Cubs

Edgar Martinez? Miguel Cabrera? Eloy Jimenez made a huge impression on Joe Maddon in Cubs camp

Edgar Martinez? Miguel Cabrera? Eloy Jimenez made a huge impression on Joe Maddon in Cubs camp

MESA, Ariz. – Could there be a Triple Crown/MVP/Cooperstown-level talent roaming around the back fields of the Sloan Park complex? Hey, who doesn't love a good story on St. Patrick's Day? But at the very least, Eloy Jimenez made a huge impression on manager Joe Maddon before the Cubs assigned their top prospect to minor-league camp. 

"What he showed to me is a tremendous understanding of his swing as a 20-year-old," Maddon said. "Watch him take batting practice. His left-field foul line is pretty much left-center. He doesn't really hook the baseball. He stays inside the ball as well as the most seasoned (hitter). 

"(It's the way) Edgar Martinez did (it). It's kind of like that approach or Miguel Cabrera. I'm not saying he's those guys yet. I'm just saying that's his approach. It's really sophisticated for a 20-year-old." 

Let's not write the Hall of Fame induction speech yet. Jimenez spent last season at Class-A South Bend. Spring training is the time and place for dreaming about young players. The Cubs obviously have a vested interest in talking up their kids down on the farm. And forget it when Maddon — who once compared Jorge Soler to Vladimir Guerrero "with plate discipline" — starts rolling. 

But at 6-foot-4, 205 pounds and with that smooth right-handed swing, Jimenez certainly looks the part. Baseball America, ESPN, MLB.com and FanGraphs all have him ranked as a top-15 prospect in the industry. The Cubs are already seeing a return on the $2.8 million investment they made in the Dominican Republic in the summer of 2013.

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"He's going to hit," Maddon said. "The velocity, ball off the bat, is incredible. He'll look awful on one pitch and then come back and hit a screaming line drive. He'll make quick adjustments. Again, really sophisticated or beyond his years at 20.
 
"I don't know when he's going to show up, but you know he's going to show up at some point. He's not many, many years out. But of course he needs another solid year or so — year-and-a-half at least, maybe two in the minor leagues — before you really want to strongly consider that. 

"The outfield defense, running routes, base-running, things of that nature, I definitely want to see him improve on also, and that was part of the conversation."          

It's not just about Jimenez. For Maddon, the larger story is the next generation of Cubs (or the growing stack of trade chips for Theo Epstein's front office). 

In cutting the roster to 43 on Friday, the Cubs also optioned catcher Victor Caratini, outfielder Jacob Hannemann and pitchers Pierce Johnson and Felix Pena to Triple-A Iowa. Joining Jimenez in minor-league camp will be infielder Chesny Young, a .300 hitter at five different levels already, and outfielder Mark Zagunis, a player Maddon compared to Kevin Millar in terms of hitting style and body type (not off-the-wall personality).

"We just sent out seven guys, one guy's already played in the big leagues, and the other six are going to," Maddon said. "That doesn't happen all the time when you have these meetings. You say: ‘Eh, you know, with this or with that…' No, Pena played already (in the majors). The other six guys will. I feel very confident about that. I don't know exactly when, but they will." 

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 31st homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 31st homer 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.

Sosa's 18th homer of June and 31st of the season came off the Tigers in the Cubs' brief 2-game Interleague series in Detroit. 

Sosa connected in the first inning off Tigers starter Seth Greisinger, going back-to-back with Mickey Morandini. 

The Cubs wound up getting out to a 5-0 start in the game but still lost 7-6 on a Gabe Alvarez single in the bottom of the 11th.

The aforementioned Morandini homer was only the 3rd of the season for the Cubs second baseman. He finished with 8 homers on the year and 224 total bases on 172 hits in what was a very good offensive season. Yet it paled in comparison to Sosa, who had nearly 200 more total bases (416) and a slugging percentage nearly 200 points above Morandini's (.647 to .471), a testament to how truly incredible Sosa's season was.

Fun fact: Tony Clark was the Tigers' cleanup hitter that day. Clark is now the head of the MLB Players Union.

Fun fact No. 2: Paul Bako was the Detroit catcher in the game. He later became the Cubs backup catcher in 2003 and 2004, when he posted a .611 OPS in 119 games over the two years.

Maddon gets funky with bullpen, calls catcher Chris Gimenez to mound

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USA TODAY

Maddon gets funky with bullpen, calls catcher Chris Gimenez to mound

The Cubs continued their recent struggles, suffering their third straight loss to the Cincinnati Reds. 

But the game was not without its fair share of drama. The matchup was a back-and-forth affair, up until the Reds blew the game wide-open in the bottom of the third inning. This included a grand slam by Reds pitcher Anthony DeSclafani, the first home run of his career.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon turned to the bullpen following Cincinnati's third inning explosion, and things did not get much better from there.

With the Cubs down six runs in the bottom of the eight inning, Maddon brought in catcher Chris Gimenez to pitch. 

This was not new territory for Gimenez, who despite being a catcher, now has 10 MLB pitching appearances to his name. 

Down six runs, Gimenez didn't have a lot to lose. But Reds first basemen Joey Votto hammered a fastball in the zone for his eighth homer of the year.

Gimenez had a career ERA of 8.00 before Saturday's appearance, and he certainly didn't do much to help lower that figure.

According to ESPN's Jesse Rogers: "Including one today, Cubs relievers have allowed 41.1 percent of inherited runners to score in June, sixth most in the NL." 

A tired bullpen is certainly cause for concern for the Cubs, who are locked into a battle in the NL Central with the Brewers and Cardinals. Maddon was surely hoping to keep his bullpen arms fresh with the move, seeing as the game was already out of reach. 

So yes, the game did end in a 11-2 win for the Reds. But with a grand-slam by a pitcher—on his first career HR no less—and four-seam fastballs from a catcher, Cubs baseball always keep things interesting.