Cubs

Mooney: The year of the rookies

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Mooney: The year of the rookies

Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2010
3:21 PM
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Andrew Cashner had faced Buster Posey before in the Arizona Fall League, the training ground for elite prospects, though the San Francisco Giants rookie had no recollection.

The Cubs reliever also remembered seeing Posey in spring training but one at-bat will stick out -- especially if the Giants make a deep postseason run and the catcher is voted Rookie of the Year -- from Sept. 21 at Wrigley Field.

In the eighth inning of a scoreless game the Giants desperately needed, Posey smashed Cashner's 96 mph fastball and when it landed it ricocheted in and out of the basket in front of the batter's eye in center field.

After that 1-0 loss Cashner -- who's been accountable ever since his big-league debut on Memorial Day -- could be found at his locker.

Cashner said he simply got beat on that home run. And if the Cubs keep him on this path -- by Game 161 he hadn't heard anything about whether they want to use him as a starter or reliever next season -- there will be more nights like that.

From top to bottom, Cashner never felt like the organization lost faith in him, but he also viewed the final six weeks of this season as a chance to make next year-s team. From Aug. 23 on -- the day Mike Quade took over for Lou Piniella -- Cashner posted a 1.40 ERA in his last 18 games, limiting opponents to a .203 average.

"For somebody who throws so hard, (his) command is amazing," pitcher Ryan Dempster said. "I dream on my best day to throw the ball where I want it like that. And he does it at 100 mph and it's so easy. (His) delivery (is) smooth and he gets downhill.

"He's got (an) electric arm and he's got a chance to be really special. God gave him a pretty cool thing on the right side of his body."

Across the country, this has been the year of the rookie. Washington Nationals prodigy Stephen Strasburg made baseball relevant in the nation's capital -- until he needed elbow-reconstruction surgery.

Imported from Cuba at a cost of more than 30 million, Aroldis Chapman could be a game-changer for the Cincinnati Reds this postseason with velocity that reaches higher than 100 mph.

When the Atlanta Braves open their best-of-five series Thursday night at AT&T Park by the San Francisco Bay, you'll be able to watch the two National League rookies most likely to win the award.

While handling one of the best pitching staffs in the game, the 23-year-old Posey hit .305 with 18 home runs and 67 RBI in only 108 games.

On Opening Day Jason Heyward homered in his first major-league at-bat, a three-run bomb off Carlos Zambrano that sent the 53,081 fans at Turner Field into a tomahawk-chopping frenzy.

Heyward, who celebrated his 21st birthday this summer, kept producing, hitting .277 with 18 homers, 72 RBI and a .393 on-base percentage.

For months, that 16-5 loss to the Braves on April 5 seemed like all you needed to know about the 2010 Cubs. An erratic Zambrano got only four outs. An unreliable bullpen gave up eight more runs. A defense that would finish tied for last in the league in fielding percentage (.979) committed two errors.

The young players would be unpredictable. Tyler Colvin hit 20 home runs -- with 100 strikeouts -- in 358 at-bats before the shattered piece of a maple bat stabbed his chest.

Shortstop Starlin Castro committed 27 errors -- second-most in the majors -- but also became the first Cubs rookie to hit .300 since Bill Madlock in 1974. For the Cubs to get back to the playoffs, they will need to see growth.

"You got to be aware (that) next year is a tough year for them," hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo said. "That sophomore jinx, (whatever) you want to call it -- they can overcome it mentally, but it's part (of) baseball. It's been there all the time and we'll see how those kids react."

For a moment during his state-of-the-team address before the final home game at Wrigley Field, chairman Tom Ricketts sounded less like an investment banker and more like an advance scout who had spent too many nights on the road at Marriott hotels.

"Look at the guys that have contributed up here," Ricketts said in acknowledging an otherwise disappointing season. "The Castros, the Colvins, the Cashners."

Cashner, who turned 24 last month, spent the final weekend of the season in Houston, about 45 minutes from where he grew up. The Texan loves hunting and fishing, but still planned to return to Chicago for a few more days. The former first-round pick couldn't see paying all that money for his apartment and not staying there until the lease expired.

That is where Cashner finds himself this offseason, thinking he hasn't made it yet, but knowing that he belongs.

"(It's) just a lot of confidence," Cashner said the night Posey took him deep. "I'm going after guys. I don't care anymore -- here it is."

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Hottovy on the pitching staff and Szczur’s aspiring art career

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Hottovy on the pitching staff and Szczur’s aspiring art career

On this episode of the CubsTalk podcast, we catch up with new Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy in Las Vegas (1:00). Hottovy discusses his relationships with the current Cubs staff, his biggest challenge in 2019, and his quick transition from playing to coaching.

Later, Luke Stuckmeyer speaks with former Cub and 2016 World Series Champion Matt Szczur, whose painting of the final out from the 2016 World Series is catching eyes all over the internet (15:50). Szczur also details his role in helping Anthony Rizzo get going in the 2016 NLCS, and how he keeps in touch with all his former teammates.

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

Cubs Talk Podcast

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State of the Cubs: Second base

State of the Cubs: Second base

As the Cubs maneuver through a pivotal offseason, we will break down the current state of the team by sectioning it off into position groups. Here is the fifth installment on the second basemen.

Second base was the only position group the Cubs had close to starter-level at-bats available this winter, but that is probably no longer the case with Tuesday's signing of Daniel Descalso.

The Cubs entered December with only Ben Zobrist as a true second base option for 2019 with Daniel Murphy a free agent and Javy Baez sliding over to shortstop full time for at least the first month of the season (or longer if Addison Russell is not a part of the team's plans after his suspension).

The Descalso move changes the middle infield equation quite a bit:

Depth chart

1. Ben Zobrist
2. Daniel Descalso
3. David Bote
4. Addison Russell?

First, the Russell/Baez aspect. 

It's still not guaranteed Russell will be back on the active roster when his suspension is up in early May, which would create a larger hole on the middle infield depth chart.

But for right now, Russell is under contract and he may be a part of the active roster in the first week of May, so if he does return, how does that change the shortstop/second base rotation?

Speaking strictly about his on-field production, Russell's offense has left a lot to be desired over the last few years, but his defense has been elite. An active Russell on the roster would mean the Cubs could have arguably the best middle infield defense in the game with him at short and Baez at second. 

The Cubs could start Russell a few times a week at shortstop and play Baez over there the rest of the time. When Russell plays short, Baez can play second or he can go to third and move Kris Bryant to the outfield. On days Baez starts at shortstop, the Cubs can bring Russell off the bench to play shortstop and move Baez to one of the other spots to improve their late-game infield defense.

For the first month of the season, expect to see Descalso and Zobrist man second base a majority of the time. Zobrist will still only play 4-5 times a week as the Cubs look to continue the plan that made the veteran utilty guy one of the top comeback stories in the league in 2018, with a heavy dose of rest and some regular time in the outfield and away from the demanding position of second base.

Descalso's career splits are essentially the same, so even though he's a left-handed hitter, he can still draw starts against southpaws, allowing Zobrist to spell Jason Heyward or Kyle Schwarber in the outfield.

Either way, Ian Happ appears to be out of the second base equation for the Cubs. The young switch-hitter did not draw a start at second in 2018, playing only two games and 3 innings at the position.

What's next?

Probably not much, save for a few non-roster invitees that could surprise in spring training. The Cubs have next to no infield depth in the minor leagues at the moment, but that will change as the winter goes on.

The big-league roster does not have much room, though the big question mark that remains is Russell and where/if he is included from May on.

The Cubs could opt to keep Bote in the minors to start the year and add another veteran on the bench, but as of right now, Bote's league-minimum salary, versatility and stellar glove are awfully enticing.

The bottom line

The Cubs' second basemen are going to have an average age of 35 in 2018 (at least to start) with Zobrist (38) and Descalso (32) manning the position.

State of the Cubs: SP
State of the Cubs: RP
State of the Cubs: C
State of the Cubs: 1B
State of the Cubs: 2B

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