Cubs

Starlin, Junior and the Cubs search for talent worldwide

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Starlin, Junior and the Cubs search for talent worldwide

SURPRISE, Ariz. Starlin Castro is a walking billboard at the academy in the Dominican Republic, where the Cubs think they can find the next big thing.

Castro and Alfonso Soriano train there during the offseason, and if they didnt work out hard, a team official once said, the Cubs wouldnt let them into the complex. The teenagers dont need to see big-leaguers coasting.

The little kids look at me like (Im at) the top, Castro said Wednesday. I hang out with everybody. I dont care that somebody says, Oh, why are you here? I (tell them): I passed through here. When I was a little kid, I was here, too.

The Cubs were probably slow to the game internationally that budget item fluctuated under Tribune Co. ownership and a new collective bargaining agreement will limit the amount they can spend in that market.

But going global has been a priority for chairman Tom Ricketts, whose family recently held a board meeting in the Dominican and unveiled plans for a new academy that will be part of a 50-acre development.

In assessing the organization from top to bottom, Theo Epstein found the technology to be lacking and had to bring in some of his own people. But the new president was pleasantly surprised by the pipeline that produced Castro.

We have one clear strength in our system overall our Latin American scouting and player development operation, Epstein said at the Cubs Convention. Its an outstanding operation. The players there are playing better fundamental baseball than any other Dominican academy Ive ever been in. It was really impressive. Its not a coincidence that weve developed a pretty nice game with Latin American prospects.

The next one to watch is opening eyes around Cubs camp.

The Cubs signed Castro and Junior Lake within almost three months of each other. Lakes bonus (110,000) was more than twice the amount Castro signed for. They played together on the same Dominican summer league team in 2007. The next year they were roommates in Arizona for rookie ball.

The first half of one season, Castro recalled, Lake played shortstop while Castro played second base. They switched positions for the second half.

Castro whos three days older and will turn 22 this month smashed all the timelines and rocketed through the system and emerged as an All-Star shortstop last season.

Lake split last season between Class-A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee and batted .279 with 80 runs scored, 12 homers, 51 RBI and 38 stolen bases. Lake then hit .296 in the Arizona Fall League and stole 18 bases in 28 games.

The same thing that happened to me, Castro said. Thats happening with him right now. I said, Good luck and keep going. I talk to him a lot. Hes got a chance to be a superstar, too. Hes got a lot of talent. Hes ready.

Lake was signed in part by Jose Serra, the same scout who closed on Castro and became Carlos Marmols godfather. Special assistant Louis Eljaua who once helped the Boston Red Sox build their academy in the Dominican will be overseeing the construction for the Cubs.

There are reasons why Ricketts gave vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita whos bilingual and has run international operations a new four-year contract after the chairman fired general manager Jim Hendry.

Around last Thanksgiving, Epstein led a group of Cubs officials to the Dominican, where they scouted several players, including Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes, who ultimately took a four-year, 36 million deal with the Oakland As.

The Cubs did a lot of background work on Cespedes, and theyve built up relationships and contacts throughout Latin America, which will matter whenever Jorge Soler, another Cuban defector, is declared a free agent. If Solers signed before July, it wont count against the cap imposed by the new labor deal, so expect the Cubs to be in a bidding war.

Looking toward the future, people around the Cubs say Lake has grown significantly taller in the last year or so. He appears to be around 6-foot-3, if not bigger, looking more like an NBA guard than a typical shortstop.

The guys a specimen with some kind of athletic body, manager Dale Sveum said. Hes got to just keep playing. He needs at-bats in games because thats a pretty good talent coming.

Though raw defensively, Lake is said to have a Shawon Dunston type of arm. Sveum has noticed Lakes offensive instincts, pointing out a delayed steal and a few good two-strike at-bats in the Cactus League. Could Lake play third base?

Sveum: Hes one of those athletes who could probably play anywhere on the field.

Could Lake be getting too big to play shortstop?

I dont think so, as long as youre athletic and you (can) move, Sveum said. Cal Ripken was pretty big. He did OK. (Troy) Tulowitzkis pretty big. He does just fine. So I dont think that has anything to do with it, especially (in this day and age) when you can have a two-way player possibly, somebody that hits home runs, catches the ball, steals bases, the whole package.

Two years ago, Ryan Theriot told Castro to come and get it. Less than three months later, the rookie took Theriots job. Castro considers Lake to be one of the first friends he made in the Cubs organization. In the future, this could be the left side of the infield.

Castros message is simple: I tell him: Be ready. You got a chance to play in the big leagues. Thats what you want, right?

Kris Bryant jumping at thunder during a rain delay is pure comedy

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WGN

Kris Bryant jumping at thunder during a rain delay is pure comedy

The Cubs-Braves game on Wednesday got delayed due to a thunderstorm that blew through Chicago.

It made for a pretty scene with a pink and orange sky during sunset that made way to rain clouds, thunder and lightning. Fox Sports South captured the footage of the Wrigley sky and then caught Kris Bryant jumping and then running in the dugout at the sound of thunder.

Even former MVPs can be scared of thunder.

 

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Cubs will need more than Craig Kimbrel to completely change fortunes

Cubs will need more than Craig Kimbrel to completely change fortunes

Cubs fans are understandably excited Craig Kimbrel is ready to make his debut with the team later this week.

He's a future Hall of Fame closer who is still in the midst of his prime and could very well be a shutdown reliever for the entire second half of the season.

But while the bullpen was a clear weakness of this team during tough times earlier in the season, the Cubs haven't slogged out to a 12-12 record in June because their back-end relievers have been blowing late leads.

So how much of a direct impact will Kimbrel have on the team's success? We don't know for sure, but let's look back at every loss this month and see if he would've been able to change the outcome in any ballgame:

June 1 — Cardinals 7, Cubs 4

Kimbrel probably wouldn't have pitched in a game that featured a three-hour rain delay, as Tyler Chatwood gave up 3 runs in the sixth inning in relief of Jose Quintana and the Cubs never even tied the game again.

June 2 — Cardinals 2, Cubs 1 

This was at least a close game, but the Cubs actually trailed 2-0 heading to the top of the ninth inning, when they mounted a comeback against the St. Louis bullpen that fell just short. Either way, it's almost assuredly not a game Kimbrel would have even made it into.

June 6 — Rockies 3, Cubs 1

Quintana gave up all 3 runs before the seventh inning ended and the Cubs offense could do nothing against a rookie making his first MLB start (Peter Lambert).

June 10 — Rockies 6, Cubs 5

Here's one where having Kimbrel could've had an indirect impact. The Cubs never had a save situation, but they did lose the game because the bullpen gave up solo runs in the bottom of the seventh and eighth innings. If Kimbrel is in the 'pen, the trickle down effect comes into play, which means Joe Maddon has more options at his disposal — including Steve Cishek and Pedro Strop earlier in the game. However, it was Cishek that was saddled with the loss by allowing a run in the eighth inning. The only way it would've set up any differently with Kimbrel is if the Cubs used Cishek in the seventh inning and slotted Strop in for the eighth, and the result may have been different. So we'll say Kimbrel could've had an impact on this one, albeit indirectly.

June 11 — Rockies 10, Cubs 3

When you're losing 9-1 going into the seventh inning, what does it matter who your closer is?

June 13 — Dodgers 7, Cubs 3

This one was all about the Dodgers being good and Jon Lester struggling and had nothing to do with the bullpen. The Cubs mounted a 3-0 lead, but their ace gave it all back and then some — allowing 3 homers and 6 runs over 5 innings. The bullpen would not have done much in this game.

June 14 — Dodgers 5, Cubs 3

Rinse and repeat. The Cubs once again jumped out to an early lead, but starting pitching couldn't hold it as Kyle Hendricks was touched up for 5 runs in 4.1 innings in his final appearance before hitting the injured list. The Cubs bullpen actually pitched admirably in the contest, throwing 3.2 shutout innings against a very good lineup.

June 16 — Dodgers 3, Cubs 2

It's certainly possible this one would've been different if Kimbrel were around. With something of a limited bullpen and Brandon Kintzler already pitching earlier in the contest, Cishek was forced to throw multiple innings and gave up the winning run in the eighth — his second inning of work — to break a 2-2 tie. Again, Kimbrel likely would not have been pitching in that spot, but if he was around and available, maybe Maddon could've gone with Strop or somebody else instead of utilizing Cishek for a second inning.

June 18 — White Sox 3, Cubs 1

Ahh, the Eloy Game. Also a game that it's very possible we would've seen Kimbrel, but you can't really fault Maddon with how this one played out. Cubs had a fresh bullpen coming off a rare off-day and watched Cole Hamels throw a gem, allowing just 1 run in 7 innings. Kintzler pitched a scoreless eighth inning in a tie ballgame and then Maddon called on Strop to throw the ninth inning — when Eloy Jimenez had his signature moment. Maybe Maddon would've gone to Kimbrel to pitch the top of the ninth inning, but you can't really lament losing when one of your best relievers is pitching late in a tie game and it doesn't work out.

June 21 — Mets 5, Cubs 4

Cubs jumped out to a 4-3 lead on Addison Russell's 2-run homer, but Yu Darvish couldn't hold it, giving the lead right back the following inning. The Cubs then lost the game when embattled reliever Brad Brach came into a 4-4 tie and gave up a single that eventually came around to score the winning run. Maybe Kimbrel's presence would've changed that outcome, as it could've been another reliever in the game besides Brach, but the Cubs still didn't hit much (Darvish accounted for half their runs) and it was a couple of groundball basehits that led to the winning run scoring, so it's not like Brach and Mike Montgomery got lit up.

June 22 — Mets 10, Cubs 2

This was a clunker of a game that was over well before either team's bullpen figured into things.

June 25 — Braves 3, Cubs 2

Hard to win many games scoring only 2 runs. Maybe Montgomery would not have been pitching in the seventh inning with a 2-1 lead if Kimbrel were around, but the Cubs also needed/wanted some length after Adbert Alzolay's 4.2-inning start and Montgomery had retired five of the six batters he faced before allowing the game-winning homer. 

So in total, we're looking at maybe three games this month in which Kimbrel could've played a role and potentially changed the outcome for the Cubs. But even those three games are a stretch — who knows if they would've still lost each one of those contests anyways.

This serves as just another reminder that Kimbrel isn't the Cubs' savior. While he will be a very nice piece in the bullpen and help create a positive trickle down effect on the pitching staff, he can't do anything to impact the Cubs' offense or starting pitching and those are the biggest issues plaguing the team at the moment.