Cubs

Baseball America releases Cubs' Top 10 prospects

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Baseball America releases Cubs' Top 10 prospects

The Cubs' farm system has gone through a complete remodel since Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took over in October 2011 and their stamp on the Cubs' top prospects was on full display in Baseball America's latest rankings.

BA's Top 10 prospects, released this morning, are as follows:

1. Javier Baez, SS
2. Albert Almora, OF
3. Jorge Soler, OF
4. Arodys Vizcaino, RHP
5. Brett Jackson, OF
6. Pierce Johnson, RHP
7. Dan Vogelbach, 1B
8. Jeimer Candelario, 3B
9. Kyuji Fujikawa, RHP
10. Arismendy Alcantara, SS

First off, the Top 5 are hardly a surprise, as almost every set of prospect rankings lists those guys in a similar order. Some may be a bit more wary of Jackson given his uptick in strikeouts over 2012, but he still is good enough in the other categories to warrant a place in the Top 5.

Five of the 10 players are new additions under this regime, with Almora and Johnson as draft picks, Soler and Fujikawa as international signings and Vizcaino coming over in the Paul Maholm trade.

It's interesting to see Fujikawa on the list, as the 32-year-old Japanese reliever is not exactly what one pictures as a prospect. I always think it's weird to consider international players "rookies" and "prospects," but I guess they technically are, so it makes sense to include a guy like Fujikawa on this list. He has dominated in Japan over the last six seasons, sporting a sparkling 1.36 ERA and 0.86 WHIP with 202 saves and 12.4 K9 in 345 games.

Candelario and Alcantara are two of the more unknown prospects on the list, as neither has gotten much national acclaim to date.

Candelario, a 20-year-old infielder, was actually born in New York, but moved to the Dominican Republic and signed with the Cubs in 2010 for 500,000. Baseball America said he could have been a first round pick in 2012's draft had he stayed in America.

The 6-foot-1, 180 pound switch-hitter has spent most of his time at third base in the lower levels of the Cubs' system the past two years and boasts a career batting line of .307.393.435 in 615 plate appearances with 30 doubles, 11 homers, 100 RBI and 84 runs. His 76:97 walk:strikeout ratio is very encouraging for a young hitter and he could start the season in Kane County after spending all of '12 with the Boise Hawks.

Alcantara is a bit older -- he can legally buy a drink, having turned 21 this past October -- and also signed with the Cubs out of the Dominican Republic. The 5-foot-10, 160-pound infielder is also a switch-hitter and has spent time at all three infield positions, with 47 games at second, 51 at third and 194 at shortstop.

Alcantara made a whopping 35 errors last season and has 133 in 294 career games, but has shown improvement with the bat, hitting .302.339.447 with 25 steals in 359 plate appearances for High-A Daytona.

Vogelbach, the Cubs' second-round pick in the 2011 Draft, is another intriguing prospect. The 20-year-old first baseman can really hit, slugging .641 this past season at two levels, including 17 homers and 21 doubles in just 283 plate appearances. His 1.051 OPS shows the potential is there, and some have even likened him to Prince Fielder, as Vogelbach is also a big-bodied slugger (listed at 6-foot, 250 pounds).

Baseball America's article is jam-packed with other good nuggets, including a Projected 2016 lineup that features Starlin Castro at second base and Baez at shortstop. Be sure to check out the complete post.

The Confidence Conundrum: How Albert Almora Jr. turned his season around

The Confidence Conundrum: How Albert Almora Jr. turned his season around

What's the secret behind Albert Almora Jr.'s recent offensive resurgence?

It wasn't switching to an axe bat like Kris Bryant. It wasn't even a mechanical adjustment of any kind.

No, Almora has turned things around at the plate just because he has more of a belief in himself right now.

"This game is all about confidence," the Cubs centerfielder said. "It's a game of ups and downs. It's tough mentally, but the quicker you could get back to having that confidence, the better. It's kinda like tricking yourself."

Having 39,246 people demand a curtain call has to do wonders for your confidence.

Almora hit his first career grand slam in the bottom of the fifth inning Wednesday night and was none too happy to oblige the packed house at Wrigley Field.

That blast was his fifth homer of the season, which ties the total he reached in all of last season.

Over the first 21 games of 2019, Almora was hitting just .182 with a .432 OPS and 0 extra-base hits in 61 plate appearances.

Then he pinch hit against Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen on April 25 and smacked his first homer of the season. Since then, he's hitting .341 with a .966 OPS and 12 extra-base hits in 87 plate appearances. 

So if the difference is confidence, is there a way to manufacture confidence? Like a "fake it until you make it" kind of thing?

"No, it's tough," Almora said. "It really is. Maybe some guys are really good at it. Defensively, it's a different type of confidence, because you can control more, but you can be confident at the plate and not have the results."

When Bryant started turning things around at the end of April, much was made about his switch to an axe bat. There's no doubt that change in weaponry perfectly correlated with Bryant's red-hot production at the plate over the last month, but even he downplayed the whole thing, using the idiom, "it's not the arrow, it's the Indian" on the Cubs' last homestand.

In talking about Bryant Tuesday night, all Joe Maddon discussed was the star player's confidence, saying he is "unconsciously confident" in every aspect of his game right now.

"It's just who I am — I feel like this is me as a baseball player," Bryant said. "I'm working counts, getting on base, baserunning, playing all over. When I'm doing that, I feel pretty confident, so I hope I can continue that."

Cubs hitting coach Anthony Iapoce echoed Almora's sentiment that baseball is all about confidence and while mechanical changes can certainly help breed that confidence, the only real way to build it is with positive results on the field. 

Obviously mechanics come into play all the time in professional baseball and there's no doubt Almora's and Bryant's physical mechanics are locked in at the moment.   

But there's no substitute for confidence and there's no drill to work on something that isn't tangible and can't even be quantified. 

"I don't know [how to build confidence]," Almora said. "I wish I had the answer. That's why this game is so hard. You just gotta battle and try to not ride that huge up-and-down roller coaster. Try to stay the same. I feel like just having a good attitude is a good part of it and I think it's something I'm trying to feed off of my teammates. I think I've been doing a really good job of just being happy no matter what."

This is Almora's fourth year in the big leagues and he's closing in on 1,100 plate appearances at this level. But he still doesn't feel like he's come anywhere close to mastering the Confidence Conundrum.

"No, because you wanna perform every year, so every year's different no matter what," Almora said. "I've had success hitting at the big-league level, but every year's a new challenge and every year you have challenges for yourself and for your team to win, obviously. It never gets easier."

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Amid rough patch, Cubs shake up their bullpen

Amid rough patch, Cubs shake up their bullpen

The Cubs bullpen has been under the microscope recently as they've hit another rough patch.

With Pedro Strop on the injured list, Cubs relievers have combined for a 5.04 ERA and 1.72 WHIP over the last week, allowing 32 hits and 11 walks against only 15 strikeouts in 25 innings.

The Cubs are shaking things up, sending veteran left-hander Xavier Cedeno to the injured list with left wrist inflammation and promoting right-hander Rowan Wick from Triple-A Iowa.

"We had to get things straightened out out there," Joe Maddon said of the bullpen. "Cedeno's still not 100 percent right, so we made that move. Wick's up and he's been pitching really well. We liked him in spring training; he provides length if we need it also, so there were a lot of reasons to do it, but he was pitching well enough to be here, too."

The Cubs acquired Wick, 26, from the Padres back in November for minor leaguer Jason Vosler. Wick has pitched well in Triple-A Iowa this season — in 13 outings, he has a 2.84 ERA and 1.11 WHIP while striking out 25 batters in 19 innings. 

Of his 13 appearances, 7 have been of a multi-inning variety and he hasn't allowed a run in his last 3 games (6.2 innings). He said a key to his success has been the ability to throw three different pitches for strikes and has been in a good flow lately of getting ahead in the count.

Wick made 10 appearances for the Padres in San Diego last year, sporting a 6.48 ERA in 8.1 innings.  The results weren't what he wanted in the big leagues, but that experience is something he can rely  on now.

"[I learned] that I can pitch here and that I belong," Wick said. "To be comofttable and hopefully pitch well."

Cedeno, 32, signed with the Cubs just before spring training started, but has been hampered by the same wrist issue all spring. He was first activated off the injured list less than two weeks ago and did not give up a run in 5 appearances, though he surrendered 4 hits and 3 walks in just 2 total innings of work.

With Wick in tow, the Cubs bullpen now looks like this:

Steve Cishek
Brad Brach
Brandon Kintzler
Kyle Ryan
Mike Montgomery
Tyler Chatwood
Carl Edwards Jr.
Rowan Wick

Strop is working his way back from a hamstring injury and threw a 25-pitch bullpen Monday, so his return may not be far off. 

Brandon Morrow resumed his throwing program Monday, as well, but is still weeks away from returning even in a best-case scenario.

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