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." 

ESPN to broadcast two of Cubs first four games in 2020

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AP

ESPN to broadcast two of Cubs first four games in 2020

It won't be long before baseball fans get their first look at the Cubs under new manager David Ross.

ESPN announced Thursday they will broadcast two of the Cubs' first four games in 2020: March 29 against the Brewers in Milwaukee (Sunday Night Baseball) and March 30 against the Pirates (3 p.m. first pitch). The latter game is the Cubs' 2020 home opener.

Ross worked as a color analyst for ESPN from 2017-19 before the Cubs hired him as manager in October. So, not only will his club be in the national spotlight early in the season, but his former co-workers will be the ones analyzing him as his managerial career kicks off.

The Cubs open the season on March 26 against the Brewers.

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Willson Contreras’ trade value just spiked, thanks to White Sox signing Yasmani Grandal

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USA TODAY

Willson Contreras’ trade value just spiked, thanks to White Sox signing Yasmani Grandal

This is the best thing the White Sox have done for the Cubs in years.

The White Sox made a big splash in free agency Thursday, signing catcher Yasmani Grandal to a four-year, $73 million contract. Grandal joins the South Siders from the Brewers, where he played an integral role in Milwaukee making a second-straight postseason appearance in 2019.

Grandal led qualified catchers in on-base percentage (.380) last season, also posting career highs in home runs (28) and RBIs (77). He’s also an excellent pitch framer, tying for fourth in RszC (runs saved by catcher framing) among all catchers with 9.

Milwaukee’s payroll reached a franchise-high $122.5 million in 2019 and their farm system (No. 29 in MLB, per Baseball America) is lacking. How they replace Grandal’s production is a major question mark, which in turn is a win for the Cubs this offseason.

But besides plucking him from the NL Central, the White Sox signing Grandal early in the offseason helps the Cubs, who have important decisions of their own to make.

Although Cubs president Theo Epstein said to take any trade rumors with a “mouthful of salt,” multiple teams believe catcher Willson Contreras is available for trade. The Cubs need to retool their roster and replenish a farm system that has been depleted in recent seasons from numerous “win now” trades.

The Cubs and White Sox made the notorious José Quintana trade in July 2017, but it’s unlikely the two would have matched up for a Contreras trade. The Cubs need young assets; trading away young assets is the last thing the White Sox want to do as their championship window opens.

So, Grandal landed with a team that was unlikely to be involved in any potential Contreras trade talks. Grandal was the best free agent catcher; Contreras is the best catcher that can be had in a trade.

Other teams interested in Grandal — such as the Reds — can no longer turn to him in free agency. The Rays have made addressing the catcher spot this winter a priority, but they have one of MLB’s lowest payrolls each season. Signing Grandal wasn’t going to happen, but Tampa Bay has the farm system (No. 2 in baseball, per MLB.com) to make a big trade.

Contreras is the best catcher available — for the right price, obviously — so the ball is in the Cubs' court. They don’t get better by dealing their two-time All-Star backstop, but Contreras’ trade value is high. With Grandal off the market, it just got even higher.

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