Cubs

Starting over, Zambrano wins for his nephew

242479.jpg

Starting over, Zambrano wins for his nephew

Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2010
10:55 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

WASHINGTON For all their differences, Carlos Zambrano and Lou Piniella have this in commonboth are emotional men who value the importance of family.

Zambrano spoke with his brother on Tuesday and left the Cubs that night to travel back home to Venezuela to visit his 11-year-old nephew, who was hospitalized and placed in intensive care with whats believed to be a bacterial infection.

He told me to dedicate that game to his son, Zambrano said. In the first inning I was thinking about him. And I was throwing all the pitches saying: This is for my nephew.

With all that weighing on his mind, Zambrano went out and dominated the Washington Nationals in a 5-4 victory. And in a way the enigmatic pitcher is starting over, playing for a new manager and with a group of new teammates.

Maybe you are struggling with how to pronounce Mike Quades last name, or you cant tell one rookie reliever apart from another.

But there were still two familiar sights on Tuesday night at Nationals Park, Zambrano raising his head and pointing to the sky, and Alfonso Soriano lingering near home plate, admiring his three-run homer as it soared into the left-field seats.

Combined Zambrano and Soriano will make almost 36 million this season, enough to bankroll an entire 25-man roster for a small-market team. They will not fade easily into the background, and not just because they have no-trade clauses and approximately 108 million remaining on their contracts.

Soriano bounces around the clubhouse with a constant smile. Zambrano declined to comment after Piniella announced that Sunday would be his final game in uniform. They are two of the most recognizable faces left in this franchise.

For all the talk about developing young players for 2011, Quade has stressed that he needs the veterans to carry the Cubs (53-74) through to the end of this season. Zambrano is 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA in his four starts since returning to the rotation.

Well take that fresh start and just run with it for the next six weeks, Quade said.

After limiting the Nationals (53-73) to one run across 7 13 innings, Zambrano has the same outlook.

Q (is more) hyper than Lou, Zambrano said. He has more energy, but we need to do our job anyway, either being with Lou or Q or (Alan) Trammell. (We) need to play for our team.

Soriano can get hot and carry a team, and he now has hit at least 20 homers in nine consecutive seasons. Even if hes a flawed player, hes in elite company. Only four other players are on similar runs: Alex Rodriguez (15 seasons); Albert Pujols (10); Adam Dunn (nine); and David Ortiz (nine).

Zambrano (5-6, 4.64) hasnt produced like an elite pitcher, but feels like he is improving each time out, building from one start to the next. Last week against the San Diego Padres he walked six batters and struck out one. This time he finished with eight strikeouts and only one walk.

If Zambrano remains a Cub, whoever the manager is next season will want to cultivate a relationship with him. Piniella reached breaking points with Zambrano, and it helped lead to his suspension and time on the restricted list.

Lou was very special to me. He was honest, Zambrano said. Any time he had to say something to me, he said it. He wasnt afraid.

When he calls somebody into the office, it doesnt matterthat guy could be making 18 million. (He) knows how to speak. He didnt say much, but when he spoke, he knew what to say. He knew how to come to you and say the proper words.

In the same interview, Zambrano can be dismissive and engaging with the media. He began to answer two separate questions Tuesday night with: What do you think? Yes, he thinks hes getting better, and that he would have been in a groove if he remained in the rotation the entire season.

Zambrano described his bullpen experiment this way: We got too desperate too soon. He then reflected on his nephew, and vowed to make his next start, likely Monday at Wrigley Field.

Its pretty sad, Zambrano said. He is in bad condition (and) I will be with my family for a few days and come back to work.

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.