Cubs

Zambrano's trying to reinvent himself

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Zambrano's trying to reinvent himself

Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2010
12:49 AM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

The Cubs cant seem to pinpoint exactly what has transformed Carlos Zambrano and they cant know for certain it will last.

There are theories about his mechanics and finding the proper arm slot. Zambrano talks about faith in his secondary pitches and being able to throw them in any count. The media wonders about the impact of those anger-management sessions.

We are left with Zambranos numbers 6-0 with a 1.42 ERA in nine starts since returning to the rotation and even those are skewed by September rosters and the decreased pressure of pitching for a non-contender.

But the Cubs have known Zambrano, whos still only 29, since he was a teenager, and their eyes will be wide open as they assemble their pitching staff for 2011.

Zambrano emerged after a 71-minute rain delay Tuesday night and shut down the San Francisco Giants for six scoreless innings at Wrigley Field. It was a game the Giants needed to stay in first place in the National League West, and they got it 1-0 in front of an announced crowd of 36,364.

Im really impressed with the way hes kind of reinvented himself, Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. There was a time where you didnt think hed be a factor for anybody this year.

Afterward Zambrano was asked to assess this season as a whole and he came up with one word: Bad.

The Cubs pay me to win, Zambrano said. The fans want me to win and I only have nine wins. For me, its a disappointing season, but the most important thing is I have my confidence back.

I will be back next year with the same attitude and with the same passion for the game and ready to do some damage.

Family is why Zambrano says he will finish out his current contract, which will likely run two more years, and then retire. His mother and in-laws are in the process of receiving their visas and passports. He hopes his mother will be able to see him pitch in the majors for the first time next week in Houston.

The day before Zambrano called his nephew in Venezuela, who turned 12 and was recently released from the hospital. The young boy cant walk yet, but he is talking again and has begun his rehabilitation.

What a birthday, said Zambrano, who flew home last month to visit him in intensive care. I (wished) him many, many more birthdays.

There will always be skeptics, but he seems more focused and is starting over in a sense with a different group of teammates and a new manager, whos now 17-8 on the job.

Im a big believer in what Ive seen the last six weeks, Mike Quade said. (Zambranos) been great this entire stretch. So Im more than willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that hes still a guy thats passionate about pitching, (but) maybe is channeling it a little differently.

Im really happy with the guy Ive seen. And I have no reason to doubt that thats the guy Im going to continue to see.

This game pivoted in the eighth inning the frame the Cubs hope Andrew Cashner can one day dominate when Giants rookie catcher Buster Posey drove a 96 mph fastball that ricocheted in and out of the basket in front of the batters eye in center field.

Cashner who was taken 14 spots behind Posey in the first round of the 2008 draft has been growing into the role. Since Quades promotion on Aug. 23, Cashner had been 1-0 with eight holds and a 1.38 ERA in 13 relief appearances.

Thats the best stuff Ive had in awhile, Cashner said. I tried to go away there and the ball ran back in, but its still a good pitch. You just got to tip your cap and go on to the next guy.

The Cubs (68-82) are hoping the experience gained here during moments like that will pay off in 2011. You can believe it when you see it.

If we stay healthy and we start the season the way we finish, Zambrano said, its going to be very interesting next year.

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

Behind a refined approach, Albert Almora Jr. is off to a hot start this spring

Behind a refined approach, Albert Almora Jr. is off to a hot start this spring

The Cubs have only played three spring training games, and it’s dangerous to use spring results to predict regular season successes/failures. Still, it’s okay to acknowledge Albert Almora Jr.’s hot start in camp.

In two games, Almora is 4-for-4 with a walk, double, home run, four RBIs, and four runs scored. That line is essentially equivalent to a single game in the regular season and could be turned upside down by the end of the week. But it’s a start for the 25-year-old who’s struggled immensely at the plate for the last season-and-a-half at the plate.

In his last 177 games (dating back to the second half of 2018), Almora holds a .235/.270/.347 slash line. The advanced stats paint an uglier picture: 58 wRC+, .261 wOBA and 52.2 percent groundball rate.

Last season was the most challenging of Almora’s young career. He hit .236/.271/.381 in 130 games with a 64 wRC+, .271 wOBA, -0.7 fWAR (all career worsts). On top of that, he was involved in a heartbreaking moment early in the season; an Almora foul ball struck a young girl at Minute Maid Park during a Cubs-Astros game in May.

Almora recently refused to blame his 2019 offensive woes on that incident, though it obviously played a part. He did admit he was in a bad place mentally and used this winter to decompress. Almora also used it to make some adjustments to his swing and the changes are clear as day:

Pre-2020:

2020:

As MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian notes, Almora is now more upright in the box and his stance is more closed. His leg kick is less defined, and he’s rotating his front leg far less than previous seasons. In short, he’s more direct to his swing and has more time to react in the box because he cut out a lot of his pre-swing movements.

Almora said Monday he’s far from where he wants to be, pointing out the MLB season is a 200-day marathon. It’s too early to tell whether his simplified approach leads to sustainable success.

Small sample size be damned, Almora’s made noticeable adjustments. That’s the first step in his mission to get back on track offensively.

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Two of the Cubs' best prospects made Keith Law's annual Top 100 list

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USA Today

Two of the Cubs' best prospects made Keith Law's annual Top 100 list

For those who follow such things, Keith Law's yearly Top 100 prospect rankings is always a highly anticipated read. What would baseball twitter even do with their time if they couldn't spend it vocally disagreeing with subjective lists? Having a handful of Top 100 guys is always a shot in the arm for franchises that maybe aren't doing a whole lot of winning at the major league level; when you know you're not winning a World Series, the debuts of these prospects are high points of the summer. 

There wasn't a whole lot of Cubs' representation this season, which isn't a surprise by any means. Only guys two made Law's list: Brennen Davis at 55, and Brailyn Marquez at 80.  

Law claims Davis has the highest upside of any Cubs' prospect, but isn't necessarily close to a debut: 

Davis is lanky and has barely begun to fill out, so there’s likely to be more power to come, while he’s already shown he can manage at-bats and use the middle of the field to get himself on base. Despite his 6′4″ frame he already has a very balanced swing, and the Cubs will just have to tighten up some mechanical things since he’s got such long levers. A former shortstop, he’s adapted quickly to center field; he projects to stay there and add value with his range. 

He also loves Marquez's stuff – comparing it to Aroldis Chapman's – and says it's the reason why he's team's best pitching prospect since Dylan Cease. You can see the entire rankings, which go pretty in-depth, right here.