Cubs

The buzz around Eloy Jimenez will keep building in Cubs camp

The buzz around Eloy Jimenez will keep building in Cubs camp

The obsession with what’s next means Eloy Jimenez will be one of the most talked-about players in Cubs camp this spring.

Even though Jimenez can’t legally buy a beer in Wrigleyville yet and still hasn’t played above the A-ball level. Even as the Cubs begin preparations to defend their first World Series title since 1908.

Even in a clubhouse filled with the National League’s reigning MVP (Kris Bryant), a World Series MVP (Ben Zobrist) and a Cy Young Award winner (Jake Arrieta). Even that doesn’t include the pitchers who’ve already earned multiple championship rings (Jon Lester and John Lackey) or notched the final out in a World Series (Koji Uehara, Wade Davis and Mike Montgomery).

Not to mention the face of the franchise (Anthony Rizzo), the Gold Glove outfielder with the biggest contract in franchise history (Jason Heyward) and the exciting 24-and-under players who’ve given this team so much energy and swagger (Kyle Schwarber, Javier Baez and Willson Contreras).

But in Arizona, the buzz will keep building around Jimenez, a consensus elite prospect on the ESPN (No. 12) and MLB.com (No. 14) lists of the industry’s best and brightest. Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus identified Jimenez as the organization’s top prospect, projecting his Wrigley Field ETA at 2019. Cub officials see Jimenez as part of that next wave (assuming he isn’t used as a trade chip in a blockbuster deal for pitching this summer or next winter).

“The whole package,” said Jason McLeod, the senior vice president who oversees scouting and player development. “When you walk into the ballpark, you notice him right away. Just the sheer size – he’s massive. But he’s got this million-watt smile.”

The Cubs made Jimenez ($2.8 million) and Gleyber Torres ($1.7 million) the centerpieces to their international class in the summer of 2013, mining for talent in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela and building for the future as the big-league club staggered toward a 96-loss, last-place finish.

Torres – who would have been blocked by All-Star shortstop Addison Russell – is the middle infielder with maybe more polish and a higher floor and an Arizona Fall League MVP award now on his resume. Jimenez – a corner outfielder with perhaps a higher ceiling – became an AFL Fall Star after hitting .329 with 14 homers, 81 RBI and a .901 OPS during his age-19 season with the South Bend Cubs.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

After the New York Yankees chose Torres to be their headliner in the Aroldis Chapman trade last summer, McLeod said watching Jimenez and that 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame and smooth right-handed swing at Class-A South Bend reminded him a little bit of seeing Bryant during his freshman season at the University of San Diego.

“He’s an advanced hitter, especially for a young Latin hitter,” McLeod said. “He is someone who doesn’t swing and miss much for (his age). Just tremendous strength to drive balls to the middle of the field, probably makes a little too much contact early in counts. I think that’s where we are with him and his development path right now, just understanding what pitchers are trying to do to him. (It’s) understanding that he can hit balls 420 feet to right field as well as hitting them 480 to left field.”

Jimenez already went viral during the All-Star Futures Game last summer in San Diego, where he made a leaping catch in the right-field corner (nearly falling over the railing) and blasted a three-run homer off the Western Metal Supply Co. building.

“I’ve seen a lot of games in Petco Park over the years,” said McLeod, who started his career as an intern with the Padres and spent two seasons as their assistant general manager before moving to Chicago. “You don’t see many major-leaguers hit ‘em up on the warehouse like he did as a 19-year-old last year.

“Sky’s the limit. I think he's someone who can sit in the middle of a lineup and wreak a lot of havoc on some pitching across the major leagues. It’s just a matter of him maturing as a hitter and understanding what pitchers are going to try to do to him.”

Javy Baez should be the frontrunner for NL MVP heading into the All-Star Break

Javy Baez should be the frontrunner for NL MVP heading into the All-Star Break

If the season ended today, Javy Baez may be your National League MVP.

Of course, the season isn't ending today, only the first half of the 2018 campaign is.

He flashed his skills again over the weekend — scoring the game-winning run Friday, posting a 5-RBI game Saturday and then drove in the Cubs' first run in their 7-4 victory Sunday to close out a sweep of the Padres.

Entering the All-Star Break, Baez should be the frontrunner for Most Valuable Player.

For starters, he's the best player on the best team in the league.

Thanks to a recent hot surge by the Cubs and an ugly weekend for the Brewers (who have lost 6 straight), Baez and Co. will go into the break with the best record in the NL. 

Baez, meanwhile, leads the Cubs in WAR and nearly every offensive category — OPS, slugging percentage, homers, RBI, runs scored, doubles, triples, total bases, stolen bases and hits.

And that's not even saying anything about his glovework at any position on the infield or dynamic baserunning.

He's on pace to become the first Cubs player to drive in 125 runs since Sammy Sosa in 2001.

Baez also is on track for a 30-30 season — something only Sosa accomplished in a Cubs uniform in 1993 and 1995. 

El Mago will enjoy his week in the Home Run Derby and as the NL's starting second baseman in the All-Star Game, but those shouldn't be the end of his accolades this year if he can find a way to keep this pace up in the second half.

What other NL candidate would be a better choice for the MVP right now?

Baez is tied for the league lead in RBI. Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar is just behind Baez with 70 RBI, but he also has 70 fewer at-bats than the Cubs star due to a platoon to begin the year. 

Eugenio Suarez and Scooter Gennett are also having great years, but the Reds are nowhere close to a playoff spot. 

Nolan Arenado, Freddie Freeman and Paul Goldschmidt are also having very good seasons on teams that are currently in the playoff hunt, but how do you deny the best player on the league's best team?

After all, where would the Cubs be without Baez this season? 

Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo have battled through injuries and bouts of ineffectiveness, the pitching staff has had all kinds of consistency/health woes and Willson Contreras has yet to find his power stroke at the plate.

At the very least, "El Mago" has been the most important player on the North Side of Chicago during the first 3.5 months of 2018.

Nico Hoerner makes great catch in first game with South Bend

Nico Hoerner makes great catch in first game with South Bend

Cubs first-round pick Nico Hoerner made his debut with the Class-A South Bend Cubs, and he did not disappoint.

The 23-year old shortstop showed off impressive hops during an acrobatic grab in the topf of the second inning in his first game with the South Bend Cubs. Hoerner will surely be an exciting defensive prospect with ability like this.

As far as offense goes, through four at-bats at South Bend, Hoerner is batting .500, and this comes after he hit .318 with a home run and two RBI through seven games with the Eugene Emeralds, the Cubs Class A short-season affiliate.

Here is to hoping we continue to see big-time plays from Hoerner.