Cubs

Is Jason Heyward fulfilling his 'destiny' with Cubs right now?

Is Jason Heyward fulfilling his 'destiny' with Cubs right now?

Wednesday night, Jason Heyward showed off the type of opposite-field power the Cubs touted when they signed him to that big free agent deal before the 2016 season.

Heyward's 3-run shot off Scott Alexander in the sixth inning Wednesday helped stake the Cubs to a 7-6 victory. It was also reminiscent of a blast he hit off Jake Arrieta and the Cubs in the 2015 National League Division Series while he was still with the St. Louis Cardinals — taking a pitch off the plate outside and sending it into the left-center bleachers with ease:

Here's the 2015 shot.

There were so many encouraging things for the Cubs on the one Heyward swing Wednesday night: a homer off a lefty, to the opposite field, it gave his team a lead a late-game lead and it was just another example of the veteran's hot start:

For perspective, Heyward has as many homers in the first month of the season as Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo combined.

Heyward is now on pace to hit 37 homers and drive in 103 runs in 2019 after totaling just 26 homers and 165 RBI in his first three years in a Cubs uniform.

Regardless of whether he's going to keep that power pace up or not, this is a brand new Heyward on an offensive run we've never seen from him before in Chicago.

"It's just been great," said Cole Hamels, who faced Heyward a lot when the two both called the NL East home. "Being able to see it in the offseason and the leadership type of role that he takes and the respect that he has in the clubhouse during spring training, this is what he's been destined to do.

"He's in his comfort zone. I remember playing against him in Atlanta and these were the types of games he could put in. He could do everything from the outfield — he's got a strong arm — and he's got ridiculous power. We were always very aware of that whenever we faced him, so it's nice to be a part of it and for him to be able to show this."

The homer is Heyward's only hit of the series, but it still ran his season batting line to .333/.450/.587 (1.037 OPS). He's also displaying an incredible awareness of the strike zone, walking 14 times against only 9 strikeouts to begin the campaign. 

Even with something of a resurgence last year, Heyward still had only a 93 OPS+, which essentially means he was 7 percent below league average as an offensive player.

This year, his OPS+ was 164 before the game-winning home run, and his teammates are loving the show.

"They're definitely fully supporting Jason," Joe Maddon said. "Jason does so much supporting of others, even when he's not going well. Whatever you put out there, comes back to you. It's coming back to him right now.

"He's that kind of guy. He's always there for everybody else, so now everybody's there for him."

Heyward doesn't like talking about himself and he refuses to get complacent or revel in the good times too much, even after this hot start following three years of offensive struggle. 

"A lot of work to be done," he said. "Get ready for every day. We got work to do — we got a tough division, we play great competition. Myself personally, just be ready to do whatever I can on a daily basis, whether that's coming through on the field, off the field, whatever it is.

"But it's awesome to be able to contribute for these guys because I know how hard everyone works and what we go through on a daily basis."

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

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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.

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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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