Cubs

Ex-Cubs prospect Eloy Jimenez is speeding up the timetable on White Sox

Ex-Cubs prospect Eloy Jimenez is speeding up the timetable on White Sox

ORLANDO, Fla. — The White Sox are beginning to understand what the Cubs already knew about Eloy Jimenez, a young right-handed power hitter who drew comparisons to Kris Bryant, Miguel Cabrera and Edgar Martinez.

No pressure. But Jimenez reported to big-league camp with the defending World Series champs and thought he could leave Arizona with a spot on the Opening Day roster, a sign of his confidence, natural talent and sense of belonging.

Jimenez started 2017 with advanced Class-A Myrtle Beach, but he still wound up saving their season by showing enough potential that the Cubs could make him the headliner in the blockbuster Jose Quintana trade with the White Sox during the All-Star break.

Now one of the most interesting pieces to the White Sox rebuild is in the Dominican Winter League, roughly 1,000 miles away from the general manager meetings at the Waldorf Astoria Orlando, representing one of the game’s strongest farm systems.

“The biggest lockbox whenever you make an acquisition,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said Tuesday, “is what you’re getting from a makeup standpoint. Scouts do a tremendous job digging and getting as much background information as they can.

“But until you actually have him on campus and see how he works and goes about his business day in and day out, you don’t really know. We had positive reports, (but) I don’t think we fully appreciated the magnetic element of Eloy’s personality and how well he plays in the clubhouse and how diligent he is about his work.”

Hahn has seen the video of Jimenez with Gigantes del Cibao, where he’s hitting .365 with four homers, two triples, five doubles and 20 RBIs through 17 games. That is building off his first Double-A exposure in August and September, when Jimenez put up a .956 OPS in 73 plate appearances.

“Eloy might be forcing our timetable a little bit,” Hahn said. “You obviously have a young kid who’s 21 years old and has only been above A-ball for about 20 games. But in a short period of time in Birmingham, he made that ballpark look small.

“He’s obviously had a wonderful stay so far in winter ball. We’ll see him in big-league camp. I’m sure he’s going to continue to open eyes and impress not just with what the performance is on the field, but his work ethic and how he goes about his business, which has been equally as impressive since we got him.”

All this means Jimenez could be coming to the South Side sooner rather than later, right when the Cubs-Sox rivalry should be heating up again and Chicago baseball fans will be expecting October baseball at two different Red Line stops.

“It’s reasonable to have a development plan that has him in Double-A for the entire year next year,” Hahn said. “And if he does well, that’s a very fine year and age appropriate. That said ... the good ones have a way of sort of forcing your hand on it.

“What we’ve seen from Eloy in this short period of time that we’ve had him already, he may be forcing our hand a little bit.”

Cubs announce minor league staff for 2018, with many familiar faces receiving new roles

chrisvalaikacubscoach.jpg
USA TODAY

Cubs announce minor league staff for 2018, with many familiar faces receiving new roles

The Cubs finalized their minor league staffs for 2018 on Thursday, making changes at numerous staff positions.

The organization has retained managers Marty Pevey (Triple-A Iowa), Mark Johnson (Double-A Tennessee), and Buddy Bailey (Single-A Myrtle Beach) and Jimmy Gonzalez (Single-A South Bend). New to the organization is former Philadelphia Phillies' catcher Steven Lerud. Lerud, 33, will manage Single-A Eugene in 2018.

Eugene also added Jacob Rogers to its staff as assistant hitting coach. Rogers, 28, played in the Cubs organization from 2012-2016. Also new to the organization is Paul McAnulty, who is the new assistant hitting coach for South Bend. McAnulty, 36, played in parts of four seasons with the Padres from 2005-2008 and with the Angels in 2010. He recently served as a coach in the Angels' system in 2016.

Those with new roles for 2018 include Chris Valaika, who is now an assistant coach with Triple-A Iowa. Valaika, 32, began his coaching career last season with rookie league Mesa after playing ten seasons professionally. The former utility player hit .231 in 44 games with the Cubs in 2014.

Like Valaika, former Cubs' farmhand Ben Carhart has a new role with the organization for 2018. Carhart, 27, is now an assistant coach with South Bend after serving as a rehab coach with Mesa last season. From 2012-2016, he hit .270 in 372 minor league games, all in the Cubs' organization.

The Cubs also announced their minor league coordinators for 2018. Holdovers include Darnell McDonald and John Baker. McDonald played for the Cubs in 2013 and will return for his fourth season as the organization's mental skills coordinator. Baker, who played for the Cubs in 2014, will return for his second season as a mental skills coordinator.

Jeremy Farrell returns to the organization for a third season, although 2018 will be his first as the Cubs' minor league infield coordinator. Farrell played in the White Sox farm system from 2013-2015 and is the son of former Red Sox and Blue Jays' manager John Farrell.

Here is a complete list of the organization's major league training staff and minor league managers and staff for 2018:

 

 

 

Albert Almora Jr. is hungry for more

Albert Almora Jr. is hungry for more

While most of the Cubs were focusing on rest and relaxtion this winter, Albert Almora Jr. sees no need for chillin'.

Kris Bryant admitted he was worn down by the end of the Cubs' playoff run last October and most other regulars would say the same thing.

But some Cubs saw the winter not as an "offseason" but as the first opportunity to prove something.

Kyle Schwarber has shed weight and looks to be in great shape, but Almora is in the same boat.

The 23-year-old outfielder is chomping at the bit, anxious for the season to start. So anxious, in fact, that he spent just a couple weeks at home in Florida before heading to Arizona to start training for 2018. 

Yes, that's right. He's been in Arizona since November — training, eating right, mentally preparing himself for the grind ahead, taking swings. 

That's nothing new for the first draft pick under Theo Epstein's front office who's constantly trying to validate the sixth overall selection in the 2012 Draft.

"I'm always going out there trying to prove them right, trying to make them happy," Almora said.

This is a kid who earned a World Series ring before his 23rd birthday and has five gold medals from playing for Team USA as a teenager. 

Almora's no stranger to the big stage and he's already accomplished so much at such a young age, but he's never experienced anything quite like the 2017 season.

He's always been a starter and everyday player. From age 8, when he was playing up with 14-year-olds, Almora has been among the youngest guys on any team he's been on. 

That was the case with the 2017 Cubs once again, but this time, he wasn't a key contributor. He played nearly every day — notching 132 games — but only started 65 times throughout the course of the year. He had to learn a lot about waiting for his moment and making the most of his one at-bat or one inning in the field.

"[Playing time is] not in my control and I'm gonna do whatever I can when my name is called to help the team win games and have a lot of fun with it," Almora said. "That's the only way to stay sane and not worry too much.

"At the end of the day, all I can control is what I do on the ballfield and that's it."

Almora admitted he's let that external stuff creep into his mind in the past, though that was mostly in the minor leagues when he was wondering when he'd get called up to the next level.

In the majors, it's all about winning and Almora believes he can help the big-league team get back to the Promised Land.

Even Epstein admitted Almora is primed for a larger role in 2018, as the young outfielder proved down the stretch last year he could contribute against right-handed pitching as well as southpaws.

What does he make of his progression the last couple years?

"I can answer that by just saying I'm confident," Almora said. "The more opportunity I get, the more experienced under my belt. You're not intimidated, you're having a lot of fun out there and your confident in your game.