Cubs

Kap: No LaMar for Cubs; Fleita contract heralded

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Kap: No LaMar for Cubs; Fleita contract heralded

Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011
Posted: 5:38 p.m.

By David Kaplan
CSNChicago.com Insider Follow @TheKapman
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Late Tuesday evening Twitter was ablaze with rumors that the Cubs had identified Chuck LaMar as perhaps their next general manager. That tweet from the Daily Heralds Barry Rozner started a chain of rumors that linked LaMar to Cubs scouting director Tim Wilken to Ryne Sandberg and had people believing a hiring was imminent.

As I started reading the tweets and texts that came my way I was stunned that people actually started to believe that LaMar was a viable candidate for the job. He was the GM in Tampa for eight seasons and had seven last place finishes. In addition, people that I spoke with Wednesday were not at all complimentary about his tenure or his ability to be a good fit in that job for the Cubs.

The truth of the matter is this: Chuck LaMar is not going to be the next general manager of the Chicago Cubs and his sudden resignation from the Philadelphia Phillies organization does not have any tie to the Cubs. LaMar could resurface in a job with the Atlanta Braves organization where he spent a good portion of his career, but he is not believed to be a GM candidate for any of the openings expected in baseball this winter. Wednesday afternoon he also confirmed to a Philadelphia broadcaster that we here at Comcast SportsNet know that he is not talking with the Cubs about any position.

In addition, while Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts is taking heat for signing Oneri Fleita to a new four year contract as farm director, the people within baseball that I spoke with have praised Ricketts for hanging on to a very valued employee.

I have known Oneri for 20-plus years and he is as good as it gets. He is bilingual, which is a huge plus in his role, he put the entire Latin American operation together and that includes a network of scouts that will go with him wherever he goes," one GM candidate told me. "In addition, the Cubs new 50-acre facility in the Dominican Republic is being put together under his direction. So to lose him would be a major blow to the entire organization.

The other aspect of the Fleita extension that no one seems to be talking about is why people are so convinced that he will stay in his current role. He has a ton on his plate, so what is to say that his job description wont change once a new GM is hired? Couldnt a new GM tailor the revamped front office the way that he wants it and still have Fleita in a very important role with a different title?

Whatever his role is, it is obvious that he is a valued and trusted member of the front office and had he hit the open market he would have had a number of great offers. Instead, the Cubs were proactive and hung onto someone who is good. What a novel concept--hanging onto a good employee--and for that people are critical? That is ridiculous.

In addition, people in other organizations, and whose opinions I trust, are all telling me that they are chuckling at the perception that Ricketts hasn't taken his ownership duties seriously.

One NL West executive told me this: I wish I had an owner as committed as Tom Ricketts is. He spent 20 million on amateur signings and he is spending an unbelievable amount of money to build a state of the art academy in the Dominican Republic. We are all a little jealous of the commitment the Cubs have made to rebuild their organization.

Ricketts has traveled to every minor league affiliate, traveled to the draft and he has made it clear to every scout and coach in the organization that if they need anything to get the job done that he will see to it that they have everything they need to compete with anyone in the game.

Now, if you want to criticize the Cubs here is something worth criticizing them for: In another lost season they continue to play veteran players at the expense of youngsters who may or may not be a part of their future.

With Carlos Pena hitting .226, how can Mike Quade defend playing him regularly over Bryan LaHair, who may or may not be a prospect?

LaHair just put up ridiculous numbers in Triple-A, hitting .331 with 38 home runs and 109 RBIs. His 1.070 OPS was the highest of any player in baseball. I know he is 28 and he is not considered an elite prospect, but stranger things have happened than a 28-year-old finally making it big. How do you know if you dont give him a chance?

The same goes for Tyler Colvin and Tony Campana. Are they considered elite prospects? Probably not, but unless you play them regularly, how are you ever going to know?

David Kaplanpublishes his thoughts at The Kapman on CSNChicago.com every Monday,Wednesday, and Friday and whenever major news breaks. Follow him onTwitter @thekapman.

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

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.