Cubs

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.

Brandon Morrow, Craig Kimbrel and the 'puzzle' that is the Cubs bullpen

Brandon Morrow, Craig Kimbrel and the 'puzzle' that is the Cubs bullpen

From potential trades to payroll to their exact offseason checklist, the Cubs are playing things close to the vest early this offseason.

Which makes sense, as it doesn't do them any good to publicly talk about which players they're hoping to trade or exactly how much they have to spend to reshape a roster that missed the playoffs for the first time in a half-decade. 

But one thing is certain: The bullpen ranks very high on the Cubs priority list this winter.

At MLB's GM Meetings last week, Theo Epstein acknowledged the bullpen is a major focus for his front office and said, "we need to hit on a number of relievers this winter."

If the season started today, the Cubs bullpen might look something like this:

Craig Kimbrel (closer)
Rowan Wick
Kyle Ryan
Brad Wieck
Tyler Chatwood
Alec Mills
Danny Hultzen
Duane Underwood Jr.
Adbert Alzolay

That also doesn't take into account the potential of Chatwood, Mills or Alzolay getting a shot at the starting rotation (plus Colin Rea, who was added to the 40-man roster earlier this month).

There's not a whole lot of MLB experience in that projected bullpen beyond the closer. Kimbrel has 565 career big-league appearances under his belt, but the other eight names on that list have combined for only 329 relief appearances spanning 374.2 innings. 

That's not to say there's no promise in this group — Wick, Ryan and Wieck all impressed in varying degrees of sample size in 2019 while Mills and Chatwood also performed admirably in swingman roles — but there's simply not much of a track record. 

To some degree, the Cubs are going to be counting on guys from the aforementioned group (plus other internal candidates like James Norwood and Dillon Maples) in 2020, but there's also clearly a lot of work to do for a unit that struggled mightily in high-leverage spots last season.

"That's a puzzle we're going to be putting together all winter," Jed Hoyer said. "We'll look at every possible angle to do it — minor-league free agency, major-league free agency, trades. We're gonna be creative in how we put a bullpen together, but right now, there's a lot of flexibility.

"It's hard to picture that painting right now, but I think we'll be creative and try to put together a good bullpen."

As Hoyer indicated, there is no one way to put together a quality relief corps.

For example, the Cubs signed Kimbrel to $43 million deal, acquired Wick and Mills in under-the-radar minor-league trades, moved Chatwood from the rotation to the bullpen, drafted Underwood and picked up former second-overall pick (2011) Hultzen on a minor-league deal as he made his way back from a laundry list of injuries. Wieck is the most recent acquisition, quietly coming over from the Padres in exchange for Carl Edwards Jr. while everybody was focused on the Nicholas Castellanos deal.

One such unconventional option could be Brandon Morrow, the oft-injured former closer who initially signed with the Cubs prior to the 2018 season, but was only able to pitch for a few months before missing the last year-and-a-half with ongoing arm issues. The Cubs declined his $12 million 2020 earlier this month and thus owe him a $3 million buyout.

Morrow, 35, is reportedly healthy and has expressed interest in making a comeback. If he doesn't manage to land a big-league deal (which is unlikely given his recent elbow issue and track record of injuries), he is open to signing a minor-league deal with the Cubs, as first reported by the Chicago Sun-Times' Gordon Wittenmyer

The Cubs would be interested in that, as well, as it's a low-risk, high-upside move. When he's been able to get on a mound over the last four seasons, Morrow is 7-0 with a 1.79 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 24 saves and 12 holds.

"When healthy, he can certainly be a big part of the solution," Epstein said. "We appreciate his sentiments about if he's gonna sign a minor-league deal, he feels a responsibility that it should be here. That certainly seems like the type of thing that makes sense for both sides down the road."

The Cubs are already probably going to have to get creative to fit all their desired moves into the 2020 budget, so a reunion with Morrow makes sense as a potential piece of the bullpen puzzle. But obviously the Cubs cannot go into the season expecting Morrow to stay healthy all season or relying on him as a key cog.

The biggest key to the success of the 2020 bullpen will be Kimbrel, who had a very forgettable debut season in Chicago. 

Kimbrel went 0-4, posted a 6.53 ERA, gave up 9 homers in 20.2 innings and blew 3 saves in 16 chances with the Cubs after signing midseason. He also missed roughly a month of action between a knee injury and then an elbow injury that lingered into September.

Will a typical offseason and spring training be enough to get the 31-year-old back to his Hall of Fame-caliber form?

"Some of the injuries may well have been because of the lack of spring training, ramping up too quickly," Hoyer said. "Of course there's a lot of variables. I don't think we know exactly why he struggled. I thought there were some moments where he looked like he was about to take off and he looked really good and some injuries held him back. 

"Hopefully a really good spring training and he can get back on track, really stabilize our bullpen and allow us to build a bullpen without having to worry about the last three outs."

Regardless of how the Cubs build the bullpen this winter, all eyes will be on Kimbrel. If he can't regain his form, it's going to make life a lot more difficult on Epstein's front office and new manager David Ross. 

However, it does help that Wick, Wieck and Ryan got valuable experience pitching in high-leverage moments in the midst of a pennant race last season. All three figure to be big parts of that bullpen puzzle moving forward. 

Before a minor shoulder issue cut his season short, Chatwood was dialing it up to 99 mph out of the bullpen and impressing in short spurts or in a long relief role. After a long road, Hultzen finally made his MLB debut in 2019 while Underwood struck out all six batters he faced in his season debut in August and showed some promise.

If the Cubs are going to have to lean heavily on the group of relievers without much track record, at least they got a bit of a head start.

"Yeah, it gives us some comfort," Hoyer said. "We have a lot of uncertainty, a lot of moving parts in the bullpen. But the way some of those guys pitched at the end of the year does give us hope that we can find some diamonds in the rough and some of those guys that we found last year can continue to make strides and help us." 

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Christian Yelich to Yu Darvish on Twitter, 'Nobody needs help facing you'

Christian Yelich to Yu Darvish on Twitter, 'Nobody needs help facing you'

In the wake of the cheating allegations surrounding the Houston Astros, multiple parties have weighed in with their takes on the situation, and this includes Cubs starter Yu Darvish. He stated that this past season, he had noticed "weird behavior" from batters. Bleacher Nation then tweeted out a video showing Darvish stepping off the mound in a matchup against Christian Yelich and the Milwaukee Brewers, stating that he stepped off the mound because Yelich's "eyes move first...I'm not sure what he is trying to do."

Darvish then went on to elaborate that he wasn't trying to accuse the Brewers of stealing signs, rather that he was just stating what he had noticed in terms of batter behavior. Darvish made a minor grammar mistake, saying "your" instead of "you're" and when he responded to try to clarify that, it may have accidentally caused more confusion, as some mistakenly thought he was saying that Yelich indeed was stealing signs, but this was not the case.

That didn't stop Yelich from sounding off on Darvish with quite a harsh response, a response that was so harsh that some were shocked at the nature of it.

MLB free agent Josh Donaldson chimed in, humorously stating that he could definitely  use some help hitting off of Darvish and jokingly asked for what tips Yelich might have. 

Darvish then retweeted a few tweets that illustrated the point he was trying to make. 

Darvish also responded to Donaldson, saying that he doesn't think the third baseman needs any help hitting off of him either. 

At the end of the Darvish seems to be in a good place, and from his Twitter interactions, it is clear that he was not as upset or offended over the situation as Yelich was. 

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