Cubs

Cubs see Gold Glove/Andre Dawson potential in Jorge Soler

jorge-soler-andre-dawson-gold-glove-pic.png

Cubs see Gold Glove/Andre Dawson potential in Jorge Soler

Dave Martinez has flashbacks watching Jorge Soler.

While Jon Lester’s yips became a viral video and a national story, the Cubs bench coach watched Soler stay with the play and channel another Wrigley Field fan favorite: Andre Dawson.

“I saw ‘Hawk,’” Martinez said Wednesday. “I saw ‘Baby Hawk’ out there. I played next to ‘Hawk’ and (saw) some of the throws he made from out there. And as soon as (Soler) threw the ball, that’s the first thing I thought about.”

[MORE: Joe Maddon wants Cubs to take the fight to NL Central]

Soler bailed out Lester on Monday night with two home runs and what manager Joe Maddon called that “ridiculous” throw during a 7-6 comeback victory that took 10 innings. After Lester’s throw to first base sailed wide of Anthony Rizzo and bounced off the rolled-up tarp and into the visiting bullpen, Soler picked up the ball and gunned down Zack Cozart at third base.    

Dawson’s Hall of Fame plaque features his classic nickname — “THE HAWK” — as well as the eight Gold Gloves and 1987 National League MVP Award, labeling him as “a complete player.”

Martinez primarily played center while Dawson patrolled right during that MVP year on the North Side. Maddon’s longtime bench coach with the Tampa Bay Rays now works with the Cubs outfielders and sees the same kind of all-around potential in Soler.

“He’s a beast, but he does a lot more than just hit the ball hard,” Martinez. “My biggest thing in spring training, I kept telling him: ‘Hey, you can win a Gold Glove in the outfield. You’re that good.’ I said: ‘You run the bases well, but you got to try to do it all the time, not just when you feel like it.’ And he’s been unbelievable. (He’s) worked his butt off.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Soler turned 23 in spring training and possesses all the physical tools, carrying about 240 pounds on his 6-foot-4-inch frame. He’s shown an ability to quickly make adjustments after playing only 151 games in the minors. He’s a polished, patient hitter who put up 26 RBI across his first 30 games in The Show, the most for any Cub since Bob Speake did the same thing in 1955.

That advanced feel is even more impressive when you consider the Cuban outfielder missed roughly two years of game action while trying to defect and establish residency before signing a $30 million major-league contract in the summer of 2012.

If Soler stays healthy, it looks like that signing could go down as one of the pivotal moments for the Theo Epstein administration.

“People don’t realize how young he is,” Martinez said. “He’s a young baseball player that’s learning how to play the game the right way.”

How Addison Russell plans to keep nagging arm/foot injuries at bay in 2018

How Addison Russell plans to keep nagging arm/foot injuries at bay in 2018

Addison Russell doesn't have time to think about whether or not Javy Baez is coming for the starting shortstop gig.

Russell is too busy making sure he's able to perform at his physical peak for as much of 2018 as possible after a rough few years in that regard.

The soon-to-be-24-year-old only played in 110 games last year as he missed more than a month with a foot injury. He also has a history of hamstring injuries (including the one that kept him out of the 2015 NLCS) and a sore throwing arm that has cropped up at times throughout the last few years (though whether the arm is an issue or not depends on who you ask).

Russell admits his arm has been an issue and he has a new plan of attack this winter that will carry into the spring.

"I've been doing a throwing program," Russell said. "I feel like in the past, with my arm, I started throwing a little bit too early in spring training.

"This year, in the offseason, just kinda ease into it a little bit. In the offseason last year, I feel like I threw a little bit too much. Once midseason hit, it was all the downward effect of me throwing too early in the offseason.

"Having that in mind, taking things easier in the offseason and then going into spring training and then once the season's here, maybe around a quarter of the way through the season, start revving it up and that way, I'll be able to last with both my foot and my arm."

Russell had a bad case of plantar fasciitis last summer that also affected his ability to throw the ball to first base.

He joked he feels like an old man because he is happy he can now wake up without any pain in the foot, but still makes sure he rolls his foot on a golf ball to keep things loose.

With regards to his offseason workouts, Russell is prioritizing quality over quantity and he's taken full advantage of the longer offseason that featured far less distractions than a year ago when the Cubs were coming off the first World Series championship in 108 years.

"I'm getting a little bit older and I think a little wiser when it comes to training and knowing my body," Russell said. "With that being said, it's just kinda being in tune to my body more than pounding out weights.

"Definitely running and cardio is something that has been beneficial to my career in the past. I'm keeping up with that."

Between the foot and arm modifications to his training regimen, Russell is hoping to cut down on some of his throwing errors that plagued him in 2017 and try to get back to the hitter he was when he clubbed 24 homers and drove in 108 runs in 168 games between the 2016 regular season and postseason.

"Definitely I want to be in the All-Star Game this next year," Russell said. "I feel like with the type of skillset that I have and the type of guys around me, I think that could be a goal that I could hit.

"Smaller goals as far as staying consistent with my workouts. Remaining flexible is a huge goal that I wanna hit this year. I see a lot of veteran guys after ballgames stretching and they've been playing for quite a while, so it definitely works out for them.

"Just taking something from veteran guys and kinda incorporating it into my game and picking their ear and listening to how they prepare and how to keep your body in shape is beneficial, for sure."

To make the All-Star Game, Russell would need to get out to a hot start, which is something the Cubs and their fans would love to see. His steady presence in the lineup and as a defensive anchor contributed to the inconsistencies of the 2017 Cubs.

Entering a pivotal season in his development, Russell has emerged as one of the biggest X-factors surrounding the Cubs entering 2018. 

The entire Addison Russell 1-on-1 interview will air Friday night on NBC Sports Chicago.

Cubs announce minor league staff for 2018, with many familiar faces receiving new roles

chrisvalaikacubscoach.jpg
USA TODAY

Cubs announce minor league staff for 2018, with many familiar faces receiving new roles

The Cubs finalized their minor league staffs for 2018 on Thursday, making changes at numerous staff positions.

The organization has retained managers Marty Pevey (Triple-A Iowa), Mark Johnson (Double-A Tennessee), and Buddy Bailey (Single-A Myrtle Beach) and Jimmy Gonzalez (Single-A South Bend). New to the organization is former Philadelphia Phillies' catcher Steven Lerud. Lerud, 33, will manage Single-A Eugene in 2018.

Eugene also added Jacob Rogers to its staff as assistant hitting coach. Rogers, 28, played in the Cubs organization from 2012-2016. Also new to the organization is Paul McAnulty, who is the new assistant hitting coach for South Bend. McAnulty, 36, played in parts of four seasons with the Padres from 2005-2008 and with the Angels in 2010. He recently served as a coach in the Angels' system in 2016.

Those with new roles for 2018 include Chris Valaika, who is now an assistant coach with Triple-A Iowa. Valaika, 32, began his coaching career last season with rookie league Mesa after playing ten seasons professionally. The former utility player hit .231 in 44 games with the Cubs in 2014.

Like Valaika, former Cubs' farmhand Ben Carhart has a new role with the organization for 2018. Carhart, 27, is now an assistant coach with South Bend after serving as a rehab coach with Mesa last season. From 2012-2016, he hit .270 in 372 minor league games, all in the Cubs' organization.

The Cubs also announced their minor league coordinators for 2018. Holdovers include Darnell McDonald and John Baker. McDonald played for the Cubs in 2013 and will return for his fourth season as the organization's mental skills coordinator. Baker, who played for the Cubs in 2014, will return for his second season as a mental skills coordinator.

Jeremy Farrell returns to the organization for a third season, although 2018 will be his first as the Cubs' minor league infield coordinator. Farrell played in the White Sox farm system from 2013-2015 and is the son of former Red Sox and Blue Jays' manager John Farrell.

Here is a complete list of the organization's major league training staff and minor league managers and staff for 2018: