Cubs

All-out in center: Byrd's Gold Glove chase

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All-out in center: Byrd's Gold Glove chase

Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2010
11:04 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

SAN DIEGO Theres a purple welt around Marlon Byrds right eye, and a red spot inside it, the perfect image to sum up his first season in a Cubs uniform, which often winds up covered in dirt or stained by another dive across the grass.

This bruise lingers from a foul ball that bounced near home plate and drilled into his sunglasses last weekend at Wrigley Field. There the crowds like his hustle, the way he sprints around the bases after hitting a home run.

This year the players voted Byrd an All-Star for the first time in his career at the age of 32 and after spending time on the Triple-A level in seven of his previous eight seasons.

Ryan Dempster watched Byrd track down several balls on Tuesday night in the wide canyons of PETCO Park where its at least 400 feet to left-center and right-center and lobbied for his teammate to be recognized for his defensive play.

I hope he wins a Gold Glove because he deserves it, Dempster said afterward. Hes played as good a center field as anybody Ive seen through the 157 games weve played. And (its) not just those kind of catches. (Its) everything he does. He throws to the right base and hits the cutoff guy. He gets the ball in quickly.

As a pitcher, especially when youre playing in big ballparks like this, you just say let them hit it and he goes and gets it.

Managers or their staffer whos handed the ballot will decide the Gold Glove vote. Mike Quade cant vote for his own player, but believes Byrd belongs in the National League conversation with Philadelphias Shane Victorino, Houstons Michael Bourn and Pittsburghs Andrew McCutchen.

All three of those guys run a little better than Marlon, Quade said, and yet still with his reads off the bat (and) his angles hes so consistent with what he does out there.

Baseballs intelligence departments are still trying to figure out how to accurately measure defensive performance. Entering Wednesday Byrd had made only three errors, which translated into a .992 fielding percentage. That compares favorably to Victorino (.995), Bourn (.992) and McCutchen (.986).

Using ultimate zone rating a more advanced metric that shows the number of runs above or below average a fielder is Byrd grades out at 10.5. The website FanGraphs separates the outfielders like this: Victorino at -2.2; Bourn at 14.3; and McCutchen at -10.7.

This is more subjective, but baseball people have noticed how Byrd doesnt take plays off. On the day he was named to the All-Star team, he made a diving catch in the ninth inning with his team trailing the Cincinnati Reds by 11 runs.

Hes oblivious when it comes to effort, Quade said. The score (doesnt) matter (and) youre going to see him leave his feet no matter what the situation is. Thats who he is.

That max-out style has to wear on a players body, and Quade has described Byrd as banged up at various points during the final weeks of the season. Byrd hit .317 with nine homers and 40 RBI before the All-Star break, and .267 with three homers and 23 RBI since then.

Byrd seems to recognize this and late Tuesday night deflected the credit to Dempster after a 5-2 victory over the San Diego Padres.

Demps just hitting spots, Byrd said. I know where to go, so hes making me look good out there. Thats why I pride myself on defense, (because) youre not always going to hit.

The next night Byrd played in his 149th game, and he intends to end this season the way it began. Even with the Cubs spiraling out of contention, he has refused any chances to be removed from the lineup.

I dont need to take days off to finish up a season, Byrd said. I have a little old-school mentality because of the guys I grew up with in the system over in Philly. Those guys play every single day, so I expect to do the same. You cant take anything for granted in this game. You never know when its going to be your last (one), so play it all-out.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

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.