Cubs

Cubs challenging Castro to step up his game

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Cubs challenging Castro to step up his game

MESA, Ariz. Starlin Castro says hes ready to focus on baseball.

Castro didnt hide behind an interpreter when he reported to camp and addressed the sexual assault allegations that surfaced during the offseason (though he also didnt offer much substance either).

Cubs executives are glad their 21-year-old All-Star shortstop is here, and have directed everything toward Castros representatives, whove vehemently denied the claims.

So underneath the Arizona sunshine, the Cubs will push Castro to get better, and realize his almost unlimited potential.

Manager Dale Sveum has watched Castro closely during the teams first three workouts at Fitch Park. An old shortstop, Sveum has stressed gaining ground when the ball is hit, so your feet create momentum and you have a shorter throw.

Sveum has also noticed that Castro picks up the target late and tends to move his shoulders out of line, forcing too many throws that are too high or in the dirt.

I can relate to Castro, Sveum said Sunday. When I was young, I made a lot of errors. Some of the things Im telling him are some of the same things I (heard). They happen to a lot of people. My best friend Robin Yount made 80 errors his first two years in the big leagues. He turned out to be a pretty good defensive player. The will has to be there to do it. Thats the key.

Yount actually had 75 errors combined in his age-19 and age-20 seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers, but whos counting? He has a Hall of Fame plaque in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Castro has similar ambitions, but for now the Cubs are focused on overall team defense. Last season Castro committed 29 of the teams 134 errors, which led the majors by a wide margin. But they were defensively poor by almost any metric or eye test.

Its not just errors that come into play either, Sveum said. Its the awareness of whats going on, whos on the mound, where to play, the score of the game, the depth when theres two outs. These are all the things were talking about and getting ironed out to where we can nullify a lot of hits (opponents) got last year. Defense is everything.

Already, Castro is an offensive force. He led the National League with 207 hits last year. Since 1900, only four players have had more hits in a season at age 21 or younger. Two were Alex Rodriguez and Ty Cobb.

Theo Epsteins front office wants players that grind out at-bats. The Boston Red Sox would play games that lasted four hours and play deep into October. Last season Castro hit .307 with a .341 on-base percentage (the major-league average was .320) and walked only 35 times in more than 700 plate appearances.

The important thing to remember with Starlin is age, Epstein said. If he were 27 years old and had that kind of on-base percentage with the type of incredible offensive ability that he has, I would say thats a problem. If he hadnt learned to fully develop as a hitter: He wasnt a smart hitter. He wasnt disciplined. He wasnt taking advantage of the natural gifts that he has

(But) doing what he did at 21 years old in the big leagues projects extraordinarily well in the future, because its hard to teach (his) natural ability. Its almost impossible.

(Someone) tries to throw a good breaking ball, he sees it right out of the hand and hes on it. The ability (to) barrel up pitches in every part of the strike zone and drive them to the outfield: You cant teach that.

What hitters do learn as they mature is to be smarter, to figure out how pitchers are trying to get them out (and) recognize that they dont need to do the pitchers any favors and expand the strike zone. They end up not only with walks, but pitches they can drive out of the ballpark.

The education of Castro will continue, and the Cubs may still have their face of the franchise.

Andre Dawson reportedly about to rejoin Cubs organization

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USA TODAY

Andre Dawson reportedly about to rejoin Cubs organization

Andre Dawson is about to get a welcome back to Sweet Home Chicago.

The Hall of Famer is reportedly about to rejoin the Cubs organization in some capacity, according to a Monday-morning tweet from USA Today's Bob Nightengale.

Nightengale didn't specify what Dawson's role will be, but the former Cubs outfielder has plenty of front-office and organizational experience after spending years with the Florida/Miami Marlins.

According to NBC Sports Chicago's Patrick Mooney, Dawson figures to have a role similar to that of Ryne Sandberg, his former teammate, as an ambassador of sorts and that Dawson is not coming back for a coaching job.

Dawson spent 21 seasons in the big leagues, six of those on the North Side. He was named to the National League All-Star team in five of those six seasons and won the NL MVP as a Cub in 1987.

Dawson went into the Hall of Fame in 2010, though he's sporting a Montreal Expos hat on his plaque after playing 11 seasons north of the border.

His longtime ties to the Marlins organization started when he spent the final two seasons of his career in Florida, appearing in 121 games for the Fish in 1995 and 1996. His relationship with that organization lasted until this year's ownership change.

There's no doubt that Dawson will be happily welcomed back to Chicago, both by the Cubs and by Cubs fans, no matter what his new position entails.

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

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USA TODAY

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

Kris Bryant was the 2016 National League MVP. And despite having what could be considered an even better campaign this past season, he finished seventh in voting for the 2017 edition of the award.

The NL MVP was awarded to Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton on Thursday night, a fine choice, though it was nearly impossible to make a poor choice, that's how many fantastic players there were hitting the baseball in the NL this season.

After Stanton, Cinicinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto finished second, earning the same amount of first-place votes and losing out to Stanton by just one point. Then came Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon and Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon ahead of Bryant.

But there was someone who thought Bryant deserved to repeat as the NL MVP. Yes, Bryant earned a first-place vote — as did everyone else mentioned besides Rendon, for that matter — causing a bit of a social-media stir considering the Cubs third baseman, despite his great season, perhaps wasn't as standout a candidate as some of the other guys who finished higher in the voting.

So the person who cast that first-place vote for Bryant, MLB.com's Mark Bowman, wrote up why he felt Bryant deserved to hoist the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award for the second straight year.

"In the end, I chose Bryant because I believe he made the greatest impact, as his second-half production fueled the successful turnaround the Cubs experienced after the All-Star break," Bowman wrote.

"Though I don't believe the MVP must come from a playoff contender, in an attempt to differentiate the value provided by each of these three players (Bryant, Votto and Stanton), I chose to reward the impact made by Bryant, who produced the NL's fourth-best OPS (.968) after the All-Star break, when the Cubs distanced themselves from a sub-.500 record and produced an NL-best 49 wins."

It's easy for Cubs fans and observers to follow that logic, as the Cubs took off after the All-Star break following a disappointing first half. As good as Bryant was all season long, his second-half numbers, as Bowman pointed out, were especially great. He hit .325 with a .421 on-base percentage and a .548 slugging percentage over his final 69 games of the regular season, hitting 11 home runs, knocking out 21 doubles and driving in 35 runs during that span.

Perhaps the craziest thing about this year's MVP race and Bryant's place in it is that Bryant was just as good if not better than he was in 2016, when he was almost unanimously named the NL MVP. After slashing .292/.385/.554 with 39 homers, 102 RBIs, 35 doubles, 75 walks and 154 strikeouts in 2016, Bryant slashed .295/.409/.537 with 29 homers, 73 RBIs, 38 doubles, 95 walks and 128 strikeouts in 2017.

Of course, the competition was much steeper this time around. But Bryant was given the MVP award in 2016 playing for a 103-win Cubs team that was bursting with offensive firepower, getting great seasons from Anthony Rizzo (who finished third in 2016 NL MVP voting), as well as Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist. While the Cubs actually scored more runs this season and undoubtedly turned it on after the All-Star break on a team-wide basis, Bryant was far and away the best hitter on the team in 2017, with many other guys throughout the lineup having notably down years and/or experiencing down stretches throughout the season. Hence, making Bryant more, say it with me, valuable.

So Bowman's argument about Bryant's impact on the Cubs — a team that still scored 822 runs, won 92 games and advanced to the National League Championship Series — is a decently convincing one.

Check out Bowman's full explanation, which dives into some of Bryant's advanced stats.