Cubs hoping Arismendy Alcantara can hit the reset button in 2016


Cubs hoping Arismendy Alcantara can hit the reset button in 2016

Whatever happened to Arismendy Alcantara?

Once one of the more dynamic young players in the organization, Alcantara was nowhere to be found during the “Rock Star Rookies” session at last weekend’s Cubs Convention.

Instead, the panel featured Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber - all guys who began an unbelievable 2015 season in the minor leagues while Alcantara made the Opening Day roster and played against the St. Louis Cardinals that night on national TV.

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After making a strong impression during a 70-game audition with the Cubs in 2014, Alcantara managed only two hits in 11 big-league games last season, hitting .077 and showing none of the extra-base power that made him such an interesting prospect.

That April, the Cubs sent Alcantara down to Triple-A Iowa, where he remained for the rest of the season. He struggled after the demotion, posting a .231/.285/.399 slash line in 120 games, a steep drop-off from the .307/.353/.537 slash line he put up against Triple-A pitching in 2014.

"After coming up two years ago and injecting a lot of talent and impact, he had a really big setback last year in terms of just confidence," said Jason McLeod, the senior vice president of scouting and player development. "He was (there) Opening Day, got out to a really tough start and I think never got out of that spiral last year.

"One thing he always did was get on the fastball coming up. If you threw him a heater, he was going to get on it and hit it really hard. Last year, I think he started doubting himself and he was so worried about the offspeed pitches that now he was behind the heater and he was caught in between."

In spring training, Joe Maddon ran with the questions about Alcantara becoming a version of Ben Zobrist, the manager’s favorite super-utility guy with the Tampa Bay Rays.

But Alcantara didn’t adjust well to the idea of moving all over the field and started to look a little lost. It’s an extremely difficult job, which helps explain why the Cubs gave Zobrist a four-year, $56 million deal this winter.   

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Still, Alcantara is only 24 and a switch-hitter who has flashed an intriguing blend of power, speed and on-base skills while playing shortstop and second base.

Can Alcantara rebound and become a part of the franchise’s future again?

"He's still young enough and talented enough that he can kind of put that one on the backburner," McLeod said. "Forget about 2015 and come out and start fresh this year."

Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening


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.”

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

The Cubs are heading into a new season with a different hitting coach for the second straight winter, but the most recent choice is a familiar face.

Anthony Iapoce is set to join Joe Maddon's coaching staff this week after serving in the same capacity with the Texas Rangers for the last three seasons. The Cubs confirmed the move Monday afternoon shortly after the news broke out of the Rangers camp.

The Cubs fired Chili Davis last week after just one season as the team's hitting coach.

Entering the final week of the season, the Rangers fired manager Jeff Banister, leaving Iapoce and the rest of the Texas coaching staff in limbo.

As such, Iapoce is rejoining the Cubs, where he served as a special assistant to the General Manager from 2013-15 focusing on player development, particularly in the hitting department throughout the minor leagues.

Iapoce has familiarity with a bunch of the current star offensive players on the Cubs, from Willson Contreras to Kris Bryant. 

Both Bryant and Contreras endured tough 2018 seasons at the plate, which was a huge reason for the Cubs' underperforming lineup. Bryant's issue was more related to a left shoulder injured suffered in mid-May while Contreras' offensive woes remain a major question mark after the young catcher looked to be emerging as a legitimate superstar entering the campaign.

Getting Contreras back to the hitter that put up 21 homers and 74 RBI in only 117 games in 2017 will be one of the main goals for Iapoce, so the history between the two could be a key.

With the Rangers, Iapoce oversaw an offense that ranked 7th, 9th and 14th in MLB in runs scored over the last three seasons. The decline in offensive production is obviously not a great sign, but the Rangers as a team have fallen off greatly since notching the top seed in the AL playoffs in 2016 with 95 wins only to lose 95 games in 2018, resulting in the change at manager.

Iapoce has worked with an offense backed by Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Shin-Soo Choo, Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo the last few seasons.

Under Iapoce's tutelage, former top prospect Jurickson Profar shed any notion of a "bust" label and emerged as a budding star at age 25, collecting 61 extra-base hits with a .793 OPS in 2018.

When the Cubs let Davis go last week, they provided no update on assistant hitting coach Andy Haines, who just finished his first season in that role and is expected to remain with the team for 2019. The same offseason Iapoce left for the Rangers, Haines took over as the Cubs' minor league hitting instructor.