Cubs

The Yips? Cubs can’t hide Jon Lester’s throwing issue

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The Yips? Cubs can’t hide Jon Lester’s throwing issue

Your move, Jon Lester.

Now that “The Yips” became a viral video, the Cubs can’t simply wave this off as a media creation or pretend like it never happened. Lester airmailing that throw to first base will have to be ingrained into any scouting report on the $155 million lefty.

“Any moment can become a negative situation if you permit it to,” manager Joe Maddon said Tuesday. “I know from the outside looking in, I get it. Listen, I’m not going to deny it. I understand what everybody’s talking about, of course. But now it’s up to us to make the adjustment and make it work.”

That’s why team president Theo Epstein believes this will become a nonissue. Lester – a two-time World Series champion with the Boston Red Sox – isn’t soft or defensive or unproven.

“He’s very much a grown man,” Epstein said. “He faces things head-on. He’s going to work. He’s got some things to work on.”

[RELATED: Cubs show they're bigger than just Lester in comeback win]

Lester admitted as much after Monday night’s 7-6 comeback victory over the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field, joking it had been awhile since he had thrown over to first base (April 2013).

Moments later, Lester thought he saw Zack Cozart leaning one way and got a little overexcited, throwing a ball that wound up bouncing into the visiting bullpen, where Jorge Soler had hustled over from right field. Soler picked it up and made a strong throw to third base to nail Cozart.

Here’s how Bryan Price – the Reds manager who had been a well-respected pitching coach – broke it down:

“More than anything, I think we needed to see a throw over,” Price said. “You almost have to create an environment where he’s going to throw over. The thing that he’s done that really helps him is they have catchers that can throw. We all know that David Ross can throw and (Welington) Castillo really improved last year. I know Montero from my days in Arizona and he’s a good catch-and-throw guy.

“(Lester’s) been really competitive with his times to the plate. So now you go: ‘OK, well, he may not throw over to first base at all or very little. But when he goes to the plate and it’s a 1.15 or 1.17 (seconds), you better get a great jump because those guys will throw you out if you don’t.

“There may be a certain sense of not as much anxiety for the baserunners because he doesn’t throw over, (but) I don’t think like the league’s going to steal 100 bases against him. I don’t think that’s going to happen because he’s too quick to the plate.”

[NBC SHOP: Buy a Jon Lester jersey!]

Lester didn’t throw over to first base last year with the Red Sox or Oakland A’s and still had the best individual season of his career, earning his third All-Star selection and finishing at 16-11 with a 2.46 ERA across 219-plus innings.

“He didn’t do it once last year and that wasn’t exactly a secret and there was not an inordinate amount of steals,” Epstein said. “Would throwing to first base help control the running game? Of course. Is he going to face things head-on and find a way to control the running game? No doubt about it.

“He’s also got to do it in a manner that allows him to make good pitches to home plate while there’s a runner on first. That’s really important.

“He naturally does a good job of varying his looks and his times and is quick to home plate when he wants to be. Always, the best way is to get the hitter out. But he’s working on it.”

4 Cubs crack MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospects list

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MiLB

4 Cubs crack MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospects list

MLB Pipeline unveiled its annual top 100 prospects list on Saturday, and four Cubs minor leaguers made the cut.

Nico Hoerner (SS; No. 51), Brailyn Marquez (LHP; 68), Brennen Davis (OF; 78) and Miguel Amaya (C; 95) cracked the list for the North Siders. It’s the first time the Cubs have had four players on the list since 2016: Ian Happ (No. 21), Eloy Jimenez (23), Albert Almora Jr. (82) and Dylan Cease (98).

So yeah, it’s been a minute.

Cubs fans are most familiar with Hoerner; the 22-year-old made his big-league debut last September in an emergency spot after Javy Báez and Addison Russell got hurt. Hoerner hit .282/.305/.436 in 20 games and held his own defensively.

Hoerner is ranked as the No. 9 overall shortstop prospect, and he’ll get an opportunity to make the 2020 Opening Day roster. With Báez entrenched at shortstop, Hoerner will shift to second base and potentially play some center field, though he's still learning the latter.

Marquez, 20, is Pipeline’s No. 9 left-handed pitching prospect. The Cubs have struggled to develop homegrown starting pitching under Theo Epstein. In fact, Marquez is the first Cubs pitcher (LHP or RHP) to crack MLB Pipeline’s top 10 pitchers list during Epstein’s tenure on the North Side.

Marquez sported a 3.13 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in 22 starts between Single-A South Bend and advanced-A Myrtle Beach in 2019. The 20-year-old struck out 128 batters in 103 2/3 innings, walking 50.

Cubs senior director of player development Matt Dorey said the club has “really high expectations” for Marquez this season.

“Brailyn, his last half of last year in Myrtle was an epic run, just in terms of the raw stuff, the strikes, the breaking ball development,” Dorey said Sunday at Cubs Convention. “I think it’s a little early to decide where he’s going to start [the season], but I would guess Double-A.

“But I wanna see how he comes into camp — especially with our new pitching infrastructure — that we’re not missing anything with his delivery or anything from a pitch data perspective. We want to make sure that’s really tied before we send him out [for] a long, full season. It’s such a big year for him. But I think it would be foolish to put any cap on what he can do this year.”

Marquez allowed two earned runs or less in nine of his final 10 starts (he allowed three earned runs on Aug. 26 — the lone exception). The Cubs promoted him to Myrtle Beach on Aug. 6, where he posted a 1.71 ERA with 26 strikeouts and seven walks in five starts (26 1/3 innings).

The Cubs drafted Davis out of high school in 2018 (second round, No. 62 overall). The 20-year-old was more of a basketball player and had some Division I offers, but he ultimately signed with the Cubs and received a $1.1 million bonus.

Davis is considered to be a raw, athletic talent. He hit .305/.381/.525 with eight homers and a 160 wRC+ in 50 games with South Bend last season. He missed time after getting hit on the hand on two separate occasions.

Although Davis is listed as a center fielder (199 innings in 2019) he played left almost as frequently (193 2/3) in 2019. Pipeline projects him to make his big-league debut in 2022.

Amaya spent all of 2019 with Myrtle Beach, slashing .235/.351/.402 with a 122 wRC+ in 99 games. His defense has always been ahead of his bat, and he’s known to be an advanced catcher for his age.

The Cubs added Amaya to the 40-man roster in November in preparation for the Rule 5 Draft. However, he won’t make his big-league debut until 2021, at the earliest.

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Cubs agree to deal with free agent outfielder Steven Souza, per report

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USA TODAY

Cubs agree to deal with free agent outfielder Steven Souza, per report

The Cubs have made a roster move.

According to MLB.com's Mark Feinsand, the Cubs and outfielder Steven Souza have agreed to a one-year, big-league deal. The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal first reported Friday the two sides were nearing an agreement.

Souza, 30, missed the 2019 season after suffering a torn left ACL and LCL at the end of spring training. He also missed a chunk of 2018, playing 72 games while hitting the injured list on multiple occasions. The Diamondbacks non-tendered him last month.

Souza is a career .233/.323/.417 hitter with 70 home runs in five seasons. His best campaign came with the Rays in 2017: .239/.351/.459, 30 home runs, 78 RBIs and a 121 wRC+ — all career-bests, excluding his average. He sported a walk rate (13.6 percent) above league average (8.5) that season, though his strikeout rate (29 percent) was worse than average (23).

Signing Souza likely rules out a return of fan favorite outfielder Nicholas Castellanos. The Cubs have been linked to Castellanos throughout the offseason, but since they're looking to stay under MLB’s luxury tax threshold, re-signing Castellanos would require some financial maneuvering.

Souza has spent most of his career in right field (3,608 career innings) but has minimal experience playing center (33 1/3) and left (20). He’s above average in right (career 6 Defensive Runs Saved) and posted a career best 7 DRS in 2017.

The Cubs have a five-time Gold Glove right fielder in Jason Heyward, so Souza will see time at all three outfield spots. Heyward moved to center full-time last season after the Cubs acquired Castellanos and has played center at times throughout his career.

He's coming off a serious knee injury, but Souza is a low-risk, high-reward move for the Cubs. If he's healthy, he’ll add power to the middle of the order and add another bat to an outfield group with some question marks. Albert Almora Jr. and Ian Happ have each struggled offensively at times since 2018. Souza offers another option in case those two slump again, with room for a larger role.