Cubs

Colvin steps up big at first in Cubs win

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Colvin steps up big at first in Cubs win

Tuesday April 5, 2011Posted: 4:35 PM Updated: 7:40 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Carlos Pena emerged from the training room on Tuesday with his right hand bandaged, keeping it compressed so that his thumb doesnt swell up. This is why the Cubs took out an insurance policy with Tyler Colvin.

The pain isnt overwhelming, but the Cubs are being cautious with their first baseman. Pena is listed as day-to-day with a mild sprain of his right thumb, and that gave Colvin a chance to test out everything he relearned in spring training.

The Cubs arent certain what theyll do at first base once Penas one-year pillow contract expires at the end of this season. Either way, Colvin figures to be a big part of their future.

Colvin showcased himself as the left-handed run producer the Cubs envision in a 6-5 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks. He launched a two-run homer into the right field bleachers, drew a bases-loaded walk in the pivotal seventh inning and handled everything thrown his way at first base.

When you looked out across Wrigley Field on Tuesday afternoon, you saw these players developed by the organization Colvin at first, Darwin Barney at second, Starlin Castro at shortstop and Andrew Cashner on the mound.

Youre always talking about that in the minor leagues, Man, once we all get up there, Colvin said. Thats the way you have to think. (And) I think thats the way you win (by) having homegrown players who have grown up together. (You) get up here and play the same game. You know what to expect out of them.

Teammates tease him about how the front office talks up Camp Colvin, the strength and conditioning program he followed to great effect at the teams Arizona complex.

The Ricketts family uses Colvin as an example in their stump speech, and the marketing department features him in promotional materials. Colvin is low-key and doesnt seek out the extra publicity, but hes comfortable enough with it.

The way Colvin sees it, thats much better than not being noticed at all.

Colvin had the same sensible approach to working out again at first base, a position that until this spring he hadnt really played since his sophomore year at Clemson University. He learned from a Gold Glove defender.

I like him out there, Pena said. Naturally (he) does a pretty good job there, but there are a couple things that we discussed and hopefully I helped him out a little bit. Hell be fine.

Colvin looked smooth at first base on Tuesday, scooping several throws out of the dirt and initiating a key double play in the eighth inning.

At 6-foot-3, Colvins a big target, and hes athletic enough to play all three outfield positions. That could be where he remains long-term, though the Cubs still need to protect themselves.

Penas injury isnt considered serious. But the Cubs watched Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee struggle through thumb problems last year. Lee even needed offseason surgery. Those issues sabotaged their offense.

Pena told manager Mike Quade that he was ready to go on Tuesday and available to pinch-hit. Pena called it a freak thing and wants to play Wednesday, though with an off-day scheduled for Thursday it could make more sense to give him extra time to heal.

Pena injured his thumb during the seventh inning of Mondays win. Pena made a play and tossed the ball to pitcher Sean Marshall, who was covering first base. Pena braced for the fall and landed awkwardly on his glove hand, bending his thumb back.

If he walks in here (Wednesday) and says Im 100 percent, he plays, Quade said, (but) I dont want him to come back and have something thats going to linger for weeks or more.

Pena laughed when a reporter asked whether he was worried about being Wally Pipp-ed. Colvin isnt about to challenge Lou Gehrigs streak of consecutive games played.

The Cubs hesitated to mess with Colvin and move him to first base late last year. But now he certainly doesnt look out of place.

I guess he was ready, huh? Quade said. He did a wonderful job over there.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

What caused Willson Contreras' downturn in production in 2018?

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USA TODAY

What caused Willson Contreras' downturn in production in 2018?

There was plenty of "Willson Contreras: Future MVP?" discussion during spring training.

Any time a player in his age-25 year season hits 21 home runs with a .276/.356/.499 slash line at a premium defensive position (catcher) despite missing about a month with a hamstring injury (as Contreras did in 2017), the baseball world takes notice. The notion that he might one day garner MVP recognition was nothing to be laughed at.

Through the first few months of 2018, Contreras did much of the same. He had a small drop off in power, but he still had his moments and was solid overall. Over a three-game stretch in the beginning of May, he went 10-for-15 with three doubles, two triples, three home runs and 11 RBIs. He was the first Cubs catcher with five triples before the All-Star break since Gabby Hartnett in 1935. He even started the All-Star Game — and became the second player in MLB history (after Terry Steinbach) to homer in his first career All-Star at-bat after having homered in his first career MLB at-bat (back in 2016).

But instead of cruising along at a performance level about 20 percent better than league average, something happened.

Here are Contreras' Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) numbers from the past three seasons  (100 is league average, any point above or below is equal to a percentage point above or below league average):

Here’s that breakdown in terms of batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage:

But what caused the downturn in production? 

There were some underlying characteristics of his work, particularly a mixture of significantly higher ground-ball rate, lower average exit velocity and bad luck on balls in play which led to the decrease in production.

Also notable is that after the Midsummer Classic, the hits stopped coming on pitches on the outer third. Dividing the strike zone into thirds (this doesn’t include pitches outside the zone), this is what his batting average and slugging percentage looked like:

Granted, it’s not a significant sample, but it’s there.

One non-offensive thing that sticks out is his workload.

*missed 29 games in August and September with hamstring injury

It was the most innings caught by a Cubs receiver since Geovany Soto logged 1,150.1 innings in his Rookie of the Year season in 2008. Three other catchers besides Contreras logged at least 1,000 innings behind the plate in 2018: Jonathan Lucroy, Yasmani Grandal and Yadier Molina. While they combined to fare better prior to the All-Star break, it wasn’t nearly as precipitous a drop as Contreras suffered.

Lucroy, Grandal and Molina combined to slash .255/.322/.416 before the All-Star Game and .239/.317/.405 after it.

That could possibly have a little something to do with it though.

There’s no way to be entirely sure and to what extent each of the things listed above affected Contreras last season. Could it have been something completely different? Could it have been a minor nagging injury? A mental roadblock? Too many constant adjustments throughout the season? The questions remain. A new voice in newly appointed hitting coach Anthony Iapoce might be just what Contreras, who is entering his age-27 season, needs to get back on track and reestablish his spot among the best catchers in the major leagues.

Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening

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USA TODAY

Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening

Is this the offseason that Cubs executive Jason McLeod finally becomes an MLB general manager?

According to Bruce Levine, the Giants are reportedly interested in McLeod, the Cubs senior vice president of scouting and player development, for their vacant general manager position.

McLeod joined the Cubs' front office in 2011 alongside Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. Before the Cubs, he spent six years in the Red Sox front office and two in the Padres' (with Hoyer, who was San Diego's general manager from 2010-2011). 

Of course, the Giants' reported interest in McLeod doesn't necessarily mean that he will interview for the job. However, it's worth noting that McLeod interviewed for the Twins' general manager job in 2016; he also withdrew his name from consideration for the Padres' general manager job in 2014. 

In addition to the Giants, McLeod's name has been linked to the Mets' general manager vacancy. This is more speculation, but the point is that it seems to be only a matter of time before McLeod is hired as general manager elsewhere.

For what it's worth, though, McLeod is under contract through 2021 and has previously said that he is grateful to be with the Cubs. 

“I’m exceptionally grateful,” McLeod said. “All of us are. Look at where we are at this moment in time with this team," McLeod said in 2016. "I can’t imagine a better environment, a better culture to work at in baseball.

"We’ve been together a long time. We’re friends. We’re good. We embrace the fact that we are good. And we challenge ourselves to be even better.”