Cubs

Brailyn Marquez — the pitching prospect who could end Cubs' development drought

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MiLB

Brailyn Marquez — the pitching prospect who could end Cubs' development drought

The Cubs are entering Year 9 under Theo Epstein and have yet to draft/sign and develop a homegrown, impact starting pitcher (though Adbert Alzolay could be one). It’s been the Achilles heel of Epstein’s front office, which consequentially has had to pour a ton of money and assets into building a competitive rotation.

Brailyn Marquez, the Cubs’ top pitching prospect, is looking more and more like a guy who will buck that trend in the near future. 

“[We have] really high expectations,” said Matt Dorey, Cubs senior director of player development, of Marquez at Cubs Convention. “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."

The Cubs signed Marquez out of the Dominican Republic in August 2015. He’s the Cubs’ No. 2 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, behind Nico Hoerner. The 21-year-old is also Pipeline’s No. 9 left-handed pitching prospect and No. 68 overall.

Marquez climbed the prospect ladder after a ridiculous finish to 2019. He allowed two earned runs or less in nine of his last 10 starts, earning a promotion to Advanced-A Myrtle Beach from Single-A South Bend. In five starts post-promotion, he allowed five earned runs in 26 1/3 innings (1.71 ERA), striking out 26 batters compared to seven walks (1.06 WHIP). 

Marquez has elite fastball velocity, sitting 96-99 mph (per Baseball Prospectus) while topping out at 102 mph last season. His primary off-speed pitch is a slider, which has plenty of swing-and-miss potential.

After Marquez posted career highs in starts (22) and innings (103 2/3) last season, the Cubs have no intention of limiting him in 2020. Dorey couldn't say for sure where the lefty will start the season — it's too early to tell — but offered up Double-A as a guess.

“We wanna see how he comes into camp, making sure that — especially with our new pitching infrastructure — that we’re not missing anything with his delivery or anything from a pitch data perspective,” Dorey said. “We want to make sure that’s really tied before we send him out in this next really 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 reaching the big leagues this season is probably unrealistic, but a 2021 arrival isn't — and it would be huge for the Cubs. Jose Quintana, Tyler Chatwood and possibly Jon Lester (2021 vesting option) will hit free agency next offseason, and you can’t build a team through free agency and trades forever. 

In fact, the Cubs’ current financial issues can partially be attributed to their failure to develop homegrown starters and having to buy them. 

(Note: Kyle Hendricks was homegrown in the Cubs farm system, but since they acquired him from the Rangers in July 2012, it doesn’t really count.)

-Jon Lester — signed a six-year, $155 million deal (December 2014)
-Jose Quintana — acquired for four minor leaguers, including top prospects Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease (July 2017)
-Tyler Chatwood — signed a three-year, $38 million deal (December 2017)
-Yu Darvish — signed a six-year, $126 million deal (February 2018)

The Cubs won the 2016 World Series by literally doing the opposite with their position player group. They need homegrown, impact arms to ascend sooner than later, and Marquez is lined up to do just that.

“We just want to have him stay healthy and come in and get to know a lot of our new pitching coaches — which will be important — that will spend a lot of time with him this year," Dorey said. "We’re really excited about Brailyn.”

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Forget about full Cubs schedule, fans at games and plan for a short, bittersweet season

Forget about full Cubs schedule, fans at games and plan for a short, bittersweet season

The bad news for the Cubs after Thursday’s scheduled Opening Day is that they’re 0-1. The worse news is that so is everybody in baseball.

And with Friday’s agreement between MLB and the players union addressing the coronavirus shutdown, the only known winner, at least in this city, might be Kris Bryant, who will not lose yet another year before he can become a free agent.

Remember when that was the biggest concern surrounding the Cubs’ season — whether the Cubs were going to trade their star third baseman and whether they could co-exist with him if they didn’t — after beating him in a grievance hearing over service-time manipulation?

That was just last month. And a lifetime ago.

The highlights of the MLB-MLBPA agreement include freezing transactions until a date for resuming play is determined, the assurance that major-leaguer players will accrue full service time for the 2020 season even if it is not played, the likelihood of additional roster spots once play resumes, and $170 million in salary advances to players across multiple contract tiers, most to those with guaranteed deals.

Multiple teams, including the Cubs, optioned players who were on 40-man rosters but not expected to make the club to the minors ahead of the deal Thursday night, which, among other things, prevented service-time accrual. 

Pitcher Dillon Maples was optioned to Triple-A Iowa, leaving 30 members of the Cubs’ 40-man roster still on the active major-league roster. They include three bullpen candidates who are out of options: Alec Mills, Duane Underwood and Casey Sadler.

But the most important element of the plan for fans involves the report that MLB and the players agree to wait until they get the all-clear from health and government officials that mass gatherings are safe again before starting the season. Unless that looks like it won’t happen in time for something feasible, in which case they might discuss playing without fans, possibly using spring training sites.

Some in the game are still suggesting methods for trying to play close to a full 162-game schedule, maybe 140. The hope of a June start and lots of doubleheaders seems popular — maybe with seven-inning games making up the doubleheaders.

But for all the numbers of games, innings and dollars being thrown around and negotiated, only one number continues to matter. On Friday it was close to 1,500.

That’s the number of U.S. deaths attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a number that includes this week a 17-year-old boy in Los Angeles County who reportedly had no underlying risk factors, a 12-year-old girl before that and many others who, by CDC definitions, were not in high-risk groups.

And it’s a number that’s rising fast.

Certainly, baseball officials and players appreciate the gravity of the moment, and that’s why anything and everything seem to be in play as eventual options.

And it’s why for now, regular-season ballparks/weight rooms and spring training facilities finally were shutting down across baseball Friday to all but a select few players who might have specific (such as medical) needs for them.

Cubs Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber and Anthony Rizzo are among the individual players across baseball raising awareness and money for those affected, from stadium workers to first responders and small businesses. Cubs manager David Ross published a short video through the team’s Twitter account thanking healthcare workers and encouraging continued safe practices during the crisis.

Jon Lester, Jason Kipnis and others have tweeted about the bigger picture in this time of missing the game.

But the mere suggestion of trying to squeeze most of a full schedule into 2020, against the hope of playing those games in fan-filled stadiums, is perhaps understandably wistful thinking.

If there’s going to be a baseball season this summer/fall, it’s going to be a short one, and it probably should be.

The fewest games played in a season since the two-league format began in 1901 were the 103 games some teams played during the 1981 strike season.

The plan now should involve redrawing schedules for 80- and 100-game contingencies. Plan for no — or extremely limited numbers of — fans. Play the games in spring ballparks; eliminate interleague play; position one league in Florida and one in Arizona — or all in Arizona if it’s safer there than Florida.

An 84-game schedule would allow for a balanced league schedule with six games per opponent. Or unbalanced (albeit, less drastic) schedules could still be used. Restructure the playoffs? OK. Add teams? Sure. Maybe by then those games can even be played in neutral-site, warm-weather or domed stadiums with fans.

A lot of us around sports talk about sports being important to our culture and things like civic pride, or at least as escapes from real-life issues. President Franklin Roosevelt recognized that much in 1942 when he urged MLB to play its season for the good of the country during a war.

But this we haven’t seen before. It’s why so many uncertainties hang in the air even after scheduled openers, months after the virus first was identified, weeks after federal action was taken in this country.

“Worst opening day ever,” Lester tweeted, “but focused on what’s most important right now and that’s keeping the team safe at home so we can get back to baseball soon.”

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Anthony Rizzo discusses foundation's support of health care workers amid COVID-19

Anthony Rizzo discusses foundation's support of health care workers amid COVID-19

Anthony Rizzo and his family’s foundation are working diligently to support the health care workers combatting the COVID-19 pandemic.

Friday, Rizzo appeared on ABC News to discuss the foundation’s campaign to provide meals to hospital workers and staff. To date, they’ve served over a thousand hot meals to frontline workers in Chicago and Florida, in collaboration with the foundation’s restaurant partners.

“A lot of these staff workers don’t know if they’re allowed to go to the grocery store,” Rizzo said on ABC, “because they really are quarantining outside the hospital to stay safe, keep everyone safe.

“We really want to give back to the restaurants and also help the frontline workers, so it's really been a win-win because there's a lot of people in tough times right now and we're just trying to help out any way we can."

Rizzo’s foundation said in a press release Friday the meals have brought many hospital workers tears, overwhelmed in appreciation.

“These health care workers are going every day, many without the proper protection, to care for our loved ones,” the release reads. “They are putting themselves at risk, their families at risk and even foregoing seeing their loved ones for months to protect our families, friends and neighbors.”

(Photos courtesy of the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation)

The foundation asks for anyone interested in supporting the campaign to reach out. Donations can be made by texting HOPE44 to 52000 or by going to rizzo44.com/donate.

The coronavirus has altered everyone's lives and changed daily routines. When asked what his message is to fans, Rizzo said to stay strong together and find a routine that makes you happy.

"We're gonna get through this together; this is tough for everyone," he said. "We all want to be playing baseball, we all want sports on television. A lot of people want to be going to work on a daily basis to get back into that routine. 

"It's hard to be home 24/7 but everyone is doing this together, so you're not alone."