Cubs

Steve Stone's mailbag: Can Castro win ROY?

231692.jpg

Steve Stone's mailbag: Can Castro win ROY?

Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2010
12:36 PM

Steve Stone dives into his mailbag to answer your questions about Starlin Castro's Rookie of the Year chances, the effect of Manny Ramirez' presence and more!

Tom, Chicago -- Does Starlin Castro have a good shot at Rookie of the Year? Or do you think he has to win the batting title to achieve that?

Steve Stone: I think Jason Heyward from Atlanta has the best shot of winning. Heyward plays for a first place team, has been hitting towards the top of the order and has displayed lots of power. With his batting average in the .280's and the defense he presents, that could be a problem for Castro. As far as winning the batting title, Castro has to pick up 23 points over Carlos Gonzalez of Colorado who is hitting .340, while Castro sits at .317. I don't think that will happen but it doesn't diminish what Castro has done. He is going to be a terrific player, especially if he starts to remember how many outs are in an inning. Right now he is benched by Mike Quade, which I think is a good thing because it will hit home and show Castro what is expected in the major leagues.

That being said, there are some other great rookies out there that are going to be in the running. Just in the National League, one of the guys coming to mind is Gaby Sanchez; not sure if he still qualifies as a rookie but he is having a great season. Competition this year is pretty stiff; don't forget Buster Posey of the re-surging Giants. He is hitting .326 and the Giants' offensive resurgence as well as their knocking at the door of first place could be directly related to Posey becoming an every day player. It appears there are some exceptional young talents in the majors already and certainly on the horizon. This may be tough for Castro, I don't think he will make rookie of the year but you never know.

Ronnie, Westmont, IL -- Ted Lilly always impressed me during his time with the Cubs, do you think there is a chance that they bring him back next season as a free agent?

Steve Stone: I think the Cubs are going to reduce a bit. If you could tell me that the Cubs would be able to trade Zambrano, Fukudome, or Silva without eating too much money, then I would tell you that, yes, there is a good chance they may go after Ted. I think Lilly will be looking for a multi-year contract and wont find that with the Cubs.

Trace, Santa Barbara, CA -- Is Manny Ramirez's presence in the White Sox lineup enough to push the team past the Twins and into the playoffs?

Steve Stone: I think Manny's presence is a good thing. I don't think he can hurt your ball club at all for a month. I would like to see him get a base hit to drive in a run, which he has not done yet. He is hitting unbelievably well; Manny has always been a clutch player. I don't think the Sox have the Manny that hit .349 (in 2002), but I don't think it hurts at all. The Sox are just looking for him to drive in some runs and occasionally hit it out the ball park; which should be easy in US Cellular. With the philosophy that Manny cant hurt, I think it was a pretty good addition to the baseball team and now we will see if he can generate some run production and some power.

Pat, Highland, Ind. -- Do you think Chris Sale has the stuff to be the White Sox closer next season?

Steve Stone: I don't think he will be the closer next season. He does have the stuff to be a closer but he has always been a starting pitcher and there is no reason to think he can't be a starter at the big league level. It would be very difficult to have both your premiere setup man and your closer to be lefty. Sale is too young to put a designated tag on what he will be. Sometimes it comes down to where the ball club needs him. If you count on Peavy coming back and Garcia, I count 7 starting candidates for next year's rotation, but obviously you will go with 5. Then you go to the idea of trading and it would be a substantial trade because these guys are pretty good. There are some tough questions that have to be answered. A lot depends on dollars that you can spend and what you think you can get in return for some of the talent. If you have the enviable position of having too many starting pitchers, there will be a team that would love to take one off your hands.

Ernie, Chicago -- Who are your picks for Cy Young this season? (Ernie - Chicago, IL)

Steve Stone: The fashionable pick among the sabermetric community is Felix Hernandez of Seattle because he is going to be first or second in strikeouts, first or second in ERA, first or second in quality starts, and most likely first in innings pitched. In looking at those numbers, if the vote were today, and it's not, you would lean towards a guy having a terrific year with a contending baseball team. So I go to a guy leading the league in victories (19-5), who is 5th in ERA (3.02), second in innings pitched, second in quality starts, and will likely strike out 200 men this year. That man is the gigantic CC Sabathia, who will likely be the first major league pitcher to win 20 games this year.

And as long as we are on the subject of Cy Young awards, I will throw in an extra bonus for you and we will talk about the National League, where it really gets tough. When looking at all categories this is one of those years that the victory list doesn't add up all that well with the ERA list. Though you could make a case for Adam Wainwright, you could also make a case for Chris Carpenter or Ubaldo Jiminez who, though the second half of the year has been difficult for him, has still compiled an 18-6 record with a 2.79 ERA.

My Cy Young Vote, which will be decided down to the wire, would be Roy Halladay. Roy is 17-10 with many losses due to lack of support. As of this writing, he leads the National League in strikeouts and, by a wide margin, innings pitched. He is two off the lead in quality starts and has a 2.36 ERA, which before the end of the season may drop even lower. You must also consider the miniature ballpark he plays in, compared to Latos of San Diego, Hudson of Atlanta, Johnson of Florida, and Wainwright and Garcia of St. Louis who all pitch in very pitcher friendly ball parks. Conversely Roy Halladay pitches in home run bay. He has also completed 8 games, which places him number one in a category that everybody seems to have forgotten about.

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

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.