Cubs

Kyle Schwarber’s huge October for Cubs is nearing The End

kyle-schwarber-cubs-10-20-15.png

Kyle Schwarber’s huge October for Cubs is nearing The End

Kyle Schwarber has already become a playoff legend in Wrigleyville, and it’s still almost time to turn out the lights at Clark and Addison.

The Cubs can’t win this National League Championship Series with the Kyle-or-nothing offense or a Schwarber-or-famine lineup. The New York Mets are on the verge of sweeping it after Tuesday night’s 5-2 victory, power pitching winning out again.

Don’t blame Schwarber, who’s trying to match Daniel Murphy, New York’s new Mr. October and the hottest hitter on the planet. Schwarber crushed Jacob deGrom’s 97-mph fastball into the left-center field bleachers, giving the Cubs a first-inning adrenaline rush that wouldn’t last and setting a new franchise record with five home runs during the playoff run no one saw coming.

[MORE: As Cubs fade from playoffs, Jorge Soler shows building-block potential]

That same thump just hasn’t been heard in the middle of this Cubs lineup – and no one’s been on base for Schwarber’s two home runs during this best-of-seven matchup. Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro have so far combined to go 6-for-33 (.182) with only two extra-base hits and more strikeouts (five) than runs driven in (two). 

“It’s hard to say: 'What if…what if…,'” Schwarber said. “'What if…' didn’t happen. This is what happened: We lost the ballgame. So we got to come out ready tomorrow and play our ballgame.”

Schwarber has already become a clubhouse spokesman, standing in front of his locker and talking to waves and waves of reporters. He gave no excuses for not handling Yoenis Cespedes’ RBI single in the seventh inning, saying he simply misread the line drive.

Before Game 3, a team official laughed and said he was glad the Cubs didn’t know about Schwarber’s show-choir video when they drafted the Indiana University catcher/outfielder with the No. 4 overall pick last year.

Until Schwarber, no one in major-league history had hit five postseason home runs before his 23rd birthday.

[MORE: Mets pounce on Cubs again to take commanding 3-0 lead in NLCS]

But the Deadspin clip that went viral makes total sense the more you think about it, how much Schwarber loves working to become part of a team, whether it’s hitting people as a second-team All-Ohio linebacker or singing and dancing at Middletown High School. It shows a fearless attitude.

“He’s not overwhelmed,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I don’t think he takes himself too seriously. Have you all seen that YouTube video with him dancing with – was it his high-school group? He’s like part of The Temptations or The Spinners or The Four Tops. He’s like the lead dancer. I love that. That speaks to everything for me.

[NBC SHOP: Buy Cubs playoff gear

“The fact that he’d have the nerve to be out front like that and going through this whole routine…I think that speaks a lot of him walking out (there) and being very comfortable.

“He’s just very comfortable in his own skin. He’s a good baseball player. Don’t be deceived by maybe body structure, whatever. This guy’s a good athlete – and he’s a good baseball player. He’s got a good mind for the game. He asks good questions. His work ethic is unbelievable.”

Schwarber’s makeup should help the Cubs return to October someday as a tougher team. But for now, all they can think about is the 2004 American League Championship Series and what the Boston Red Sox once did to the New York Yankees.

“It’s a little frustrating, but we got to move past it,” Schwarber said. “We got to keep going. It’s been done before and this team’s done some special things throughout this whole season. So we don’t count ourselves out by any means.”

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

adbert.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.