Blackhawks

Kaplan: Cubs shouldn't rush prospects

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Kaplan: Cubs shouldn't rush prospects

With the Cubs struggling to find any consistency at the plate or in the field early this season, some fans are already writing it off as a rebuilding year while other more hopeful North-Siders are pleading for change from their new president, Theo Epstein.

The Cubs' front office has already dealt Marlon Byrd for some bullpen help in Michael Bowden, but perhaps some ingredients to the long-term recipe already lie within the organization.

Although the Cubs' minor league system has been deemed middle-of-the-pack at best, don't be surprised come July if the lineup is filled with a number of fresh faces. Having waited for 103 years, some Cubs fans are urging Theo to pull the trigger on call-ups sooner rather than later. But I wouldn't be so quick to jump the gun for a number of reasons.

It should not be assumed that due to the trade of Marlon Byrd, Iowa Cubs center fielder Brett Jackson will be called up anytime soon. Jackson boasts a less-than-stellar .233 average at the AAA level and his overall stats don't exactly scream that he is ready for the majors.

Jackson entered the season as Baseball America's 32nd-ranked minor league prospect, but he has yet to back up any of his preseason hype. He is a multiple-tool player that has big-time potential -- both at the plate and in the outfield -- but a great deal of polishing needs to be done before Cubs management can even think about giving Jackson his shot.

Another call-up better off delayed is that of Anthony Rizzo. Unlike Jackson, the big first baseman is absolutely tearing it up in Iowa right now. Rizzo's .378 average, 7 home runs and .671 slugging percentage all point to his being ready to play at the Friendly Confines, but his brief major league stint in San Diego last summer means they Cubs need to proceed with caution before they give him a second shot at the big leagues.

Last year, Rizzo had 128 major league plate appearances and only 18 hits with the Padres. His .141 average was reason enough to be sent back down before he was traded to the Cubs in a deal for Andrew Cashner. Rizzo could be one of the "impact bats" Epstein is looking for, but the earliest we will probably see him in Chicago is late June.

Service time is something that the Cubs management team is very conscious of because it starts a players clock towards arbitration and free agency and with the parent club nowhere near ready to contend, there is no reason to rush players to the big leagues.

A third prospect who we have seen in small doses is Tony Campana. He is now getting his chance to play on a regular basis, but the jury is still out as to whether or not he will ever be more than just a speedster and backup outfielder. He has gotten off to a solid start since his recall, but most scouts that I have spoken to do not believe he can ever be an everyday player on a contending team. With his speed, he can play a role both as a defensive replacement and as a spot starter but internally, the Cubs are looking for Jackson to become the long term answer in center field.

If you are a Cubs fan looking for a quick fix or the one guy who can make this team a contender, it's not going to happen. The key to Theo and Jed Hoyers process is patience. I know that is the last word any Cubs fan wants to hear, but you can't build a skyscraper without a foundation and right now, the foundation is still in the building process.

In 2004-05, Epstein retooled a Red Sox team that won their first World Series title in 86 years in the 2004 Fall Classic. Three years later, he was raising his second World Series trophy with a largely homegrown team. The key was successful drafts, which is something he and Senior VP of Scouting and Player Development Jason McLeod have yet to have the opportunity to do in Chicago.

With the proper amount of time, Epstein and his staff are more than capable of drafting and developing a core of players that have the ability to take the Cubs to the next level, but it is a process that will require multiple off-seasons. It will also require a commitment from ownership to stay the course no matter how painful the process may become at times. That commitment was something that was promised to Epstein when he accepted the challenge of rebuilding the Cubs and Tom Ricketts and Co. have said that they will not waver in their belief that building through the farm system is the correct way to go.

Another key component to the rebuild is making intelligent decisions that have an eye on the future as opposed to short-term thinking that only focuses about the present and near future. When the Cubs brought Starlin Castro up to the big leagues in May of 2010, it was a decision that gave no thought to the long-term best of the organization.

Was Castro ready to play in the big leagues at that time? Obviously he was offensively, judging by his outstanding production since his promotion. However, had the Cubs waited just four more weeks, they would have added another year of control on Castro because he would have been short on service time in the arbitration process.

According to several scouts I spoke with, the decision to promote Castro sooner than they should have will end up costing the Cubs between 7-10 million during his four arbitration years that would have been only three had the Cubs waited just those few weeks.

Around baseball, it was a decision that was met with exasperation because unlike the Washington Nationals who just promoted their top prospect Bryce Harper to the big leagues, the 2010 Chicago Cubs were not built to win. They were destined to finish out of contention, so promoting Castro made no sense.

That type of thinking will not continue under Team Theo because unlike the previous regime headed up by Jim Hendry, Epstein and Jed Hoyer and the rest of their team are not in the win-now and win-at-all-costs mentalities that contributed to the Castro decision.

Joe Musso contributed to this article.

2010 Hawks Rewind: 3 things we noticed in Blackhawks' Game 4 win over Canucks

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AP

2010 Hawks Rewind: 3 things we noticed in Blackhawks' Game 4 win over Canucks

In honor of the 10-year anniversary of the 2010 Stanley Cup team, NBC Sports Chicago is re-airing each of the Blackhawks' 16 postseason wins from the run that ended a 49-year championship drought. You can join the conversation using #HawksRewind on social media.

After regaining home-ice advantage with a 5-2 in Game 3, the Blackhawks rolled past the Canucks 7-4 in Game 4 to take a commanding 3-1 series lead in the Western Conference semifinals. Here are three things we noticed in the win:

1. A power play explosion

The Blackhawks' job going into Vancouver was to win at least one of the two games to take back home-ice advantage. They did that in Game 3. But Game 4 was the icing on the cake.

The final score was 7-4, but the reality is, the Blackhawks were outplayed in this game at even strength, where they generated only 27 shot attempts and 13 scoring chances while the Canucks had 55 shot attempts and 27 scoring chances, according to Natural Stat Trick.

It was special teams that made the difference. In their first nine postseason games, the Blackhawks went 7-for-37 on the power play for a success rate of 18.9. In Game 4 against Vancouver, they exploded for four goals on eight opportunities. 

2. A career night for Jonathan Toews

Fresh off a three-point effort in Game 3, Toews followed that up by recording a career-high five points, highlighted by his first career postseason hat trick. All three goals were scored on the power play, the third of which turned out to be the game winner. It was his fifth multi-point outing of the playoffs in his ninth game.

The Blackhawks' stars willed their team to a victory in Game 4, and they followed the lead of their captain.

3. Don't forget about Patrick Sharp

While Toews dominated the scoresheet, there's another Blackhawk who also had a big night: No. 10 in white. Sharp scored a power-play goal, had three assists and won five of six faceoffs in the win that helped him secure the No. 2 star of the game.

Here's a fun fact to wrap up: Sharp recorded at least one point in seven of his first 10 games of this postseason, and 15 of 22 total. He had 13 points (five goals, eight assists) through his first 10 games following a four-point effort in Game 4.

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White Sox 2005 Rewind: The rotation starred, but the bullpen was championship caliber, too

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AP

White Sox 2005 Rewind: The rotation starred, but the bullpen was championship caliber, too

Even in the handful of games we’ve shown from the early portion of the 2005 season, one thing is abundantly clear: This starting rotation was very, very good.

But while the game has evolved to place greater emphasis on relief pitching, no team, not even 15 years ago, could win the World Series without a strong bullpen. And certainly the White Sox had a strong bullpen, their 3.23 relief ERA one of the three best in baseball in 2005.

April 13 against the Indians, the White Sox got the kind of performance from their relief corps that signaled the pitching staff as a whole, not just the rotation, was championship caliber.

Jose Contreras wasn’t really that bad in this one, despite issuing five walks. He gave up just four runs in 6.2 innings, hardly something to overly bemoan. But once he surrendered a hammered home run to Grady Sizemore that tied the score at 4 in the seventh inning, he got the hook. It was the bullpen’s job to keep an Indians lineup that to that point had put 10 men on base, five hits and five walks against Contreras, from doing anything else.

And that’s exactly what happened. Three different pitchers — Damaso Marte, Luis Vizcaino and Dustin Hermanson — retired 10 of the 11 hitters they faced.

An early season blow up stood out as an outlier, perhaps clouding judgments at the effectiveness of the ‘pen. As Adam Hoge wrote about Saturday, closer Shingo Takatsu gave up three homers in one appearance against these Indians in the third game of the season, the kind of performance that haunts fans’ memories forever. The bullpen, in general, was hideous in that game, with Neal Cotts tagged for a run and Vizcaino roughed up for a whopping six tallies in the 11th inning.

But that game was truly an outlier. After the 4.1 shutout frames April 13 and excluding the April 7 disaster, the White Sox bullpen had a miniscule 1.76 ERA, allowing just three runs in their 15.1 innings of work.

Contreras was shaky in this game, but kept the Indians from running up a huge run total. The bullpen locked the Indians down and allowed the White Sox hitters to pull ahead for good on a Juan Uribe sacrifice fly in the 10th.

And providing a bit of foreshadowing, Hermanson got his first save of the season. Takatsu was jettisoned from the role not long into the campaign, and Hermanson bridged the gap between Takatsu and Bobby Jenks. Hermanson racked up saves into September and had 34 of them on the season.

This rotation was excellent, no doubt about it, and it’s probably the No. 1 reason why the White Sox won the World Series in 2005. But even the best rotations can be limited by a bad bullpen. Fortunately for the South Siders, they had a good one.

What else?

— Five walks is a lot of walks. While Contreras had himself a good season, he walked 75 batters in 2005, the fourth highest total in the American League. It’s perfectly obvious why pitchers should limit their walks, but certainly this game could serve as Exhibit A. Contreras walked the leadoff man in each of the first two innings, with both runners coming around to score. That helped put the White Sox in a 3-0 hole after two. Contreras had more days like this as the season went on, with three more games in which he walked at least five opposing hitters, including a start on July 1 where he walked seven. The White Sox went 2-2 in those four games, though they lost the seven-walk start against the Oakland Athletics.

— “It’s his job to keep them right there, let the team get back into it. He’s perfectly capable of going six innings and at least giving the hitters an opportunity to get back into it.” Darrin Jackson looked prescient, because despite the walks, Contreras did keep the Indians at bay enough for his offense to engineer a comeback, pull ahead and later pull out a win in extra innings.

— “It’s really amazing that a little thing like a leadoff bunt can shake things up for an offense.” Perfect analysis right there from DJ. Just as I discussed Scott Podsednik making things happen and starting a White Sox rally with a bunt single in the April 11 game against this same Indians team, Pablo Ozuna did the exact same thing to leadoff the fourth inning, starting a three-run frame. That disrupted Cliff Lee enough after retiring the first nine hitters he faced that he gave up three straight hits, the third from Carl Everett (an infield single that featured a ridiculously airmailed throw by Lee) driving in the White Sox first run. Maybe that game-tying rally doesn’t happen without Ozuna’s small-ball start.

— Bob Wickman got his revenge, this time. In the second game of the season, Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye dramatically hit back-to-back homers off the Indians closer to erase a three-run deficit and set up a thrilling comeback win on the South Side. This time, not so much. Facing Konerko and Dye again to lead off the ninth inning, he retired them both, as well as Aaron Rowand, for a 1-2-3 innings that briefly preserved a 4-all tie. Wickman had a huge 2005 season, making the All-Star team and leading the AL with 45 saves.

— Another arm brought on from the Cleveland ‘pen wasn’t so lucky. It was familiar face Bob Howry, who pitched for the White Sox from 1998 to 2001. He took the loss in this one, the leadoff double he gave up to A.J. Pierzynski to start the 10th the critical blow. Pierzynski moved to third on a Joe Crede bunt and scored on Uribe’s sacrifice fly. And that was the ballgame.

— In the top of the 10th, famous Indians fan Drew Carey caught a foul ball! Cleveland rocks, baby.

Next up

#SoxRewind rolls on Monday, when you can catch the April 19, 2005, game against the Twins, starting at 4 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago. El Duque on the mound for the South Siders.

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