Tagged: Chicago Cubs

Alcantara, Arrieta Shine as Cubs Youth Movement Continues to Impress

Jorge Soler bats against the Milwaukee Brewers September 3rd

Jorge Soler bats against the Milwaukee Brewers September 3rd

Unlike the past few Septembers, the atmosphere around Wrigley Field has been electric in recent weeks, and Tuesday night was no exception as the Chicago Cubs trounced the Milwaukee Brewers by a score of 7-1.

While plenty of the headlines will focus on the injury that Starlin Castro suffered in the first inning of the game, the contest was yet another showcase of the myriad of young players that the Cubs have working their way up through the system. Headlining that list was pitcher Jake Arrieta, who bounced back from a rough start against the Cincinnati Reds last week with a strong outing in this one. Outdueling Yovani Gallardo, Arrieta scattered five hits over six innings, allowing just one run and striking out four batters.

He varied up his speeds well, topping out at 95 MPH on his fastball and ratcheting down by 15-20 MPH on his offspeed stuff. His command was solid through most of the game, and even in tough situations like the one he faced in his final inning of work, he never strayed from his plan. With runners on second and third with two outs in the sixth inning, Arrieta struck out Gerardo Parra and got out of the jam with his team’s lead still intact.

Arismendy Alcantara warms up prior to September 3rd game vs. Brewers

Arismendy Alcantara warms up prior to September 3rd game vs. Brewers

Arrieta wasn’t the only youngster that shone in the game either. Arismendy Alcantara also had a nice night, slugging his eighth home run of the season to put a finishing touch on the rout. With Castro’s injury, we could end up seeing more of Alcantara at second base, but with the way he’s taken to playing center field in the big leagues, that might end up being a longer-term answer than some folks previously thought. 

Javier Baez was also impressive in the game, despite only reaching base once. He looked much more patient at the plate, and he made some really good contact with the ball, including a shot to center field in the second inning that would have been a long home run on most nights at the ballpark. He also transitioned seamlessly from second base to shortstop when Castro left the game, and he fielded the ball perfectly in those eight innings of work.

Jorge Soler also continued his torrid start with the Cubs, picking up an RBI single in the first inning and nearly hitting a home run in the fifth inning. Unfortunately for him, the wind held the ball in the yard as Khris Davis made a warning track snag, but his bat speed and sharp eye at the plate were both on full display. He also made a couple of spectacular grabs of his own in the outfield, including a diving catch that ended a potential Brewers rally in the seventh inning.

With so many young and exciting players in the lineup, Cubs fans are a much more optimistic bunch these days, and even though the paid attendance was below 30,000 on Tuesday, the crowd was still engrossed in the game. The Cubs aren’t going to make the playoffs this season, but if they continue to show the kind of improvement they have over these past few months, next season could be a lot more exciting on the North Side.

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Should Rizzo, Castro Be Shut Down by Cubs?

Javier Baez bats against the Milwaukee Brewers September 3rd.

Javier Baez bats against the Milwaukee Brewers September 3rd.

The Chicago Cubs knocked off the Milwaukee Brewers by a score of 7-1 on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, and even though the performance was arguably one of the team’s best of the season, there was still bad news that put a damper on the festivities.

That’s because Starlin Castro, who has had a resurgent season after chafing last season under Dale Sveum, was injured in the first inning of the game on an awkward slide into home plate. The shortstop was able to limp to the dugout under his own power, but he was understandably removed from the game. X-rays were negative after the game, but he will undergo an MRI on Wednesday to see if there’s any structural damage to the leg.

Add to that the frustrating back injury that continues to hamper first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who is sidelined for at least the next 10 days after an MRI revealed a muscle strain, and the Cubs are looking as though they could be without their two best players for a good chunk of the remainder of the season. The team has declined to rule either player out for the remainder of the campaign, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the team is going to play each injury cautiously.

The real question for the Cubs is this: even if Rizzo and/or Castro can come back and play this season, would the team be smart to just sit them both for the duration? After all, Rizzo already has 568 plate appearances this season, and he’s set career highs in home runs, on-base percentage, and OPS. He clearly is more dialed in at the plate than he ever has been in his career, and as such he doesn’t really have much left to prove for the team down the stretch.

Chris Valaika on the other hand could earn himself a reserve spot on the team next season if he can have a strong finish to the season. He only has 71 plate appearances with the Cubs so far this season, with two home runs, seven RBI, and a .185 batting average. Those numbers aren’t all that great, but he has shown signs that he could be better than his numbers would indicate, and more plate appearances would be a nice audition for him.

Castro is also a player without much left to prove, as he has shown increased power and plate coverage in his fifth MLB season. He has a very respectable .290 average, 153 hits, and a career high .774 OPS. His defense still needs some work, but with so little time left in the season, it’s unlikely that he would get much more time at the position anyway, so cutting him off now would be a savvy move.

In addition to those factors, getting Javier Baez some more reps at shortstop could only be a good thing for the rookie. He looked perfectly comfortable at the spot on Tuesday after being forced to switch from second to short following the Castro injury, and he could really thrive if given some more reps at the spot.

Whatever the Cubs decide to do, they have the benefit of not only being out of the playoff hunt, but of having players capable of filling in if Castro and Rizzo have to sit out. That is a luxury that most teams would love to have at this point in the year, and the Cubs should take full advantage of the chance.

Cubs’ Six Man Rotation Enables Youngsters to Shine

Jake Arrieta warms up prior to the Cubs' September 3rd game against Milwaukee

Jake Arrieta warms up prior to the Cubs’ September 3rd game against Milwaukee

The Chicago Cubs’ pitching rotation was supposed to become a weak point of the squad after they dealt away Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel in a blockbuster July trade, but despite the loss of two of their top pitchers, the team’s staff has remained a strength rather than a liability.

Now, with just a few weeks left in the season and numerous games remaining against teams in the playoff hunt, the Cubs will apparently be going with a six-man rotation for at least the next few weeks. According to Chicago Cubs Online, the team will have Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, Tsuyoshi Wada, Felix Doubront, Travis Wood, and Jacob Turner as their starters for at least two starts apiece, and Dan Straily and Eric Jokisch, who were both called up by the team as the roster expanded to 40 players, could each get a start sometime before the end of the campaign as well.

The decision to start six pitchers instead of five has several benefits, not the least of which is to give guys like Turner and Doubront a chance to showcase their stuff. Arrieta and Hendricks are both going to be part of the rotation next season, and in all likelihood Wood will be as well. Unless the Cubs make an insane splash and add several guys to the rotation from outside the organization (something that Theo Epstein hasn’t explicitly ruled out doing, but still seems unlikely anyway), a guy like Doubront or Turner could feasibly become the fourth or fifth starter to begin next season.

Aside from those two, the guy that will be most intriguing to watch is Wada. In nine starts with the Cubs so far, Wada has a 4-2 record, a 2.79 ERA, and has a WHIP of 1.084. His SO9 is a respectable 7.7, and his strikeout to walk ratio of 3.14 is just as impressive. The 33-year old could be the type of guy the Cubs could feasibly trade for younger pitching help, and giving him a chance to showcase his stuff at least a few more times is a savvy move by Epstein and company.

Hendricks will be the next Cubs pitcher to take the bump when he tries to help the Cubs sweep the Milwaukee Brewers on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field.

Could Valbuena Be Trade Bait for Cubs with Bryant Coming?

Over the past several seasons, the Chicago Cubs haven’t really been in a position where they’ve had to jettison players to make room for others, as their young talent was still spread out throughout the minor league system.

Beginning next year however, some of those decisions are going to start popping up. Kris Bryant is all but a shoe-in to start the year as the Cubs’ third baseman, Arismendy Alcantara will either be playing second base or center field for the north siders, and players like Albert Almora and Billy McKinney will soon be vying for outfield spots for the team.

All of those youngsters coming up through the system are obviously great for the club, but the news isn’t as good for players like Luis Valbuena. He has 16 home runs and 46 RBI in 540 plate appearances this season, and he’s already got career highs in both of those categories. He does strike out a lot, with 97 punchouts this season, but he does walk quite a bit, and his .325 OBP isn’t exactly terrible when you consider the amount of power that he provides at the dish.

Valbuena once again showed off his value on Monday afternoon as the Cubs tried to knock the Milwaukee Brewers out of first place. After watching Starlin Castro strike out looking to lead off the eighth inning against Brewers reliever Jeremy Jeffress, Valbuena deposited a 1-1 pitch into the center field bleachers to give the Cubs a critical insurance run. That breathing room allowed Hector Rondon to come in and nail down the save against the heart of the Milwaukee order, and the Cubs were able to knock off their rivals to the north 4-2.

Valbuena’s bat is a really good asset for the Cubs, and his glove is as well. With plays like the one he made Sunday afternoon against the St. Louis Cardinals (he took a step back on a sharply hit grounder, picked it cleanly, and started a 5-4-3 double play), Valbuena is capable of turning a game with the leather too.

Unfortunately for him, none of that is going to matter when the 2015 season comes around. The fact of the matter is that Valbuena might be too talented of a player to simply use in a utility role, and the Cubs might be better off trading him away. There are plenty of teams who could use a slick fielding third baseman with the potential to hit 20 home runs a season (the fact he’s under team control until 2017 is another selling point), and the Cubs could enrich their pitching rotation or bullpen if Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer play their cards right.

Losing Valbuena would stink, especially considering how much he’s done for the Cubs while they’ve been mired in mediocrity while waiting for their youngsters to make it to the big leagues, but it would be equally unfair to him to make him a bench player as other players come into the fold. Trading him would be the most fair way to go about things, and both parties would benefit in the long run from that kind of move.

 

 

Epstein Grabs Headlines, but Hahn is Just as Savvy for Sox

While the Chicago Cubs are getting a ton of attention for the way they’ve been rebuilding their roster over the past three seasons, the Chicago White Sox have been forced to use different tactics as they try to become competitive again in the AL Central.

The Cubs had to completely tear down and rebuild their MLB roster and farm system over the course of the past three years, and while their attendance and revenues have suffered as a result (not to mention the gallons of ink spilled by local scribes who simply refuse to believe that the process was necessary), they still are able to do this because they are a big-market team in a big-market town.

The White Sox, on the other hand, are forced to go about things differently. Instead of being able to just deal away high priced assets for younger talent, the Sox have to put up a façade every year that they are going to compete for a division title. Even with that statement being made every year by Kenny Williams and Rick Hahn, the Sox are still about to go through their fifth straight season of not making the playoffs.

Despite that obstacle of having to straddle the line between competing and rebuilding, the White Sox are still capable of making some shrewd moves. They signed Jose Abreu to a free agent contract in the offseason, and even though it was a gamble to give a Cuban player that kind of money, he has rewarded the team for their faith, slugging the ball and wowing fans with his explosive skillset.

The Sox also acquired Adam Eaton in a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and even though the loss of Addison Reed had a cataclysmic effect on their bullpen (a large part of the reason they aren’t competitive this season), having a speed guy at the top of the lineup who can play solid defense is a good building block for a team looking to turn things around.

Those moves were really good, but a couple of moves that the Sox made over the past few days are further indication that Hahn is gearing up to make another big splash in the 2014 offseason. That’s because the team unloaded Alejandro De Aza to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for Mark Blackmar and Miguel Chalas on Saturday, and then followed that up on Sunday by trading Adam Dunn to the Oakland Athletics for Nolan Sanburn.

The pitchers the White Sox got back in these trades are decent prospects, and while none of them are likely to have the kind of impact on the team’s future that experts predict Avisail Garcia (acquired in the Jake Peavy trade last season) will, the fact that the team was able to clear nearly $10 million off of their books for next season, while clearing roster space for youngsters to come up for MLB auditions this season, is a coup by Hahn.

For all of the attention that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have gotten for their rebuild of the Cubs, the amount of fortitude and intelligence it takes to work within the constraints that Hahn finds himself limited by has to be commended. No the Sox aren’t going to make the playoffs this year, and no they don’t exactly have a farm system flush with talent, but when push comes to shove, Hahn is playing his cards right no matter what hand he is dealt.

 

Soler Call-Up Yet Another Reason for Hope for Cubs Fans

For fans of the Chicago Cubs, there is this weird feeling that is currently settling into the collective psyche. An emotion that many haven’t felt since the 2008 season, when the team won 97 games and looked poised to make mincemeat out of their World Series drought (spoiler alert: it didn’t happen).

That emotion: optimism.

Sure, the old refrain from Cubs fans is “there’s always next year,” but after many years of that being a hollow premise, it seems as though there might finally be some validity to the maxim. After all, the Cubs have called up several of their biggest prospects this season, including Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara (whose two-run homer on Tuesday helped lift the Cubs to victory), gotten a 30 home run season out of Anthony Rizzo, and have several prospects still in the minors, including Kris Bryant and Addison Russell, that are going to make a massive impact on the team in coming seasons.

The team’s decision to call up Jorge Soler to be their starting right fielder for the stretch run is yet one more example of that forward progress. Soler is a really good hitter with plenty of power, and after years of experimenting with a multitude of players, team management has to be hoping that Soler will finally lock down a position of weakness on the roster.

With eight home runs and 29 RBI in just 32 games for the Iowa Cubs this season, Soler has shown that he is ready to make the next leap forward in his development. Much like they have with their other top prospects, the Cubs have taken it slowly with the Cuban outfielder, and the 22-year old has certainly paid his dues as he made his way up the ladder. His bat is definitely a tantalizing addition to the lineup, and the thought of him hitting behind Rizzo and Starlin Castro in the Cubs’ lineup could make for a very interesting September.

Sure, Soler’s debut in the majors is likely to be fraught with growing pains, but Cubs fans that have already waited so patiently for these guys to make their way up to the majors aren’t going to panic over a September slump. There is still palpable excitement in the air when Baez strides to the plate, and he’s had four four-strikeouts games already in just 21 big league contests. If those kinds of struggles can’t dampen the enthusiasm of a fan base, then frankly nothing will.

No, Soler isn’t going to single-handedly bring the Cubs back into the wild card hunt. No, he probably isn’t going to sock 10 home runs in a month and make everyone in Chicago forget about Jose Abreu. No, he isn’t Kris Bryant. None of those things matter. All that matters is that the Cubs are clearly gearing up to make a serious leap forward in the 2015 season, and getting Soler his first MLB at-bats is yet another reminder that brighter days are ahead on the north side.

Edwards, Russell Highlight Cubs Arizona Fall League Participants

The Chicago Cubs have been cultivating their farm system for several seasons now under the regime of Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and Jason McLeod, and this fall the fruits of their labor will once again be on display when the Mesa Solar Sox take the field in Arizona Fall League action.

As part of the Solar Sox roster, the Cubs will send seven of their best prospects to compete in the league, and the list is an impressive one. The name that jumps out right away is shortstop Addison Russell, who was acquired by the Cubs in the Jeff Samardzija trade in July. Russell has been raking since being acquired by the team, slugging 12 home runs and driving in 35 RBI for West Tennessee. He also is sporting a very nice split of .297/.339/.560 in the 44 games he’s been there, and his defense has dazzled scouts and fans alike.

Russell will be joined on the Solar Sox roster by pitcher C.J. Edwards, who is arguably one of the top arms in the team’s farm system. In nine starts with West Tennessee, Edwards has a 2.25 ERA, a 1.00 WHIP, and is striking out 9.2 batters per nine innings. He has also surrendered just one home run in those 44 innings (he allowed one home run in 116 innings pitched in 2013), and even though his strikeout-to-walk ratio is a tad higher this season, he still is wowing fans at just 22 years of age.

First baseman Dan Vogelbach (15 home runs, 72 RBI in high-A ball this year), pitcher Gerardo Concepcion (3-2 with a 3.39 ERA in 58.1 minor league innings), pitcher Zach Cates (3-2 with a 4.15 ERA in high-A and Class-AA), outfielder Jacob Hannemann (8 HR, 49 RBI, 37 SB), and pitcher Ivan Pineyro (0-5, 5.46 ERA in 56 IP) round out the Cubs’ representatives on the Solar Sox.

The Solar Sox will kick off their season on Tuesday, October 7 at 2:35pm Central time against Glendale, and their first home game will be played the next day against Glendale at Cubs Park.

Would Arrieta Shutdown Be Smart for Cubs?

The Chicago Cubs have long been taunted for their lack of quality pitchers in the system, but with the emergence of Jake Arrieta as a potential star for the future, things are finally starting to look up for the North Siders.

Then Sunday happened.

Before the game against the New York Mets, Rick Renteria had this to say to the media about Arrieta’s future for the rest of the season:

“We have to see how he’s feeling and he’s obviously been pretty good, so it’s still one of those things where we still monitor his pitch counts and innings, and it’s been something he’s been grinding it out pretty good. He’s given us quite a few good outings where he’s gone deep into ballgames. But we’ll continue to assess and evaluate and make that determination as we continue to move forward.”

While there isn’t much in the way of concrete statement in those sentences, some media members took it as a sign that the team may consider shutting Arrieta down before the end of the season. The bit about going deep into ballgames and monitoring pitch counts certainly could be considered red flags, but Renteria shut down speculation of a shutdown on Monday:

“We have no plans to shut him down. That’s something we’re not considering.”

The Cubs certainly would not be the first team to shut down a young pitcher to try to save his arm. The Washington Nationals did with Stephen Strasburg in 2012, and they were in the midst of a playoff race. They ended up losing in the first round of the playoffs to the St. Louis Cardinals, but the debate over whether or not they did the right thing still rages to this day.

In the case of the Cubs and Arrieta though, the question still should be asked: would the team be smart to save some wear and tear on his arm and shut him down before the end of the season? After all, he did deal with a shoulder injury earlier in the season, and with the Cubs well out of playoff contention (talk about an obvious statement), there’s really nothing to play for other than draft positioning at this point.

Even with those things being the case though, the fact is that the Cubs should simply let Arrieta continue to do what he’s doing. Yes, there is a possibility that putting extra wear and tear on his arm could be detrimental, or even result in an injury, but that possibility is there with every start that a pitcher makes in this league. Arms get stressed throughout the season, and knocking two or three starts off of his total at the end of the year won’t make a significant enough difference for the Cubs to really derive any benefit from doing so.

Alcantara’s Brief Call-Up a Signal of Things to Come for Cubs

The Chicago Cubs are being really cautious with their most prized prospects, but one guy that’s been lighting up the minors this season will get a brief two-game stint with the big league club over the next few days.

That’s because infielder Arismendy Alcantara will be called up to the Cubs to take Darwin Barney’s spot on the active roster. Barney will be leaving the team to be with his wife for the birth of their third child, and Alcantara will start the Cubs’ remaining two games against the Cincinnati Reds.

Alcantara has played 88 games so far this season for the Triple A Iowa Cubs, and he’s been, in a word, excellent. His batting average of .308 and his OPS of .892 are both impressive, and his 45 extra-base hits are a great sign as well. Add to that his 21 stolen bases and his ability to play both middle infield spots and center field, and you have a player that has Cubs fans legitimately excited.

Of course, Alcantara will only be up for two games (although there’s no rule that says he can’t be called up if the Cubs do end up trading Barney before the trade deadline), but there’s still reason for Cubs fans to be optimistic. The team on the field at the big league level is struggling again after the Jeff Samardzija trade last week (although to suggest that one has to do with the other is silly), but the Iowa Cubs have been a treat to watch. Guys like Javier Baez and Kris Bryant continue to rake against the pitching at that level, and even though he isn’t as highly touted as either of those players (or Addison Russell, for that matter), Alcantara is a guy that could very well be in the Cubs’ plans well into the future.

Getting to finally get a brief glimpse of him against big league pitching is definitely something to look forward to, and the hope has to be that he gives Cubs fans something to cheer for in his brief stay with the team. He is an intriguing player, and he’s the first of the team’s many big-time prospects to get a whiff of the big leagues.

Ricketts Family Looking to Sell Minority Stakes in Cubs

The Chicago Cubs know a thing or two about situations that never seem to end (just look at their 106 year World Series title drought), and the situation surrounding the financing of renovations at Wrigley Field is starting to feel similarly intractable.

First the team wanted to get public financing to help the project along, but the state of Illinois and the city of Chicago balked at the proposal. Then the team said that they would finance the deal themselves, provided that the city ease restrictions on advertising and the number of night games that the team is able to host. The rooftop owners threw a fit about that and threatened legal action.

Now, the Ricketts family is unloading the latest salvo in their attempts to get the Wrigley renovations (and the increased revenue that would go along with them) moving again. According to a slew of reports on Thursday, it was revealed that the family is interested in selling minority shares in the team to help raise capital for the projects.

According to Comcast Sportsnet, the move would not be unprecedented, as just about every big league team (including the Chicago White Sox and San Francisco Giants) have a large group of investors that own stakes in the teams. The Ricketts aren’t interested in giving up majority ownership status in the franchise, and even though they are still in a bit of a bind because of the complicated deal that enabled them to finalize the sale with Sam Zell and the Tribune Company back in 2009, they are still confident in their forecasts for how the team is doing financially.

According to Forbes Magazine, the Cubs are currently the fifth most valuable franchise in baseball, with a value of $1.2 billion. Despite that valuation, the Cubs are forced to act like a mid-market team with limited resources because of the restrictions their deal with Zell has put them under. They aren’t allowed to spend money for the on-field product that they don’t already have in the coffers, and with a new TV deal and the Wrigley renovations still things that aren’t producing money yet, the team is having a tough time freeing up fresh cash to speed along a rebuilding process that has some fans agitated and wanting to see more progress.

At any rate, this saga is still far from over, and while we are still a ways away from finding out who these new minority owners will be, the hope around the team is that this will finally grease the wheels enough to get things moving on the project.