Cubs

Dempster overshadows everything else in Cubs' orbit

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Dempster overshadows everything else in Cubs' orbit

You could get whiplash trying to keep up with all the Ryan Dempster drama on Twitter, and how his image appears to have changed for Cubs fans.
Dempster isnt scheduled to throw another live pitch until Tuesday night, or more than four hours after the trade deadline. So that sense of urgency for Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer and Los Angeles Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti might not kick in this weekend.
But the trade market isnt going to remain static. The Dodgers could search elsewhere for pitching help. A contender could enter the picture and allow the Cubs to bring Dempster another trade for his approval. The Atlanta Braves might whiff on finding another starter and circle back.
All those scenarios in the run-up to the deadline mean that until this is resolved, it will overshadow everything else around this team, which is exactly what Dempster didnt want to happen.
Remember Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo? The two new faces of the franchise were a spark on Friday, combining for five hits, four RBI and four runs scored, but it wasnt enough on Ron Santo Day.
By the end, St. Louis Cardinals fans were high-fiving each other at Wrigley Field after Fridays 9-6 win over the Cubs. Now back to our regularly scheduled Dempster Watch.
We know its part of the game, manager Dale Sveum said, but I dont care who you are, it gets (old). You want to move on to other questions. Theres no question about it.
With the wind blowing out and facing a Cardinals team (54-46) that has now outscored the Cubs 32-7 in the past week, Travis Wood didnt look like an answer for the post-Dempster rotation.
Wood gave up five homers, including one Yadier Molina put on Waveland Avenue, and tied a club record last set by Carlos Zambrano (the night Big Z packed up all his stuff at Turner Field and told people he was thinking about retirement).
Things didnt go as planned, Wood said. I missed some pitches and they didnt. They ended up hitting them out of the park.
The Dempster negotiations didnt follow the script either. And for all the breathless updates on Twitter, there is still plenty of time for the Cubs (40-58) to try to make a deal.
But once a possible trade to the Braves was leaked through the Atlanta media this week, Dempster didnt want to have to make a decision so publicly while he was weighing family concerns.
After being a model teammate by all accounts for almost nine seasons with the Cubs, Dempster was catching heat from fans and being portrayed as selfish (or worse).
Whether or not that sticks, you could have looked to Dempsters old friend Kerry Wood, who was back at Wrigley Field catching the first pitch from Santos grandson. No. 10 was designed into center field and put on the blue flags on top of the upper deck as part of a day-long tribute to the late, great Hall of Famer.
Wood didnt want to go out in May with the final image being his glove and hat tossed into the stands. Ten days later, Kid K got his perfect ending by striking out the final batter he faced, hugging his young son by the dugout and walking into retirement.
Everyone was over Irrelevant, dude.
Also remember that the reasonable voices usually arent the loudest on social media. If you understand where Dempsters coming from, or respect what hes done for the franchise, then you probably dont need to use ALL CAPS and (expletives).
Fortunately for Dempster, hes got the 10-and-5 rights, Sveum said. People dont know whats going on behind the scenes and all the reasons why you accept and why you dont. So its one of those unfortunate things (where people) jump to conclusions.
Hes one of the most class guys youll ever be around (and) obviously very productive when he goes out there every five days. (Its) a tough situation.
Keeping Dempster (2.25 ERA) past the deadline is viewed as an extreme long shot, though the odds seemed to have slightly increased after the Braves deal fell apart.
The new collective bargaining agreement means that to get draft pick compensation for Dempster, the Cubs would have to offer him a one-year deal worth around 12 million at seasons end (and make sure he doesnt take it). The draft choice might be more useful in terms of the extra money that would funnel into the bonus pool, enabling them to go after more players with sign-ability issues.
But the Cubs wouldnt see any value in that until next summer at the earliest (as opposed to immediately getting a prospect or two into the system and working with them into 2013).
And if Dempster somehow stays in a Cubs uniform for the final two-plus months, no one inside the clubhouse is going to complain.
It would be a nice issue if we have him the rest of the year, Sveum said. Were only going to be a better team with him on the field this year. So as far as issues, theres not going to be any.

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

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USA TODAY

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.