Finally, Spring Training is about to begin. The Cubs open their brand new facility in Mesa, and the 2014 Spring schedule tomorrow afternoon against the Diamondbacks. Jeff Samardzija gets the start amid trade rumors that are still swirling given the perceived stalled contract negotiations between him and the Cubs. The Cubs will be opposed by Bronson Arroyo and a power laden D-Backs lineup that was bolstered in the off-season with the acquisition of Mark Trumbo who will play LF for Arizona tomorrow.
Here are the lineups, and the extra pitchers that both teams will be carrying. For the image impaired that are reading, the Cubs plan to use Wesley Wright, Alberto Cabrera, Justin Grimm, Pedro Strop, Blake Parker, Hector Rondon, and Jose Veras in addition to Shark. The game begins at 2:00 PM CST, and will be televised (!) on WGN.
Jim Callis, formerly of Baseball America, and currently of MLB.com appeared on the David Kaplan Show on Tuesday night (Listen to the whole interview here) and couldn’t say more good things about the Cubs system, specifically their bats. During the interview, Callis said that he can’t remember a minor league system having four high level position players all at once. Callis has been around a long time, and is an expert when it comes to minor league baseball, and Major League baseball prospects, so hearing that should get a lot of people excited.
Many Cubs fans have this notion that Javier Baez is the best all around player in the history of ever, while I like that enthusiasm, he is just as bad defensively as Castro. Fans thinking Baez will supplant Castro at short could be mistaken and Callis touched on that as well. He thinks Baez can be an okay short-stop but a great third baseman. The same thought was shared in regards to Bryant he can be an okay third baseman, or a great right fielder. Bottom line, guys are going switch positions and most likely play wherever allows their bat to get in the lineup.
When asked which Cubs prospect would be the one that Callis trades for pitching he responded with Jorge Soler. Some scouts feel that Soler has not given 100% effort during his time in the minor leagues. I think I can agree, but I can also see why they could be saying tha. Soler is being paid like a major league ballplayer, and wouldn’t be surprised if he’s becoming disinterested with the Minor League lifestyle, competition, etc. I don’t think that Soler is lazy but I understand what Callis is saying, the effort supposedly isn’t there and could translate to different levels so the Cubs could trade him for arms.
Finally, Kaplan asked Callis about when the Cubs will contend, and when will we stop hearing about the Cubs prospects and hear more about winning at the Major League level? Callis agreed that this upcoming season could be pretty ugly, but you never know when you have a young team. The middle to end of 2014 is when we will start seeing some of these prized prospects hit the North Side and by 2016 he feels the Cubs can become legit contenders. He doesn’t rule out 2015 necessarily and he thinks the 2015 team is when the Cubs start becoming an “interesting” ball club, that’s usually a good thing. Spring training can’t get here soon enough.
Last night MLB Network aired a special to unveil the MLB.com top 100 prospects for 2014, and the Cubs were all over that list. It was fun listening to the likes of Jim Callis, and Jonathan Mayo gush about how many good, young players the Cubs have waiting in the wings. A total of seven players graced the list, here is a breakdown of each player, and some analysis.
** Players are graded on a 20-80 scale for future tools — 20-30 is well below average, 40 is below average, 50 is average, 60 is above average and 70-80 is well above average (MLB.com/Prospects rating scale)
#100 – Right handed pitcher, Pierce Johnson (22 years old)
Scouting Grades: Fastball: 60 | Changeup: 50 | Control: 55 | Overall: 55
Johnson was drafted in the supplemental round of the 2012 MLB Draft, 43rd overall by the Cubs. 2013 was Johnson’s first full professional season, and it was impressive. Johnson pitched over two levels and actually found more success with Daytona which was the higher level. Overall for 2013 Johnson went 11-6 with a 2.74 ERA while starting 21 games and appearing in 23. In 118.1 innings Johnson only allowed 109 hits, 5 home runs (5!), while walking 43 and striking out 124. I mentioned more success at Daytona, with the D-Cubs, Johnson worked 48.2 innings allowing only one home run with a sparkling 2.22 ERA.
#89 – 2B/SS, Arismendy Alcantara (22 years old)
Scouting Grades: Hit: 55 | Power: 45 | Run: 60 | Arm: 60 | Field: 50 | Overall: 55
Alcantara seemingly came out of nowhere in 2013 but in reality the talent has always been there it was just a matter of everything coming together at once. With a brilliant 2013 season Alcantara cemented his status as the Cubs second baseman of the future, and will probably be seen on the North Side this upcoming season. Alcantara played all of 2013 with the Smokies at the double A level and really showcased his all around game. In just under 500 at bats Alcantara hit .271 with a .352 on base percentage and a .451 slugging percentage which was good for an .804 OPS. Couple those on base numbers with the 31 stolen bases he had and he becomes a legitimate threat at the top of the order. Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus says that Alcantara reminds him of Jose Reyes-lite, well, that works.
#49 – OF, Jorge Soler (21 years old)
Scouting Grades: Hit: 55 | Power: 65 | Run: 50 | Arm: 65 | Field: 55 | Overall: 60
Now we start getting into the meat and potatoes of the Cubs prospects, first up Jorge Soler. I’ve seen Soler play in person a number of times, and he is an impressive specimen. He looks more like a football player than a baseball player, but he makes it work. Injuries derailed his 2013 season as he was only able to get 210 at bats with the Daytona Cubs. Soler produced for the Minor League team of the year as he cracked 8 home runs, and had 35 RBI’s. Those numbers are down a bit, again he is still adjusting to the professional game, and is only 21. Jason Parks chimed in on Soler as well saying that his is slow to adjust, is the most likely of Cubs prospects to “miss” which I think makes sense given his raw ability, still a high ceiling though.
#42 – RHP, C.J. Edwards (22 years old)
Scouting Grades: Fastball: 65 | Curveball: 60 | Changeup: 50 | Control: 55 | Overall: 60
Oh, hello CJ Edwards. That’s right, after an amazing 2013 season, Edwards has vaulted past Jorge Soler on this list. Baseball Prospectus also had Edwards ranked as the #3 player in the Cubs organization, ahead of Soler, and Albert Almora. Edwards wasn’t even with the Cubs at this time last year, he was one of four, yes four players acquired from Texas in the Matt Garza deal. The 2013 season saw Edwards give up one home run, one, just one…. take that Pierce Johnson. For 2013 Edwards tossed 116.1 innings combined at the high A level for Texas and Chicago, he only gave up 76 hits. He finished with a 8-2 record and a 1.86 ERA while walking 41 and striking out 155, goodnight! Jason Parks doesn’t see Edwards with a huge ceiling but Jim Callis said that Edwards could be the top of the rotation guy the Cubs need.
#18 – OF, Albert Almora (19 years old)
Scouting Grades: Hit: 65 | Power: 55 | Run: 50 | Arm: 65 | Field: 75 | Overall: 60
When it’s all said and done Albert Almora might the favorite player of a lot of fans. While Almora doesn’t have any tools that jump off the page at you (except for his glove I guess) he plays well above them, that’s exactly what Jim Callis said last night. Almora is a baseball player, run through the wall, do whatever it takes to win, baseball player. Because of his 100% all the time playing style he suffered a number of injuries in 2013 which kind of disjointed his season. Almora spent all of 2013 at Kane County but only got 249 at bats due to said injuries, but he made the most of them. He hit .329 with 17 doubles, four triples, three homers, and 23 RBI’s. His slash numbers were even more impressive, he had a .379 on base percentage, and a .466 slugging percentage which was good for an .842 OPS. I think Almora will become more patient at the plate as he gets older but right now he’s fine, he walked 17 times last year and only struck out 30 times, expect to see Almora on the North Side in 2016.
#9 – 3B, Kris Bryant (22 years old)
Scouting Grades: Hit: 55 | Power: 70 | Run: 40 | Arm: 60 | Field: 50 | Overall: 65
Kris Bryant seems to be on the fast track, one reason is that he is far more advanced than the other Cubs prospects on this list, the other is he mashes the baseball. Bryant made it to three different levels in just 36 games, that’s ridiculous, he also hit at every level. Then he went on to the Arizona Fall League and destroyed the ball in earning accolades such as the MVP award. Bryant had 128 at bats in 2013 not counting the Arizona Fall League and his a combined .336 with 9 home runs, and 32 RBI’s, extrapolate that, good Lord. Walking is something that Bryant hasn’t done a lot of right now, but it’s hard to argue with the .390 on base percentage, .719 slugging percentage and 1.106 OPS. The numbers are eye-popping, and the Cubs aren’t shy about moving Bryant wherever he deserves to go, and many believe that could be as early as 2015. Given Bryant’s defensive ability and bat it’s not out of the question that he moves to right field to keep 3B open for Baez, either way the Cubs will find a spot for that bat.
#7 – SS, Javier Baez (21 years old)
Scouting Grades: Hit: 60 | Power: 70 | Run: 50 | Arm: 65 | Field: 50 | Overall: 65
If you’re not excited about Javier Baez, first off, where have you been, secondly, it’s about time you are. Baez destroy minor league baseball last year at both high A and double A. There wasn’t a more feared hitter in baseball, in 517 at bats Baez crushed 37 home runs, and had 111 RBI’s with a total of 75 extra-base hits. He has been burdened with high expectations and all he has done is create new ones which are even higher. Surveying the top prospect lists for 2014 the number seven ranking is going to be the “worst” for Baez. Jason Parks slots him at number four but said there really isn’t a good reason why he shouldn’t be number one, that’s in all of baseball. Many people are expecting Baez to make his Cubs debut this upcoming season, the plan right now is for him to start in triple A as Iowa’s shortstop. Moving forward, given Baez’s defensive issues he might move to 3B but again, that really has a lot to do with how other players develop as well.
Prospects are just that, a young player that has expectation or is projected to have some sort of impact at the Major League level. There really is no such thing as a sure thing in this game, and that goes for Cubs prospects as well. As good as these players are there is no guarantee that any or all of them will make it to the Cubs, and be an impact player like they are projected. That said, Cubs fans have had little to get excited about recently and this is definitely a list that you can not only get excited about but truly believe that there is some hope in the near future.
The Cubs minor league system had a tremendous year in 2013, it was so good that Jason Parks (@ProfessorParks) of Baseball Prospectus has vaulted them to the second best system in all of baseball. Parks continued the Cubs prospect love fest on Twitter saying that Javier Baez could easily land the #1 overall prospect spot, those are big words.
Tonight there should be even more light shined on the Cubs system as MLB Network is airing their top 100 prospects announcement at 9:00 PM CST. Not only that, but some of the prospects that are on the list will be live tweeting during the broadcast, including Cubs prospects Albert Almora (@Albertalmora), and Kris Bryant (@KrisBryant_23). As these list’s come out I will be back with a full rundown of who said what, and where the Cubs prospects rank in baseball. Make sure you tune in tonight and follow Albert and Kris on Twitter tonight, and don’t be surprised if you don’t hear Javier Baez’s name until the top 5.
Here’s a link to the mlb.com story about tonight’s broadcast.
The one common news story this off-season involving the Cubs, besides Clark, and their inactivity, has been their interest in Masahiro Tanaka. We heard all along that once/if Tanaka was posted the Cubs would be going hard after him, and as the Friday signing deadline looms we are seeing just how bad they want him.
Bruce Levine tweeted out earlier that it sounds like the Cubs have submitted the highest bid for Tanaka, both in terms of years and dollars. Rumors were swirling yesterday that the Diamondacks had offered 6 years and $120 million, that doesn’t include the $20 million posting fee. So, expect the Cubs to come in well North of that, and there is good reason why, they aren’t good. Jon Morosi has hinted at Tanaka wanting to come to Major League Baseball and pitch for a winner, the Cubs aren’t that right now so they have to overpay, and sell Tanaka on the idea of winning down the road. Now if the Cubs can sway Tanaka to the North Side then I think that winning as a ball club gets much closer, he accelerates things for sure. Also, the Cubs are in a position where they can spend the money and not have it considered to be a bad deal, it doesn’t really hurt them either way, there is barely any money invested in this team right now.
In regards to the Friday (1/24/14) deadline; David Kaplan suggests that any deal with Tanaka will be done no later than Wednesday (1/22/14) in order for additional physicals/etc to be performed. So there is a real chance that we see a conclusion, good or bad, tomorrow or Wednesday, stay tuned, I’m optimistic.
Yes, it is already that time of year, the Cubs released their Spring Training schedule this afternoon and the first game of 2014 will be on February 27th. Tickets for all spring training games go on sale January 11th at 11 AM, never too early to start preparing yourself for the baseball season!! Full schedule below.
February 27 – ARIZ
Febrary 28 – LAA
March 1 – SF (ss), ARIZ (ss)
March 2 – KC
March 3 – MIL
March 4 – OAK
March 5 – COL
March 6 – CLE
March 7 – CLE (ss), LAA (ss)
March 8 – CIN
March 9 – MIL
March 10 – SF
March 11 – COL
March 12 – SEA
March 13 – OFF
March 14 – LAD
March 15 – KC (ss), NYM (ss) (Las Vegas)
March 16 – CLE (ss), NYM (ss) (Las Vegas)
March 17 – LAA (ss), OAK (ss)
March 18 – TEX
March 19 – COL
March 20 – SEA
March 21 – CHW
March 22 – CIN
March 23 – OAK
March 24 – SD
March 25 – LAA (ss), SD (ss)
March 26 – ARIZ
March 27 – CHW
March 28 – ARIZ (Chase Field)
March 29 – ARIZ (Chase Field)
The Cubs officially fired Dale Sveum today as I speculated they would yesterday. Again, this isn’t so much about Sveum and the job he did but the Cubs thinking that the guy they want is becoming available. In a statement the Cubs said they would like to have a new manager in place by the November GM meetings, and have not had discussions with anyone as of yet. More as it comes.
Here is Theo’s full statement:
“Today, we made the very difficult decision to relieve Dale Sveum of his duties as Cubs manager. Dale has been a committed leader for this team the last two seasons, and I want to thank him for all of his dedication and hard work. I have a lot of admiration for Dale personally, and we all learned a lot from the way he has handled the trying circumstances of the last two years, especially the last two weeks, with strength and dignity. In his own authentic and understated way, Dale always put the team first and never complained about the hand he was dealt. He and his staff helped us excel in game planning and defensive positioning, contributed to the emergence of several players, and helped put us in position to make some important trades. I have no doubt that – much like Terry Francona, whom we hired in Boston after his stint with a losing Phillies club – Dale will go on to great success with his next team. We had hoped Dale would grow with our organization to see it through the building phase to a period of sustained excellence; instead, I believe Dale, who felt the weight of losing perhaps more than any of us, will grow because of this experience and find excellence elsewhere. Today’s decision to pursue a new manager was not made because of wins and losses. Our record is a function of our long-term building plan and the moves we have made – some good, a few we would like back – to further this strategy. Jed and I take full responsibility for that. Today’s decision was absolutely not made to provide a scapegoat for our shortcomings or to distract from our biggest issue – a shortage of talent at the major league level. We have been transparent about what we are, and what we are not yet. Today’s decision, which was painful for all of us, was made to move us closer to fulfilling our ultimate long-term vision for the Cubs. Soon, our organization will transition from a phase in which we have been primarily acquiring young talent to a phase in which we will promote many of our best prospects and actually field a very young, very talented club at the major league level. The losing has been hard on all of us, but we now have one of the top farm systems in baseball, some of the very best prospects in the game, and a clear path forward. In order for us to win with this group – and win consistently – we must have the best possible environment for young players to learn, develop and thrive at the major league level. We must have clear and cohesive communication with our players about the most important parts of the game. And – even while the organization takes a patient, long view – we must somehow establish and maintain a galvanized, winning culture around the major league club. I believe a dynamic new voice – and the energy, creativity and freshness that comes with this type of change – provides us with the best opportunity to achieve the major league environment we seek. We will begin our search immediately – a process which will be completed before the GM meetings in early November and perhaps much sooner. There are no absolute criteria, but we will prioritize managerial or other on-field leadership experience and we will prioritize expertise developing young talent. We have not yet contacted any candidates or asked permission to speak with any candidates, but that process will begin tomorrow morning.”
Another season is in the books, one that for the most part we would all like to forget, again. Those of us that have bought in to the rebuilding plan that Theo and company have put into place expected this, still, it really isn’t a lot of fun to sit through 95+ losses. The common theme since the beginning of the rebuilding process has been “is Dale Sveum the right man for the job?” Well, everything that the front office has said up until the last month or so has been yes, Sveum is the right guy and he can’t be truly judged on wins and losses given this roster. The tune has changed in the last month, as now I’m thinking that Sveum has a better chance of being unemployed come Monday than he does opening the season with the Cubs in Pittsburgh next April. So, what has changed?
I think above all else Theo and the front office know what guy they want to lead the Cubs as they slowly start to gain traction, and win games on a more regular basis. I don’t think that guy is Dale Sveum, one reason for that I think is the stalled development of Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro this year. Not saying that Sveum is completely to blame for this, but he shares the blame as do Rizzo and Castro. Others have questioned his use of the bullpen, again not really sure how clear-cut that argument is given the choices out there. The other reason is that I think the guy the Cubs want running the show is now available, well maybe, hello Joe Girardi.
Via an ESPN article today
“I haven’t really made up my mind,” Girardi said during his nearly 30-minute state-of-the-season news conference before the Yankees’ final game against the Houston Astros.
Girardi, who turns 49 next month, said he’ll make his decision after consulting with his wife and three children, who are 14, 11 and 7.
Of course this doesn’t mean that Girardi has made up his mind yet, but I get a feeling that he is ready to move elsewhere in his managing career. There is a fit in Chicago for Girardi, but Girardi is quick to explain that he has moved on from Chicago with his family and is happy in New York. To me, there is too much smoke here for there not to be a fire, I would not be surprised to see Sveum canned tomorrow, and Girardi introduced shortly thereafter during this off-season as the next Cubs manager. If Girardi decides to stay in New York I still expect the Cubs to part ways with Sveum, I think the organization is taking a chance here, but I also think it is a necessary one to take at this point in the process. Brad Ausmus has been also rumored to be on a short list to take over the Cubs, but that is all speculation at this point as well. A change to Ausmus doesn’t make as much sense here as I don’t think you would really be “upgrading” with that move. Stay tuned tomorrow to see what will happen, I’m sure it will be an interesting day.