Cubs

After Schwarber move, Cubs waiting for more impact at trade deadline

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After Schwarber move, Cubs waiting for more impact at trade deadline

The Cubs are responding to Miguel Montero’s injury by promoting elite prospect Kyle Schwarber from Triple-A Iowa.

If that aggressive mindset is going to carryover to the trade deadline, the Cubs have to hope teams start getting more realistic and more decisive once the All-Star break ends.

Not that the Cubs know exactly what they will do by July 31, but there is no impulse to blow this team up again. It’s just a matter of how much Theo Epstein’s front office will add, how hard they want to slam their foot on the accelerator.

Schwarber will be rejoining a third-place team when the Cubs open the second half on Friday against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. At 47-40, the Cubs also have the National League’s fifth-best winning percentage, already sweeping the season series (7-0) against the New York Mets, the team trailing them by one game in the race for the second wild card.

[MORE: Cubs promoting Kyle Schwarber in response to Miguel Montero’s injury]

All 15 teams in the American League are within eight games of a playoff spot, creating uncertainty about which direction to go and fueling the belief this could be a sellers’ market.

“It’s not a unilateral thing,” Epstein said. “You can’t make things happen at the deadline. It’s all about understanding what teams are trying to do, being opportunistic when they’re in a certain mindset, trying to match up.

“But I think it’s important when you write about the trade deadline, you look back. Those deals rarely work for buyers.”

The Cubs built this team, in part, through those fire sales, finding 40 percent of their rotation (Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks), rebuilding their bullpen (Pedro Strop, Justin Grimm, Neil Ramirez), getting a starting second baseman (Addison Russell) and deepening their overall pool of prospects.

Within Epstein’s first three years of running baseball operations, the Cubs engineered 10 major trades where they gave up 13 players (average age: 31) and eight seasons of future control for 17 prospects (average age: 22.5) and 95 seasons of future control.

“We’ve made a lot of phone calls,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “But I don’t think things have sort of kicked off yet, as far as the trade market. I still think this will be a tighter market than usual early on, just because the American League is so jumbled up that I don’t think teams have really declared themselves yet.

“The National League’s a little bit different, but I think it will take some time to break through. Maybe after the All-Star break that will happen.”

[MORE CUBS: Can Theo Epstein land a big fish at the trade deadline?]

The Cubs are relevant again with star manager Joe Maddon, All-Stars Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant and the hope another impact player could arrive within the next two weeks beyond Schwarber, a 22-year-old catcher and Baseball America’s No. 6 midseason prospect.

“It’s brought a nice little buzz to the city,” said Jon Lester (4-8, 3.59 ERA), who had an up-and-down first half in the first year of that $155 million megadeal.

“We’ve got a bunch of young guys on this team that haven’t played a full season in the big leagues before, and the adjustment period has (gone) surprisingly well.

“I expect these guys to continue to make adjustments and continue to do well. With that being said, there’s going to be some ups and downs involved. You have to take the good with the bad sometimes.”

With the Cubs already bracing for Bryant, Russell and Jorge Soler to hit the rookie wall – not to mention the unanswered questions about the back of the rotation and what that does to the bullpen – is there a psychological boost to acquiring a new player?

“It depends on how good he is,” said Maddon, who guided the Tampa Bay Rays to five 90-win seasons between 2008 and 2013.

“That could be overstated. I’ve been involved in a lot of playoffs the last several years with minimal acquisition at that point. A lot of time, it comes from within. A lot of time, it comes from guys that may have been injured that get well, too. And then a lot of times, it comes from guys that have been underperforming and start to perform.”

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Maddon pointed to the submarine-style reliever the Rays acquired from the Baltimore Orioles in August 2008 on their way to the World Series.  

“The first year we got good, Chad Bradford was a huge addition,” Maddon said. “That came after the July 31 deadline. We got Chad and he was huge for us down the stretch (1.42 ERA in 21 appearances).

“He doesn’t have to be this huge name. It could just be a nice fit for what you’re trying to get going on here. It also could be somebody that’s really good within the room and really makes a difference in there.

“I evaluate all the importance of a player, beyond just wearing batting average on a sleeve to determine whether or not somebody is beneficial to me. I don’t go there.

“Obviously, acquisitions can be great, but I’ve seen it be detrimental. Honestly, I have. I’ve seen guys come in and absolutely take you the other way, too, because they just don’t fit.”

The Cubs still have 23 games left against the Philadelphia Phillies, Milwaukee Brewers and Colorado Rockies, three last-place teams that should be even weaker by Aug. 1 and playing for the future.

The Cubs also have 15 games remaining against the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates, the two teams in front of them in the division. Plus 10 more against the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers and the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants.

Welcome back to The Show, Kyle Schwarber.

MLB.com's Cubs' 2018 Top Prospects list full of potential impact pitchers

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USA TODAY

MLB.com's Cubs' 2018 Top Prospects list full of potential impact pitchers

Could 2018 be the year that the Cubs finally see a top pitching prospect debut with the team? 

Thursday, MLB.com released its list of the Cubs' 2018 Top 30 Prospects, a group that includes six pitchers in the Top 10. The list ranks right-hander Adbert Alzolay as the Cubs' No 1. prospect, projecting him to debut with the team this season. 

Alzolay, 22, went 7-4 with a 2.99 ERA in 22 starts between Single-A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Tennessee last season. He also struck out 108 batters in 114 1/3 innings, using a repertoire that includes a fastball that tops out around 98 MPH (according to MLB.com).

Following Alzolay as the Cubs' No. 2 overall prospect is 19-year-old shortstop Aramis Ademan. Ademan hit .267 in just 68 games between Single-A Eugene and Single-A South Bend, though it should be noted that he has soared from No. 11 in MLB.com's 2017 ranks to his current No. 2 ranking. He is not projected to make his MLB debut until 2020, however.

Following Alzolay and Ademan on the list are five consecutive pitchers ranked 3-7, respectively. Oscar De La Cruz, No. 3 on the list, slides down from his 2017 ranking in which MLB.com listed him as the Cubs' top overall prospect. De La Cruz, 22, finished 2017 with a 3.34 ERA in 13 games (12 starts) between the Arizona League and Single-A Myrtle Beach.

De La Cruz is projected to make his MLB debut in 2019, while Jose Albertos (No. 4), Alex Lange (No. 5), Brendon Little (No. 6) and Thomas Hatch (No. 7) are projected to make their big league debuts in 2019 or 2020. All are right-handed (with the exception of Little) and starting pitchers.

Hatch (third round, 2016) and Lange (30th overall, 2017) and Little (27th overall, 2017) were all top draft picks by the Cubs in recent seasons.

Having numerous starting pitchers on the cusp of the big leagues represents a significant change of pace for the Cubs. 

Since Theo Epstein took over as team president in Oct. 2011, a plethora of top prospects have debuted and enjoyed success with the Cubs. Majority have been position players, though.

The likes of Albert Almora, Javier Báez, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell all contributed to the Cubs winning the World Series in 2016. Similarly, Ian Happ enjoyed a fair amount of success after making his MLB debut last season, hitting 24 home runs in just 115 games.

Ultimately, Alzolay would be the Cubs' first true top pitching prospect to make it to the big leagues in the Theo Epstein era. While him making it to the big leagues in 2018 is no guarantee, one would think a need for pitching will arise for the Cubs at some point, whether it be due to injury or simply for September roster expansion.

The Cubs have enjoyed tremendous success in recent years in terms of their top prospects succeeding in the MLB. If the trend continues, Alzolay should be a force to reckon with on the North Side for years to come.

Even with an entire spring schedule to go, guessing the Cubs' 25-man roster is pretty easy

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USA TODAY

Even with an entire spring schedule to go, guessing the Cubs' 25-man roster is pretty easy

MESA, Ariz. — The frequent mission of spring training is to iron out a 25-man roster.

But at Cubs camp, that mission seems to already be completed.

With an entire Cactus League schedule still to play, the Cubs’ 25-man group that will leave Arizona for the season-opener in Miami seems pretty well set.

The starting rotation: Jon Lester, Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood.

The position-player group: Willson Contreras, Victor Caratini, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez, Addison Russell, Kris Bryant, Tommy La Stella, Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr., Ian Happ, Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist.

The bullpen: Brandon Morrow, Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr., Mike Montgomery, Brian Duensing, Justin Wilson and Justin Grimm.

Boom. There’s your 25.

Joe Maddon, do you agree?

“You guys and ladies could probably write down what you’re seeing and be pretty accurate,” Maddon said Thursday. “I can’t deny that, it’s true. Oftentimes, when you’re a pretty good ball club, that is the case. When you’re not so good, you always get auditions during spring training.

“I think what the boys have done is they’ve built up a nice cache in case things were to happen. The depth is outstanding. So you could probably narrow it down, who you think’s going to be the 25, and I won’t argue that.”

It’s the latest example in a camp that to this point has been full of them that the Cubs are one of baseball’s best teams and that only a World Series championship will fulfill expectations. Had the front office stuck with a starting rotation of Lester, Hendricks, Quintana, Chatwood and Montgomery, then there would’ve been a spot open in the bullpen. But the statement-making signing of Darvish jolted the Cubs into “best rotation in the game” status, sent Montgomery back to the bullpen and further locked the roster into place.

Guys like Grimm and La Stella have been forced off the 25-man roster at points in recent seasons, though even their spots seem safe. Maddon even said that a huge spring from someone else wouldn’t mean as much at what guys have done at the major league level in recent memory.

“Spring training performance, for me, it’s not very defining,” Maddon said. “You’re going to be playing against a lot of guys that aren’t going to be here, more Triple-A guys, even some Double-A guys. Some guys come in better shape, they normally look better early. The vibe’s different. You play a couple innings, you don’t get many at-bats, the pitcher doesn’t see hitters three times and vice versa. So I don’t worry about that as much.

“It’s more about, guys that might be fighting for a moment, what do they look like, does it look right, does it look good, how do they fit in? Is there somebody there that you scouted? Because what matters a lot is last year and what you did last year and the last couple months of last year.

“So of course guys that have been here probably have a bit of an upper hand, but we’re very open-minded about stuff. And I think when you look at the guys, you’re right, it’s probably pretty close to being set. But stuff happens.”

Could the recently signed Shae Simmons give Grimm an unexpected challenge for the final relief spot? Maddon said guys who have been with the Cubs in the recent past have a leg up. Could Chris Gimenez turn his experience with Darvish into a win over Caratini for the backup catcher spot? Maddon threw cold water on the "personal catcher" narrative last week.

Of course, Maddon left the door open the possibility of an injury that could open up a roster spot and even shake up the depth chart. But barring the unforeseen, this 25-man group looks locked into place.

That gives the Cubs an edge, perhaps, in that they can specifically find ways to tune up those guys rather than focus on getting enough at-bats for players who are fighting for roster spots. But most of that edge came during the winter, and in winters and summers past, when the front office built this team into a championship contender.

There have been plenty of years when the fans coming to Mesa to watch the Cubs play in spring training saw the blossoming of a big league player thanks to a monster spring or a surprise tear during March. That’s going to be unlikely this spring, a reflection of just how far this team has come.

“It’s easy for me to reflect on this because when I started out with the Rays, wow,” Maddon said. “That was a casting call trying to figure it out. You had very few settled positions when you walked in the door. And then as we got better, it became what we’re talking about. As we moved further along, you were pretty much set by the time (you got to spring training) except for one or two spots.

“So I think the better teams are like that.”

The Cubs are most definitely one of those better teams.