Archive for July, 2012

Is Darwin Barney a piece to build around?

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

by Matt Eurich

The word echoing throughout the organization since the arrival of team president Theo Epstein has been: Rebuild. The Cubs have been an organization in recent years that has relied heavily on the “win now” approach, often times throwing money at players for a short term pay off and then being saddled with large unmovable contracts.

Epstein, along with General Manger Jed Hoyer and Director of Scouting and Player Development Jason McLeod, have made a point in the short time here in Chicago that all of their moves now are to improve the future. Having a solid draft as well as signing Cuban Jorge Soler has immediately helped to improve the system moving forward.

Most do not see the Cubs being true contenders for another couple of seasons, making it likely that most of the players currently seen on the field will not be around when that day comes. The obvious names, Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, are here for the long run and the two have provided a nice base of players to build off of. Other guys like pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood are two names the organization hopes can also be major contributors for years to come, but what about second baseman Darwin Barney?

In Barney’s first major league season last year, he finished the year batting .267, good enough for seventh among all major league second baseman. Barney’s average has dipped a bit this season, currently batting .260 but has already doubled his home run total from last year with four and is on pace to eclipse the 43 RBI he finished with last season.

Although Barney’s offensive numbers are not at the top of the charts, he remains as an average to slightly above average hitter. Barney’s biggest contributions come from the defensive side of the game. Barney currently ranks 1st in the majors among second baseman with a .998 fielding percentage, having committed just one error this season and came in to Monday night’s contest against the Pirates with an 87 game errorless streak. Barney also leads all second baseman in defensive wins above replacement (DWAR) with a stellar 3.1 while the next closest second baseman, Robinson Cano, has a 1.4. Despite Barney’s stellar defense so far this season, it is unlikely he will be able to beat the reigning gold glove second baseman in the NL, Brandon Phillips.

Barney came up in the Cubs system as a shortstop but because of the success of Starlin Castro, the Cubs moved Barney to second base. With a lot of talent at the shortstop position in the minor league system for the Cubs, it has been rumored that the Cubs could eventually move Castro to second base to make way for one of their shortstops, but not many are sold on the defensive abilities of the top shortstops in the system. Javier Baez has played great in Single-A Peoria batting .351 with 11 homeruns but many think he will eventually make the move to third base as his range and size might be better suited at the hot corner. Another shortstop playing well has been Junior Lake. Lake is batting .293 with seven homeruns for Double-A Tennessee but has committed 23 errors in 67 games splitting time at both shortstop and third base. Many believe that if Lake cannot cleanup his mistakes he may be better suited to make a move to the outfield, given his great speed and range.

With a lack of depth at the second base position in the minor league system and one of the best field percentages in all of baseball, the Cubs may have found their second baseman of the future. Barney will never be a power hitting second baseman like Robinson Cano but he should be able to raise his batting average a few points and continue to play great defense for a team, that moving forward, will be relying on players that do the little things right, and Barney appears to be their guy.

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Prospect Spotlight: Albert Almora

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

Albert Almora, the Cubs’ first round pick from this June’s Rule 4 draft, has been getting his feet wet in the Arizona League for his first professional action.  As we discussed with Jorge Soler last week, his hitting line at this point means nothing due to a tiny sample size and this should only be a short stop for Almora before moving on to Boise or Peoria (I’d bet Boise).

But, for those of you who would like to know, through 21 plate appearances Almora has a .190/.190/.429 line.  Don’t let that concern you.  Almora has only struck out in one of those plate appearances, so a lot of is just balls not finding holes.  Plus, tiny sample size.

While a little bit of playing time in Arizona doesn’t tell us much about Almora, here’s a fun video of his first professional home run.

 As for Soler, he’s got his numbers up to .296/.345/.556 in 29 plate appearances.  By all accounts of anyone who has seen him, he’s looked good even though the numbers won’t tell us much at this level.

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Game 101: Big Hits & Big Trades

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

Pirates 4 @ Cubs 14

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

The Game

  • New Cubs’ acquisition Justin Germano pitched a solid 5 innings to earn his first win in almost 5 seasons. I didn’t get to see every pitch he threw, but from what I did see he had some interesting off-speed stuff and pretty good command of the edges of the strike zone. I’m not sure he’ll amount to much more than fifth starter or a long reliever, but he performed better than Chris Volstad or Randy Wells did when they were called upon for similar duty.
  • Dale trotted out a predominantly right-handed lineup Monday night to face the Pirates’ Erik Bedard, and they did not disappoint. In fact, they collectively had one of the Cubs’ best offensive nights of the season. Darwin Barney broke open the game with 3-run homer in the 4th inning, and wound up a double shy of the cycle. Anthony Rizzo clubbed his own 3-run homer to kick off an explosive 9-run 5th inning. Yup, 9 runs. It was glorious. Alfonso Soriano, Geovanny Soto, Barney, Joe Mather, and David DeJesus all followed up with singles, and Starlin Castro–himself a triple shy of the cycle–capped off the inning with a 2-run homer to give the Cubs a 11-run advantage.
  • Reed Johnson made another highlight reel play, sprinting across centerfield to catch a shallow fly ball and then doubling off Pirates’ rookie Starling Marte. Johnson’s throw came in to Starlin Castro, who had faked like it was a groundball double play, causing Marte to slide into second base. If Castro doesn’t sell the fake, I don’t think they double off the speedy Marte.
  • The one down note for the Cubs in an otherwise stellar game was the “relief” performance of Jeff Beliveau. He came in for Germano in the 6th after the Cubs turned it into a laugher and tried his best to spoil the fun. He faced 7 batters, giving up 3 hits, 2 walks, and 2 runs, leaving the bases loaded. Fortunately Manny Corpas got the next batter, former Cub Casey McGehee, to ground into a double play.

Everything Else

  • The Cubs made a couple trades in the midst of the game. The first indication came in the 5th inning, when Reed Johnson was called back before taking his second at-bat of the inning (he had already reached on an error to lead off the 5th and scored on Rizzo’s homer). The hugs he received from his teammates in the dugout were a good indication that Theo & Jed were up to something. Turns out he and Paul Maholm have been traded to the Braves for pitchers Arodys Vizcaino and Jaye Chapman. Vizcaino appears to be the prize of the deal–he was the Braves #2 prospect and the league’s #40 overal prospect coming into the season, but needed Tommy John surgery during Spring Training. It sounds like Chapman is a solid reliever who might be able to contribute soon. I’ve been a big fan of Reed Johnson in both his tours of duty with the Cubs, and would welcome him back for a third stint if he’s available next year.
  • But the roster shuffle didn’t end there–Geovanny Soto was pulled in the 6th inning. The word is he’s been traded along with some cash to the Rangers for pitching prospect Jacob Brigham, but the Cubs have yet to make an official announcement about the deal.
  • You may have already heard that Dale doesn’t expect Ryan Dempster to make his Tuesday night start for the Cubs. Theo & Jed have been talking to to the Dodgers about him and Matt Garza, whom the Blue Jays have also expressed interest in after his clean MRI earlier this week. Perhaps one or both of them will be gone before game time Tuesday. Or maybe they both stay–at this point, all bets are off. What you can say for sure is that plenty of playoff contenders are still looking for starting pitching, and the Cubs are eager to sell. Don’t rule anything out at this point–including Dempster murdering another sweetheart deal at the eleventh hour (for all we know he’s screaming “It rubs the lotion on its skin!” at a potential deal right now).
  • In the flurry of trade activity Monday night, Brett Jackson was removed from his game for AAA Iowa. At first he was thought to be part of the apparent Reed Johnson deal–then it was rumored he had been called up to the majors. Since the big league team now needs to replace a catcher and a starting pitcher, it looks like he might not get the call up Tuesday. As usual, we’ll know more in the morning. Be sure to check VFTB for updates throughout the day.
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Pirates Series Preview

Monday, July 30th, 2012

Probable Pitchers

Courtesy of

Monday at 8:05pm EDT – Eric Bedard vs. Justin Germano

Bedard held the Cubs to one run on two hits during his last start, throwing seven stellar innings without being rewarded with a win. He threw 113 pitches in the outing, his most in a start since August 2007. Acquired from the Red Sox for cash considerations on July 19, Germano will be making his first start for the Cubs in his second appearance for the team. He pitched three innings in relief on July 21. He was starting at Triple-A Pawtucket.

Tuesday at 8:05pm EDT – A.J. Burnett vs. Ryan Dempster

The 13-year veteran Burnett just keeps rolling along; a 13th win would match the second-most of his career, with two months of the season to go. His 14 quality starts do not include his May 25 turn vs. the Cubs; he blanked them, but only for 5 1/3 innings. Dempster lost to the Pirates in his last start, giving up three runs on five hits over six innings. He is second in the Majors with a 2.25 ERA, but has given up seven runs in his last two starts.

Wednesday at 2:20pm EDT – Jeff Karstens vs. Travis Wood

Karstens has had a wicked breaking pitch through a recent hot stretch, using it primarily to notch 29 strikeouts in his last 34 innings. Trying to close out another strong July (2-0, 2.67) after posting a 2.06 ERA in five starts in July last season. The Cardinals roughed up Wood in his last start as he became the first Major League pitcher to give up home runs in five consecutive innings. In his last five starts, Wood is 2-3 with a 7.36 ERA, and he has given up 10 home runs.

Our Take

by Jeremiah Johnson

Can anyone give me a good reason why we’ve played only the Cardinals and the Pirates for the last week and a half? Other than Montgomery Burns’ Bud Selig’s general incompetence. I can’t wait to see how his staff butchers the schedule next year when interleague play runs throughout the season (15 teams in each league will necessitate it).

Series Prediction: A short, ugly start from Germano tonight, but two wins to follow (2-1). Also, Dempster turns down another trade and stays put.

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When Will the Clock Strike Midnight For Luis Valbuena

Monday, July 30th, 2012

Coming into the 2003 season, the biggest hole in the Cubs organization was always third base. Each year we had to live through the conversations about all the players trying to play the hot corner since Ron Santo. Then Aramis Ramirez came along in an absolute steal of a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Suddenly the hole was filled as Ramirez would hit effectively and play adequate enough defense to cool the talk of Santo. To be honest, I got a little spoiled and took that position for granted. There’s no question Ramirez had his faults, whether it be the lazy baserunning or the defensive shortcomings at times, or even the injuries to the shoulder late in his time with the Cubs. All those factored in, he was much better than anything we’ve had for a long long time. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the list of starting third base for this team since Santo. It’s not a pretty picture.

This past off-season, the new regime decided to let Ramirez walk in favor of a lottery ticket named Ian Stewart. The thinking was that Stewart could be a stop gap at worst until either Josh Vitters showed he deserved the shot or Theo and Jed could find an adequate building block to put over there. Best case scenario would be that Stewart would once again find the hitting stroke he seemed to have misplaced in Colorado and couple that with above average defense and turn into a bargain. Needless to say, Stewart has continued to suffer from the wrist issues that have plagued him throughout his career and now we’re left with Luis Valbuena.

For some reason, each and every time I ask for a Josh Vitters call up, I’m immediately shouted down with the reply of “defense”. At some point, you have to look at the fact that Valbuena simply can’t hit the baseball. Coming into Sunday’s game against the Cardinals, he was hitting just over .200. When the day was done, that number was under the Mendoza line. A quick look on Baseball Reference shows that he is good for a +7 runs when it comes to fielding, while his hitting is good for -7 runs. His hitting cancels anything he might do with the glove out.

I have a hard time believing that Vitters is that bad defensively at third base that he can’t make up for it with his hitting, but at this point, I’m resound to the fact that the earliest we’re going to see him is September. Theo and Jed have a history of wanting guys to see a full season of AAA ball and Vitters is not there yet. That’s fine, I get it, but at this point haven’t we seen that Valbuena is not the answer?

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