Cubs

Imagine the possibilities if Cubs hire Maddux

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Imagine the possibilities if Cubs hire Maddux

Mike Maddux had everyone laughing with his one-liners, and silent when he cut short questions about why he didnt interview in Boston. It sounded like hed have to think about it if he was offered the job.

But most of all, Maddux had an edge that would serve him well if he becomes the next Cubs manager. That presence seemed to keep open the long-shot possibilities that his brother Greg could join the staff and that Carlos Zambrano might be saved.

The Rangers pitching coach met with Cubs executives for roughly four hours on Tuesday night, and continued interviewing on Wednesday at Wrigley Field. They discussed what role his brother could play in the organization, though Maddux declined to elaborate, calling it a private family matter.

Theres a lot of dynamics in every decision we make, and family not only extends to my wife and my daughters, but also my brother and his family.

Maddux and Nolan Ryan pushed their pitchers in Texas, an old-school philosophy that led the Rangers to the World Series twice in the past two years. So how would you handle Zambrano?

I heard hes a big teddy bear, Maddux said, so might pick him up and just burp him.

Those 18 minutes inside the PNC Club were far more entertaining than anything Phillies bench coach Pete Mackanin or Brewers hitting coach Dale Sveum gave us during their media sessions.

No one knew what Theo Epstein or Jed Hoyer thought of the performance, because the Cubs executives left the room as soon as it was over, unavailable for comment. Indians bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr. will interview on Friday at Wrigley Field.

Maddux almost sounded like Zambranos agent, talking up the enigmatic pitcher who could use a fresh start elsewhere. This was more of a hypothetical question hoping to get a headline. But by hiring an expert, the Cubs could reinvent their pitching staff, with or without their 91.5 million man.

I saw Carlos Zambrano from across the field seven, eight years ago, Maddux said, and he was the best thing since sliced bread. Hed beat you on the mound. Hed beat you at the plate. Hed beat you on the field.

Total package, great competitor. He was the best pitcher in the National League, and thats what I have in my mind about him. Ive seen him dominate.

In Maddux, the Cubs would be getting a strong voice to say buy or sell on any pitcher, someone who could find internal solutions and shape the vision for an entire organization.

It takes no talent to be in shape that takes desire, Maddux said. Your window of opportunity is short, man. So if youre going to be out of shape and not give yourself every opportunity to be the best that you can be, well, shame on you, because you only get one crack at it.

That message could resonate with Epstein, who recently had to answer questions about the culture of fried chicken and beer in the Red Sox clubhouse. Either way, the Cubs will have to upgrade their rotation this winter. Among the qualities Maddux would look for in a pitching coach: Somebody who could put up with my second-guessing.

Maddux prepared for the interview by getting background information from his brother, who worked as a special assistant to Jim Hendry before the general manager was fired last summer. Family considerations could prevent the future Hall of Famer from taking on a full-time role.

Family concerns also forced Maddux, 50, to withdraw from the Red Sox managerial search this week, but he would not go into details: Were not in Boston right now, so talk about Chicago.

When Maddux was done playing in 2000 after 15 seasons, his two daughters were eight and 10 years old. They all moved to Wisconsin for his six seasons as Brewers pitching coach through 2008. His older daughter moved with him for college when he took the job with the Rangers, while his wife and other daughter stayed back. They all reunited last summer in Texas.

Thats pretty special, Maddux said. There does come a time (when) you got to stop and smell the roses and it was a pretty big gut check for me this year being with my family. The situation is nice both my kids are in school down there. (So) there are a lot of tough decisions that would have to be made.

Maddux seems willing to listen. All these years, he never stopped to analyze why the Cubs have gone more than a century without a World Series title. He might have to start coming up with some theories soon.

When I was with the opposition, I did everything I could to keep the Cubs from winning, Maddux said. I despised the song Go Cubs Go after theyd kick our butts. But Ive always admired this town. Its a very, very unique setup, very historic. And whoever becomes the manager of this ballclub is in a good spot.

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.