Cubs

As Cubs eye outfield options, Brett Jackson expects a breakthrough

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As Cubs eye outfield options, Brett Jackson expects a breakthrough

Maybe Brett Jackson had to hit what manager Dale Sveum called rock bottom.
Thats an overstatement, because its not like the Cubs were surprised when Jackson was so over-matched last year (59 strikeouts in 120 at-bats). They promoted him from Triple-A Iowa in August so that he could see what it takes at this level and forget whatever stubborn ideas he had in his head.
The Cubs are not going to write off a 24-year-old plus defender who has shown a unique combination of power, speed and the willingness to literally run into walls. But they are insistent that Jackson will start this season in Iowa as they continue to weigh their options in the outfield.
Sources said theres mutual interest between the Cubs and Scott Hairston who hit 20 homers in 377 at-bats with the New York Mets last season and a strong opposition to signing free agent Michael Bourn because it would mean losing a second-round draft pick and sacrificing part of their signing-bonus pool.
The Mets have reportedly rejected Hairstons demands two years, 8 million and there could be reasons to sign here. Hairston spent part of his childhood in the Chicago suburbs. His grandfather Sam and father Jerry Sr. played for the White Sox. His older brother Jerry Jr. graduated from Naperville North High School and played for the Cubs.
Hairston is said to be a good clubhouse guy. He was part of the San Diego Padres team that won 91 games in 2010, Jed Hoyers first year as general manager. Between Hairston, David DeJesus, Nate Schierholtz and Dave Sappelt and Alfonso Sorianos need for days off at the age of 37 the Cubs could take a mix-and-match approach in the outfield.
Jackson listened during his exit interview at the end of last season, when the Cubs told him hed be ticketed for Des Moines. He applied those lessons during a November minicamp with Sveum and hitting coaches James Rowson and Rob Deer at the teams complex in Arizona.
But Jackson still expects to force his way into the picture.
I have every intention of making the team, he said over the weekend at Cubs Convention. I have no intention of going to Iowa. Im going to keep working the way I always do. Im confident in my ability and who I am as a player and who Ive become as a player. I know what I need to do and Ive set my mind on that goal and Im not stopping until Im there.
Jackson should have the swagger (2009 first-round pick) and smarts (Cal-Berkeley education) to make those adjustments, like using his top hand more and smoothing out his swing path.
But the front office views Triple-A as the finishing school it was for Anthony Rizzo, who looked so lost in San Diego in 2011, tore up the Pacific Coast League for a half-season and then generated 15 homers and 48 RBI in 87 games with the Cubs.
We want (Jackson) to start in Iowa, Hoyer said. Things can happen over the course of a spring with injuries and whatnot, but I think we saw hes got some things he can work on in Iowa. I look at it very, very similarly to the way I looked at things with Rizzo.
(Jackson) can take some of those lessons back to Iowa. If he takes the same attitude Anthony did, I dont see any reason he cant do the same thing.
The strikeouts have become the thing with Jackson, but hes still an all-around player who can work the count and prevent runs in center. He walked 22 times during that 44-game audition, and 11 of his 21 hits went for extra bases. He thinks hes on the verge of a breakthrough.
Strugglings always going to test your confidence levels, Jackson said. Certainly it isnt easy to struggle, but Im a firm believer that struggle is what makes the man, makes the player. I wouldnt be where I am today I wouldnt have learned what I need to adjust for this season if not for last season.
The way I struggled is turning out to be an important lesson for me as a player, to help me evolve as player, to be the player I want to be.

Cole Hamels is out to prove the naysayers wrong, whether that's with the Cubs or elsewhere

Cole Hamels is out to prove the naysayers wrong, whether that's with the Cubs or elsewhere

How you evaluate Cole Hamels’ 2019 performance depends on which half of the season you look at.

Hamels was the Cubs’ most reliable starting pitcher through June, putting his name firmly in the conversation to make the All-Star Game. Through his first 17 starts, he held a 2.98 ERA, with 97 strikeouts and 35 walks in 99 2/3 innings.

That 17th start – June 28 against the Reds – represented a turning point for the left-hander, however. After throwing one warmup pitch ahead of the second inning, Hamels took a beeline for the Cubs’ dugout, exiting the game with a left oblique strain.

Hamels quickly detecting the strain was key, as he avoided a more significant injury and only missed one month as a result. However, he never got back to his pre-injury level after returning. In 10 starts, he posted a 5.79 ERA, walking 21 batters in 42 innings as opponents slashed .315/.397/.506 against him.

Which of the two pitchers does Hamels more closely resemble at this point? That’s what teams will have to evaluate this offseason, when the soon-to-be 36-year-old lefty hits free agency for the first time in his career.

On top of his oblique strain, Hamels also missed a start in September with left shoulder fatigue. By the time he returned, the Cubs were eliminated from postseason contention, but he wanted one last chance to show what he’s capable of before free agency.

“I don’t want to put that in the back of teams’ heads of how I finished,” Hamels said the day before his final start of the season. “I think I’m capable of what I was able to do in the first half - that’s who I am - and I can still get those good results for hopefully [the Cubs], if they consider that.

“But also, for other teams to know that I’m not the type of player that’s on the regression. This is what we’re gonna expect. It’s more so what I was able to do in the first half - the type of player that I am and the results that I can get out on the field.”

He certainly backed those words up, shutting down the Cardinals – who hadn’t clinched the NL Central yet – in the second-to-last game of the regular season. Hamels pitched four innings, allowing no runs on just two hits.

Hamels looked stellar in that game, but it doesn’t change the fact that returning from an extended injury absence isn’t easy on pitchers. They need time to regain command of their pitches, plus any amount of arm strength lost during their time on the shelf.

Hamels made two rehab starts at Triple-A before rejoining the Cubs on Aug. 3. He was determined not to return too quickly, as he did so with the Rangers in 2017 after straining his right oblique. That wound up negatively affecting him the rest of the season.

Still, maybe one or two more rehab starts this time around would’ve served him well, though he felt that he could compete at the majors without his best stuff. Plus, it’s not like he was guaranteed to find his groove again by pitching in more minor league games.

Results are all that matter in the big leagues, however, and they show that while the Cubs starting rotation was okay, it wasn’t the difference maker capable of leading the team to October, as anticipated. Cubs starters finished the season with a 4.18 ERA, 10th in MLB and sixth in the National League.

Hamels’ post-injury woes played into those numbers, and he’s determined to bounce back in 2020 to prove his second half performance was a fluke. His first half showed that he still can pitch at a high-level, but he may not be in the Cubs’ plans for next season, regardless.

"There was some injury and regression (especially after injury) that led us to be closer to the pack certainly than we had envisioned,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said of the team’s rotation at his end-of-season press conference. “It’s an accomplished and experienced group, but with experience means that we could stand to add some younger talent, refresh the group as well.

“We certainly need to add depth and we need to add some youth and a little bit of a different look to the staff, as well, going forward.”

Those comments seem to indicate that Hamels won’t be back next season. The Cubs have Adbert Alzolay, Tyler Chatwood and Alec Mills as internal rotation options for 2020 and could look outside the organization for more. Hamels also made $20 million in 2019, so freeing up his salary would help the Cubs address other roster needs.

The Cubs could do a lot worse than having a healthy Cole Hamels in their rotation, though. He’s enjoyed a resurgence since the Cubs acquired him and has had plenty of success against the NL Central and at Wrigley Field overall during his career:

vs. Brewers: 20 starts, 8-5, 3.53 ERA
vs. Cardinals: 17 starts, 5-6, 2.21 ERA
vs. Pirates: 13 starts, 5-4 record, 2.52 ERA
vs. Reds: 20 starts, 11-2 record. 2.30 ERA
at Wrigley Field: 25 starts, 7-4 record, 2.20 ERA

Granted, a large portion of those starts came earlier in his career. But with how competitive the NL Central was in 2019 and will be in 2020, the results can’t be ignored.

“Obviously I do very well at Wrigley, so I hope that’s a consideration - I love to be able to pitch there,” Hamels said about the Cubs possibly re-signing him. “For some reason, it’s just the energy and I’ve mentioned it before, it’s baseball to me. And that’s what I really feed off of and that’s hopefully what they think about.”

But if the Cubs decide to part ways with Hamels, he’ll have his fair share of suitors. The Brewers and Reds each could benefit from adding starting pitching this offseason, and Hamels would bring a ton of experience to two squads that will be competing for postseason spots in 2020.

“Otherwise, I know the other teams in the division are gonna think about it,” Hamels said with a laugh. “If you have to come to Wrigley three different times [as an opponent], I don’t pitch bad there.

“I just want to win. I think that’s it. When you get the taste of it early and then you don’t have it for a while, that’s what you’re striving for. To play this game and in front of sellouts and the energy and the expectation of winning, it’s why I enjoy the game.

“That’s what I want to be able to continue to do for the few years I have left.”

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Javy Baez is now the face of baseball

Javy Baez is now the face of baseball

Javy Baez is one step closer to becoming the unquestioned face of Major League Baseball.

For the next year, El Mago will be the cover boy for video-game-playing baseball fans, as Baez announced on his Twitter Monday morning he is gracing the cover of MLB The Show 2020:

On the eve of Game 1 of the World Series, Playstation released a video depicting why they chose Baez as the new face of the game:

Last year's cover featured Bryce Harper, announced before he even signed with the Phillies. 

Baez also joins the likes of Aaron Judge, Ken Griffey Jr., Chipper Jones, Barry Bonds and David Ortiz as cover athletes for the PS4 game.

The 26-year-old Baez has become one of the most recognizable figures in the game, playing with a flair and swag that includes mind-bending baserunning maneuvers and impossible defensive plays. 

Case in point:

Baez missed the final month of the 2019 season with a fractured thumb, but still put up 29 homers and 85 RBI while ranking second on the team in WAR. In 2018, he finished second in NL MVP voting while leading the league in RBI (111) and topping the Cubs in most offensive categories. 

Theo Epstein said he never deems any player as "untouchable," but Baez is about as close as it gets for this Cubs team right now. He made the switch to shortstop full time this year and wound up with elite defensive numbers to go along with his fearsome offense and an attitude and mindset the rest of the Cubs hope to emulate.

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