Cubs

MLB draft: Cubs hunting for another Halladay or Carpenter

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MLB draft: Cubs hunting for another Halladay or Carpenter

SAN FRANCISCO The Toronto Blue Jays had won the World Series a few months earlier, and were on their way to winning another when they drafted Chris Carpenter with the 15th overall pick in the 1993 draft.

Two years later, the Blue Jays held the No. 17 pick and went with a tireless and disciplined high school kid who had been one of Colorados best cross-country runners at Arvada West outside Denver: Roy Halladay.

Tim Wilken, the Cubs amateur scouting director, was involved in both of those selections, part of the 25 seasons he spent in the Toronto organization, which became a model for player development under Hall of Fame executive Pat Gillick.

If Carpenter hadnt signed with the Blue Jays, he was already committed to Creighton University to play for Jim Hendry, Wilkens childhood friend growing up in Florida and the future Cubs general manager.

This was a recruiter so aggressive and charming that they had a saying in Omaha, Neb., around the baseball offices: Jim Hendry could sell ice to the Eskimos and make them think they were getting a good deal.

Theyre all good baseball people, Carpenter said. They know what theyre doing.

Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod are the new executives in charge at Clark and Addison, but the draft that begins Monday night will also be shaped by the scouts loyal to Wilken and Hendry, and they absolutely have to get it right.

Whether they wind up being frontline starters or late-inning relievers, the Cubs know they need more power arms.

Cubs fans and sometimes the people who draft them fall in love with prospects. But remember how long it took Halladay and Carpenter and even Jeff Samardzija to become difference-makers.

At the start of spring training, Samardzija turned around a question from a Boston reporter about what he knew of Epsteins Red Sox by saying: They have big shoes to fill after Jim left.

Samardzija still has the guts and the personality that made him a football star at the University of Notre Dame. At the age of 27, hes showing that the 10 million investment was worth it, pitching like a potential All-Star.

Samardzija (5-3, 3.09 ERA) laughed when a reporter mentioned that it seems like his perception has gone from being a total bust to the only untouchable player on the Cubs roster.

Its probably somewhere in the middle, Samardzija said. Thats the way it goes, especially with the media and things like that. Everything seems to have to be on the poles. Nothings ever really in the middle. Everything seems like its got to be a definitive: Hes terrible. Or a definitive: Hes gonna be great.

If you look at most cases, its somewhere in between that. A lot of it just has to do with development. Certain guys develop differently. Some guys want to develop. Some guys want to just stay the same.

I just knew that four or five years ago, I had a lot that I needed to improve on and I didnt really care what people were writing or what was being said. I just knew what I needed to (do).

Epstein, Hoyer and McLeod believe that keeping pitchers healthy is the next frontier, and that power arms show up more in the postseason. So they will pore over medical records and analyze video, to see which mechanics are cleaner and more likely to avoid a breakdown.

But Cubs scouts have also been challenged to get more information than the other area guy, to talk to more people around the school and establish a better relationship with the family, to find out what makes the player tick.

Carpenter graduated from Trinity High School in New Hampshire and made his big-league debut less than a month after his 22nd birthday.

But Carpenter didnt really start to put it all together until he was almost 30, while pitching for the St. Louis Cardinals. In 2005, he won the Cy Young Award and the first of his two World Series rings.

I dont know what separates you, Carpenter said. My goal was to try to make it to the major leagues. I did everything I could to make sure that when I was done, if I didnt make it, I knew I tried as hard as I could.

Halladay made his big-league debut at the age of 21, near the end of the 1998 season. But by 2001, he was busted back to Class-A Dunedin, restarting the climb that would help him win the Cy Young in both leagues.

Halladay didnt have his real breakthrough until the age of 25, winning 19 games and accounting for 239 13 innings, foreshadowing the Philadelphia Phillies ace that would become known as the best pitcher on the planet.

The Cubs will say the right things and feel great about their choices across the next three days. The challenge will be staying the course.

Thats just part of the game, Carpenter said. You always have to have patience, of course. Unfortunately, at some point in time, if theyre not doing what you think or what you projected, you have to move on.

Basket Slam: Wrigley's quirks come to Cubs' aid in walk-off win

Basket Slam: Wrigley's quirks come to Cubs' aid in walk-off win

The Wrigley Field basket has played a huge role in this week's Cubs-Reds series.

In Monday night's game, Cincinnati catcher Curt Casali hit a game-tying homer into the basket in the seventh inning of a game the Cubs went on to lose.

But the basket giveth and the basket also taketh away.

Tuesday night, it was Kyle Schwarber and the Cubs who were singing the praises of one of the strangest ballpark quirks in baseball.

Schwarber connected on a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 10th inning off Reds closer Raisel Iglesias, hitting a fly ball through the impossibly-humid air and into the basket in left-centerfield for a 4-3 Cubs win.

"Whoever thought about that basket — whenever that occurred — tell them, 'thank you,'" Joe Maddon said. "Although it did work against us [Monday]. When it works for you, it's awesome."

Schwarber has stood under the left-field basket many times with his back against the wall, thinking he might be able to make a play on a high fly ball only to see it settle into the wickets and turn into a chance for a Bleacher Bum to show off their arm. 

But is he a huge fan of the basket now that it worked in his favor?

"I guess so," Schwarber laughed. "Yesterday, it cost us, but today, it helped us out. It's just the factor of Wrigley Field. Happy it worked out today."

It was Schwarber's first career walk off RBI of any kind.

It was the Cubs' fourth walk-off homer of the season, but their first since May 11 when Willson Contreras called "game" on the Milwaukee Brewers. 

The Cubs are now 4-1 since the All-Star Break and hold a 2.5-game lead in the division.

Dylan Cease struggles early, but finishes strong in second White Sox start

Dylan Cease struggles early, but finishes strong in second White Sox start

Dylan Cease picked up a win in his first start, but his second did not go as well.

Cease pitched six innings Tuesday at the Royals and gave up six runs (four earned) on eight hits and a walk. He struck out seven, but took the loss in an ugly game for the White Sox.

The game got off to an ominous start with Eloy Jimenez getting injured on the first batter Cease faced. The White Sox defense didn’t help Cease much either with three errors (Cease had one of those on an errant pickoff throw).

After giving up six runs in the first four innings, Cease settled down to retire the final eight batters he faced. He finished with seven strikeouts against just one walk and threw 67 of his 108 pitches for strikes.

Cease struck out six in his first start and is the first pitcher in White Sox history to strike out six or more in each of his first two career appearances.

A deeper look at Cease’s numbers show his swing and miss stuff hasn’t quite caught on as expected so far. Cease got 13 swinging strikes in 101 pitches in his major league debut. He got 12 whiffs on 108 pitches on Tuesday. His slider did get five swinging strikes on 25 pitches against the Royals.

Fastball command remains a key part to Cease’s success. He only threw 26 out of 54 fastballs for strikes in his debut. Cease improved upon that with 31 strikes on 50 fastballs against the Royals.

Most of the Royals’ damage came against Cease’s fastball as well. Six of the Royals’ eight hits off Cease, including all three extra base hits, were off heaters. Cease also gave up four hits with two strikes.

There has been plenty of hype surrounding Cease since he joined the White Sox, but he hasn’t hit the ground running in the majors just yet. Having 13 days between the first two starts of his career due to the all-star break and the White Sox giving him some extra rest also isn’t the ideal scenario for a young pitcher.

Cease’s ERA is now at 5.73, which isn’t going to set the world on fire. Still, there have been enough positives in his first two starts to see where reasonable improvement could lead to Cease becoming the pitcher the White Sox expect him to be.

 

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