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.”

Cubs’ Ian Happ claimed center field after AAA detour: 'He's the real deal'

Cubs’ Ian Happ claimed center field after AAA detour: 'He's the real deal'

Ian Happ paused before answering, the moment of silence punctuating his matter-of-fact response.

“No,” he said. “I don’t feel that way.”

Looking back, he doesn’t feel like he rose to the Major Leagues too quickly.

Happ has had to field that question since spending 2/3 of last season in Triple-A. But already this year, Happ has hit three home runs, tied for the most on the team, while also maintain a top-three batting average (.297). Not only is he performing on the field, Happ has also embraced a leadership role and taken over for Kris Bryant as the team’s MLBPA representative.

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“He’s the real deal,” Ross said Sunday, after Happ went 3-for-3 with two doubles in the Cubs’ intrasquad scrimmage.

The club’s decision to send Happ to Triple-A Iowa at the beginning of last season came as a surprise. Much of Happ’s conviction that he was ready for the major leagues when he debuted came from his standout rookie season.

Happ hit 24 home runs as a rookie – still his career high – and finished eighth in rookie of the year voting in 2017. His batting average regressed the next year (from .253 to .233), and his strikeout number rose (from 129 to 167). But he joined the .350 club in on-base percentage.

“We believed then and we believe now that he’s going to be a really good player,” Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said this week. “We thought it was the right move and something that was necessary even though it was really unpleasant to send him back there. To his credit, he made the absolute most of it, took personal responsibility.”

When Happ returned to the big leagues, his progress showed. He won NL player of the week in the final week of the season. But he’s made even more of a splash this year, from Spring Training through the first two weeks of the regular season.

Entering the year, center field was one of the main position battles to monitor for first-time manager Ross.

“Right now, the job is Ian Happ’s,” Ross said Sunday.

Ross’ lineup choices had suggested as much already. Happ has appeared in all 13 of the Cubs games, at least pinch hitting in the three he didn’t start.

“It’s hard to take Ian Happ out of the lineup,” Ross said of the switch-hitter. “The guy’s swinging the bat really well, and his right-handed at-bats have gotten tremendously better. He’s been a staple.”

Happ started his season off with a two-run home run in his first plate appearance. He was batting ninth, and through all of Ross’ reshuffling of the bottom third of the batting order, Happ has been the Cubs’ most frequent nine-hole hitter.

With the Cubs’ No. 7 and 8 hitters consistently getting on base, in the nine-hole has showcased Happ’s ability to drive in runs (he’s tied for second on the team with six RBI) or set the table for the Cubs’ unconventional top of the order.

“I feel great about where I'm at right now,” Happ said, “my ability to help the team and get on base for those guys that are hitting behind me.”

Just as he set the tone in the batter’s box early, with an Opening Day home run, Happ flashed some leather in the opening series against the Brewers. Three days into the season, Happ tracked a long fly ball back to the wall. He leaped and caught it just before his back slammed into the ivy, which barely cushioned the brick behind it.

Happ slid down the wall into a crouch, his body no doubt feeling the results of the impact. But it wasn’t long before he stood back up.

“I think he absolutely took advantage of his time down (in Iowa),” Epstein said, “and is in a different and better phase in his career now because of what he went through.”



How Cubs temporarily grabbed White Sox spotlight during Sunday Night Baseball

How Cubs temporarily grabbed White Sox spotlight during Sunday Night Baseball

Even with the White Sox on center stage, the Cubs found their way into the spotlight.

“We’re gonna aggravate everybody in Schaumburg with this,” ESPN broadcaster Matt Vasgersian said Sunday. “White Sox fans, sorry about this.”

The White Sox made their first appearance on Sunday Night Baseball since May 12, 2013 on Sunday. But early in their matchup against the Indians, the ESPN broadcast momentarily pivoted towards the North Siders.

ESPN showed the results of a social media poll asking baseball fans what they make of the Cubs’ 10-3 start to the season. Of the more than 52,000 respondents, 41 percent said they’ll start to fade soon, 34 percent said they’re a World Series contender and 25 percent said they’re a division title contender.

“Apparently, we had a lot of respondents calling from the South Side of Chicago,” Vasgersian joked.

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The Cubs were scheduled to appear on Sunday Night Baseball before their series against the Cardinals was postponed. So while the poll’s appearance was no coincidence, some White Sox fans probably weren’t happy seeing it pop up mid-game.

“White Sox (fans) are saying,” Vasgersian said, “‘It’s the first time we’ve been on Sunday Night Baseball since 2013 and we gotta talk about the Cubs?’” 

White Sox fans have aired their grievances in recent years over the team being forgotten by national media, especially as the Cubs have received plenty of coverage. This may not fall under the same category as previous occurrences, but it certainly brings back memories of those moments.