Cubs

Cubs dont expect Garza to tone it down

693900.png

Cubs dont expect Garza to tone it down

MESA, Ariz. Alfonso Soriano was trying to collect his thoughts when you heard loud beeping noises at the other end of the clubhouse.

The question was about Matt Garzas personality, and pretty soon everyone started giggling. Garza was alone at his locker on Tuesday, laying down beats and singing Im Sexy and I Know It. Soriano had to smile.

Whatever he does, people laugh, because thats him, Soriano said. Its not like hes done something wrong. We love him (the way) he is, because hes not a bad guy. The most important thing is when he pitches, he shows up (to) win."

Garza may not quite be misunderstood, but even he admits he takes some getting used to. Thats why the 28-year-old pitcher has been dropping by the managers office, to acclimate Dale Sveum to life with Garza.

He doesnt know how I am during the game, Garza said, how my reactions are, how heated I get. I want him to be able to see all that. Give me some time, Ill cool off and well chitchat, shoot the crap a little bit. Im just showing him that (at) my competitive level I (still) know how to draw the line.

Life without Garza a possibility that had to be considered while the Cubs dangled him on the trade market this winter would be far less interesting inside what has been a quiet clubhouse.

Garza allowed two runs in two innings during an 11-4 win over the Colorado Rockies. Sveum had to laugh when Garza was by the on-deck circle asking if he and strengthconditioning coordinator Tim Buss could go shirtless while running the warning track after his start.

Its kind of an inside joke, Garza said.

There were two interpretations. Either Garza saw a Rockies pitcher in a tank top, or the day before Ryan Dempster was caught running in a shirt that Sveum compared to a tight Speedo.

Either way, Sveum isnt going to tell Garza to tone it down (something that may have happened last year). The TV cameras will still find Garza yelling from the top step of the dugout.

I have no problem with that, Sveum said. Thats part of the game. You dont restrain that kind of stuff. You dont let it get out of hand (either). David Cone was like that (and) the four days David Cone didnt pitch were probably the most entertaining days of all. Theres nothing wrong with that. Its actually appreciated.

Garza spent a lot of time during last years camp with earphones on or a hooded sweatshirt pulled over his head. He was almost an island, the centerpiece to a blockbuster trade with the Tampa Bay Rays. He seems far more comfortable now, to the point where Sveum mentions him as a leader alongside Ryan Dempster and Kerry Wood.

Its just me, Garza said. Ive said it over and over and over again: I just like being out there. Its not fun to just sit there for nine innings, three hours, 160 times a year it gets boring. Im very antsy. I dont like sitting still. So why not have fun out there?

So Garza isnt Carlos Zambrano, though that doesnt necessarily mean the Cubs are going to hand him a huge contract extension, which figures to be a discussion sometime this spring.

Hes a huge piece the personality, the work ethic, (and) he cares so much about winning, Sveum said. The example he sets (and) how hard he works and competes on the mound (becomes) a huge asset (for) your organization.

Garza has pitched in the World Series before, and desperately wants to get back to October. He described Sveum as blue collar.

Thats what you need here, Garza said. We work a normal 9-to-5. We dont work 2-to-11. So in order to survive here, you got to be able to get up and put your work in like a blue-collar worker. Thats the way Cubs baseball should be.

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

adbert_alzolay.jpg
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

0222-joe-maddon.jpg
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.