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Garza talks stolen ALCS ring, future with Cubs

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Garza talks stolen ALCS ring, future with Cubs

Matt Garza has remained in the headlines all winter. The trade rumors don't bother the Cubs pitcher, who's only 28 years old and already on his third team. He understands this is a business.

What stunned Garza was finding out that his 2008 American League championship ring was stolen from his California home in late January. The Fresno Bee reported that the diamond-studded ring was valued at 30,000 and engraved with his name. He earned it on the miracle Tampa Bay Rays team that went to the World Series one year after losing 96 games.

"Everything's still just kind of one big blur," Garza said over the phone. "Me and my wife went through the house and they really didn't take anything else of monetary value. (It) was more of the shock. That's kind of what got us just the sentimental value of those items that were taken. But we're just glad that no one got hurt and we're all safe. Those things can be replaced."

The Garza interview ran Tuesday on "Chicago Baseball Hot Stove." The day before, Garza spoke with CSNs Chuck Garfien while driving through California on the way to the Cubs complex in Arizona.

While the media constantly speculated about where he might be traded next, Garza had enjoyed spending most of the offseason with his family in the Chicago area. His mother had taken his grandparents by his Fresno County home when they discovered the break-in.

She walked around the backyard before going inside, Garza said, just to see how the landscapers have been doing and stuff like that, just checking out my house. And she noticed the back bay window was shattered. So they went through the front door (and) saw an attic open and she called the cops."

Garza developed into a first-round pick at Fresno State University and grew up in the area. He said he doesnt know whos responsible for the burglary.

I don't want to accuse anybody of anything, Garza said. It's just not the thing to do. You (make) one accusation and it just snowballs, so that can never be a good thing. I trust that neighbors (would) do what all neighbors do, and that's report (whatever they see). Neighbors have told me (before and) watched over my home. They're very (trustworthy) people.

"It's not like (the ring is) just going to pop up. I hope it would, that would be awesome. But they're doing their police work and (asking) questions. We've gone over many things, all the situations and scenarios.

Last week, Garza avoided an arbitration hearing and agreed to a one-year, 9.5 million deal, plus performance bonuses. He will also remain under club control for the 2013 season.

Theo Epstein has described Garza as exactly the type of pitcher youd like to build around, and mentioned the possibility of a contract extension, though its unclear just how far those talks progressed.

The Cubs president of baseball operations also has a five- to 10-year plan that might not exactly match Garzas timeline. Epstein once watched Garza eliminate the Boston Red Sox and win the 2008 ALCS MVP award. A proven playoff pitcher would be an attractive chip at the trade deadline this summer.

Does he want to be here long-term?

"Yeah, why not? Garza said. It's a great organization to play for, with a lot of history, a lot of tradition and there's great support from up top. What more can you ask for in an organization?

Everybody who comes to Chicago knows about the city. It's amazing. It's so diverse. There's so much you can teach (your kids here). The fans are some of the greatest. They're true diehard fans. To be a fan of a team that hasn't won in (103) years you can't say (much more than that). They're the most loyal fans in baseball.

Garza will likely begin the season in a Cubs uniform, on a team with almost no expectations, but its unclear where it will all end. A big-game pitcher has already been part of a team that shocked the world.

"There's a lot of excitement and buzz, Garza said. There (are) a lot of hungry, hungry, hungry young guys who want to show what they can do. And like I said back in January (at the Cubs Convention), with young kids a lot of things (can) happen. It's going to be a lot of fun to be down there and get things going.

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.

Even with an entire spring schedule to go, guessing the Cubs' 25-man roster is pretty easy

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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.