Cubs

Scott Boras explains how Kris Bryant lives up to MVP hype with attitude Cubs need now

Scott Boras explains how Kris Bryant lives up to MVP hype with attitude Cubs need now

LOS ANGELES — “Nope,” Kris Bryant said when asked if any sense of panic crept inside the Cubs clubhouse, pausing for four seconds, giving a death stare and turning to his right with a next-question look. “I’m not concerned at all.”

Bryant stood at his locker after Tuesday night’s 6-0 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers extended the scoreless streak to 18 consecutive innings, the Cubs falling behind 2-1 in this best-of-seven National League Championship Series. With a backpack slung over his shoulders, Bryant answered every question from any reporter, finally walking out of the room at 9:01 p.m.

The “M-V-P! M-V-P! M-V-P!” chants echoed throughout Dodger Stadium the last time Bryant played here in late August. He managed the only two hits off ex-Cub Rich Hill in six innings, knocking two curveballs for singles, and then showing the attitude this team needs now.  

“He has the classic fighter-pilot personality,” super-agent Scott Boras said. “The more planes that are in the air, the calmer he gets. You know why? Because he goes: Great, I just get to shoot more things.

“That’s just his way of looking at life. Pressure – whatever it is – it’s just: Let’s go.”

Whatever happens next at Dodger Stadium, Bryant’s warp-speed development is a major reason why the Cubs believe they will keep playing deep into October for years to come.

As pointed and as personal as Boras could get while the Cubs tore it down to build the best team in baseball – “Meet the Parents,” “All-Day Sucker,” etc. – this time the agent didn’t at all oversell his client.

Bryant has been even better than advertised since the Theo Epstein administration made a franchise-altering decision with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 draft.

Within the last two years, Bryant has accounted for 65 homers and 201 RBI and put up a .900 OPS while playing six different defensive positions. During that time, the Cubs have won 200 games and made back-to-back trips to the NLCS.

Since his junior season at the University of San Diego, Bryant has been the national college player of the year, the consensus minor-league player of the year, an NL Rookie of the Year and possibly a unanimous MVP.

“I remember when he was in college, I went to see him play in Irvine,” Boras said. “They had a night game. He hit a ball to the wall in right field, center field, left field. And then hit one out about 410. I go: ‘I’ve been watching games here forever – I’ve never seen anybody (do that).’ You’re talking about 1,500-1,800 feet of at-bats.

“He goes: ‘Yeah, you know, it’s funny. I came to the ballpark today and I really wasn’t so concerned about it. It was kind of relaxing.’”

Boras asked: “Why?”

“Well, I had three finals today,” Bryant told Boras.

“He took three finals and goes and rakes,” Boras said. “He’s just that kind of guy. Nothing fazes him.”

Like what could be the unbearable pressure of playing for a franchise that hasn’t won a World Series since 1908 – and being one of its centers of attention from the moment you got drafted – and playing with “Embrace The Target” on your chest all season. 

Inside his home office in Southern California, Boras keeps an old photo of himself as a Cubs minor-league infielder. Before launching his career as the game’s most powerful agent, Boras worked as an attorney at a Chicago law firm, riding the El from Lincoln Park/Old Town and going up into a Loop skyscraper.     

Boras knew Bryant had no chance to make the 2015 Opening Day roster, the Cubs wanting to gain that extra year of club control and push his free-agency clock back until after the 2021 season. No matter how loud Boras yelled through his megaphone or whatever the Major League Baseball Players Association does with that service-time grievance.  

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But there is truth in advertising. Adidas got it right putting up that “WORTH THE WAIT” billboard in Wrigleyville last year. Red Bull then filmed Bryant with a goat in New Orleans for that “Down on the Farm” commercial.

“I figured if we’re going to be 11 days in the minor leagues, we’re going to do something special,” Boras said. “God gave us a big storm and (Kris) was wearing rubber boots. The Red Bull people really created it. Once we saw that, I (said): ‘Yeah, that looks good. Let’s do that. If we can’t play in the big leagues, at least we can kill the curse.’ And being a former Cubbie, we know a lot about that curse.”

No matter how many Cubs fans freak out on Twitter – or how lost the rest of this lineup sometimes looks against these Dodger lefties – Bryant still thinks this could be The Year. And that’s all that really matters now.

“Super calm,” Bryant said. “Nobody’s throwing stuff. Yeah, on the outside, you would kind of think that’s what would be going on because it’s fun to hit.

“But there’s no panic – nothing in here. That’s good. That’s right where we need to be.”

 

 

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.