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What Ricketts wants out of next Cubs GM

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What Ricketts wants out of next Cubs GM

Monday, Sept. 19, 2011
Posted: 1:11 p.m. Updated: 10:40 p.m.

By PatrickMooney
CSNChicago.com CubsInsider Follow @CSNMooney Cubs-Brewers box score Photo gallery
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Even if Tom Ricketts doesnt know who exactly will be the next Cubs general manager, the chairman has a clear vision for how he wants baseball operations to be run.

In trying to find a balance between the new wave of statistical analysis and old-school scouting, Ricketts has reassured the Jim Hendry loyalists left in the front office.

Ricketts met with scouting director Tim Wilken for roughly 90 minutes on Sunday and gave him the authority to renew contracts which are set to expire at the end of October and make new hires within his department.

Wilken, who was already signed through 2012, was also informed that he will be retained next season. Several front-office advisors have gathered at Wrigley Field during this homestand to review the minor-league system and analyze the 40-man roster.

Im looking forward to seeing who the next general manager will be and working with him, Wilken said Monday. Nothings slowed up here and Toms always been supportive and pretty darn active.

Wilken who has not been approached by another organization yet did not get an extension. Vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita recently leveraged interest from the Detroit Tigers into a new four-year contract that voided the existing season left on his deal.

The idea is to keep some sense of continuity as the Cubs head into a pivotal offseason. Combined Wilken and Fleita are responsible for departments that employ roughly 90 scouts, coaches and staffers.

Ricketts graded them both out at A during Hendrys exit press conference last month. The chairmans betting that those two employees will be viewed as assets, not liabilities. This executive search could last beyond the end of the World Series, so the Cubs will need people in place to smooth the transition.

Ricketts clearly respects the scouting infrastructure Hendry already built and doesnt want to see it completely torn down. Perhaps the last thing the chairman will want to hear from a prospective candidate is this: Youre doing it all wrong.

The Milwaukee Brewers have won with a homegrown core that includes Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder (at least for the next few weeks). Their magic number to clinch their first National League Central title remains at four after Mondays 5-2 loss to the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

Though vague in many public comments, Ricketts has consistently said that he wants to build a team from within.

The chairmans promised that Wilken will be given the resources to essentially find the next Fielder and Braun, the kind of high-impact position players the Cubs havent developed since, perhaps, the days of Billy Williams and Ron Santo.

Wilken is well-respected throughout the industry after working for Hall of Fame executive Pat Gillick in Toronto. He spent 25 seasons within the organization, helping the Blue Jays become World Series winners in 1992 and 1993. He ran drafts that yielded Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter.

Gillick also designed playoff teams in Baltimore, Seattle and Philadelphia, but when he arrived in a new city, he didnt automatically call for mass firings and tried to work within the framework of the organization.

Adaptable is a leadership quality that Ricketts will likely look for in his next head of baseball operations.

Wilken left the Toronto organization nearly a decade ago, not long after J.P. Ricciardi, a Billy Beane disciple, cleaned out the front office. Moneyball has gone Hollywood, but all the best franchises now use a blended approach that combines sabermetrics with traditional scouting. Its not one or the other.

From the outside, it may look like Ricketts is meddling. But its significant that both Wilken and Fleita have been energized by the commitment new ownership has shown to player development. Theyve set aside their personal feelings about Hendry and will tell you that its a good place to work.

Wilken grew up with Hendry in Florida and they later played together at Spring Hill College, a Jesuit school in Alabama. Fleita played for Hendry at Creighton University and has described him as a father figure and an older brother.

Fleita speaks Spanish and has become a point man for the new academy the Cubs are planning to build in the Dominican Republic, where they want to find the next Starlin Castro.

Wilkens budgets were unstable during the final years of Tribune Co. ownership. Hes still found useful pieces in the draft, though Andrew Cashner and Tyler Colvin took steps back this year. He restocked the farm system enough to pull off the Matt Garza deal.

Affiliates at Double-A Tennessee, Class-A Daytona and Class-A Boise each made the playoffs this season, though the pitching at the higher levels didnt come as fast as the Cubs had hoped.

This summer Ricketts approved almost 20 million for international signings and draft bonuses. The mandate going forward will be to find more game-changers.

Hopefully were on to something, Wilken said. We can build this all together as a unit and put together a winner.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for 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.