Cubs

South Bend Cubs win minor league baseball's top honor

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South Bend Cubs win minor league baseball's top honor

The Chicago Cubs may have had a 2015 for the ages, but it's one of their minor-league teams is taking home some serious hardware.

The South Bend Cubs - the Class-A affiliate in Indiana - was named the 42nd annual John H. Johnson President's Award, minor league baseball's top honor handed out to the most complete baseball franchise.

The criteria for the accolade takes into account financial stability, contributions to league stability, contributions to baseball in the community and promotion of the baseball industry, according to MiLB.com.

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The SB Cubs will be honored at the Baseball Winter Meetings Banquet on Dec. 6 in Nashville, Tenn.

"On behalf of the entire South Bend Cubs organization, we are incredibly honored to accept the 2015 John H. Johnson President's Award," said South Bend Cubs President Joe Hart. "To be selected for this prestigious award over some of the best franchises across the nation is extremely humbling.

"The 2015 season broke a number of longstanding records in South Bend and would not have been possible without the hard work and dedication of our front office and gameday staffs. We pride ourselves on having the most passionate and customer service-focused people working for us. It is wonderful to see their hard work recognized."

The South Bend Cubs signed a player development contract with the Cubs before the 2015 season and agreed to change their name and logo to reflect the parent club. They set new franchise records in overall attendance, totaling 347,678 fans with an average of 5,039 a game.

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"Through dedication to their community and commitment to making Four Winds Field a better place for fans, the South Bend Cubs broke attendance records and became a business leader in their area," said Pat O'Conner, Minor League Baseball President & CEO. "This award recognizes them for their pursuit in setting a higher standard for all of Minor League Baseball. On behalf of Minor League Baseball, I congratulate the South Bend Cubs on an outstanding season and wish them continued success in the future."

This is the first time South Bend has won the Johnson President's Award.

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Who was Theo Epstein’s first draft pick with the Cubs?

The answer to that trivia question will always and forever be Albert Almora Jr. picked sixth overall in the 2012 amateur draft.

In some ways, the young outfielder from Florida became the forgotten man in the stable of can’t-miss prospects that Epstein and top lieutenants Jed Hoyer and Jason MacLeod amassed since their arrival over six years ago. While players such as Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ zoomed through the minor leagues on their way to the majors, Almora took a different path – one that included seven different stops over parts of five developmental seasons before he broke into the big leagues during the 2016 season.

But Almora’s road to the majors began years before he was selected by the Cubs, when he began playing for Team USA as a 13-year-old. Over the next several years, Almora played for the Red, White & Blue seven times, his final appearance coming in 2015. The seven appearances are the most in the history of USA Baseball, and Almora recognizes the impact his time with the national squad had on his playing career.

“[It was] one of the best experiences of my life," he said. "Every year I had something special to play with, unbelievable guys, went to crazy places, and out of those six years, five of them came with a gold medal so that was pretty special as well. Also, that helped me in my baseball life, how to experience things and learn from those type of experiences.

“I’m a Cubbie and that’s what’s on my chest right now, but Team USA will always have a special place in my heart.”

While Almora carries those national team experiences with him every day, his main focus coming into the 2018 season is becoming a consistent difference-maker. Almora made only 65 starts during the 2017 campaign, and 63 percent of his at-bats last year came against left-handed pitching, against which he hit a robust .342. That led to a platoon role in a crowded outfield, with Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, Jon Jay, Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist all taking turns on the merry-go-round. But with the departure of Jay, Almora believes his time is near.

“I have the most confidence in myself that I can play every day, but I try not to think about that kind of stuff because it’s out of my control," Almora said. "All I control is like last year what I did; whenever I was given an opportunity, I tried to do my best and help the team win.”

Almora’s ultimate role on the 2018 Cubs remains to be seen, but there’s no question that Theo’s first Cubs pick will earn whatever role he ends up with, and the foundation of Almora’s journey to Clark and Addison was laid many summers ago during his time with Team USA.

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

News broke to Willson Contreras that the league will be limiting mound visits this upcoming season, and the Cubs catcher —notorious for his frequent visits to the rubber — is not having it.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If you have to go again and pay the price for my team, I will," he said.

The new rules rolled out Tuesday will limit six visits —any time a manager, coach or player visits the mound — per nine innings. But, communication between a player and a pitcher that does not require them moving from their position does not count as a visit.When a team is out of visits, it's the umpire's discretion to allow an extra trip to the mound.

But despite the new rules, Contreras is willing to do what's best for the team.

“There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? They cannot say anything about that. If you’re going to fine me about the [seventh] mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”