Cubs stock up on pitching during Day 2 of draft

Cubs stock up on pitching during Day 2 of draft

The endless search for pitching led the Cubs to Oklahoma State University right-hander Thomas Hatch on Friday, grabbing the Big 12 pitcher of the year with their third-round pick and beginning a run on arms in the amateur draft.

The Cubs had to wait until No. 104 on the draft’s second day to make their first selection, part of the cost for signing pitcher John Lackey and outfielder Jason Heyward away from the St. Louis Cardinals and bringing back leadoff guy Dexter Fowler in spring training. Theo Epstein’s front office also couldn’t take as many chances while working with this year’s smallest bonus pool (less than $2.3 million). 

The Cubs also went with right-handed college pitchers in rounds four through six: California Baptist’s Tyson Miller; Duke’s Bailey Clark; and Cal State Fullerton’s Chad Hockin (a grandson of Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew). As well as rounds eight through 10: Haverford’s Stephen Ridings; Dartmouth’s Duncan Robinson; and Michigan State’s Dakota Mekkes.

Hatch missed the entire 2015 season with an elbow injury, but he’s come back from that sprained ulnar collateral ligament to perform as a redshirt sophomore (7-2 with a 2.16 ERA and 102 strikeouts against 28 walks through 112-plus innings). He’s listed at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds for a Cowboys team trying to advance to the College World Series this weekend.   

“It’s something that certainly we have to be aware of,” said senior vice president Jason McLeod, who oversees the scouting and player development departments. “We know that it’s in his past, but we’re confident in making the selection that he’s going to be healthy going forward. 

“We always know when you draft a player who’s had a medical occurrence in his past it’s always a risk. But (it’s) weighing all the factors, getting to know the player himself, the competitor that he is.

“I just saw him a couple weeks ago at the Big 12 tournament. The stuff coming out of his hand, how he’s commanding everything, and more so just how this guy competed every week and how he performed every week, we felt very good to get him there.”  

The Cubs tried to find athleticism and projectable skills in nontraditional places, using the example of Jacob deGrom, a Stetson University shortstop who became a ninth-round pick in 2010, an All-Star pitcher five years later and a World Series starter for the New York Mets. 

Beyond the 6-foot-4 Miller – the first Division II player drafted this year – the Cubs also chose a 6-foot-6 Division III guy (Ridings) and a 6-foot-6 Ivy League pitcher of the year (Robinson). 

The Cubs used 80 draft picks on pitchers between 2012 and 2015 and not one has thrown a single pitch for the major-league club yet. Of course, three first-round hitters from those four draft classes have already debuted in The Show. 

Kris Bryant, the National League’s reigning Rookie of the Year, is already closing in on his second All-Star selection. Kyle Schwarber is recovering from season-ending reconstructive surgery on his left knee, but he already holds the franchise record for postseason home runs (five). Albert Almora Jr. just got promoted from Triple-A Iowa this week, showing Gold Glove potential in the outfield, less than two months after his 22nd birthday.

In addition to having arguably the best collection of young position players in the game, the Cubs also pieced together and coached up a pitching staff that leads the majors in wins (41), ERA (2.61), batting average against (.200) and opponents’ OPS (.584) heading into Friday night’s game against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field.    

Whether or not it comes through the draft, the Cubs will need to create another wave of pitching by Opening Day 2018, when Jake Arrieta might be in a new uniform, John Lackey could be retired and Jon Lester will be 34 and in the fourth season of a $155 million megadeal.  

“We spent a lot of time scouting pitching across the country this year,” McLeod said. “Not having those first couple of picks, it really lets us as a department, as an organization, spend much more time with those guys in rounds five through 10 that we might not get as many looks at in a normal year. So we feel good about the things that we did today.”     

Why what Mike Montgomery did against LA could go a long way toward keeping him in the Cubs' rotation

USA Today

Why what Mike Montgomery did against LA could go a long way toward keeping him in the Cubs' rotation

Joe Maddon needed Mike Montgomery to get through at least six innings given the circumstances presenting the Cubs' manager before Game 2 of Tuesday’s day-night doubleheader against the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

Not only were the Cubs short a man in the bullpen (thanks to Brandon Morrow’s pants-related back injury), but Maddon had to use four relievers — including Pedro Strop for two innings — after Tyler Chatwood managed only five innings in Game 1 earlier in the afternoon. 

So when Montgomery — who had only thrown over 100 pitches once in the last two and a half seasons before Tuesday — saw his pitch count sit at 40 after two innings, and then 63 after three, he knew he needed to regroup to avoid creating a mess for the Cubs’ bullpen. 

What followed was a start that, statistically, wasn’t the most impressive of the five Montgomery’s made since re-joining the Cubs’ rotation earlier this year. But it was an important start in that the 28-year-old left-hander didn’t have his best stuff, yet didn’t give in to a good Dodgers lineup. And holding that bunch to one run over six innings was exactly what the Cubs needed in what turned out to be a 2-1 extra-inning win. 

“Especially when you don’t have have your best stuff, you always gotta — that’s when you really learn how to pitch,” Montgomery said. 

It’s also the kind of start that could be a major point in Montgomery’s favor when Maddon is presented with a decision to make on his starting rotation whenever Yu Darvish comes off the disabled list. Knowing that Montgomery can grind his way through six innings when his team needs it the most without his best stuff only can add to the confidence the Cubs have in him. 

Montgomery didn’t have his best stuff on Tuesday, issuing more walks (four) than he had in his previous four starts (three). He threw 48 pitches between the second and third innings, and only 25 of those pitches were strikes. Of the nine times the Dodgers reached base against Montgomery, six were the result of fastballs either leading to a walk or a hit. 

Even though the Dodgers were able to bother Montgomery a bit on his fastball, Maddon said that’s the pitch of his that’s impressed him the most over the last few weeks. 

“He never got rushed,” Maddon said. “In the past he would seem to get rushed when things weren’t going well, when he spot-started. Overall, fastball command is better — even though he was off a little bit tonight, the fastball command still exceeds what I’ve seen in the past couple of years on a more consistent basis. The changeup, really, good pitch. He got out of some jams but I think the fact that he knows where his fastball is going now is the difference-maker for him.”

Darvish will throw a simulated game on Wednesday after throwing two bullpen sessions last week. Maddon still doesn’t have a timetable for the $126 million right-hander’s return, and said he’s not entertaining what to do with his rotation until Darvish comes off the disabled list. But Maddon did mention Montgomery’s relative lack of an innings load — the most he’s thrown in a season in 130 2/3, which he did in 2017 — as a reason to perhaps not rush him into a permanent starting role the rest of the season. Going to a six-man rotation is a possibility, too, Maddon said. 

But the over-arching point is this: Montgomery will remain in the Cubs’ rotation as long as he keeps earning it. That can be the product of strong outings in which he has good stuff, or games like Tuesday in which he shows the Cubs the kind of resiliency most starters need to get through a full season. 

“I pitch well, good things happen,” Montgomery said. “I’ve always thought that. Opportunities, you just gotta make the most of them.”

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 28th + 29th homers in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 28th + 29th homers in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

For the second time in 1998, Sosa went back-to-back games with multiple home runs. After going yard twice on June 19 of that season, Slammin' Sammy again sent two balls into the bleachers on June 20.

He singlehandedly beat the Phillies that night, driving in 5 runs in a 9-4 Cubs victory.

But that wasn't the most impressive feat of the day from Sosa. His second homer was actually measured at a whopping 500 feet! It was the longest of the season, but not the longest of his career. On June 24, 2003, Sosa hit a homer at Wrigley measured at 511 feet.

The back-to-back big games raised Sosa's season OPS to 1.083 with a ridiculous .685 slugging percentage. He began June 1998 with a .608 slugging percentage.

Fun fact: Kerry Wood struck out 11 batters in 7.1 innings on June 20, 1998 to pick up his 7th big-league victory. As Wood marched to the National League Rookie of the Year that season, he finished with a 13-6 record and 233 strikeouts in only 166.2 innings for a career-high 12.6 K/9 rate.