Archive for June, 2012

A Phone Call Away: The Next Call Up For the Cubs

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

by Michael Jimenez

The arrival of Anthony Rizzo marked the first step in the evolution of the roster.   While the Cubs farm is lacking at the higher levels, we do have three position prospects at AAA that could make the major league team sometime this year.

Welington Castillo, C:  Castillo is hitting .343/.489/.582 so far this year in the minors after hitting .287/.359/.516 last year at AAA.  He has very little left to prove at AAA.  We have already seen Castillo this season when a barrage of injuries decimated our catchers last month but Castillo also ended up on the DL with a sprained MCL in his right knee.  He is no stranger to the disabled list, as he has found his way on it six times in the past 5 seasons in the minors.  My largest reservation for Castillo is inability to stay healthy.  Ironically, he shares that trait with the guy blocking him, Geovany Soto.  It’s one of the reasons I do not think Soto has much trade value considering his rising salary and disappearing bat act. I am expecting the Cubs to move Soto for the best offer available by the deadline and Castillo to assume the everyday catching duties.

Josh Vitters , 3B:  Vitters, if you remember, was the 3rd overall pick in the 2007 amateur draft directly out of Cypress High School in California.  He was ranked in Baseball America’s top 100 in 2008 (43), 2009 (51), & 2010 (70) based on one of the sweetest swings in all of baseball, plus bat speed, and a ton of raw power.  This season Vitters was dropped from the top 100 list and was only considered the organization’s 9th best prospect according to BA.  He has come under scrutiny for poor defense that may force him to move to first-base and a lack of plate discipline, although his swing is still there, the lack of development defensively and at the plate caused his stock to drop considerably.

This year he has reestablished some of that value with solid numbers and an increase in power.  He is currently hitting .291/.341/.493 with a significant increase in his isolated power.  His ISO is currently at .202 a nearly 40 point jump over his ISO last year at AA. Part of that increase is his move from the Southern League to the ultra-offensive Pacific Coast League, but another reason for his developing power is due to an improved approach at the plate.  His BB% is only 5.7% but that is the highest he’s ever held a walk rate for this many plate appearances at any level in the minors.  He’s walked 16 times so far this season in comparison to only 22 walks all of last year. He’s still suspect defensively but many think he should at least be serviceable at 3B.

Valbuena got the call when Ian Stewart went down with a wrist injury but since then Vitters is on fire hitting .488/.757/1.245 with 3 double and 3 homers.  He may soon force his way on the major league team and I think Vitters at least sees a cup of coffee in September.

Brett Jackson, CF:  Many believed Jackson would make it onto the team out of spring training but that did not happen.  Even after the Marlon Byrd trade, Jackson remained at AAA. He has the tools to be an above average center fielder at the major league level but his contact rate is hampering his development.   At each minor league level, Jackson’s K% has increased.  At A ball he struck out 20.2% of the time, at AA it increased to 24.2%, and now at AAA it’s up to 31.9%.  He’s also seen his BB% drop at each level from 13.8% at A ball, to 13.2% at AA,  and now at AAA it’s down to 11.4%. This year his K% is up to an alarming 33.3% and his BB% is down to 9.8%.

This trend is a cause for concern as major league pitching will exploit his inability to make contact and that’s why Jackson is still sitting in AAA despite an opening in CF.  A second reason for Jackson being over looked is the Cubs knew they were going to call up Rizzo once his arbitration clock pushed back on June 23rd, forcing LaHair to the outfield which would have then created a logjam between Soriano, DeJesus, LaHair, Jackson, Johnson, and Campana.

Despite his shortcomings this year, Jackson is still hitting .259/.338/.493 after a .297/.388/.551 campaign last year.  I expect the Cubs will find trade partners for Johnson and LaHair or DeJesus clearing the way for Jackson to play CF every day.

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Game 75: A Beautiful Day For A Ballgame

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

Boxscore / Highlights / Condensed

The good news: The Cubs are 16-20 at home, and their home record isn’t the worst in the Majors! The bad news: at 26-49, their overall record is the worst in the Majors. The Padres have one more win and just as many losses as the Cubs.

I was fortunate enough to watch this game in person! Some of you may think that watching a 17-1 exhibition-esque game is a rather unfortunate event, but not under these circumstances. More about the circumstances later. For now, let’s talk baseball.

The Good: 

Anthony Rizzo is now batting .375 this season with the Cubs!* I am cautiously realistic about him, though. It is very possible that he could end up being a bust, and I will not let myself be surprised if that does happen. However, I want so badly for him to break the trend of flopping Cubs’ prospects, that, if Mr. Rizzo does break the trend, I will use “Rizzo” as my firstborn son’s middle name.

After a plethora of errors the other night, Luis Valbuena got his rear in gear and played some solid defense on the hot corner today. There was nothing but clean fielding and sharp tosses to Rizzo from his end of the diamond, and he had the Cubs’ only RBI.

Tony Campana posed with me for a picture:

The Bad:

Pitching. Daniel Murphy, who was homerless in nearly a year, hit two off the Cubs today. Ike Davis hit a one, and Scott Hairston had a grand slam. 

Batting with runners in scoring position. It seems as though the players who can hit get on base, and the players who cannot hit leave them out there. It is similar to the pirates of old: marooning the guy who takes the time and does the work to get where he is supposed to be gets left behind by the others.

Jeff Baker is still on the team and his trade value is definitely not going up. Is it just me, or does the atmosphere of the stadium become uncomfortable when he comes up to bat? It seems like everybody knows that nobody likes him, but everyone is afraid  to tell him that nobody wants him on the team.

The Awesome:

 Free tickets. Free food. Free drinks. Great company.

A guy named Stephen Gebhardt, the director of marketing for RSVLTS.com, is teaming up with Microsoft embark on a journey entitled “Windows Phone Baseball Bucket List.” They offered free tickets, I accepted, and it was probably the best decision of my life. You can check them out at www.RSVLTS.com and on twitter at @rsvlts. They were a pretty fun bunch, knew a little bit about baseball, and a lot about Windows Phones.

Summary:


Randy Wells was DFA’d this morning, and Dolis was called up. At this point, we need to DFA our entire pitching staff. Starters, relievers, closers. Everyone. They are just… bad. There is no adjective colorful enough to describe how I feel about them. BUT, the Yankees are in dire need of pitching, and Demp and Garza are rumored to be on the auction block. If the Yanks are desperate enough, they may be willing to put a good deal together for one (or both) of those guys.

*Sentence may be laced with sarcasm

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I Can’t Quit You, Baby…

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

“I can’t quit you, baby
So I’m gonna put you down for a while
I said I can’t quit you, baby
I guess I gotta put you down for a while”

It’s unlikely, but a few loyal View From the Bleachers readers may have noticed that I haven’t been around these parts too much this season. As it turned out, just as the season was beginning, I was handed one of those “life changing events” (in this case, changing jobs and moving 1000 miles back to the Midwest from Philadelphia) and had to put the Cubs down for a while.

My break from the Cubs came at a time that could be described as a perfect storm: the Cubs were spiraling downward from a miserable season into what may end up being an historically bad season and I moved to a city (Milwaukee) where I didn’t know a soul…and not a soul knew that I was a Cubs fan. If ever there was a time to simply wash my hands of the frustration and heartache and walk away, this was it.

I said I can’t quit you, baby”

It would have been easy. There’s no chance my cover would have been blown. I could have claimed to be a Yankees fan. I’ve been driving my wife’s car since arriving in town…my wife’s car with a giant Yankees sticker in the back window…I could have easily said it was mine. I’ve got pictures of me, in a Yankees hat at Yankee Stadium as they won their 27th championship. Who would think I wasn’t a Yankees fan?

Having lived in Philadelphia for the past six years, it would have been simple to proclaim myself a phan of the Phillies. I mean I was there when they won the World Series…how could I not have gotten swept up in the hoopla? All I would have needed to do was grow a little Utley soul patch and say a few derogatory things about ol’ Chawley Manuel. An easy sell indeed.

Of course, I could have gone the super easy route and bought myself a new wardrobe of blue and yellow, grown myself a handlebar mustache and professed my undying love of the Brewers. No one would have ever noticed and perhaps I’d even make a few new friends standing around a charcoal grill in the Yount Lot at Miller Park.

“Said you know I love you, baby
My love for you I could never hide”

Yep, I could have run and hidden from our shared tortured past and no one would have been the wiser. I could have been a free agent with an opportunity to choose a baseball happiness that I may never get to experience otherwise.

So you know what I did?

One week after I moved to Milwaukee I fought through rush hour traffic to get to Wrigley Field for the first time in seven years. My knees nearly buckled from excitement and I got goosebumps as I walked through the gates, just like the first time I visited the Friendly Confines 20 years earlier.

The next day, intoxicated by the fact that I could get to Wrigley on a whim, I signed up for the Season Ticket Waiting List…where I currently reside in slot number 151,743. Yes, we Cubs fans are far from being alone in our sickness.

Two weeks later, I attended my first game at Miller Park, by myself, dressed in my Cubbies best saying things like “Hey, this is my first trip to Wrigley North…is it nice inside?” to hecklers as they passed by.

And then last night. Oh, last night. I promised myself I wouldn’t do it, but I caved…I allowed myself to once again get caught up in a sense of overwhelming, unsubstantiated optimism about the future.

Look, it’s our young, potential future superstar shortstop talking about “winning his ring” with the Cubs.

And what’s that? Oh, that’s our latest can’t miss prospect – who no less than 6 hours earlier I was already preparing to label a bust – there he is going 2 for 4 and driving in the game winning run in his first game as a Northsider.

How could I have given this up? Being a Cubs fan is so much fun!

Just wait until next year…

“Oh, when you hear me moaning and groaning, baby
You know it hurts me deep down inside
Oh, when you hear me, honey baby
You know you’re my one desire”

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Pitching on the Farm

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

Anthony Rizzo had a good Cub debut, knocking in the game winning run with a couple of hits. Randy Wells wasn’t so good and I wouldn’t be shocked if last night was the last time we’ll see Randy Wells make a start for the Cubs this season, if not forever. So who will take that spot until Ryan Dempster comes back (then take it again when Ryan Dempster is traded)? While the Cubs have a handful of good position prospects, the pitching side of the farm is severely lacking. Here are the pitchers in the upper levels with at least 40 innings thrown:

There are a few young guys that the Cubs won’t rush. Erick Jokisch is having a good year and was recently promoted to AA. He joins Nicholas Struck, Dallas Beeler, Dae-Eun Rhee, and the pre-season top pitching prospect Trey McNutt in the Tennessee rotation. McNutt has taken a step back since his breakout 2010 season with a career low in K/9 and a career high in BB/9. Beeler and Rhee don’t aren’t missing enough bats to warrant any excitement either. Stuck might be the best of the starters in AA going forward.

In Iowa, Chris Rusin was rumored to be in the running for a start this week and may be the next farmhand we see in the rotation. I think I’d prefer to see Brooks Raley as he appears to have a bit more swing and miss in his pitching. Jay Jackson seems to have been around forever. He is striking out the most batters but he’s also giving up a lot of hits and home runs, leading to an ERA of 6.50. De La Cruz is just organization filler, which leaves us with the familiar in Chris Volstad and 36 year old Rodrigo Lopez. Lopez may get some time in Chicago because the Cubs simply have no good options.

The pitching cupboard is bare my friends. Theo/Jed and company made an effort to remedy this by drafting pitcher after pitcher after Almora earlier this month and I think they’ll add more when a trade or three is made in the next month. We’ll likely see the Cubs 2013 top pitching prospect arrive in a deal for Matt Garza. Until then, we get to look forward to Chris Rusin and maybe Rodrigo Lopez.

Maybe Anthony Rizzo can pitch….

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Game 74: Rizzo is the Shizzo

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

Top prospect, Anthony Rizzo, made his long awaited debut in a Cubs uniform on Tuesday night and did not disappoint, delivering the game winning RBI.

Despite how awful the Cubs have played this season, it was hard not to be excited for the series with the Mets for the simple fact that it meant the start of the Rizzo era. I was excited that the debut fell on my day to recap. Before the game, I was on with Marty Tirrell on ESPN Radio in Des Moines and we talked about the team and particularly what to expect from Rizzo. My biggest fear, which I relayed to Marty, is that he’ll come up and not make the impact he’s expected to make, prompting boos and jeers from Cubs fans. I would hope that I’m wrong, but just seems to be the norm with Cub fans. Thankfully, last night, he got off to a good start.

The most frequent things we heard about Rizzo’s development since the start of the season was 1) how Jed Hoyer felt he rushed him to the Majors last year, and 2) how they made some small tweaks with his approach at the plate that have allowed him to be more successful. Usually you hear the second excuse a lot when a player is struggling and has been working in the cage with the hitting coach trying to figure out the issues. Most of the time, I feel like it’s more a mental issue and the team simply tells us they found a few mechanical things they tweaked. With Rizzo, you can actually see the change. Below is a video of his stance before the changes this year, and then a second video since the changes have been made. Pay the most attention to how much lower in the hitting stance his hands are.

BEFORE

AFTER

You can definitely see a difference in the hand placement. The stance reminds me a lot of the way Eric Davis used to hit. I don’t see how it would help, but then again I also could never figure out how Craig Counsel had the crazy stance he had either. It’s all about what’s working for you from a physical and mental standpoint.

Rizzo’s night featured a single that very easily could have gone as an error in the first inning, and a double that should have been scored a single and advancement on the throw. Apparently even the official scorekeeper was caught up in Rizzomania. At one point, I laughed out loud at a tweet that poked fun at the absurdity of the situation. In the the end, a 2-f0r-4 night is about as good of a debut that the brain trust probably could have hoped for to ease the kid’s transition into the lineup.

Though it wasn’t his Major League Debut, his start last night got me thinking about what the debut’s have looked like for other Cubs top prospects. Seeing as we haven’t had many legit bigtime prospects, it wasn’t hard to compile the list.

Player Date Opp AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB WPA
Starlin Castro 2010-05-07 CIN 5 1 2 0 1 1 6 0 0.168
Tyler Colvin 2009-09-21 MIL 3 0 1 0 0 0 1 1 0.022
Kosuke Fukudome 2008-03-31 MIL 3 1 3 1 0 1 3 1 0.467
Felix Pie 2007-04-17 SDP 6 1 1 1 0 0 1 0 -0.051
Matt Murton 2005-07-08 FLA 2 1 2 1 0 0 1 1 0.051
Bobby Hill 2002-05-10 MIL 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 -0.072
Kevin Orie 1997-04-01 FLA 3 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0.017
Doug Glanville 1996-06-09 MON 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 -0.102
Gary Scott 1991-04-09 STL 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 -0.171
Derrick May 1990-09-06 PHI 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 -0.107

On the less positive side, Randy Wells left before recording an out in the 4th inning due to ineffectiveness and I am beginning to wonder what his future is with this team. Dale Svuem doesn’t appear to care for him all that much and he just hasn’t been the same pitcher as he was the first year he was up. At that point, the future looked very bright for him to slot in the rotation in the back end and give that spot stability. I’m not sure what’s happened at this point, but it’s getting harder and harder to find a spot on this roster for him. That said, props go out to the bullpen for six shutout innings of relief to preserve a win.

Miscellaneous Notes

  • After tonight, Darwin Barney is now riding a 61 game errorless streak at second base.
  • Why don’t more TV broadcasts show the total pitches for the pitcher on the screen? ESPN does it, and the Met’s broadcast does it as well. It just helps give context to how a pitcher is doing when you can see pitch count vs. inning of the game and it’s so easy to find a spot for on the graphic overlay.
  • Luis Valbuena, while he looked OK at the plate, did not look good on the bases or in the field.

 

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