Cubs

Can Cubs live with Marmols ups and downs?

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Can Cubs live with Marmols ups and downs?

Dale Sveum believes its essential for a manager to never show emotion, and his low-key personality will probably make that easier for him than most on the top step of the dugout.

But lets see the reaction shots when Carlos Marmol walks two batters in a one-run game, 40,000 fans are on their feet and Theo Epstein begins pacing around his suite.

Thats only if the Cubs dont find another endgame solution. After his welcome to Chicago news conference last week, Sveum was asked: Are you set with Marmol as your closer?

Sure, right now thats what we have, Sveum said. We dont have another closer.

By all accounts, Kerry Wood is expected to return in 2012, and Sean Marshall and Andrew Cashner have the potential to one day close, so the Cubs are in a position of strength at the back end of their bullpen.

Sveum has a nuanced, detailed understanding of statistical analysis. But his eyes and his gut tell him that some just arent cut out for the high-adrenaline job.

Not everybodys made to get those last three outs of (a) game, Sveum said. A lot of people might be able to get those three outs in the sixth inning or seventh inning.

Sometimes its not pretty. (But) its not that easy to find guys that can get those last three outs, no matter how ugly its going to be.

Marmol was great theater in 2010, saving 38 games and finishing with 15.99 strikeouts per nine innings, the highest single-season mark in major-league history.

But Marmol lost the feel for his slider last season, and didnt seem to trust his fastball. His ERA ballooned to 4.01 and he tied for the major-league lead with 10 blown saves.

You always try to remember what a guy looks like when hes been good, general manager Jed Hoyer said. Last year clearly was a struggle. The year before was dominant. Hopefully, we can get his slider back on track and make him a dominant closer.

Jonathan Papelbon who got the final out of the 2007 World Series emerged as a key part of the scouting and player-development machine Epstein and Hoyer built in Boston.

The Phillies recently signed Papelbon to a four-year, 50 million contract with a vesting option for 2016. Hoyer doesnt think that deal should make anyone rethink Marmols value.

Its very rare to have a closer with that long a track record, Hoyer said. Since the start of 2006, (Papelbons) been consistent and dominant and really only had one minor health issue.

Marmol had trouble maintaining his mechanics which is never easy for someone with such an unorthodox delivery after signing a three-year, 20 million deal thats heavily back-loaded. Hes guaranteed 7 million in 2012 and 9.8 million the year after that.

Paul Kinzer didnt negotiate that contract, but the agent now represents the closer, along with a few other high-profile Cubs: I think youll see Marmol come (into camp) in great shape and be ready to go (with a) different attitude.

It wouldnt just be selling extremely low on Marmol. The Cubs will also have to take into account a market thats loaded with closer options. The As and Rockies are reportedly listening on offers for Andrew Bailey and Huston Street.

The Rangers reportedly closed with Joe Nathan on Monday, agreeing to a two-year deal worth around 14.5 million that also includes a club option.

Here are some of the other free agents still on the board: Ryan Madson; Heath Bell; Francisco Rodriguez; Francisco Cordero; Frank Francisco; Matt Capps; and Jonathan Broxton.

The exceptional Papelbon became the first player in major-league history to collect at least 30 saves in each of his first six full seasons, and the fastest to reach 200 career saves (359 games), breaking Mariano Riveras record (382).

Heres where Hoyer made a comparison to Marmol: That 2011 season followed one in which Papelbon blew eight saves and finished with a 3.90 ERA for a third-place team. In this line of work, you have to expect volatility.

(Papelbon) struggled a little bit in 2010, Hoyer said. (He) came back and was incredible last year. So it is a position where guys have their ups and downs.

This winter, the Cubs will have to decide just how much they can stomach.

Javy Baez can do anything defensively, but what's next for him at the plate?

Javy Baez can do anything defensively, but what's next for him at the plate?

MESA, Ariz. — You don’t need to spend long searching the highlight reels to figure out why Javy Baez goes by “El Mago.”

Spanish for “The Magician,” that moniker is a fitting one considering what Baez can do with his glove and his arm up the middle of the infield. The king of tags, Baez also dazzles with his throwing arm and his range. He looks like a Gold Glove kind of player when you watch him do these amazing things. And it’s no surprise that in his first media session of the spring, he was talking about winning that award.

“Just to play hard and see what I can do. Obviously, try to be healthy the whole year again. And try to get that Gold Glove that I want because a lot of people know me for my defense,” he said Friday at Cubs camp. “Just try to get a Gold Glove and stay healthy the whole year.”

Those high expectations — in this case, being the best defensive second baseman in the National League — fall in line with everything the rest of the team is saying about their own high expectations. It’s been “World Series or bust” from pretty much everyone over the past couple weeks in Mesa.

Baez might not be all the way there just yet. Joe Maddon talked earlier this week about his reminders that Baez needs to keep focusing on making the easy plays while staying a master of the magnificent.

“What I talked to him about was, when he had to play shortstop, please make the routine play routinely and permit your athleticism to play. Because when the play requires crazinesss, you’re there, you can do that,” Maddon said. “But this straight up ground ball three-hopper to shortstop, come get the ball, play it through and make an accurate throw in a routine manner. Apparently that stuck. Because he told me once he thought in those terms, it really did slow it down for him. And he did do a better job at doing that.”

But the biggest question for Cubs fans when it comes to Baez is when the offense will catch up to his defense. Baez hit a game-winning homer run in his first major league game and smacked 23 of them last season, good for fifth on a team full of power bats. But arguably just as famous as Baez’s defensive magic is his tendency to chase pitches outside of the strike zone. He had 144 strikeouts last season and reached base at a .317 clip. Seven Cubs — including notable struggling hitters Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist — had higher on-base percentages in 2017.

Baez, for one, is staying focused on what he does best, saying he doesn’t really have any specific offensive goals for the upcoming season.

“I’m not worrying about too much about it,” he said. “I’m just trying to play defense, and just let the offense — see what happens.”

Maddon, unsurprisingly, talked much more about what Baez needs to do to become a better all-around player, and unsurprisingly that included being more selective at the plate.

“One of the best base runners in the game, one of the finest arms, most acrobatic, greatest range on defense, power. The biggest thing for me for him is to organize the strike zone,” Maddon said. “Once he does that, heads up. He’s at that point now, at-bat wise, if you want to get those 500, 600 plate appearances, part of that is to organize your zone, accept your walks, utilize the whole field, that kind of stuff. So that would be the level that I think’s the next level for him.”

Will Baez have a season’s worth of at-bats to get that done? The versatile Cubs roster includes a couple guys who split time between the infield and outfield in Zobrist and Ian Happ. Getting their more consistent bats in the lineup might mean sacrificing Baez’s defense on certain days. Baez, of course, also has the ability to slide over to shortstop to spell Addison Russell, like he did when Russell was on the disabled list last season.

Until Baez learns how to navigate that strike zone a bit better, it might make Maddon more likely to mix and match other options, rather than considering him an everyday lock like Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant.

But like Russell, Albert Almora Jr. and Willson Contreras, Baez is one of the young players who despite key roles on a championship contender the last few years still have big league growth to come. And Maddon thinks that growth is right around the corner.

“I want to believe you’re going to see that this year,” Maddon said. “They’ve had enough major league at-bats now, they should start making some significant improvements that are easy to recognize. The biggest thing normally is pitch selection, I think that’s where it really shows up. When you have talented players like that, that are very strong, quick, all that other stuff, if they’re swinging at strikes and taking balls, they’re going to do really well. And so it’s no secret with Javy. It’s no secret with Addy. Addy’s been more swing mode as opposed to accepting his walks. That’s part of the maturation process with those two guys. Albert I thought did a great job the last month, two months of getting better against righties. I thought Jason looked really good in the cage today. And Willson’s Willson.

“The natural assumption is these guys have played enough major league at-bats that you should see something different this year in a positive way.”

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.