Cubs

Keeping score, Zambrano bursting with confidence

270189.jpg

Keeping score, Zambrano bursting with confidence

Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2010
1:24 AM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

SAN DIEGO This was Carlos Zambranos 294th game in a Cubs uniform, but the first time his mother, who traveled from Venezuela, could actually sit in the stands and watch him pitch.

Zambrano called it a special night after Mondays 1-0 victory over the San Diego Padres, and his mind wandered to several different places. He thanked God for the way his season is ending, quoted the pitching philosophy of Greg Maddux and mentioned how a newspaper reporter had recently described him as a former ace.

You can count and see if Im the former ace or if Im still the ace of this team, Zambrano said. I still have confidence in myself and all my pitches are working right now.

Chicago has understandably shifted its attention to the Bears and locked in on Monday Night Football. During the seasons final week, the real interest in the Cubs (71-85) will come from out-of-town markets.

But Zambrano is still a reason to tune in and not just to see if he does anything crazy in the dugout. With seven more scoreless innings against the Padres (87-69), he is now 7-0 with a 1.27 ERA in 10 starts since rejoining the rotation.

Hes just attacking the zone with confidence right now and he should be successful when hes doing that, manager Mike Quade said. The results speak for themselves. One more good start in Houston and that would be some kind of finish, but hes been fantastic.

Atlanta, San Francisco and Colorado will all be watching the scoreboard these four nights to see what the Cubs do in San Diego. The Padres woke up Monday morning leading the Braves in the wild-card race by a half-game, and trailing the Giants by a half-game in the National League West.

The Padres are a great story, contending with a payroll around 38 million. They have a marketable Mexican-American star in Adrian Gonzalez, who was born in San Diego and moved to Tijuana before emerging as the No. 1 overall pick of the 2000 draft at Eastlake High School in nearby Chula Vista, Calif.

Yet by Monday night, the atmosphere felt like Pittsburgh in May. This is a beautiful downtown stadium by the water with a clear view of the citys skyline and entire sections of empty seats.

Only 22,739 fans showed up to PETCO Park and it finally became somewhat loud in the seventh, when Zambrano walked two batters and ran the count to 3-1.

There he got Tony Gwynn to fly out to center with an 88 mph sinker. He forced pinch-hitter Oscar Salazar to pop out into foul territory to end the inning and held his fist in the air for several seconds.

You could almost hear Zambranos scream several levels up in the stadium. When he returned to the dugout, he was greeted with wave after wave of high fives from his teammates.

By the ninth inning, there was again energy in the stadium. Carlos Marmol needed only 10 pitches to strike out the first two batters before Yorvit Torrealba slid headfirst for an infield single.

Marmol then hit Chase Headley with a slider that appeared to only brush the dirt, and walked Gwynn to load the bases before Nick Hundley flew out to left to end the game. That quieted the crowd and dropped the Padres a game behind the Giants in the division and a half-game back of the Braves in the wild-card chase.

The Cubs will need Zambrano to resemble an ace or at least get significant returns on their 91.5 million investment if they are to get back into that conversation.

Ted Lilly reportedly placed his Chicago house on the market, another sign that hes not likely to return as a free agent. That will only increase the demands on Zambrano near the front of the 2011 rotation.

Late Monday night, Zambrano was feeling good, but wouldnt share how he envisioned this season ending while he waited on the restricted list.

It doesnt matter if its San Diego or St. Louis or Pittsburgh, Zambrano said. I thought about coming back and helping this team and doing my job and forgetting about everything else. Plus, I dont want to talk about when I was suspended or whatever. I want to talk about what I did today and what I want to do (with) my next start.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

MLB.com's Cubs' 2018 Top Prospects list full of potential impact pitchers

adbert_alzolay.jpg
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

0222-joe-maddon.jpg
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.