Cubs: Joe Maddon hates the idea of the DH in National League


Cubs: Joe Maddon hates the idea of the DH in National League

Cubs manager Joe Maddon has zero interest in the designated hitter coming to the National League.

That chatter picked up again with the St. Louis Cardinals losing Adam Wainwright for the rest of the season. The St. Louis ace tore his left Achilles tendon while trying to run out a popup during Saturday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers.  

“I am so not into knee-jerk stuff,” Maddon said Monday at Wrigley Field. “That’s just the expedient nature of reporting and the world we exist in today. It’s unfortunate what happened to (Wainwright). It really is. I would prefer that would not have happened to him. We all (feel that way). Because I want to beat our opposition with their best all the time.

“But that should have nothing to do with anything. He could have got hurt traveling to the ballpark in his car. And then he’s supposed to stop driving?

“I mean, really, come on. That’s just part of the game. That’s the way it works. It’s unfortunate. It stinks. But I like the National League game.”

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Maddon clearly loves the strategy as well as the debates that come with double switching and hitting the pitcher eighth, believing it helps sell the product and ultimately benefits the overall game.

As Maddon said: “Barrooms got to be deluged with some really good stuff on a nightly basis when they think I’m stupid.”

Maddon usually looks at the big picture, but he’s not working for the Tampa Bay Rays anymore. The Cubs now have arguably the industry’s best crop of young position players, and it’s unlikely they will all fit together on the North Side.

Just look at someone like Double-A Tennessee’s Dan Vogelbach, a potential trade chip who’s blocked by All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Vogelbach is 22 years old and listed at 6-foot, 250 pounds, a body type that suggests he would fit as a designated hitter in the American League.

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Vogelbach woke up on Monday leading the Southern League with a .444 batting average, showing the potential the Cubs saw when they made him a second-round pick in the 2011 draft. He’s put up 13 walks against five strikeouts, generating three homers, seven doubles and 13 RBI through 15 games.

“I come from ‘The Land of No DHs,’ where that’s a very expensive position,” Maddon said. “There are not many that are really, really good at it. That’s not an easy position to play – to hit and then sit around and then hit again and perform at a high level.

“I like this eight-plus-one thing. And if you could get something good out of your group of pitchers, it might give you an edge. And that’s also pretty interesting.

“From a kid’s perspective – if you’re trying to gain more fans and you’re looking for that intellectual component – give them the National League game to follow and have them try to understand.”

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Who was Theo Epstein’s first draft pick with the Cubs?

The answer to that trivia question will always and forever be Albert Almora Jr. picked sixth overall in the 2012 amateur draft.

In some ways, the young outfielder from Florida became the forgotten man in the stable of can’t-miss prospects that Epstein and top lieutenants Jed Hoyer and Jason MacLeod amassed since their arrival over six years ago. While players such as Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ zoomed through the minor leagues on their way to the majors, Almora took a different path – one that included seven different stops over parts of five developmental seasons before he broke into the big leagues during the 2016 season.

But Almora’s road to the majors began years before he was selected by the Cubs, when he began playing for Team USA as a 13-year-old. Over the next several years, Almora played for the Red, White & Blue seven times, his final appearance coming in 2015. The seven appearances are the most in the history of USA Baseball, and Almora recognizes the impact his time with the national squad had on his playing career.

“[It was] one of the best experiences of my life," he said. "Every year I had something special to play with, unbelievable guys, went to crazy places, and out of those six years, five of them came with a gold medal so that was pretty special as well. Also, that helped me in my baseball life, how to experience things and learn from those type of experiences.

“I’m a Cubbie and that’s what’s on my chest right now, but Team USA will always have a special place in my heart.”

While Almora carries those national team experiences with him every day, his main focus coming into the 2018 season is becoming a consistent difference-maker. Almora made only 65 starts during the 2017 campaign, and 63 percent of his at-bats last year came against left-handed pitching, against which he hit a robust .342. That led to a platoon role in a crowded outfield, with Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, Jon Jay, Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist all taking turns on the merry-go-round. But with the departure of Jay, Almora believes his time is near.

“I have the most confidence in myself that I can play every day, but I try not to think about that kind of stuff because it’s out of my control," Almora said. "All I control is like last year what I did; whenever I was given an opportunity, I tried to do my best and help the team win.”

Almora’s ultimate role on the 2018 Cubs remains to be seen, but there’s no question that Theo’s first Cubs pick will earn whatever role he ends up with, and the foundation of Almora’s journey to Clark and Addison was laid many summers ago during his time with Team USA.

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

News broke to Willson Contreras that the league will be limiting mound visits this upcoming season, and the Cubs catcher —notorious for his frequent visits to the rubber — is not having it.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If you have to go again and pay the price for my team, I will," he said.

The new rules rolled out Tuesday will limit six visits —any time a manager, coach or player visits the mound — per nine innings. But, communication between a player and a pitcher that does not require them moving from their position does not count as a visit.When a team is out of visits, it's the umpire's discretion to allow an extra trip to the mound.

But despite the new rules, Contreras is willing to do what's best for the team.

“There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? They cannot say anything about that. If you’re going to fine me about the [seventh] mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”