Cubs

So far, so good for Zambrano and Quade

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So far, so good for Zambrano and Quade

Friday, March 18, 2011Posted: 8:05 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. Carlos Zambrano walked back to the mound ahead of Mike Quade. It looked like he pretended to not notice his manager. They had an animated discussion as the infielders gathered around.

There were two outs in the fifth inning and Zambrano had already given up homers to Scott Rolen and Joey Votto. Quade had seen enough. The 13,182 fans at HoHoKam Park on Friday didnt witness a meltdown.

I was just playing with him, Zambrano said. I just told him: What if I dont want to leave? Hes like: Then were going to fight here. (He) told me: Get out of here.

Zambrano went on to say that while the Cubs work hard, its also about having fun. And a 14-13 loss to the Cincinnati Reds didnt change his mood during what has been a very strong spring.

Zambrano who gave up six runs in 4.2 innings likes playing for Quade. Thats not insignificant as the Cubs try to relocate the pitcher who finished last season by going 8-0 with a 1.41 ERA in his last 11 starts. It might take all of Quades excellent communication skills.

Hes a great guy, Zambrano said. Hes always in a good mood. Ive known him for the last seven, eight years and hes straight (with you). Whatever he thinks, he comes to you or he calls you to his office and he says whatever he (needs to) in a good way. (Its all) how you say it.

People that show respect (get) respect. Thats why we get along.

Zambrano has been nursing a sore left wrist after getting jammed on a swing during batting practice. He listed himself as doubtful to compete in Mondays softball home run derby to benefit his foundation.

Ozzie Guillen who went to dinner with Zambrano hours after he had to be separated from Derrek Lee and was sent home from U.S. Cellular Field last year is among those scheduled to participate in the charity event. This exchange showed that Zambrano already has another manager he can relate to.

Its all good, Quade said. For him to be in that frame of mind even in a spring training game (is) a good thing.

A national reporter asked Zambrano if he was indeed having more fun this spring.

The answer to that question summed up an organization with its fingers crossed. The Cubs hope that the anger-management counseling had made a difference, and that their 91.5 million man again performs at a high level.

So far, so good, Zambrano said.

The Silva Watch

Its unclear what the Cubs are going to do with Carlos Silva, who is owed 13.5 million and now has a 15.88 ERA this spring. Its getting more and more difficult to see him in the rotation, given how well Randy Wells has pitched, and how high the organization is on Andrew Cashner.

Silva labored through three innings on Friday and his defense did him no favors by committing two more errors. But in total he allowed eight runs five earned on 11 hits. Publicly, the Cubs are committed to looking at him as a starter.

Quade gave Silva another vote of confidence and said the idea of moving him to the bullpen (isnt) even worth addressing right now. The Cubs wont be rushed into a decision in case of injuries and perhaps another team could become desperate for pitching by months end.

(Maybe) Silva comes out next time and dazzles like he did last year, Quade said. You just dont know. Im not going to sit here and speculate whats going to happen. Im sure hes disappointed in his outing, but hes been down this road before.

Ojeda vs. Barney

Back spasms continue to sideline Augie Ojeda, who hasnt appeared in a game since March 11 and was supposed to be in the mix as a utility infielderbackup shortstop.

Darwin Barney is hitting .382 this spring and appears to be on the verge of winning that job on his own merits. But the 36-year-old Ojeda who once played for Quade at Triple-A Iowa so far hasnt been able to live up to his excellent defensive reputation.

Im concerned about Augie, Quade said. This has been a little longer than we thought, so Im hoping that he can get healthy and this doesnt morph into something that lasts for weeks and weeks. Hes a valuable guy, whether he goes with us (to Chicago or not). Its getting late in camp and I dont think hes real close yet.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

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.