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Prospecting: Cubs see future in the system

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Prospecting: Cubs see future in the system

Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011
Posted 6:18 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Cubs executives insist that every dollar of profit goes right back into baseball operations. Its a great talking point, especially when they dont have to make the same public disclosures that the Tribune Co. once did.

Its what the fans want to hear. Even if Cubs ownership isnt compelled to release quarterly financial reports anymore, this message from the Ricketts family has been consistent and transparent.

Building our organization is really the key to being a consistent winner over time, chairman Tom Ricketts said last month. The way you build an organization is to draft the right players, to train them the right way in the right facilities and bring them up so that you have a steady flow of talent for your major-league team.

So while the 2011 Opening Day payroll may drop some 10 million from the approximate 145 million mark it hit the year before, club officials publicly and privately insist that the overall baseball budget will essentially remain the same.

In broad terms, that means more money is directed toward: hiring scouts; creating a deeper bonus pool for the amateur draft; expanding international operations; and building a new facility in the Dominican Republic.

We have to find players, assistant general manager Randy Bush said. If that means flying people halfway around the world, were going to do that. Some teams dont have the capability to do that or expend the monetary effort, but we feel its worthwhile.

Nuanced explanations wont always play well on talk radio or the message boards. Jim Hendry had to give first baseman Carlos Pena a signing bonus and deferred money on a one-year deal, and the general manager lucked out when Kerry Wood took an extreme discount to return home.

But there were other signs of investment this winter, from the reported agreements with two players from Cuba, to convincing Villanovas Matt Szczur to withdraw from NFL draft preparations with a 1.5 million bonus. Baseball America graded Szczur as the organizations best athlete, fastest baserunner and centerfielder of the future.
With a nice signing bonus, the Cubs convinced Matt Szczur to stop preparing for the NFL Draft and focus solely on baseball. He's already considered one of the top prospects in the organization and could be a key part of the future in center field. (AP)
The Cubs will keep hyping the system on Sunday as pitchers and catchers report to Arizona. There four pitchers from the 2008 draft class Andrew Cashner, Casey Coleman, Jay Jackson and Chris Carpenter will be competing to secure jobs and position themselves for the near future.

The next wave will include outfielder Brett Jackson and pitcher Trey McNutt. MLB.com ranked Jackson, a first-round pick out of Cal-Berkeley, as the games No. 46 overall prospect. After his first full year of professional baseball, McNutt has gone from the 32nd round of the 2009 draft to No. 66 on ESPN.coms top-prospect list.

Both are invited to major-league camp, and they will find a manager and a pitching coach conditioned to think about player development. Mike Quade managed 17 seasons in the minors and Mark Riggins spent the past 15 years as a minor-league pitching coordinator. Someone will open eyes across the next several weeks.

At this time last year, outfielder Tyler Colvin and pitcher James Russell werent expected to make the team. Russell surprised even himself by spending all but a few days with the major-league club in 2010. By reshaping his body last offseason, Colvin helped change the way Cubs prepare prospects.

As part of Camp Colvin, dozens of players have been working out in Mesa, where the former first-round pick made up for some of the time he lost to the Arizona Fall League, Team USA commitments and Tommy John surgery.

(Colvins) three years into his career and he really hasnt had any time to spend in the weight room and work on his agility, vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita recalled. Last year we were going to send him down to Mexico and we started talking. He says: Why dont we just go to Arizona and leave me with the strength coaches?

Lo and behold, he put on 20-25 pounds and you guys saw the results. I thoughtWow, were on to something here. It took me about 10 years to figure that one out, but its never too late.

Management envisions an athletic outfield of Colvin, Szczur and Jackson one day playing in front of the ivy. And by 2014 the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field that would be quite a narrative to sell.

But homegrown doesnt always work out that way. Its also about creating enough assets to flip to Tampa Bay for a high-end, established starter.

It cost what Baseball America judged to be three of the organizations top-10 prospects pitcher Chris Archer, shortstop Hak-Ju Lee and outfielder Brandon Guyer to land Matt Garza. The Cubs are already on the clock.

We know what we have in front of us, scouting director Tim Wilken said. We lost four or five pretty good prospects. We can replenish the supply between our international and amateur departments. It does make a little bit of a hole, but we got some good prospects left in the system. And I think the future really bodes well.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Cubs camp observations: Wrigley's home-field advantage without fans

Cubs camp observations: Wrigley's home-field advantage without fans

Four days into the Cubs’ training camp restart, we’ve only begun to get acquainted with the new normal of baseball rhythms and routines that we can only hope will result in a 2020 season of 60 games.

If the league can fix some of its early testing issues and keep enough players on enough teams healthy enough to start the season, what might come into play for the Cubs and the actual baseball.

Early observations after about a dozen Zoom sessions with team personnel and two intrasquad scrimmages:

NUTS: Home cooked?

The Cubs, who draw so reliably in one of the unique ballparks in the majors, might have more to lose than most teams without fans allowed to attend games when the season starts July 24.

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Just how much of the Confines’ home-field advantage is lost will be a matter of “wait-and-see,” manager David Ross said.

“There’s always an advantage to playing in your own park,” he said Sunday. “You feel more comfortable you woke up in your own bed. You’re not staying in a hotel room, which especially now, where you feel like outside spaces just aren’t comfortable as they used to be, probably [gives] a slight advantage in your city.

“There’s no substitute for fans,” he added. “There’s probably a slight advantage, but I don’t know if it’s as great as it used to be.”

What Ross didn’t mention were the rooftops across Waveland and Sheffield, which are planning to operate at 25-percent capacity when games start, suggesting at least a few hundred fans within cheering and booing distance.

“You’re going to hear them loud and clear, too,” pitcher Tyler Chatwood said. “I promise you that.”

BOLTS: Taking the fifth

All you need to know about Alec Mills’ ability to adjust and immediately step into an important role is what he did in an emergency start against the first-place Cardinals at Wrigley last year with the Cubs a half-game out and barely a week left in the season.

He hadn’t started anywhere in a month — and that was in the minors. But the guy who pitched out of the bullpen just three times in the four intervening weeks, pitched two outs deep into the fifth inning that day and didn’t allow a run (the bullpen took care of that, in a loss).

No wonder when Ross talks about Mills replacing the injured Jose Quintana (thumb) in the rotation, he says, “I’ve got a ton of confidence.”

He’s not the only one. “I’ve always had the mindset of doing whatever I can to stay ready and help in any way,” said Mills after pitching a strong three innings in a simulated game Sunday. “Obviously, with an unfortunate injury like this, I think it’s just even more heightened.

“I’m ready to do whatever, whether it needs to be maybe a start here or there, a couple more starts, long guy out of the pen — just whatever I need to do I pride myself on being ready to do that.”

CHATTER: The mask at hand

“It’s a little different. You leave the house with a phone, your keys, your wallet and your mask.”

—Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo on his and his teammates’ new daily normal.

“Everybody is thinking about it, but we try to get here and understand this is our safe zone and we’re trying to create that [within] the things that we’re going to do on and off the field.”

—Ross on players weighing the risk of playing during the pandemic against the safety precautions and protocols the team has built in and around its Wrigley Field bubble.

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2020 Cubs schedule features six games against White Sox: 'It’s exciting, right?'

2020 Cubs schedule features six games against White Sox: 'It’s exciting, right?'

Imagine it’s late September. The Cubs have already hosted the White Sox for three unforgettable games at Wrigley Field — fans packed the rooftops (at 25 percent capacity) around the ballpark. Now, it’s time to head to the South Side for the final series of the season, rife with playoff implications.

If the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t derail the 2020 MLB season, that scene very well could become a reality.

The Cubs regular season schedule, which MLB released Monday, features six Crosstown Classic games. The first of two series between the Chicago teams runs Aug. 21-23 at Wrigley Field. The second is penciled in for Sept. 25-27 at Guaranteed Rate Field. Both three-game series include Friday and Saturday evening games, and end with a Sunday afternoon game.

The Crosstown rivalry consumes 1/10 of the Cubs schedule this shortened season.

“It’s exciting, right?” Cubs manager David Ross said.

And quite convenient. That’s the point of a regionally-based schedule, which has the Cubs facing only NL Central and AL Central teams. While trying to limit the spread of COVID-19, that convenience becomes especially important.

“We get to sleep in our own beds at night,” Ross said of the Crosstown Classic. “We can set up things where if we need to we can work out here and drive over like you would in an Arizona spring training. There’s a lot of options that we have for us that we can do with an in-town team. I feel like that’s definitely a luxury.”

Some of those same advantages apply to the Cubs’ games at Milwaukee as well. As is the case with all their division rivals, the Cubs are scheduled to play the Brewers 10 times, including opening day at Wrigley Field on July 24.

As for their mid-September series at Milwaukee: “Players have the ability to drive up day of the game, drive back afterwards or get a car back,” Ross said. “There’s a lot of freedom and comfort in sleeping in your own bed, especially in the scenarios we’re in this year.”

The Cubs’ setup with the White Sox is mirrored over in Missouri between the Cardinals and Royals; they will also play each other six times. The Cubs will play three or four games against each of the four other teams in the AL Central. The White Sox are expected to be a stauncher opponent than the Royals, automatically giving the Cubs a tougher route through their interleague schedule.

But that’s a small price to pay for six rivalry games in Chicago.