Cubs believe in Chris Singleton — the son of a Charleston shooting victim — and what's next after MLB Draft

Cubs believe in Chris Singleton — the son of a Charleston shooting victim — and what's next after MLB Draft

NEW YORK — Jason McLeod acknowledged “the national tragedy” and “unavoidable” topic after the Cubs selected Charleston Southern University outfielder Chris Singleton in the 19th round of the Major League Baseball draft.

Almost exactly two years ago, Singleton showed remarkable poise, sending the “love is always stronger than hate” message after his mother, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, died in the mass shooting at a historic African-American church in South Carolina.

But McLeod, a senior Cubs executive who oversees scouting and player development, doesn’t think that Charleston hate crime will completely define Singleton.

“First and foremost, he’s a talented player on the field,” McLeod said Wednesday. “We had him evaluated really as almost like a top-10-round-caliber talent. He’s very athletic, a plus runner, plus defender, base-stealer.

“We certainly understand the backstory there. But what I want to make sure doesn’t get lost is that this guy’s a really good baseball player. He’s talented. He’s athletic. There’s upside there.”

Singleton played in at least 50 games in all three seasons at Charleston Southern, putting up a .351 career on-base percentage, stealing 18 bases as a junior and ranking among the nation’s leaders with 10 outfield assists this year.

“Of course, you all understand what he went through when he held that press conference the day afterwards,” McLeod said. “Everyone you talk to around him — meeting him last week when he was working out at Wrigley — he’s a very mature young man. And one that we’re really looking forward to getting into the organization.”

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— All 41 players the Cubs drafted across the last three days have their own stories, but Austin Filiere is unique in that the third baseman developed into an eighth-round pick at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology while majoring in business analytics.

But Filiere also played with Cody Bellinger — a potential National League Rookie of the Year for the Los Angeles Dodgers — at an elite high school program in Arizona and made a good impression in the Cape Cod League.

“He goes to MIT, so he’s smarter than anyone in the room,” McLeod said. “Obviously, the kid is incredibly bright and intelligent and ended up at MIT. But he went out and played on the Cape last summer and held his own there. When you look at the competition level that he’s normally facing, he hit for some power and drove the ball and continued to rake this spring.

“He’s very strong and has sock in the bat. The kid really loves baseball. He’s all about baseball. We’re looking forward to getting him on board and hopefully getting him to (Class-A) Eugene this summer and seeing what he does.”

— With a bonus pool worth almost $7.5 million, McLeod sounded confident the Cubs would be able to buy sixth-rounder Jeremy Estrada out of his commitment to UCLA and make the Palm Desert High School right-hander part of their pitching-heavy draft class.

“We’re pretty hopeful,” McLeod said. “With the way the economics of the draft work — through your diligence and your communication — you have to feel pretty good if you’re going to spend the pick. So we do feel like we’ll be able to bring him on board. We’re excited about his future and the upside that he has on the mound.”

On and off the field, Nico Hoerner proved he should be a big part of 2020 Cubs

On and off the field, Nico Hoerner proved he should be a big part of 2020 Cubs

Even before his surprise mid-September call-up, things were shaping up for Nico Hoerner to be a big part of the 2020 Cubs.

Now it looks like a certainty after the way he played in his 20-game cup of coffee in the final few weeks of 2019.

The organization's top prospect excelled at every level after the Cubs made him a first-round pick (24th overall) in June 2018. A broken wrist cost him two months this summer, but when he returned to Double-A Tennessee, the Cubs had him playing second base and center field in addition to shortstop, his natural position. That only boosted his value, as the Cubs clearly have holes at both center and second that they need to address this winter.

When he was pressed into duty after injuries to Javy Baez and Addison Russell, Hoerner proved the moment was certainly not too big for him. He hit .282 with a .741 OPS and 17 RBI in 20 games while playing solid defense at shortstop and displaying his great contact skills. 

While it's not unheard of for 22-year-olds to come up and immediately make an impact in the big leagues, Hoerner's case was particularly impressive given he played just 89 minor-league games and had not taken an at-bat above the Double-A level.

And Hoerner didn't just turn in solid production on the field — he was actually credited with helping provide a spark to the rest of the club, even though the season ultimately didn't end up the way the Cubs wanted. 

"He's been a little bit of a spark plug for us," Jon Lester said at the beginning of the Cubs' final homestand. "Any time you add energy like that, especially the naiveness of it — just not knowing what to expect and just going and playing baseball. Sometimes we all need to get back to that. Sometimes we all need to get back to just being baseball players and not worry about what else is going on surrounding us."

His former manager, Joe Maddon, called Hoerner a "differencemaker" down the stretch and felt confident he could stick at shortstop long-term.

It was also Hoerner's attitude and temperament that really drew rave reviews. Everybody — from Maddon to Theo Epstein to fellow teammates — were blown away by his sense of calm and confidence even while playing in pressure-packed big-league games. Those are the intangibles the Cubs have loved about Hoerner since they drafted him and don't expect that to change anytime soon.

"This is the type of human being he is," Epstein said. "He processes things really well he has strong character, he's in it for the right reasons, he's got a great family. He's really an invested member of the organization, a teammate and a winner."

This is the way he's always been, as his mom, Keila Diehl, explained to Kelly Crull in an interview on NBC Sports Chicago's broadcast on Sept. 14.

"He's just not full of himself," Diehl said. "He could be, and he's just not. ... He's just like this nice, ordinary guy — no attitude. Always brings a lot of energy and positivity to any team he's on."

That's exactly the guy we saw in Chicago in the final three weeks of the season. 

So as he recovers from his first full season of professional ball, Hoerner is in a position to forge a huge role for himself in Chicago next year. At the moment, it's reasonable to expect that to come at second base, but his ability to play shortstop might very well make Russell expendable this winter, especially with MLB Trade Rumors projecting the latter would be due $5.1 million in arbitration in 2020. 

The Cubs made it a point to get Hoerner some playing time at both second base and center field in the final two games of the 2019 season and he could at the very least offer a depth option in the outfield. 

His versatility, intangibles, and competitive drive present an intriguing package and his offensive skillset can help bring some diversity to the Cubs lineup. Hoerner is not really a power hitter at this point in his career but his hand-eye coordination and contact ability provide a refreshing style to this offense.

Simply put, Hoerner is just a good *baseball* player and profiles as the type of guy that can help any winning team in some capacity. 

The only question now is: Will the Cubs stash him in the minors for the early part of the season or let him continue to develop at Wrigley Field?

“We don’t ever draw it up that a player’s gonna skip Triple-A," Epstein said at his end-of-season presser. "It’s not determined yet where Nico’s gonna start next season, but given his mental makeup, given his skillset, who he is as a person, we felt that was something under the extraordinary circumstances that he could handle. I think it’s important that player development continues at the major-league level. 

"These days, it’s becoming a younger player’s game. If you look around baseball, the best teams have young players dominating. Yes, it’s not linear. There’s gonna be regression at the major-league level. But our players have had some real regression that’s taken them a while to dig out from. That’s something that we have to solve — finding ways to finish development off as best you can in the minor leagues, but understanding too that you need to create an environment at the major-league level with players who are expected to perform night after night are still developing, still working on their weaknesses, still making adjustments to the league." 

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Report: Giants interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for manager opening

Report: Giants interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for manager opening

The Giants' search for a successor to now-retired manager Bruce Bochy has led them to the North Side.

According to NBC Sports Bay Area's Alex Pavlovic, the Giants are interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for their own managerial opening. San Francisco's interest is intriguing, as Venable went to high school just outside San Francisco in nearby San Rafael. His father — Max Venable — played for the Giants from 1979-83. 

Venable also interviewed for the Cubs' manager job earlier this month, telling the Chicago Sun-Times that his interest is in the "organization in general." He is one of several internal candidates for the Cubs' job, along with bench coach Mark Loretta and front office assistant David Ross.

The Cubs also interviewed Joe Girardi and are set to meet with Astros bench coach Joe Espada and former Phillies manager Gabe Kapler.

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