Cubs prospect Szczur: Baseball 'just seems right'

Cubs prospect Szczur: Baseball 'just seems right'

Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2011
2:15 p.m.

By Jim Salisbury

Matt Szczur would love to see the Chicago Cubs end their century-old drought and win the World Series in 2011.

Hes rooting for them in a big way.

But if they want to wait a few years until he makes it to Wrigley Field well, he wont complain.

That would be great, a dream come true, to be in centerfield and win a World Championship, Szczur said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

To Philadelphia-area sports fans, Szczur is the Villanova University kid who led the Wildcats football team to a national championship in 2009. Hes also the young man who took time off from his junior year baseball season at Villanova to help save a young girls life with a bone marrow transplant.

To Cubs officials, Szczur is all this and then some. They selected him in the fifth round of the major league draft last June and were so impressed with his play and potential in the minor leagues last summer that they have agreed to pay him 1.5 million for the coming season. The Cubs believe Szczur is worth the investment. All they asked was that Szczur give up his aspirations of playing in the NFL so he can focus completely on baseball.

The Cubs have gotten to know Matt as a baseball player and a person and they wanted to do everything they could to ensure he remained a Cub, said Rex Gary, Szczurs Philadelphia-based agent.

Szczur, a receiver and return specialist who was MVP of the 2009 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision game, was a candidate to be selected as high as the fourth round in the NFL draft. He had been in Florida preparing to showcase his talents in the Senior Bowl when he accepted an offer to have dinner with Cubs general manager Jim Hendry on Sunday night.

Hendry made his pitch.

Good-bye, Senior Bowl. Hello, Cubs.

Jim and I had a very nice dinner, Szczur said. There was no pressure at all. I just looked at the figure they offered and it was tough to pass up. I love both sports. Going this way just seems right.

Im definitely going to miss football, but the way I look at it is I was going to have to give up one either way. I would have missed which ever one I would have given up equally. I dont really have a first love I love both. It was a hard decision, but I think its the right one for me.

Szczur pronounced Caesar is a 21-year-old product of Erma, N.J., and Lower Cape May Regional High School. He is 12 credits shy of a Liberal Arts degree at Villanova.

On the football field at Villanova, Szczur won All-America honors. On the baseball field, he was an All-Big East outfielder, finishing with a career batting average of .392 in two seasons.

Szczur had an impressive pro debut with the Cubs last summer, hitting .347 with a .414 on-base percentage in 25 games at the rookie and Single A levels. He began his pro career with a 21-game hitting streak. His season ended with a trip to Wrigley Field, where he took batting practice with the big team before a game.

That was unbelievable because I was in one of the last groups and the stands were full, Szczur said. It was crazy, a great feeling.

I just loved the pro ball experience. It was so much fun being able to focus on baseball fulltime.

Szczur, 5-11 and 200 pounds, has excellent speed and strength to go with an impressive bat. Scouts believe hes only begun to scratch the surface of his baseball potential and will benefit by concentrating fulltime on the sport.

During his time at Villanova, Szczur also shined off the field. He missed 10 baseball games last season while undergoing a procedure to donate bone marrow to a young girl with leukemia. Szczur doesnt know the girls identity. Maybe someday shell watch him play in Wrigley Field.

I missed a few games and spent a couple of days in a hospital bed, but I got to help save a life, Szczur said. It was a great experience.

So, too, was his first season of professional baseball.

So much so that hes ready for more, even if it means giving up football.

This is the first time Ill be giving baseball 100 percent concentration, Szczur said. Im excited to see what it brings to me.
Jim Salisbury is's Phillies Insider.

Cubs sign oft-injured reliever Brandon Morrow to minor-league deal


Cubs sign oft-injured reliever Brandon Morrow to minor-league deal

Brandon Morrow hasn’t pitched in a big-league game since July 2018, but he’ll get a shot at making a comeback next season.

Morrow is set to sign a minor league deal with the Cubs, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today. It’s worth $1 million if he makes the Cubs' roster and could reach $2.25 million if Morrow makes 65 big-league appearances. 

Morrow hasn’t pitched since July 15, 2018, missing the second half of that season with right biceps inflammation. He underwent a debridement procedure on his right elbow last offseason, which was supposed to keep him out for the first month of the 2019 season. But Morrow suffered several setbacks and never pitched in 2019. 

Morrow’s agent, Joel Wolfe, told Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times last month that the right-hander feels a sense of loyalty to the Cubs after they stuck by him through thick and thin. He said Morrow was open to a minor league deal.

When he last pitched, Morrow was one of the most dominant closers in baseball. He posted a 1.47 ERA in 35 games in 2018, converting 22 of 24 save tries. He provided the Cubs with a power arm in the back of the bullpen, striking out 31 batters in 30 2/3 innings compared to nine walks.

For the Cubs, Morrow is a low-risk addition with high-reward potential. He told ESPN’s Jesse Rogers that his arm feels great. If he’s healthy, he could be a major contributor to the Cubs' bullpen.

This time, the Cubs won’t place such high expectations on the 35-year-old. They expect closer Craig Kimbrel to bounce back in 2020 with a normal offseason ahead of him. Kimbrel signed a three-year, $43 million deal with the Cubs last June and struggled mightily, posting a 6.53 ERA in 23 games.

If healthy, Morrow could prove to be a lethal weapon in front of Kimbrel. If he can’t stay healthy, it’s not like the Cubs are investing a lot of money in him, as they did two offseasons ago when Morrow signed a two-year, $21 million deal.

Simply put: if Morrow pans out, great. If he can’t stay healthy, the Cubs can move on without losing a large investment.

If Rangers sign Nicholas Castellanos, it could lead them to Kris Bryant deal

If Rangers sign Nicholas Castellanos, it could lead them to Kris Bryant deal

After losing out on free agent third baseman Anthony Rendon, the Texas Rangers have spoken to agent Scott Boras about Cubs free agent outfielder Nicholas Castellanos, according to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News.

Castellanos played third with the Detroit Tigers from 2014-17, but considering he posted a -64 Defensive Runs Saved mark in four seasons, he won’t be moving back there. Interestingly, however, Castellanos is willing to consider playing first base, according to Grant.

The Cubs — who are reportedly still pursuing Castellanos — obviously would be affected if the 27-year-old signs with Texas, as they'll lose one of their most productive players from 2019. But besides that, Castellanos landing with the Rangers would impact the Kris Bryant trade market.

The Rangers are looking for a consolation plan at third base after missing out on Rendon. They have a three-year offer on the table for Donaldson, according to Grant, and signing him would cost them only money. The same cannot be said about acquiring a third baseman via trade, like Kris Bryant, who would cost several assets.

But if Donaldson doesn’t sign with the Rangers, they might be more inclined to pursue Bryant. Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said at the Winter Meetings they’ll address third base this offseason, and the Cubs' third baseman would be the best option left. That is, unless Texas calls the Rockies about Nolan Arenado.

Daniels also indicated that the Rangers are unlikely to trade for a player with only a few years of team control left (like Bryant) without making other major additions.

“There are some trade options [that] would have quite frankly made more sense in our mind if we had landed the free agents at the top of our list,” Daniels said. “I don’t love the idea of half measures. I don’t love the idea of taking a chunk out of the system if it doesn’t really make sense. Trading for somebody with a year or two of control makes more sense if the club is a little more filled out.”

So if the Rangers land Castellanos, a pursuit of Bryant could follow. But the same might also be true if they sign Donaldson, thanks to Bryant’s positional versatility.

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