Bears

Cubs finding pieces to build around Starlin Castro

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Cubs finding pieces to build around Starlin Castro

Two years ago, the Cubs promoted Starlin Castro and framed it as a way to get better defensively, with more range and a stronger arm. Anything on offense was supposed to be a bonus.

The 20-year-old shortstop smashed those expectations on May 7, 2010, launching a three-run bomb in his first at-bat and finishing with six RBI, the most ever for a player making his major-league debut.

Castro hasnt stopped hitting since that night in Cincinnati. In those two calendar years, only Michael Young (402), Ichiro Suzuki (397) and Adrian Gonzalez (391) have more hits than Castro (385).

Come and get it was the message Ryan Theriot delivered to reporters in spring training that year. The Cubs now have their All-Star shortstop to build around for the next decade.

Some of those pieces that could make the Cubs (12-17) relevant again showed up in Mondays 5-1 win over the Atlanta Braves at Wrigley Field.

Bryan LaHair and Ian Stewart hit back-to-back shots into the right-field bleachers off Tommy Hanson in the fourth inning. LaHair now has eight homers and 16 RBI in his last 19 games with an at-bat.

Castro and LaHair are giving the Cubs a 3-4 punch in the middle of the lineup. Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija who limited the Braves (18-12) to one run in seven innings have the stuff to potentially form the top of a playoff rotation.

A new administration saw the raw potential in Samardzija to become a frontline starter. Team president Theo Epstein said the art is in the consistency from one start to the next. Samardzija is now 4-1 with a 3.03 ERA.

Im doing a good job of slowing down, Samardzija said, and really thinking through at-bats and remembering what they did previously. Thats all part of pitching. They get to know you a little more, but you also get to know them a little more, too. You find what works and kind of stick with it. You got to mix it up.

Where Samardzija probably needed fresh voices and new sets of eyes to evaluate him, Castro just keeps hitting, not bothered by the changes in the organization, the media scrutiny, or the price of fame.

Castros hitting .350 and has reached base safely in 66 of his last 69 games. He went 2-for-4 on Monday night and smacked a two-out RBI single up the middle in the seventh inning, giving the Cubs an insurance run.

Castro has already played for three different managers Lou Piniella, Mike Quade and Dale Sveum, an old shortstop who started giving pointers during the first workout in spring training.

Sveum became the Milwaukee Brewers hitting coach and watched their homegrown core develop into a playoff contender. Ready or not, Sveum felt it was best for the future of the franchise to commit to Castro as their No. 3 hitter this year.

Its just a learning curve now (with) situational hitting, Sveum said. (Its) men in scoring position and knowing what the pitchers going to give you. Prepare for that and understand what the pitchers going to do in certain situations.

Thats his biggest learning curve. Hes always going to hit hes just got the mechanics and the hand-eye coordination. Now the important part is (getting) the big hits later in the game when youre facing (better) velocity and stuff.

Of course, three nights after that spectacular debut, Castro made his first appearance at Wrigley Field and got booed after making three errors.

Castro had 56 errors during his first two years in the big leagues, and hes already committed eight this season. Year 3 will be pivotal.

On Opening Day, Epstein was asked a broad question about overall team defense, and his general answer seemed to give some insight into how the organization views Castro as a long-term answer at shortstop.

Theres an emphasis on fundamentals, making the routine play and not just talking about it, Epstein said. (Thats) physically breaking down proper footwork, proper throwing mechanics, proper team fundamental play on bunt plays and the running game. We spent a lot of time working on it.

Defense is one of those areas where you can get better individually and as a team through hard work. Its hard to take someone whos a .230 hitter with no power and no patience and say: Go rake and get on base and hit for power. Thats hard to do.

But you can take someone whos got some defensive issues and work with them through repetition. There can be a lot of improvement. I hope the hard work pays off.

Heres an interesting question for Cubs fans: Where will Castro be two years from now? His smiling face up on billboards? A leader in a clubhouse that includes Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson? The answer will probably say something about where the Cubs are heading.

Saints DE Cam Jordan really wants to hit Chase Daniel, but swears it's out of love

Saints DE Cam Jordan really wants to hit Chase Daniel, but swears it's out of love

All signs this week have pointed to Mitch Trubisky returning for the Bears’ Week 7 matchup against New Orleans, which should be exciting news for Chicago fans (right?).

Cam Jordan and the Saints defense, for their part, won’t be happy to see Mitch under center, but maaaaybe not for the reason you’d think. In an appearance on NFL Total Access this afternoon, Jordan was asked by Lindsay Rhodes what the difference between facing Trubisky and backup QB Chase Daniel is for New Orleans, and he laid out a pretty compelling case for preferring Daniel:

 

“I’ve been meaning to hit Chase ever since I got to the league,” Jordan said. “I’ve already hit Mitch.”

Jordan was quick to clarify that he “love[s] Chase” from his days sharing a locker room with him in New Orleans early in each of their careers. Daniel backed up Drew Brees from 2010-2012, overlapping with Jordan’s rookie and sophomore seasons (2011-2012). 

“He brought so much juice to our locker room when he was here,” Jordan continued. “I can’t wait for a chance to hit him. That’s how I show love to my friends.”

Daniel took the rib in stride, tweeting out a light-hearted response to the clip of Jordan a few hours later:


Jordan responded to that by saying he has "nothing but admiration" for Daniel and implored him to be the Brett Favre to his Michael Strahan. (Favre, you'll remember, famously crumpled in a heap at the feet of Strahan in Week 17 of the 2001 season, with Strahan needing only one sack to break the single-season record. That record of 22.5 sacks still stands to this day.) Chicago fans would certainly sign on for Daniel granting Jordan's wish, in the event of a blowout Bears victory.  

Whether it’s Trubisky or Daniel leading the Bears’ huddles on Sunday, though, the Saints defense will prove a formidable matchup, and Jordan is a big reason why. The four-time Pro Bowler has already racked up five sacks (tied for eighth in the NFL) and nine quarterback hits six games into the season.

Optimistically, the hope is Jordan never gets the chance to set his sights on any Bears quarterback this Sunday. Unrealistic? Definitely. But one can dream.

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MLB proposing colossal changes to minor leagues, including eliminating dozens of teams

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USA TODAY

MLB proposing colossal changes to minor leagues, including eliminating dozens of teams

If Major League Baseball gets its way, there could be seismic changes coming to the minor leagues.

According to a report from Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper, the league has proposed a host of sweeping changes to the minor leagues, including the elimination of 42 affiliated teams.

The proposal is merely the beginning of what are expected to be lengthy negotiations over a new version of what’s called the “Professional Baseball Agreement,” basically the contract that keeps the major and minor leagues connected and minor league teams stocked with players employed by major league clubs. The existing edition expires at the end of the 2020 season, and so a new one will need to be hashed out.

Major League Baseball is looking for control over how the minor leagues are organized, with an eye on improving facilities and clustering affiliates and leagues from a geographic standpoint to cut down on travel costs. There’s also expected to be an increase in salaries for minor league players, which has long been a talking point thanks to the increasing number of descriptions of how financially difficult life can be for those trying to reach the majors.

To accomplish those goals, Major League Baseball is proposing drastic solutions.

The one that will grab the most attention is the elimination of more than a quarter of the existing affiliated teams in the minor leagues, removing affiliated minor league teams from more than three dozen cities across the United States and getting rid of more than 1,000 jobs for minor league players. Simply, the entire short-season rookie ball (excluding squads that play at team-owned facilities in Arizona and Florida) would be eliminated, leaving only four levels of affiliated teams: Low Class A, High Class A, Double-A and Triple-A.

If you’re wondering what would happen to those 42 teams, the proposal is for them to form something called a “Dream League,” which would essentially serve the same purpose as an independent league, allowing players without jobs to keep playing and try to get a job with a major league team.

Additionally, Major League Baseball is proposing radical restructuring of existing leagues in order to cluster teams closer together. That could include changing the level of certain teams, such as making a Class A team a Triple-A team based on the quality of facilities and what makes the most geographic sense. Leagues could also gain or lose a large number of teams, with the Triple-A International League growing to 20 teams and the Triple-A Pacific Coast League shrinking to just 10 teams. One Class A league was described as being reduced to just six teams, while the rest of its current teams would be put into a brand-new league.

As for how the White Sox and their affiliates would be affected, team-specific information was not included in the report. One read of the details of this proposal could see something such as the White Sox affiliates being relocated to Midwestern cities. Another, however, could see the White Sox affiliates mostly staying how they currently are, given those teams are all geographically close to one another, with all but one located in North Carolina.

Buried in all of this is another big change, a proposed move of the draft from June to August, giving players a couple more months to show off for major league teams, and a reduction in the number of rounds from the current 40 to somewhere between 20 and 25. That, and the elimination of short-season rookie ball, would likely prevent draftees from playing minor league baseball in the same year they’re drafted.

It’s all something to keep an eye on, for sure, as many fans across the country who closely follow minor league teams in their hometowns could experience a dramatic shakeup.

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