Cubs

For former Cubs coach Andy Haines, Wrigley Field never gets old

andy_haines_brewers.jpg
USA TODAY

For former Cubs coach Andy Haines, Wrigley Field never gets old

Andy Haines still gets jitters walking into Wrigley Field. He got them as a kid growing up in southern Illinois. He got them last year as an assistant hitting coach for the Cubs. And that feeling was most definitely prevalent when he walked into the ballpark for the first time as Brewers hitting coach on Friday.

“I think any time you walk inside Wrigley Field, it's just a different type of feeling,” said Haines, who’s in his first year with manager Craig Counsell’s staff. “Last year I lived walking distance. You walk into Wrigley, I don't know what the right word would be, but you definitely have emotion walking in the building. It's a special place, it's unique. You get the same type of jitters and excitement and see a lot of familiar faces. I'd be lying if I didn't say it'd be pretty special to be back.”

In early November, Haines took the Brewers job, leaving the Cubs after two seasons (he spent 2016 as a minor-league hitting coordinator). The shift from one NL Central team to another meant he was no longer tinkering the approach of players like Javier Báez, but it also afforded Haines the opportunity to work with another loaded offensive unit, including reigning MVP Christian Yelich. And though their on-field styles aren’t identical, the 42-year-old Haines sees a lot of similarities in the two players’ games.

“I think with both guys, with Javy and Christian both, you're dealing with guys who's skillset and overall talent is just immense,” Haines said. “It's like these guys are elite, two of the best players in Major League Baseball and they both care about the right things and they're very similar that way. Perception of them would probably be a lot different to the fans, their demeanor on the field but eerily similar as far as talent and ability.

"And then at this level, when you combine that talent level with caring about the right things, you're just unstoppable. And that's what both of them are right now. I think it's probably the most difficult thing to coach is a player that elite because they're so elite that when they get a little bit off, it's harder to see.”

Haines worked in the Marlins organization as a minor league hitting coach and manager from 2008-2015. In those early days with the organization, one player whose progress he was responsible for overseeing was a teenage Yelich. Their previous relationship made the reunion all the easier, with the All-Star informing Haines to not go easy on him.

“We're staying on top of it and that's what I told him at the beginning of the season; I told him 'I want you to stay on my [butt], don't let me get lackadaisical, or if you think something is wrong or something is starting to stray, tell me,’" Yelich said. “I told him if we gotta get in a fist fight in the cage and hug and make-up afterwards, then it's all good. That's the kind of guy he is and the kind of relationship I like to have. That's what I value with Andy, that's how it's always been. He cares a lot and as a player you can appreciate that.

“When you get a new coach it's not always like that because the familiarity with each other, we know each other. He's known me since I was an 18-year-old kid. There's familiarity there and a comfort level that allowed us to dive in right away in spring training and get up to speed quickly.”

Though there haven’t been any reported melees in the cages, Haines appears to be pushing the right buttons with the Brewers’ offense, which ranks fifth in the NL in runs scored entering Friday. Team OPS is sixth in the NL, its hard-hit rate is up more than 6 percent from last year and the walk rate is up nearly a percent as well. 

Individually, Yelich isn’t the only player benefitting from Haines’ tactics. Infielder Mike Moustakas is out to a fast start this year, with a slugging percentage that is 100 points better than 2018. The veteran appreciated Haines’ no-nonsense approach and believes it’s made a difference.

“I love Andy, Andy is incredible. He just laid it out to me flat out in what I was getting beat with and all that stuff, Moustakas said. “As far as the hitting coach goes, you have to individualize each person, you can't be a cookie-cutter mold of hitters. I hit different than [Yelich], I hit different from [Lorenzo Cain], and the thing Andy does great is he finds what works great for you and he works with that.”

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Cubs easily on your device.

Brandon Kintzler, Cubs most consistent reliever in 2019, signs with Marlins: report

kintzler.jpg
USA TODAY

Brandon Kintzler, Cubs most consistent reliever in 2019, signs with Marlins: report

Brandon Kintzler officially won't be back on the North Side in 2020.

Saturday, ESPN's Jesse Rogers reported Kintzler has agreed to a one-year, $3 million deal with the Marlins. The deal includes a $4 million option for 2021.

Kintzler was the Cubs' most consistent reliever in 2019, sporting a 2.68 ERA and 1.02 WHIP (both career highs) in 62 appearances. He was effective against both righties and lefties, the latter of which hit .163 against him.

The Cubs haven't been connected to Kintzler this offseason and have instead accumulated a plethora of low-cost, high-potential relievers. The organization has been extremely cognizant of MLB's luxury tax threshold after surpassing it in 2019 and wants to avoid becoming a repeat offender in 2020.

Kintzler becomes the second reliable reliever to depart the Cubs in free agency this winter, along with sidearmer Steve Cishek (White Sox). Pedro Strop is still a free agent, and while the Cubs have been connected to him, a recent report says the race to sign him is down to the Marlins and Rangers.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Cubs easily on your device.

4 Cubs crack MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospects list

brailynmarquezmilb.jpg
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.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Cubs easily on your device.