Jeimer Candelario makes big-league debut as Cubs continue youth movement

Jeimer Candelario makes big-league debut as Cubs continue youth movement

NEW YORK – Welcome to The Show, Jeimer Candelario, meet Noah Syndergaard’s 100-mph fastball.

That’s how Candelario made his big-league debut during Sunday afternoon’s 14-3 loss to the New York Mets, joining the Cubs for the end of a four-game sweep at Citi Field and possibly the low point of the season so far.

Reacting to yet another injury – and maybe hoping for a jolt to their sluggish offense – the Cubs promoted an intriguing switch-hitting prospect from Triple-A Iowa and moved outfielder Chris Coghlan to the disabled list with a strained right rib cage.

Candelario began his age-22 season at Double-A Tennessee, earned an invitation to the All-Star Futures Game and hit .333 with a 1.052 OPS through his first 25 games at the Triple-A level.

“Dream come true,” Candelario said after starting at third base, striking out three times and getting his first hit off Syndergaard with a seventh-inning single.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]  

Candelario was born in New York, grew up in the Dominican Republic and had a big group of friends and family watching him at Citi Field. His father had been a minor-league pitcher in the Houston Astros organization.      

Blocked by corner infielders Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, Candelario’s name will be floated in trade speculation leading up to the Aug. 1 deadline. But the Cubs didn’t green-light Tommy La Stella’s return this weekend, and have been vague about where Dexter Fowler and Jorge Soler are at in their recoveries from hamstring injuries, creating an opening for Candelario.  

“Whatever they decide,” Candelario said, “I’m just here to help the team win. I can’t think about those things. I just got to work hard. And whatever opportunity they give to me, take advantage.”

As much as Joe Maddon appreciates young talent – and left spring training thinking some midseason answers could come from within the organization – the manager also didn’t envision Albert Almora Jr., Willson Contreras and Candelario all getting promoted before the Fourth of July. Attrition partially explains why the Cubs have lost 10 of their last 14 games heading back to Wrigley Field after a disappointing three-city road trip.

“We’re not at our normal DEFCON right now,” Maddon said. “If we had been playing at full guerrilla mode, I might be a little bit more concerned. But I’m taking everything into consideration. I’m not upset at all or concerned. We’re going to continue to get better. We’re going to get on another good run. I’m certain of that.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Checking in with Joe & Theo at the Winter Meetings


Cubs Talk Podcast: Checking in with Joe & Theo at the Winter Meetings

Tony Andracki goes 1-on-1 with manager Joe Maddon at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas. The Cubs manager touches on his efforts to put art back into the game, his biggest challenge in 2019, the Cubs' sense of urgency and his thoughts about Matt Nagy and the Bears (:30).

Plus, we catch up with Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein, who discusses internal team leadership, whether or not the Cubs are close to a deal and how Maddon is changing up his coaching style (5:45).

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast


Where do Javy Baez and Anthony Rizzo fit in Cubs leadership equation?

Where do Javy Baez and Anthony Rizzo fit in Cubs leadership equation?

LAS VEGAS — All this talk about the Cubs' desire for more leadership on the roster has raised several questions and chief among them is wondering what it says about the core players already on the team.

If the Cubs have a leadership void — as Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have said this month — does that mean players like Anthony Rizzo, Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and Javy Baez are not leaders?

Epstein confirmed Tuesday afternoon at the MLB Winter Meetings that the Cubs feel they have plenty of leadership on the roster, but they're looking more for that one guy — a veteran who has been around the block and isn't afraid to call somebody out or hold teammates accountable. The David Ross or Jon Jay mold, as Hoyer said Monday.

Rizzo is the face of the franchise and the driving force in the lineup every day, but he's still only 29 and developing as a leader. 

Heyward isn't real vocal, but when he does speak up, it carries a lot of weight — as the famous Rain Delay Speech indicates. 

Zobrist can talk hitting for hours and it's easy to see him becoming a coach whenever his playing career is done. But he isn't super vocal by nature, either.

Baez is an interesting case as he is quickly becoming an impactful leader for this team. In the process of putting up a huge breakout 2018 campaign that earned him a second-place finish in NL MVP voting, Baez became one of the most outspoken players in the dugout and clubhouse.

His instincts and baseball IQ are off the charts and he sees the game on a whole other level, which lends a different viewpoint to the squad. 

When the Cubs were handed a disappointing and abrupt early offseason, it was Baez that stood at his locker for nearly a half hour, ranting about how the team lacked urgency and an edge for most of the year.

Baez is starting to emerge as a true leader, but March 28, 2019 will only represent his third big-league Opening Day and he still has played in just 527 games at baseball's highest level.

"Javy is as respected as anyone in that clubhouse and is just starting to find his voice," Epstein said. "That's probably the next step for him — speaking up a little bit more. But by the way he plays the game, how much he cares about winning, how tough he is, he's got everyone's respect and attention."

Epstein said Rizzo is making it his personal mission to take his leadership to another level.

Epstein and Hoyer and the rest of the front office are taking responsibility for the "miscalculation" that the 2018 Cubs did not need — or have room on the roster — for one of those leaders.

Now they're trying to fix that for 2019 by attempting to add the right guy into the mix.

But what type of leader are the Cubs seeking?

"It's really certain leadership you need from the right bench guy who's not expecting a ton more playing time, who's content at where he is in his career — he's just completely invested in winning, invested in his teammates," Epstein said. "Those little difficult conversations that you have to have sometimes. Or bringing energy on a day where the everyday guys are dragging.

"That's an important role on a club, but please don't take it the wrong way that we think there's some deficiency with our position players. We have incredible guys and a lot of character there and some leaders — they're just continuing to grow into it."

What is it that Ross provided this club that they haven't been able to duplicate since he left?

Here's a perfect example:

"David was unusual, because Dave would grab guys walking off the field after a play," Joe Maddon said Tuesday. "And I would be entertained in my corner watching this whole thing unfold. I would address it afterwards. There's nothing wrong with that. I know that some of the guys were afraid to come in the dugout. And still that's OK, because they knew David was on their side.

"Yes, we want that. I would say that every team out here wants that and they're hard to find."