White Sox

With changes coming, Cubs get a bounce before All-Star break

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With changes coming, Cubs get a bounce before All-Star break

NEW YORK Four years ago, Ryan Dempster was one of eight Cubs picked to go to the All-Star Game. They could think about being buyers at the trade deadline and dream about the World Series and a parade down Michigan Avenue.
That was another borough, the old Yankee Stadium, and 2008 might as well be ancient history as far as this team is concerned.
The Cubs rolled their suitcases through the clubhouse after Sundays 7-0 victory over the New York Mets, looking forward to a mini-vacation. Playing in Queens, not far from LaGuardia Airport, they got out of there in a hurry.
The Cubs (33-52) head into the All-Star break having won nine of their last 13 games, creating a sense of momentum with their starting pitching and the promotion of Anthony Rizzo.
But between now and the July 31 trade deadline, there is the very real possibility that the roster could be torn apart. Dempster (4-3, 1.99 ERA) just shut down the Mets for five innings in a showcase start.
How do you cover for a guy like that?
You just dont, Sveum said. If anything like that happens, you dont replace a 2.00 ERA. Those things are hard to replace. Thats why people want to trade for those guys.
Right now, Theo Epsteins front office is essentially dividing assets into two groups: Players to build around Rizzo and Starlin Castro, and players to be cashed in for prospects.
Castro who along with Bryan LaHair will represent the Cubs at the All-Star Game in Kansas City added a three-run bomb in the seventh inning.
Dempster, a respected veteran voice, was asked a question about the growth hes seen from Castro, and tried to make a joke about that Bobby Valentine moment from last season.
Well, obviously, hes not turning around and looking in the outfield when pitches are going this year, so thats always a good step, Dempster said.
Valentine an ESPN analyst at the time whos now managing the Boston Red Sox ripped Castro for spacing out at shortstop.
Dempster continued: Kidding aside, hes making huge strides in his ability to even read the plays, know when a pitchers going inside. Hes moving around the infield and his turning double plays has been unbelievable. Hes just doing a great job there.
Everybody knows he can hit, but when youre the shortstop, youre the leader of the defense, and hes really taken over that role.
For all the talk about The Cubs Way and how Castro fits in and that new patient approach which got hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo fired last month they jumped on Mets left-hander Jonathon Niese for four runs in the first inning and finished it off in two hours and eight minutes.
For a few days at least, the players can go off the grid and not have to listen to all the questions about trade rumors.
Thats something (we all) have to deal with, Sveum said. The veteran guys that have been part of this understand that your name might pop up here. It might be on SportsCenter. It might be on the MLB channel.
But thats part of the gig this time of year.
Its no secret which direction the Cubs will take as they head into a market designed for sellers. There will be an extra playoff team in each league, and on Sunday morning, 19 teams woke up less than 10 games out of a wild-card spot.
Theres always the factor of whos adding, whos subtracting, Sveum said. But now with the new playoff system, theres so many teams that feel like a piece of the puzzle here (or) there might get them over the hump to get in the position they want to be in.
This was a winning road trip, but who knows what sort of team this will be by the end of the month. Castro wont miss being in the Dominican Republic, and promises to come back stronger.
No, I dont want to go home, Castro said. Youve seen the commercials. Its not a break. I want to be in the All-Star Game every year.

White Sox Talk Podcast: Inside the White Sox draft room with Nick Hostetler

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AP

White Sox Talk Podcast: Inside the White Sox draft room with Nick Hostetler

Chuck Garfien and Ryan McGuffey speak with White Sox scouting director Hosteler inside the team's draft room at Guaranteed Rate Field.

How accurate are the mock drafts? (2:45) Can Andrew Vaughn meeting the lofty expectations? (6:40) Bobby Witt Jr's unique background (8:30), why this draft could bring a face of the franchise type player the top (11:15), and what it's like in the war room on draft day (12:30). Do they have a consensus pick yet? (13:45) Do they need to stock up on pitching? (17:35)

Is Nick Madrigal meeting expectations in Class-A? (26:40) Hostetler's sleeper pick from last season that White Sox fans should watch (30:00) and more.

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

White Sox Talk Podcast

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How close is Ian Happ to rejoining the Cubs?

How close is Ian Happ to rejoining the Cubs?

Is Ian Happ nearing a return to Chicago?

In a surprise move at the end of spring training, the Cubs sent the 24-year-old switch-hitter down to the minor leagues to work on his swing and try to cut down on strikeouts.

Happ's numbers in Iowa don't jump off the page at you (.240/.362/.422), but it looks like he may be turning a corner of late. He homered Monday night then went 4-for-4 with another homer, 2 doubles and 5 RBI in the second game of a doubleheader Wednesday.

That's obviously a very small sample size, however, and even including that, Happ is still struggling to make consistent contact. He has struck out 14 times in 25 at-bats over his last 8 games. 

His overall strikeout percentage on the season is 25.9 percent — a major improvement on the 36.1 percent mark he struggled through in the big leagues last year. But Happ had never struck out more than 23.6 percent of the time in a season coming up through the minor leagues, so that number is still higher than the Cubs would like to see.

"If [the mini hot streak] were sustained, you'd have to really start listening," Joe Maddon said. "I'm following him via video, watching the at-bats. I'm doing that almost daily with him. I know prior to that, he had still had some problems with strikeouts. 

"And then hit a home run the other day and that seems like that's led to this other home run. That would be primarily a call on the front office and the minor-league part [on when to call him up], but I will watch the video. The home run I saw, I liked. I thought he had much better balance on the entire swing."

Obviously the Cubs aren't going to overreact to a couple games and deem Happ ready to return to the big leagues based off a handful of at-bats.

But there's also a solid case to be made that he could help the club in Chicago right now.

Despite a hot start to the season, the Cubs' role players have really fallen off the last few weeks and much of the offensive damage has come from the big boppers (Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez, Willson Contreras) recently.

There's no indication Ben Zobrist is coming back anytime soon, as Maddon said Thursday morning he hasn't spoken to the veteran in a couple days. 

David Bote and Jason Heyward have looked better this week, but they were struggling for the first couple weeks of May. 

Daniel Descalso has really been scuffling, hitting .097 with only 1 extra-base hit in May and his defense at second base has been below average.

Then there's Mark Zagunis, who isn't doing much of anything for the Cubs — literally. He hasn't started a game since April 26 and hasn't seen even one inning in the outfield since then, either, serving exclusively as a pinch-hitter for the last month.

So if the Cubs decide soon that Happ is ready to return to the big leagues, they have a simple decision on the roster spot and right now, there might be an avenue to a decent amount of playing time either at second base or the outfield.

Happ may not be the best or most experienced defender at second base, but he's seen some time there in the minors this season (59.2 innings) and he can also play either of the corner infield spots and all three outfield positions.

But would it be prudent for the Cubs to call up Happ if they don't even have room for him to play every day? That could throw a wrench in his development, which is clearly something the organization has been committed to.

Albert Almora Jr. is still easily the best centerfielder on the roster and has been great offensively for the last month, so it's not like he's done anything to deserve falling back into a platoon with Happ in center like they shared for much of 2018.

"It's hard. You would want to [call him up only if there's ample time to play him]," Maddon said. "But if you could morph him in and there's a platoon that's worthwhile, you could do that, also.

"But part of him being [in the minors] right now on a consistent basis is to get these kind of at-bats to get this all worked out and you would not want to lose that, either. But when he were to come back, being that he could hit left-handed obviously permits us to do other things."

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