Manny Ramirez

The ascension of Javy Baez...into Manny Ramirez?

The ascension of Javy Baez...into Manny Ramirez?

Pedro Strop knows the score: He'll have a tough time accessing his locker at Wrigley Field often.

"That's what you get when you're right next to a superstar," Strop said, referencing his locker adjacent to Javy Baez's. 

"Javy being Javy" may have to start picking up steam as a slogan.

Baez has often been compared to Gary Sheffield for the lightning-quick batspeed, but the guy Joe Maddon keeps comparing Baez to is actually Manny Ramirez. (If you're keeping score at home, Baez has now been compared to Sheffield, Ramirez and Willie Mays — and that's just in the first month of the 2018 season.)

The Cubs manager believes the only thing that has kept Baez from being Ramirez at the plate is laying off pitches out of the zone, namely the slider low and away.

Ramirez was one of the game's best hitters for nearly two decades in the '90s and 2000s, a force in the middle of the Cleveland and Boston lineups during that time.

We may be witnessing a similar type of evolution for Baez right now, who hit .344 with 8 extra-base hits (including 5 homers), 12 RBI and 9 runs in 7 games on this homestand after Thursday's 8-5 win over the Cardinals

Baez also ranks third in baseball in barrels per plate appearance — trailing only Boston's J.D. Martinez and Mookie Betts — and boasts a slugging percentage (.691) in the same neighborhood as Bryce Harper's (.712).

"You're seeing the ascension," Maddon said before Thursday's game. "I've talked about this for a bit — where the moment he starts laying off the down-and-away slider, he's Manny Ramirez.

"He's got that kind of abilities at the plate. It's just a matter of maturing as a hitter, which he will."

[PODCAST: Does Javy Baez have an MVP in his future?]

Ramirez has had a hand in helping Baez become the player he is now, as the former Red Sox great was hired by Theo Epstein as a hitting consultant with the Cubs and spent time in 2014 with Baez in Triple-A Iowa.

Baez is still just 25 years old and the maturation process has already started, as he is now looking to go the other way instead of trying to pull everything.

For a guy that's hit just 21.9 percent of his balls to right field in his career, Baez has seen a jump in 2018, with 28.9 percent of his balls in play going the other way, and that was before he lined a pair of 110 mph hits) to right to kick off Thursday's game.

He's locked in right now and it's still very early in the season, but everything Baez has shown thus far in 2018 has been encouraging.

"He's using the whole field — I can't emphasize that enough," Maddon said. "He might take that out-of-control swing, but then he comes right back to reality pretty quickly. Whereas that one [would] lead to the second one to the third one and then he comes walking back [to the dugout]. 

"So I think he's making in-at-bat adjustments. His approach has been entirely different. He's willing to use the other side."

Baez insists he's not consciously trying to hit the ball to right field, but he's seeing it really well right now.

"It started with Pittsburgh. I kinda put the ball where I wanted to," Baez said. "Now that I keep doing the same thing, I'm still hitting the ball good. I'm not actually trying to hit the ball that way, just trying to see the ball better."

Maddon and the Cubs have typically been slotting Baez in the eighth spot in the order this season, but as he's exploded offensively, he's seen a steady climb.

That culminated in a start in the 2-hole Thursday, the first time Baez has been there since 2016.

Maddon was looking for some "energy" from Baez atop the order and it worked to perfection as he tripled in the first inning and wound up scoring a few pitches later on Kris Bryant's single. Baez singled and scored in the second inning, too.

There will still be growing pains, like when Baez collided softly with Rizzo for a foul pop-up in the third inning Thursday, causing the ball to drop. And he still doesn't walk much and will be prone to the strikeout.

But Baez can help the Cubs win in a dozen different ways and it sure seems as if his bat is catching up to the rest of his game.

Another year, another non-update on potential Sammy Sosa reunion from Cubs Convention

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AP

Another year, another non-update on potential Sammy Sosa reunion from Cubs Convention

Tom Ricketts actually got more than halfway through his Cubs Convention session before Sammy Sosa was finally brought up. 

You see, the Sosa question has become an annual staple at Cubs Convention, particularly in Ricketts' panel. 

Sosa may be undergoing some bizarre physical changes, but he still resonates with fans of all ages after delighting the Wrigley Field faithful for a decade. 

"I know people won't recognize him..." the fan qualified while still asking Ricketts when Sosa might make his way back to the Cubs Convention.

Ricketts declined to talk about Sosa specifically, but mentioned the Steroid Era as a whole.

"Yeah, I've talked about this a lot over the years and it seems to come up every year," Ricketts said. "I really believe that all the players from that era, who went through that performance-enhancing, steroid era, I think we owe them a lot of understanding.

"I think we have to put ourselves in their shoes and be very, very sympathetic to all the decisions they had to make. And, as it turns out, after testing began in 2002, a large number of players tested positive.

"So I think we all need to be sensitive and understand their situation. But I also believe that players from that era owe us a little bit of honest, and I kind of feel like the only way to turn this page is to put everything on the table.

"And I think that's kind of a better answer. So that's kind of the way I feel. We'll see what happens in the future."

In a media session after his panel, Ricketts was asked again, specifically about Sosa.

"I'm not gonna talk about Sammy in particular," Ricketts said. "I'm just gonna talk about the whole era. I just think we need to put everything on the table and move forward."

OK, so if Sosa admits to PED use, he can come back to the Cubs "family"?

Ricketts wasn't the owner of the Cubs during Sosa's tenure on Chicago's North Side, but "Slammin' Sammy" brought countless millions to the organization, whether he took PEDs or not. (For the record, Sosa reportedly tested positive for PEDs in 2003, but he was never suspended.)

Sure, he's officially entered the Upside Down now, but the Cubs Convention is for the fans and there certainly seems to be no shortage of fans interested in seeing Sammy Sosa...even if people won't immediately recognize him.

Sosa's fellow late-'90s/early-2000s sluggers Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds haven't exactly come forward with any admission of PED guilt and neither guy has any trouble finding a job or role in today's Major League Baseball. 

Ricketts and the Cubs don't employ either McGwire or Bonds, but they did boast Manny Ramirez — a similar product of the era who was suspended for PEDs twice during his career — as a hitting instructor for three seasons through 2016.

Of course, the end of Sosa's Cubs tenure had more to it than just the suspicion of steroid use, with the slugger not leaving on the best terms with the team and his teammates before getting traded away to the Baltimore Orioles.

This has been your yearly Sammy Sosa Cubs Convention update.

Potential first-ballot guy and Blackout Game hero Jim Thome headlines group of former White Sox on this year's Hall of Fame ballot

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AP

Potential first-ballot guy and Blackout Game hero Jim Thome headlines group of former White Sox on this year's Hall of Fame ballot

White Sox fans have seen a couple of their team's all-time greats go into the Hall of Fame in recent years, with Frank Thomas inducted in 2014 and Tim Raines inducted earlier this year.

Seven former White Sox are on this year's Hall of Fame ballot, even if only a couple of them made a big impact on the South Side.

Jim Thome is on the ballot for the first time. While more famously a member of those great Cleveland Indians teams of the 1990s, Thome spent four seasons in a White Sox uniform, playing in 529 games and belting 134 of his 612 career home runs with the South Siders.

A Peoria native currently working as a member of the organization, Thome was a beloved part of four White Sox teams, including the last one to reach the postseason in 2008. He smacked a solo homer to drive in the lone run in the legendary Blackout Game, a 1-0 win over the Minnesota Twins that gave the White Sox the American League Central crown in the 163rd game of the 2008 regular season.

Thome ranks second in White Sox history in slugging percentage and OPS, trailing only Thomas in both categories. He's No. 7 on the franchise leaderboard in on-base percentage and No. 13 on the home run list.

Given that he ranks eighth on baseball's all-time home run list, Thome could very well be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Also on this year's ballot is Carlos Lee, a power-hitting outfielder who spent the first six seasons of his major league career with the White Sox. El Caballo hit 152 homers and drove in 552 runs in 880 games with the White Sox, finishing 18th in AL MVP voting in 2003 after he slashed .291/.331/.499 with 31 homers. His numbers were even better in 2004, his final season with the White Sox.

Lee ranks ninth on the team's all-time home run list and 11th on the franchise leaderboard in slugging percentage.

Lee did an awful lot of damage in six seasons with the Houston Astros, as well, and earned three All-Star nods in his post-Sox career.

Five others to play for the White Sox are on this year's ballot. Sammy Sosa, more noteworthy for what he did with the Cubs, spent parts of three seasons on the South Side. Omar Vizquel, another Indians great like Thome, played for the White Sox in 2010 and 2011. Andruw Jones, better known for his defensive highlights with the Atlanta Braves, played 107 games with the White Sox in 2010. Orlando Hudson played in 51 games for the White Sox in 2012. And Manny Ramirez, the legendary Indians and Red Sox slugger, played 24 games with the White Sox in 2010.

In order to qualify for election into the Hall of Fame, a player must appear on 75 of ballots submitted by voters.