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Cubs prospect Zych on the fast track to the big leagues

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Cubs prospect Zych on the fast track to the big leagues

During the From Draft Day to the Big Leagues panel at the 2013 Cubs Convention, a fan asked the foursome of prospects seated at the dais when it was that they realized they were different; that their abilities were such that they could play baseball professionally.

For most, it was a gradual process, but 2011 fourth-round pick Tony Zych had a specific moment where he was struck by the realization that he had a bit more in his right arm than most kids. Or it would be better to say that his father was struck, by a fastball from his still not even ten year-old son that ripped through his glove.

"We were out there playing catch like we were most of the time, and he got down and I started actually pitching to him, said Zych, He had his old softball mitt, a men's league softball mitt -- and I thought it was a fine glove, pretty normal -- I don't know what happened, but it literally went right through his glove and smoked him right in the face. He was all bloody, and he took his glove off and we had to go in.

As Zych recalls, his father was less than thrilled at the time.

These days, Zychs fastball which regularly clocked in around 95 mph during last months Arizona Fall League --gets a much warmer reception. Baseball Prospectus Jason Parks called it plus-plus, and its the one huge tool in his arsenal that allowed him to blow away minor league hitters (64 strikeouts in 61.1 innings across High-A and AA in 2012) and could push Zych to Wrigley Field as soon as 2013.

That might sound like a rush, but Zych feels like hed be ready even sooner if need be.

Tomorrow, said Zych swiftly when asked when hed be ready, I'm not shy to say that because that's what I believe. Arm-wise, I think there's definitely a chance, at any time, but that's not my decision."

While the confidence is already in strong supply, there are refinements to Zychs secondary pitches that are still needed, and lapses in his control (12 walks in 24.2 innings after his mid-season promotion to AA Tennessee) that need to be eliminated before he becomes a fixture in a major league bullpen.

To make those adjustments, he leans on his minor league pitching coach, former Cub Jeff Fassero.

Fassero has helped me a lot on knowing what I was seeing in the video room, said Zych, Or when I'm throwing a pitch and think it's somewhere when it really wasn't.

Under the watchful eye of Fassero, Zychs approach to locating his pitches has gotten more precise.

"One thing I'm doing right now is focusing smaller," he said. "Not just playing catch with my partner but focusing on a button, or something else small, because if you can hit a button, you can hit a glove.

"Sometimes I land on my toe a little bit, said Zych, as he began to mime positioning his foot on the pitching rubber in the middle of the Sheraton Hotel, So I try to make sure my foot is flat."

Zych certainly had a lot more to say about his work and preparation than the pressure he feels being with his hometown team after growing up in nearby Monee, Illinois. If anything, he sees the possibility of playing in the major leagues in the same city where he attended St. Rita high school as a chance to show his appreciation to everyone who helped him along the way.

Theres not pressure, said Zych, Obviously there are a lot of people that I would want to be at his major league debut because they helped to get me here. I just hope I get the opportunity.

He already made sure to take care of the little matter of his fathers mangled glove.

"He actually tied it together with a shoestring, he didn't even get a new glove. Now I always make sure he's got another one because I still love playing catch with him."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Lee Smith Hall of Fame edition

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MLB NETWORK

Cubs Talk Podcast: Lee Smith Hall of Fame edition

Listen to Lee Smith's entire Hall of Fame induction speech in the embedded player below.

Cubs Talk Podcast

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Cubs trade rumors: Nick Castellanos drawing interest and could be the perfect fit

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USA TODAY

Cubs trade rumors: Nick Castellanos drawing interest and could be the perfect fit

Ever since infielder/outfielder Ben Zobrist hit the restricted list for personal reasons on May 8, one of the biggest talking points around the Cubs has been the team’s need for a steady, veteran bat.

Enter Tigers outfielder Nick Castellanos.

Sunday, Chris McCosky of The Detroit News reported that the Cubs have emerged as a "serious suitor" for Castellanos, citing a source. 

McCosky’s report follows that of MLB Network’s Jon Morosi, who reported that the Cubs had a scout in attendance at Friday’s Tigers-Blue Jays game in Detroit.

It’s currently unclear what a trade package for Castellanos, 27, would look like, but his fit with the team is obvious. In Castellanos, the Cubs would acquire a veteran outfield bat, one that hits extremely well against left-handed pitching.

Castellanos, who is a free agent after this season, has mainly hit second and third for the Tigers and led the team with 23 home runs in 2018. He holds a .280/.339/.467 slashline, with 10 home runs and 35 RBIs this season. Those numbers are even better against left-handers — .377/.451/.639 — albeit in a small sample size of 61 at-bats. However, in his 6+ MLB seasons, he's hitting .302 with an .871 OPS against left-handed pitching. 

The Cubs have struggled against left-handed pitching in 2019, ranking 23rd in average (.243) and 28th in hits with 164. Castellanos would rank first among qualified Cubs hitters vs. left-handers in average and OBP and only trail Javier Baez’s .776 in slugging percentage.

While it's true that Castellanos hits left-handed pitching well, he'd instantly become an everyday player in the Cubs outfield. Thus, the Cubs depth chart would be hit with several ripple effects.

Albert Almora Jr.'s  playing time against right-handed starting pitching would be affected. Almora held a .282/.315/.369 slashline against right-handed pitching in 2018, but those numbers currently sit at .255/.291/.427.

Almora's numbers against lefites (.210/.247/.296) aren't better, but his 2018 slashline there (.295/.340/.402) leaves room for hope. Also, Kyle Schwarber is only hitting .224 against lefties, so adding Castellanos would likely mean Almora starts less against righties and Schwarber less against lefties. Almora does provide Gold Glove caliber defense, so the Cubs may be more inclined to let him work through his struggles at the plate.

Similarly, David Bote's playing time could also be affected by Castellanos. Without the latter, the Cubs have more of a need to play Kris Bryant in the outfield, meaning third base is open for Bote to play. Adding Castellanos might mean Bryant playing more third base and less outfield, so Bote would have to crack the starting lineup at second base, more likely than not. The same goes for Robel Garcia, though his bat is making it hard to keep him out of the starting lineup right now.

Between Almora and Schwarber's numbers and Zobrist’s absence, the Cubs have a glaring need for more outfield offense. Adding Castellanos could be exactly what the doctor ordered for the Cubs offensively.

Update: Our David Kaplan added that the Cubs have also had discussions for Tigers closer Shane Greene.

Greene, 30, is arbitration eligible this offseason. The right-hander has converted 22 of his 25 save chances this season and has 40 strikeouts compared to 11 walks. However, his 3.54 FIP is a far cry from his 1.25 ERA, and the overriding thought has been that the Cubs would seek left-handed relief help rather than right-handed.

Greene entered Sunday with a lower ERA against lefties (0.64) than righties (1.29), though lefties are hitting .222 against him compared to .097 by righties. If the Cubs were to acquire him, he obviously wouldn't slot into the Cubs closer role, as Craig Kimbrel has the position locked down. As Kaplan noted, the cost to get both Castellanos and Greene would be steep, especially with the latter being a top relief arm on the trade market.

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