to do this, and other guys like to do different things. It’s hard to keep all those things straight. I think Wely has done a great job of separating what each starter likes to do, and obviously the bullpen is a whole other beast in itself. You’ve got to be able to control both ends for nine innings. He’s been durable for us, he’s been consistent, and he obviously cuts the running game down. All those things give you confidence when he’s in the lineup.”
Borzello pointed out that really getting to know opponents well isn’t an easy thing to do in the minors. In the lower levels, catchers don’t have access to the video and statistical breakdowns that are readily available to every big league club.
“Here, we have a plan that we’re trying to execute against on each hitter, and it’s [Castillo’s] job to know what that plan is going in,” Borzello said. “He does his work, he studies, he watches video, he cares, he puts in a lot of time. That’s something he’s improved on over the last two seasons.”
Castillo admitted he didn’t know where he’d be right now without Borzello’s guidance. From the overhaul in his mechanics to just pointing out the subtleties of the game while they’re sitting together in the dugout, Borzello has proven to be a major catalyst in Castillo’s development.
“He’s my teacher,” Castillo said. “I listen to him a lot. I ask him a lot of questions. We sit together and watch the game, and he’ll ask me about different game situations.”
This student-teacher relationship has clearly paid dividends. Former manager Dale Sveum is keenly aware Castillo is taking the necessary steps to become the elite catcher Borzello believes he can someday become.
“The things that have improved with Wely are the game management, the preparation, the pitch calling, and knowing the weaknesses of the hitters as well as anybody,” Sveum said prior to his dismissal. “He’s done a great job of that. Obviously his throwing and blocking are as good as anybody in the league. There’s no question about that.”
It was only a year ago Sveum was spouting off a laundry list of items Castillo needed to improve in regards to his defense. The fact that Sveum rightfully believes Castillo is among baseball’s best with the glove just goes to show how much the young backstop has accomplished in such a short time.
On the offensive end, the Sveum said he’d like to see Castillo come to the plate with a more consistent idea of what he wants to do. While the catcher’s power has yet to develop—he was slugging only .365 through mid-September—he has shown a dramatic improvement in his ability to get on base.
Through his first 49 games of 2013, Castillo posted a disappointing .294 on-base percentage with a measly 3.2 percent walk rate. In the next 57 games, he had a robust .401 OBP, improving his season OBP to a very respectable .351 with a strong 8.2 percent walk rate.
Borzello said when he came to the Cubs, he was well aware Castillo could hit, but that wasn’t his concern. He wasn’t brought in to make Castillo a batting champ. For most young catchers, the primary focus is on defense. Castillo came to the big leagues raw on that side of the ball, but hard work has helped him rank among the game’s elite behind the plate—so much so that Borzello believes outside of Yadier Molina, the recognized gold standard among catchers, you would be hard-pressed to find a better defensive catcher than Castillo.
“You are a coach on the field,” Borzello said. “You’re the one who makes trips to the mound to handle a guy and settle him down. Tell him, ‘This is what we need to do right here. Execute this pitch, and we’ll be fine.’ Whatever it is, every situation is different, and Wely is learning that. I think he’s well on his way to getting to where we need him to be when this team turns it around and becomes a contender.”
One of the most popular topics among sportswriters and fans for the last few years has been discussing which current Cubs belong as part of the team’s core. It’s quickly becoming clear that Castillo is doing the necessary work to have his name mentioned in that group and to hold a major role with the successful Cubs teams of the future.
Mesa got back to its winning ways, taking down Surprise 9-6 Monday afternoon. Cubs prospect Kris Bryant fared well at the bat, though Armando Rivero didn’t have the same level of success. Here are the highlights from yesterday’s action.
Kris Bryant, 3B – Batting fourth in the order and leading off the second inning, Bryant drew a four-pitch walk to head the frame. A single put him on second and a groundout moved Bryant to third before Devon Travis (Tigers) drove him in on a single to the left side of the infield. Again in the fifth, the 21-year-old drew a four-pitch walk. He got to second when Tyler Collins (Tigers) reached on an error and got to third on a walk before being driven in by Travis on a sacrifice fly. With one out in the sixth, Bryant recorded his third double of the season, this one to left field, moving Taylor Lindsey (Angels) from first to third. He finished 1-for-2 with two walks.
Armando Rivero, RHP – Rivero came into the game in the seventh and surrendered back-to-back singled to start off the inning. He got Joe Wendle (Indians) to strike out before inducing another walk to load the bases. A Garin Cecchini (Red Sox) single scored two and another single subsequently loaded the bases. But Rivero forced Henry Urrutia (Orioles) into an unassisted double play to end the inning. His final line read: IP, 4 H, 2 ER, BB, K.
Tommy Collier (Tigers) takes the ball for the Solar Sox Tuesday, as they take on southpaw Eduardo Rodriguez (Orioles, No. 84 prospect in baseball, according to MLB.com) and Surprise. First pitch is scheduled for 1:35 CST.
As a team, Mesa struggled this weekend, falling 11-9 on Friday and 8-2 on Saturday. Despite not getting the best results, a few Cubs had some stellar games. Albert Almora and Kris Bryant are at or near the top of nearly every offensive category. Here are the highlights from this weekend’s action.
Friday, Oct. 18
Albert Almora, CF – In the bottom of the seventh inning, Mesa’s leadoff hitter ripped his fourth double of the fall, though Adrian Nieto (Nationals) was thrown out at home on the play. Almora went 1-for-6 Friday night.
Dallas Beeler, RHSP – Beeler had a rough second AFL start, going three innings and giving up three earned runs. His only strikeout was against Tyler Naquin (Indians), who led off the game. He faced four batters in the second inning, and got Garin Cecchini (Red Sox) to ground into a double play to end the frame. But Beeler just couldn’t stay out of trouble in the first and the third. His final line read: 3.0 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 1 K. He owns a 6.00 ERA through two starts.
Kris Bryant, 3B – With men on first and second and one out in bottom of the third, Bryant ripped a ground-rule double to left-center field, scoring Taylor Lindsey (Angels). Jorge Soler drove him in two batters later. With Lindsey on second in his next at-bat, Bryant ripped a homer to left field. But the 2013 first-round pick wasn’t done there. In the fifth inning, he hit a solo shot to right-center field for his fourth homer of the fall. Bryant was 3-for-5.
Armando Rivero, RHP – Rivero came on in the ninth and gave up one earned run on two hits and a walk. He was credited for the loss.
Jorge Soler, RF – Soler singled in the bottom of the third to left field, scoring Bryant and moving Matt Skole (Nationals) to second. He singled again in the fourth, finishing the night 2-for-5.
Saturday, Oct. 19
Lendy Castillo, RHP – Castillo surrendered one hit in a scoreless sixth inning.
Wes Darvill, 3B – Darvill went hitless in four at-bats.
Matt Loosen RHP – Loosen fanned James Ramsey (Cardinals) and Mike Freeman (Diamondbacks), pitching a 1-2-3 fifth inning for Mesa.
Jorge Soler, RF – Soler recorded one of Mesa’s three hits in Saturday’s loss. He led off the seventh with a single, advanced to third on a throwing error and scored on a Jett Bandy (Angels) double. He was 1-for-4 at the plate.
Mesa hosts Surprise Monday afternoon, with first pitch scheduled for 1:35 CST. Sammy Solis (Nationals) takes the mound for the Sox, opposite Miguel Pena (Red Sox). Bryant is expected to hit fourth and play third base for Mesa.
The Mesa Solar Sox ran their record to 7-0 in the Arizona Fall League Thursday behind four scoreless innings from Nationals prospect Matt Purke. The only Cub to see action was outfielder Albert Almora, who continues to impress after an injury-plagued 2013 season with Kane County. Here are some highlights from yesterday’s action.
Albert Almora, CF – Almora is hitting a cool .500 thus far in the prestigious fall league. The Cubs No. 2 prospect, according to MLB.com, led off the third inning with a single to left field but was caught stealing by catcher Austin Hedges (Padres) one batter later. Almora finished the day 1-for-4.
The Sox are on the road to face Surprise in a Friday afternoon tilt. Cubs prospect Dallas Beeler will take the mound for Mesa opposite Will Lamb (Rangers). Almora, Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler are all in the starting lineup.
The Cubs’ bats were relatively quiet, but the Solar Sox still racked up another victory Wednesday afternoon. Kris Bryant went hitless for the first time in the AFL (he did draw a walk), while reliever Lendy Castillo picked up the slack on the mound. Here are some highlights from yesterday’s action.
Lendy Castillo, RHP – Entering the game with a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the ninth, Castillo surrendered a leadoff double and then a bloop single to put runners on first and second with nobody out. That’s when the reliever went to work. He forced Aaron Altherr (Phillies) into a double-play and then struck out Jonathan Mayer (Astros) to end the game. Castillo recorded his first save of the fall. His final line read: IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 1 K.
Wes Darvill, 2B – Darvill hit ninth Wednesday and lead off the third inning with a single to right. He finished 1-for-4.
The Sox host Peoria Thursday night, with first pitch scheduled for 7:35 CST. Matt Purke (Nationals) will take the ball for Mesa, opposite Johnny Barbato (Padres). Albert Almora is expected to lead off and play center field.
Mesa is still unbeaten, after taking down Scottsdale 7-4 Tuesday. Albert Almora continued his successful fall season, while Jorge Soler and Armando Rivero got into the action as well. Here are some highlights from yesterday’s game.
Albert Almora, CF – After a few days of rest, Almora led off for the Solar Sox. The 2012 first-round pick drew a walk to start the bottom of the third and scored two batters later on a C.J. Cron (Angels) homer. The team batted around in the third. With men on second and third and two outs, Almora hit a ground-rule double to left-center field, scoring David Freitas (Athletics) and Dixon Machado (Tigers). Then in the bottom of the fifth with nobody on base, he recorded another double to right to finish the game 2-for-4 with a walk.
Armando Rivero, RHP – Rivero entered the game in the eighth inning and gave up a bloop double and a single to the first two batters he faced. Jarrett Parker (Giants) followed with a sacrifice fly. That was all the damage Scottsdale could do, however. RIvero’s final line read: 1 IP, 2 H, 1 ER.
Jorge Soler, DH – Soler singled in the bottom of the fourth and finished the day 1-for-5.
Mesa heads out to Peoria Wednesday, with the first pitch scheduled for 1:35 CST. Tommy Collier (Tigers) will take the mound for the Solar Sox while right-hander Matt Heidenreich (Astros) goes for the Javelinas. Kris Bryant will be batting fourth and playing third, and Wes Darvill will bat ninth and play second base for Mesa.
The Solar Sox continued their winning ways, edging out Scottsdale 7-6 Monday. A trio of Cubs prospects got into the game for Mesa, with some mixed results. Here are the highlights from yesterday’s action.
Kris Bryant, 3B – Bryant, who is hitting .444 on the fall, batted fourth for Mesa and reached on fielding errors in the first, third and fourth innings. He was stranded in the first, but Taylor Lindsey (Angels) hit a home run to score him in the third. In the fourth inning, he reached second on a stolen base, but that’s as far as he’d get. In the top of the sixth with a man on third, Bryant hit a sacrifice fly to right field, scoring Devon Travis (Tigers). He singled in the eighth to finish the night 1-for-4.
Matt Loosen, RHP – Loosen entered the game in the third with two outs and a man on second and struck out Cory Vaughn (Mets) to get out of the inning. He got himself into a bases-loaded jam with no outs in the bottom of the fourth, but a shallow fly out, a force out and a caught stealing kept the damage to one run. He gave up a leadoff triple in the fifth, but again allowed only one run. His final line read: 2.1 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 1 K.
Jorge Soler, RF – Soler hit sixth for the Solar Sox and recorded his third double of the fall with a sixth inning two-out drive to center. He finished the night 1-for-5.
Mesa hosts Scottsdale this afternoon, with first pitch scheduled for 1:35 CST. Sammy Solis (Nationals) will take the mound for the Solar Sox, opposite Aaron Northcraft (Braves).