Cubs

Taylor Davis' 'unlikely' hero moment lifts Cubs to huge win over Cardinals

Taylor Davis' 'unlikely' hero moment lifts Cubs to huge win over Cardinals

When the Cardinals chose to intentionally walk Kyle Schwarber to load the bases for Taylor Davis in the fourth inning Saturday, it seemed like a no-brainer move.

St. Louis had just jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the game in the top half of that inning and looked to have Yu Darvish — and the Cubs — on the ropes.

Davis was 0-for-6 on the season entering that at-bat and was not regarded as a big home run threat with 0 dingers in his 24 MLB at-bats and only 31 longballs over nine minor-league seasons. Couple that with the wind blowing in at Wrigley Field at 8 mph and nobody was predicting a game-tying grand slam in that situation.

Of course, you know where this is all going, even if you didn't watch the game or see the highlight. 

Davis smacked the first pitch into the left-field bleachers to tie the game and watched as the Cubs bullpen kept things even until Javy Baez's own hero moment in the bottom of the eighth inning. 

It gave the Cubs their sixth straight victory as they improved to 18-12 on the season and pulled within a half-game of the Cardinals in the division.

"That's so unlikely," Joe Maddon said of Davis' grand slam. "I'm not degrading him or anything, it's just unlikely. He crushed that ball. [Cardinals pitcher Michael] Wacha just made a mistake right there and he did not miss it. 

"Very unlikely event right there, but he's an outstanding defensive catcher, he's hit well in the minor leagues also and hopefully that's one of those things that can get this guy really rolling offensively. But he does a really good job receiving, calling a game, etc. And then to do that, it's quite a moment for him."

What's even more unlikely about Davis' Arya Stark moment was the fact it was only his second start since he was called up from Triple-A Iowa on April 12 to replace the injured Victor Caratini. Davis had notched only 6 plate appearances across a span of more than three weeks prior to Saturday afternoon.

But Maddon and the Cubs wanted to pair him up with Darvish again after the battery worked well together last weekend in Arizona. Plus, the Cubs need to give Willson Contreras a day off somehow coming up, so Saturday was as good a time as any.

The Cubs are in the midst of a 10-game homestand without an off-day and only have only one breather (May 13) between now and May 30, so there's no way Contreras would be able to catch every game during that stretch. In the three weeks since Caratini got hurt, the Cubs have had so many off-days that they've naturally been able to keep their star catcher fresh and haven't had to rely on Davis much.

Before the game, Maddon spoke about the importance of depth and then watched as the Cubs' little-used backup catcher gave his team a boost with the bat against a division rival even though he was in there more for his work behind the plate.

"We do have the depth there and he's been really touted loudly by the guys upstairs," Maddon said. "Analytical guys for years have really liked his work based on how well he receives the baseball."

Davis said the whole moment still hadn't set in for him yet but his phone was ringing off the hook after the game and he was informed the Cubs were able to retrieve the baseball for him as a keepsake. 

"Amazing," Darvish said. "I was watching from the dugout — that was, like, perfect. It looked like a movie."

Baez eventually played the hero alongside Davis as Saturday afternoon turned into evening, but the Cubs' shortstop actually celebrated his catcher's homer more than Davis did.

"I pimped it myself," Baez said. "I was at third base and as soon as the ball was hit, I knew it was going. The wind was blowing in, too. He really crushed that ball. It was a huge moment for him and his family and our teammates."

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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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Cubs agree to deal with free agent outfielder Steven Souza, per report

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USA TODAY

Cubs agree to deal with free agent outfielder Steven Souza, per report

The Cubs have made a roster move.

According to MLB.com's Mark Feinsand, the Cubs and outfielder Steven Souza have agreed to a one-year, big-league deal. The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal first reported Friday the two sides were nearing an agreement.

Souza, 30, missed the 2019 season after suffering a torn left ACL and LCL at the end of spring training. He also missed a chunk of 2018, playing 72 games while hitting the injured list on multiple occasions. The Diamondbacks non-tendered him last month.

Souza is a career .233/.323/.417 hitter with 70 home runs in five seasons. His best campaign came with the Rays in 2017: .239/.351/.459, 30 home runs, 78 RBIs and a 121 wRC+ — all career-bests, excluding his average. He sported a walk rate (13.6 percent) above league average (8.5) that season, though his strikeout rate (29 percent) was worse than average (23).

Signing Souza likely rules out a return of fan favorite outfielder Nicholas Castellanos. The Cubs have been linked to Castellanos throughout the offseason, but since they're looking to stay under MLB’s luxury tax threshold, re-signing Castellanos would require some financial maneuvering.

Souza has spent most of his career in right field (3,608 career innings) but has minimal experience playing center (33 1/3) and left (20). He’s above average in right (career 6 Defensive Runs Saved) and posted a career best 7 DRS in 2017.

The Cubs have a five-time Gold Glove right fielder in Jason Heyward, so Souza will see time at all three outfield spots. Heyward moved to center full-time last season after the Cubs acquired Castellanos and has played center at times throughout his career.

He's coming off a serious knee injury, but Souza is a low-risk, high-reward move for the Cubs. If he's healthy, he’ll add power to the middle of the order and add another bat to an outfield group with some question marks. Albert Almora Jr. and Ian Happ have each struggled offensively at times since 2018. Souza offers another option in case those two slump again, with room for a larger role.