Cubs prospect Dan Vogelbach can't worry about the DH or Anthony Rizzo


Cubs prospect Dan Vogelbach can't worry about the DH or Anthony Rizzo

You know the baseball world is going stir-crazy when a new story pops up almost hourly about whether or not the designated hitter will - or should - come to the National League.

With less than a month until pitchers and catchers report to spring training, the DH debate rages on, with Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred clarifying his comments this week and admitting pitchers will still be hitting in the NL for the foreseeable future.

That can't be the news Dan Vogelbach wanted to hear. Not if he still has dreams about breaking into the big leagues with the Cubs.

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Vogelbach has to keep improving and would need either a trade or an Anthony Rizzo injury to eventually find his way into a big-league lineup spot. There's no other way around it until the DH comes to the NL.

"Quite frankly, I can't worry about that type of stuff," Vogelbach said during Cubs Convention earlier this month. "I'm just going to continue to play first base and be the best first baseman that I can and learn from Rizzo.

"Obviously, Rizzo is the first baseman of the Chicago Cubs and that's not going to change. So I can't worry about what he does or how he performs. I can only worry about what I do. So if [the DH] opens up, that's another chance and another bat in the lineup. But right now, I'm just going to continue to try to be the best first baseman I can be."

Rizzo is only 26, a two-time All-Star and under team control through the 2021 season. And Vogelbach hasn't forced the issue yet, reaching the Double-A level for the first time in 2015 before missing a month-and-a-half with a torn oblique.

Vogelbach said he's 100 percent healthy and ready for what figures to be a pivotal year in his development. Now 23, he hasn't really shown off the kind of power the Cubs expected when they drafted him in the second round in 2011, 59 spots after Jim Hendry's front office took Javier Baez with the ninth overall pick.

In five minor-league seasons, Vogelbach has hit 60 home runs, or roughly one every 25 at-bats. It hasn’t quite been the light-tower power he was known for during his high school days in Florida.

But Vogelbach has proven he’s more than just a power hitter, putting up a career .382 on-base percentage in the minors with 239 walks and only 292 strikeouts in 411 games.

In some ways, Vogelbach resembles Rizzo as a left-handed hitter. That's by design.

"The way Rizzo hits, he's not scared to go to two strikes," Vogelbach said. "He knows when he needs to hit and when he can let it go to hit a home run.

"That's the stuff that I look at. Everybody hits differently, but when it comes down to it, approach-wise is how you're going to hit and how you're going to be successful."

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Vogelbach talked about understanding the situation, how swinging for the fences in a tie game with a runner on second and two outs is silly when a single can give his team the lead.

Vogelbach is an intense competitor, the type of guy who hates to lose and won't try to hide it. But he prefers a quiet approach when putting in the work.

"I'm not big on asking questions," Vogelbach said. "I just like to watch [Rizzo], how he battles with two strikes, how he doesn't do too much. That's why, every single year, he hits for a high average and his on-base percentage is so high.

"And that's what I pride myself in. I get to watch him and the way he takes pitches the other way. He doesn't chase pitches and that's the way I like to be."

It would make sense if Vogelbach returned to Tennessee to begin this season before making the jump to Triple-A Iowa. He is listed at 6-foot, 250 pounds on his Baseball-Reference page but looks more streamlined now. He also heard all the Kyle Schwarber comparisons throughout Cubs Convention weekend.

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"Coming out of high school, I was obviously overweight and I wasn't in shape," Vogelbach said. "In high school, you can get away with anything. So coming here, they had a plan for me and basically told me I didn't have a choice.

"So I took that to heart. I have to do whatever I can to play. That was the first step. I had to change my eating habits. I worked out a lot more and kind of made it a lifestyle.

"Since losing weight that year, it's really helped me in every aspect of the game. I'm healthy, I feel good and I'm ready for the season."

Stay tuned to see if that means wearing a Cubs uniform or becoming part of a bigger trade for pitching.

Double the fun: Cole Hamels, Cubs defense prolific against Pirates


Double the fun: Cole Hamels, Cubs defense prolific against Pirates

Cole Hamels' dominant start to his Cubs career continued on Friday in stellar fashion, and with some considerable help from his infield.

The 34-year-old veteran not only pitched seven innings of five-hit ball without allowing a run, but induced five ground ball double plays. The Cubs finished with a staggering seven double plays in a 1-0 win at the Pirates on Friday.

The last time the Cubs turned five double plays was in 1985. 

All five hits Hamels gave up were groundball singles. The 16 groundballs induced is the most for a Cubs pitcher this year.

After Hamels exited after seven innings, the Cubs got double plays in the eighth, on a line drive double play with Jorge De La Rosa on the mound, and ninth, on a groundball induced by Jesse Chavez to end the game.

Hamels was initially brought in to provide depth to a struggling rotation and ease the pain of Yu Darvish being unavailable. But Hamels has now started an honest debate over who should be the Cubs' starter in Game 1 of the postseason. He has been otherworldly since joining the Cubs, with an 0.72 ERA, three wins and one no-decision (the Cubs won and he had nine strikeouts). 

The 1-0 win over the Pirates gives the Cubs more breathing room in the NL Central. The St. Louis Cardinals beat the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday, pushing the Cubs lead to 4.5 games in the division.

And the Hamels hot-streak comes at an excellent time for the North Siders, who took in Jon Lester's gem of an outing on Thursday, where he went six innings with no earned runs and eight strikeouts in a win against the Pirates. The Cubs starting pitching seems to be turning the corner, and with three straight series against sub-.500 teams following their series in Pittsburgh, this could be the beginning of a great run of outings that carries the Cubs confidently into the postseason.

A stellar Jon Lester outing gives the Cubs more than just a win

A stellar Jon Lester outing gives the Cubs more than just a win

It's been a tale of two halves for the Cubs veteran Jon Lester, who after a sparkling first half of baseball that saw him win 12 games with a 2.58 ERA, has looked nothing like a 2018 All-Star. Prior to Thursday's start, Lester had posted a 10.32 ERA, allowed 4 or more runs in 4 of his 5 most recent starts, and had yet to win a game in the second of the season. 

The 34-year-old veteran flipped the script Thursday night, throwing 6-shutout innings while striking out 8 Pirate batters in the Cubs 1-0 win in Pittsburgh. Lester surrendered only 5 hits and baffled the Pirates all-night, finally busting out of his slump and giving the Cubs his 2nd quality start since the All-Star break. 

Lester attacked the bottom portion of the strike zone all night with his fastball, which topped out at 93 mph, generating 4 whiffs with his heater. Over the last month, Lester has said he's felt he can't quite execute his "out" pitches, explaining that when he has a hitter set up for a strikeout he hasn't been able to throw the ball effectively in those moments. 

And while Lester walked off the mound after the 6th inning amassing 8 punch outs, the veteran starter never looked like he was trying to strike out batters. He just continued to dot the corners, occasionally raise the eye-level of the batter with an elevated heater, and threw his secondary pitches just enough to keep the Pittsburgh batters uncomfortable at the plate. 

The Cubs offense once again struggled, facing Ivan Nova who has won four his last five starts against the Cubs, but Ian Happ's solo shot in the 4th inning was enough run support for Lester to push the Cubs to 20 games over .500. But the biggest takeaway from Thursday night's win isn't that the Cubs came out on top, it's that Jon Lester returning to form gives this Chicago rotation something they've lacked seemingly this entire season. 

Stability at the front of the rotation. 

With Cole Hamels impressive three starts in a Cub uniform and Kyle Hendricks finally figuring out his issues on the mound, if Jon Lester can replicate Thursday's performance throughout the rest of the season, the Cubs rotation may finally turn into the strength many thought it could be before the season started. At the very least, Lester showed that whatever he's been working through over the last month of baseball is fixable. 

It's only one start in a string of poor outings for Lester, and while The Athletic's Sahadev Sharma did find some positives in his starts prior to Thursday's big win, Lester will have to show he can maintain this level of pitching through the remainder of this season. But I think our own Tony Andracki put it best tonight on Twitter. 

With the Cubs pitchers finally starting to perform to their expected level, and the return of Yu Darvish looking closer each day, it could be the Cubs starting pitching that carries through the rest of the season.