Cubs

Anthony Rizzo is getting ready for takeoff

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Anthony Rizzo is getting ready for takeoff

This wasnt exactly floating a trial balloon. Cubs manager Dale Sveum just happened to answer a question about Anthony Rizzo before Sundays matinee at Wrigley Field.

It immediately generated headlines, and getting swept by the White Sox almost became an afterthought. Sure, the Cubs could use a designated hitter when they go to American League stadiums for interleague play next month. Why not Rizzo?

Sveum said that will be discussed with the front office, and he knows his lineup could use a jolt right now. Rizzo went deep again on Wednesday for Triple-A Iowa, running his total to 16 homers. The 22-year-old is hitting .355 with 43 RBI through 44 games.

Cubs fans have long loved their prospects. Maybe its part of the conditioning for wait until next year. The explosion of information on the Internet has only increased their fascination with the next big thing.

With the hype building, Rizzo sat down with Comcast SportsNet this week in Des Moines, telling Luke Stuckmeyer that he tries not to pay attention to any of it.

I really just focus on today and now, Rizzo said in an interview airing on SportsNet Central at 10 p.m. on Thursday. I get texts from my friends, and my parents calling me, this and that. But theres no point in getting wrapped up around any of that, because its just going to drive you crazy. I learned that last year. Whenever that time comes, Ill be ready.

Whenever the first baseman of the future is promoted, it wont be by happenstance. It will have almost nothing to do with whats going on at the big-league level and everything to do with Rizzos growth as a player.

This is all part of being thorough, the buzzword in this new front office. Before the season began, each prospect in the organization received an individual player plan for improvement, which outlined goals to meet this year.

Team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer have already scouted the Triple-A club in person. The Cubs also installed cameras in each of their minor-league stadiums. SpyCam shows real-time video on the Web, which team executives can watch on their laptops.

There are financial benefits in waiting to restart the meter on Rizzos major-league service time until later this summer, though Epstein has said that will not really be a consideration.

Rizzos experience with the San Diego Padres last year hangs over the decision. Hoyer was running the Padres then, and has admitted that it was a mistake to rush Rizzo, who hit .141 with 46 strikeouts in 128 at-bats.

Rizzo called the video sickening to watch. What makes him think hell be ready this time?

Just preparation, Rizzo said. (Its) preparing every day, staying in that good routine. I have a good routine going right now that Im sticking with. Nothings going to get in my way. Its just tunnel vision right now (for) where I want to be. That vision is with the Cubs for a long time and many championships.

The Boston Red Sox model is being rebuilt at Clark and Addison. Cubs executive Jason McLeod selected Rizzo who played his high school ball in South Florida in the sixth round of the 2007 draft.

Epstein and Hoyer were on opposite ends of the Adrian Gonzalez deal and included Rizzo, before re-acquiring him in the Andrew Cashner trade last winter.

It means a lot, Rizzo said. They drafted me when I was a little baby at 17, when I was thick and chubby and theyve seen me grow. Theyve seen me take my lumps and hopefully they see me excel.

Rizzo is now listed at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, and hes shown real agility around the bag.

Unprompted, one Cubs official looked back on some of the balls that trickled through the right side of the infield think of those two late losses to the Washington Nationals the first week of the season and guaranteed that Rizzo would have made the plays.

Those skills should be maximized with Sveums intricate defensive positioning, which pinches the shortstop and second baseman and tries to take away the middle.

I think he (could become) a Gold Glove first baseman, Iowa manager Dave Bialas said. Not only does he have power and is hitting for average, he has good instincts on the base paths. He really does a good job in going first to third, reading the ball off the bat, scoring from second base. Hes really a complete player.

Cubs executives have described Rizzo as mature beyond his years after overcoming Hodgkins lymphoma while in the Red Sox system. They believe how hes responded to adversity is telling.

Rizzo and Iowa outfielder Brett Jackson, a 2009 first-round pick out of Cal-Berkeley, are viewed as potential glue guys who will set the clubhouse tone for future Cubs teams.

Im really excited at the opportunity we have to be teammates, hopefully for a long time, Jackson said. We push each other. I think a good teammate always has to push his teammates.

Were constantly talking baseball and when the times going to come for each of us. (Were) helping each other make those adjustments, getting on each other for missing pitches we should have hit. Its a good relationship. Im excited to see him in a Cubs uniform soon, hopefully.

Its a good guess that whenever Rizzo makes his Cubs debut, it will come on the road, away from the media crush at Wrigley Field. Obviously, hed like to be in the show already, but thats not one of the talking points.

Rizzo is going to keep grinding away, until the Cubs have no choice.

Every day is a new challenge in baseball, Rizzo said. So every day youre going to be working on something, whether its the rookie league in Mesa, or here in Iowa.

Youre always trying to get better, whatever level youre at. Whether its here or the big leagues, there are going to be constant adjustments. Thats what this game is about.

'Cubs by the letter'

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USA TODAY

'Cubs by the letter'

Chris Kamka goes through his Cubs version of the alphabet in a poem inspired by Ogden Nash's "A Lineup for Yesterday" from 1949.

A: Arrieta

Respected and feared

He tossed two no-hitters

And grew a large beard

 

B is for Billy

A sweet-swingin' lefty

Was rather soft spoken

His hittin' was hefty

 

C is for Catcher

Mike Barrett’s right fist

Contreras, Girardi

And others I missed

 

D is for Dawson

His contract was blank

He won MVP

Then went to the bank

 

E is for Ernie

He bled Cubbie Blue

a beautiful day

So why not play two

 

F is for Fergie

He could do it all

Played hockey, played hoops

Pitched into the Hall

 

G was for Goat

But not anymore

That nonsense of "curses"

We choose to ignore

 

H is for Harry

His trademark black frames

He’d yell “Holy Cow”

And mispronounce names

 

I is for Ivy

Along Wrigley's Walls

Responsible for

Many vanishing balls

 

J is for Javy

He goes by El Mago

The flashiest glove

In all of Chicago

 

K is for Strikeout

And also for Kerry

His 20-K game

Was quite legendary

 

L is for Lester

He just needs one run

He'll make 30 starts

And then start Game 1

 

M is for Maddon

Had plenty of luck

Used hundreds of lineups

And tried not to suck

 

N is November

Of 2016

One hundred eight years

They wiped the slate clean

 

O is for Orie

And countless others

Who'd be superstars

If we had our druthers

 

P is for Pappas

Was one pitch away

The ump called ball four

Which ruined Milt's day

 

Q for Quintana

Colombian pride

Has hurled for both

The South and North side

 

R is for Ryno

Out at second base

He turned double plays

With Dunston & Grace

 

S is for Sammy

Into the abyss

Goes dozens of baseballs

Heart tap and a kiss

 

T is for Tony

You know who it is

Regarding first base

No one beats The Rizz

 

U for Uehara

With Cubs for one year

Not many to choose from

To fill the spot here

 

V is for Vegas

A wonderful place

Hometown of the player

Who covers third base

 

W for Wrigley

And Waveland too

Also the white flag

With a W in blue

 

X is for X

Roman Numeral Ten

Was worn by Ron Santo

Won’t be worn again

 

Y is for Yu

He had a tough year

In 2019

Yu'll be glad he's here

 

Z is for Zobrist

A solid teammate

You'll hear his wife sing

As he walks to the plate

 

Dunc'd on Podcast floats Robin Lopez to Rockets trade idea

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USA TODAY

Dunc'd on Podcast floats Robin Lopez to Rockets trade idea

On Tuesday’s episode of the Dunc’d On Podcast, Nate Duncan and Danny Leroux discussed the idea of the Houston Rockets trading for Bulls center Robin Lopez.

This comes in part because of the news that Clint Capela will miss up to six weeks with ligament damage in his thumb and Houston could certainly use a fill-in at the center position.

Duncan and Leroux did not suggest any hyper-specific trades but Leroux suggested the framework of the possible deal as:

“I had floated the idea of them trading Brandon Knight and an asset for Robin Lopez, not because Lopez is a perfect fit though he is a capable center and there is some value in that, but also because it’s a way for the Rockets to get off of 2019-20 money”

The Rockets have oft-discussed issues with the amount of money on their books but it costs to be a winning team, and Houston has found a way to succeed even after not extending contracts to defensive-minded forwards Trevor Ariza and Luc Richard Mbah Moute last offseason.

At the time of this writing, Houston is sitting at 25-18, good for fourth in the Western Conference, an amazing turnaround after their rough start to the season. But even with all of their recent James Harden-led success, the Rockets still rank 26th in the league in defensive efficiency, a worse rating than the 10-34 Bulls.

Lopez, while not the the traditional rim-runner or floor-spacing big man that the Rockets would usually go after, still provides a huge defensive upgrade over any big on their roster not named Clint Capela.

Per NBA.com, opponents are shooting 7.1 percent worse when defended by Lopez, a testament to how good he is at using his length to frustrate scorers at the rim, and occasionally on midrange closeouts. Of course, he is too slow-footed to play in a switching defensive system, but the Rockets have not went to that strategy as much as they have in past years.

If the Bulls do decide to use their cap space to acquire draft assets rather than going after free agents, the Rockets-Bulls deal floated by the Dunc’d on Podcast makes a TON of sense.

Brandon Knight, the oft-injured 27-year old guard, still has some promise despite was has been an awful stinit in Houston. He has said all the right things, and by all accounts seems like a great guy who has just had some awful luck with injuries. And it is important to remember, this is a guard who as recently as the 2015-16 season, was putting up 19.6 PPG.

Knight is certainly thankful just to have a chance to prove himself again on the NBA stage.

Houston is gearing up for the stretch run. And Lopez would be perfect to be stationed right in the middle of the paint as the Rockets defensive anchor until Capela is 100 percent.

Another interesting note--though Mike D’Antonio, Daryl Morey and co. definitely aren’t as concerned about it--is that Lopez is shooting a (obviously) career-high 0.9 3-point attempts per 36 minutes, while hitting them at a 28.6 percent rate.

His brother Brook has notoriously turned himself into one of the NBA’s premier 3-point shooting centers, taking 8.7 attempts from 3-point range while hitting 37.8 percent of them. Now no one is expecting Robin to turn into Brook overnight, but on a team that leads the league with 43.3 3-point attempts per game, there is precedent for Lopez to become an interesting (last-ditch) pick-and-pop option, considering how skilled he is at screening combined with the offensive gravity of Harden.

The Rockets are the same team that reportedly offered four-first round picks in an effort to get Jimmy Butler, so it is not insane to think that the Bulls would be able to extract a first-round pick for the Rockets as long as they were willing to take money back.