Cubs

Ignoring distractions, Wells focused on rotation

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Ignoring distractions, Wells focused on rotation

Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011Posted: 9:20 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. Randy Wells was never the hot prospect and he does not have a big contract. He can be his own worst critic. He would be perfectly content with not being noticed until his next start.

Wells is young, single and speaks his mind. He grew up in downstate Belleville, wears trucker hats and listens to country music. He got prescription glasses last year that kind of made him look like Ricky Wild Thing Vaughn from Major League.

Wells never wore them in a game and didnt find it nearly as amusing as the beat writers. He wants the focus to be on his game, which is why he considered shutting down his Twitter account. Instead he blocks his updates to a mass audience.

I just dont want it to be a distraction, Wells said. I dont want it to be like, Oh, I hear Wells Tweeted (this or that). For me to enjoy it personally is one thing and to have reporters ask me about it (is another). Its kind of like the glasses thing and the band thing and the songwriting thing last year. Its just like: How about you ask me about baseball?

Wells uses it to promote his favorite bands and read Chad Ochocinco. One list compiled by MLB.com has more than 100 major-league players with verified accounts.

Ryan Dempster uses it to promote his charitable foundation. Casey Coleman recently created one out of curiosity, but has backed off because he felt like too many people were trying to bait him into making a mistake.

Blue Jays manager John Farrell told Toronto reporters that ideally his players wouldnt use Twitter, though he wouldnt go so far as to ban it outright.

My own opinion is that for a player to get involved in that, they set themselves up for another distraction, Farrell was quoted as saying in the National Post. I cant mandate anything to them, but (would) probably advise them to just let it be.

Were not going to say they cant do it. But I think theyve got to be careful. If theyre going to engage in it, then they really need to be able to follow through on some of the things that might be put out there.

Farrells comments rippled through cyberspace this week. Thats just the way it works. Twitter unfairly made Jay Cutler and the Bears look bad, and it caused enough tension between Ozzie Guillen and the White Sox.

The Cubs will address this as part of their annual media-relations workshop with players. But theres no prohibition, just a reminder that you are representing the organization.

The Cubs have an official Twitter account with more than 11,000 followers. Several employees in the front office use the service to monitor the news.

In his first speech to the entire team last week, manager Mike Quade felt compelled to tell his players to look reporters in the eye and take the responsibility seriously because the medias a monster.

Wells feels like the media zoomed in on some of his struggles in the first inning and sometimes lost sight of his overall 2010 season.

Either way, the 28-year-old is trying to hang on to his spot in the rotation. Hell have to fend off 2008 first-round pick Andrew Cashner. And the Cubs are on the hook for 6 million of Carlos Silvas 11.5 million salary.

I like when you got to earn your keep, Wells said. Ive never been the kind of guy in my whole career thats had a spot to lose. Nobody goes into camp being like: Im going to be a starter at Triple-A.

Wells went 8-14 last season, but also made 32 starts and posted a respectable 4.26 ERA. It should not be discounted that he finished at 12-10 with a 3.05 ERA the year before, when he was the rookie success story.

The ending is unwritten. In a world of Twitter and Facebook, you can change the narrative very quickly.

When I say I lost a little focus last year, its nothing from a personal standpoint, Wells said. I meant that when things started tumbling, I didnt know how to step back and look inside myself and dig deeper.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

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.