Archive for March, 2013

Injury Bug Is a Cruel Bug

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

Scott Baker was reported to have gone for a “precautionary” MRI after his start on Sunday and I felt like it would be to evaluate the arm after his start to make sure he’s on track with his rehab. While that is the case, it was brought on by some soreness in the arm after the start. Gordon Wittenmeyer reported that “Team officials said the MRI results were not conclusive and held out hope that it’s not a serious setback.” While it’s discouraging news for Baker, it’s also discouraging for the Cubs. The hope is that he’s fine and that this just a minor setback. Ultimately, what’s important to remember is that the deal he signed is very low risk at $5.5 million. If he never pitches this year, you may see the Cubs re-sign him to a minor league deal as his contract is for 2013 only. The hope is that he’s able to come back and pitch effectively enough to draw interest on the trade market before the non-waiver deadline to continue the rebuilding process. Time will tell, but I think it’s too early to just jump off the ledge and give up. Patience and watch how this one plays out. Baker’s MRI results will be evaluated this weekend and we’ll know more at that point in terms of the timetable for resuming rehab.

Keeping with the injury bug theme, the mystery that really wasn’t much of a mystery has been solved as the Cubs have announced that Ian Stewart will begin the season on the disabled list. The Cubs believe he can get the extra time he needs with his time on the DL and that allows them to not have to release him before opening day. We’ll see how this one shakes out. Had the Cubs released him before opening day, they would not have been on the hook for his entire salary. After opening day, they would be.

One of the top prospects in the system, Albert Almora, was reported recently to have been bit by our pal the injury bug when he broke the hamate bone in his left hand. Obviously he wasn’t going to make the team out of spring training and the injury is not a severe one, but it does mean he’s scheduled to be out of commission for the next 3-4 weeks which takes away development time. A little bit of a bummer, but overall not too bad. Recently, John Sickels profiled Almora on his site. Take a look at his profile so you stay excited about him. A brief snippet to wet your appetite for the full post:

Scouts love this guy, and it isn’t hard to see why. He has a good swing. He has solid power. He has above-average running speed, and he knows how to use it. He has a solid throwing arm. He has center field outfield range. His instincts, especially on defense, are considered outstanding and help all of his tools play up. His makeup is considered outstanding. He thrived against good competition in high school and shines on a big stage. (Read the Full Profile)

A few minor transactional notes: The Cubs acquired minor league infielder Jose Dore from the Padres for a player to be named later or cash. It’s always a little intriguing when Jed brings in someone from the team he was overseeing before. There is the thought that maybe he knows something they don’t, like was the case with Anthony Rizzo. In his short amount of time in the Padres system, Dore has put up the following numbers over three different levels of baseball. (Click the stats image to be taken to his Baseball Reference Page)

Also in the transaction news is that the Cubs announced a signing of Cuban right handed reliever, Armando Rivero to a contract with a $3.1 million signing bonus. Ben Badler of Baseball America has this note on Rivero:

Since Rivero is 25 and has four seasons of professional experience in Cuba’s top league, his bonus will be exempt from Chicago’s 2012-13 international bonus pool. For the current signing period, Cuban signings are exempt from the international bonus pools as long as they are at least 23 and have played in Serie Nacional for at least three seasons.

The Cubs haven’t said where Rivero will begin his career, but he’s advanced enough that Double-A Tennessee would seem to be an option. (Read the full entry)

Finally, Chris Rusin made another spring start yesterday, this time against the Rangers, giving up four runs on seven hits over five innings of work,  while striking out five. I mentioned yesterday that I feel like Rusin will start the year in the rotation in AAA because of the lack of depth of ML ready arms and the rash of injuries to starting pitchers (I’m looking at you Mr. Garza and Baker). I just can’t see him being put in the pen and then having to get stretched out again to start if needed.

Finally, a discussion question for you to mull over. Brad Stephens, Mayor of Rosemont, has come out recently and offered the Cubs 25 acres of land for the Ricketts family to build a new stadium on. It’s pretty remote that something like that would actually happen, but if it did, how would you react? Call me crazy for saying it, but I could care less if the Cubs left Wrigley field. I know some will ask that I turn in my fan card, but to be honest, I could care less. I want to see a championship and if getting a new stadium with facilities that can be considered some of the top in baseball to replace what are largely considered the worst in baseball will help get us there, I’m all for it. Screw nostalgia. If nostalgia and feel good is what you care about, go rent a Disney movie (no offense, CAPS). As Mike Singletary once said “I want winners”. Discuss.

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The Prospect Report

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

In a comment last week, a VFTB reader inquired about the prospects at different positions in the Cubs’ system. He noted that while the Cubs seem to have a good amount of depth in the outfield, starting pitching at the upper levels of the minors appears to be a weakness. As such, we thought a positional breakdown of the Cubs’ prospects that have a decent chance to contribute would be useful, and could shed some light on the system’s strengths and weaknesses.


Generally, the Cubs’ farm system is stronger on position player side of things than it is on the pitching front. The Cubs’ top three prospects are position players (Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Albert Almora), and of the Cubs’ highest ceiling pitching prospects, only Arodys Vizcaino has pitched above short season ball. So we’ll start with the position players.


The outfield is the Cubs’ strongest prospect area, largely because Almora and Soler, two of the top three prospect in the system, are outfielders. There has been a lot of discussion on each of these near consensus Top 50 prospects, so I’ll only summarize them briefly here. Almora, the Cubs’ top draft pick in 2012, is a center fielder who is quite advanced for his age due in large part to a ton of experience on national teams. He’s the sort of high ceiling, great make up guy pretty much everyone loves. He’ll miss the first month or two of this season after having the hamate bone in his wrist removed, but it shouldn’t significantly impact his development.

Soler, the Cubs’ big Cuban signing prior to the new international spending limits, is a right fielder with a ton of potential at the plate. He’s become the trendy choice to be this year’s guy who shoots up from the 30-50 range on top prospect lists into the top ten, a la Mike Trout in 2010 or Oscar Taveras in 2012

The other big outfield prospect, and one of the Cubs’ few high ceiling prospects in the upper minors, is Brett Jackson. Jackson’s issues with strikeouts have been well documented all over the internet, including by me. If Jackson is able to cut down the strikeouts, it would be huge for the Cubs’ rebuilding plans.

There are several other Cubs’ outfield prospects who are worth noting. Matt Szczur has been a darling of Baseball America for some time, but others have concerns that his swing is too slappy to be more than a reserve outfielder. Even Baseball America has cooled on Szczur, and he struggled significantly after getting called up to Double A Tennessee in the middle of last season.

Reggie Golden is an extremely athletic but raw outfielder the Cubs drafted in the second round of the 2010 draft. Unfortunately, his full season debut last season got cut very short due to an ACL tear just 7 games into the 2012 season. He’ll return to Kane County, and still has the high ceiling.

Others to keep an eye on are Jae-Hoon Ha, Taiwan Easterling, Trey Martin, Xavier Batista, Shawon Dunston, Jr., and Jeffrey Baez.

Middle Infielders

The Cubs’ top infield prospect is also their top prospect: Javier Baez. Baez’s ceiling is through the roof, especially if he can stick at shortstop. He very well could still switch over to 3B due to outgrowing the middle infield or because Starlin Castro has shortstop held down, but scouting types consider him a shortstop at this juncture.

There is one middle infield prospect who could make an impact on the Major League team in the next year or year and a half: Logan Watkins. Watkins can play all over the field, but if he sticks at one position it would be second base. While he won’t be Darwin Barney there defensively, he should still be above average. On the other hand, Watkins, who bats left handed, should be an improvement at the plate over Barney. Watkins has drawn a solid walk percentage throughout his minor league career, and, while he won’t ever be mistaken for a power hitter, he should hit for more power than Barney. Watkins will start the season in Iowa, but could move up to the Cubs mid-season to either play a super utility role or if a spot opens up due to injury or trade.

The Cubs have a couple of younger, high ceiling middle infield prospects in Gioskar Amaya and Arismendy Alcantara. Both have significantly higher ceilings than Watkins, but also have significantly lower floors. Alcantara will likely be Tennessee’s shortstop to start the season, while Amaya will make his full season debut as Kane County’s second baseman. Another couple of players to keep an eye on are Ronald Torreyes and Zeke DeVoss, who will be the second basemen for Tennessee and Daytona respectively. Both have issues, but also have at least one elite tool. Torreyes makes a ton of contact, but is too small to be likely to ever add any sort of power. DeVoss has good speed, but has contact issues. Marco Hernandez is also a young talented shortstop who will get a second shot at full season ball this year.

First Base

The Cubs only have one first base prospect really worth watching: Dan Vogelbach. Vogelbach has extremely high offensive upside, but can only play first base. And some question whether Vogelbach will even be able to handle first base defensively at the Major League level. He absolutely destroyed short season ball last year, posting a .322/.423/.608. While the defensive concerns have kept him off top prospect lists, if he hits like this at Kane County and Daytona, he’ll get his spot on the top prospect lists.

Third Base

The Cubs have a lot of prospects (or at least guys who can’t be called non-prospects) at the hot corner, even without considering Javier Baez as a part of this group. Josh Vitters and Junior Lake will probably split time at third base in Iowa, while also getting chances at other positions. However, if either see time in the Majors in 2013, it will probably be at third base. Vitters and Lake are pretty well known, as are their problems. Vitters both has issues with his plate approach and defensively. Even if the offense comes around, Vitters might be better suited to an outfield corner long term. Lake has all the physical talent in the world, but hasn’t turned that into consistent baseball skills. He also has one of the strongest arms in baseball, but makes a lot of mistakes in the field.

The safest of the Cubs’ third base prospects is Christian Villanueva, who they acquired in the Ryan Dempster trade.  Villanueva will start the season at Double A Tennessee, and should be an above average defender at third base. He has the lowest offensive ceiling of the Cubs’ third base prospects, as he lacks the power potential you’d want out of a third baseman, but he’s gotten on base enough to at least be average offensively. If neither Vitters nor Lake can get a hold on the position by the middle of 2014, Villanueva could end up being the bridge to whatever the Cubs decide to do at third base when Baez is ready.

Jeimer Candelario might be the most interesting of the Cubs’ third base prospects. As an 18 year old in short season ball, the switch hitter posted a solid .281/.345/.396 line. He has an advanced approach at the plate for his age, and most think he’ll grow into a good amount of power. The real question is if, as he fills out, he can still handle third base, as some think he’ll be ticketed for either first base or left field long term.


There are two differences between the Cubs’ pitching prospects and hitting prospects. Well, two differences aside from the fact that pitchers pitch and hitters hit. The first is at the upper levels of the minors. On the position player front, the Cubs have several offensive prospects in the upper levels of the minors who either have high ceilings if they put it together (Brett Jackson, Josh Vitters, Junior Lake, Matt Szczur) and players who may not have top ceilings but have good shots of being average regulars (Logan Watkins, Christian Villanueva). The Cubs have all of one pitcher above A ball who has a legitimate ceiling above fifth starter, and that is Arodys Vizcaino, the big return in the Paul Maholm trade. Vizcaino is nearing his return from Tommy John Surgery, and has the stuff to be a top of the rotation starter. The problem is that most scouts don’t think he’ll be able to handle a starter’s workload due to his size. Most see at least an elite late innings bullpen dominator, but Vizcaino solidifying himself in the rotation would be vastly preferable.

Everyone else in the high minors either has fifth starter or bullpen ceiling. Chris Rusin, Brooks Raley and Nick Struck don’t have the stuff to be more than fifth starters. Trey McNutt seems destined for the bullpen due to control issues. And I sincerely doubt the Alberto Cabrera conversion back to a starting pitcher will work.

The second difference is the ceiling between the Cubs’ top offensive prospects and top pitching prospects. The Cubs really do not have pitchers with ceilings similar to Baez, Almora and Soler, and those that come close on potential are much further away from realizing it.

This doesn’t mean that the Cubs are devoid of talent on the pitching side outside of Vizcaino, though. Pierce Johnson was a first round talent who fell to the Cubs in the supplemental round a year ago because of a forearm injury. His ceiling is as a number 2 in the rotation pitcher, and he has as good of odds of speeding through the system as anyone, including the big three position prospects. He will probably start in Kane County this season, but could end as high as Tennessee.

The Cubs also have three high ceiling young arms who have yet to pitch much. Dillon Maples was a 2011 bonus baby who barely pitched due to injury last season, but reportedly has matured greatly over the past season. We’ll see if that converts to solid performance on the mound this season. Paul Blackburn and Duane Underwood were two high round high school draftees by the Cubs last year with a ton of ceiling, but they are VERY far away from it at this point. Blackburn and Underwood won’t pitch in a game that counts until June at the earliest, and the highest either will pitch this year is Boise.

One Cubs’ pitching prospect that does not get enough attention is Ben Wells. Wells is a sinker ball pitcher who induces a lot of ground balls. Despite that, he posted a healthy strikeout rate in his full season debut as a 19 year old for Peoria last year, striking out 7.36 per 9 innings. More importantly, he has great control at a young age, walking less than 2.5 per 9 innings.

The big question with Wells will be health. An elbow issue that nearly necessitated Tommy John Surgery limited Wells to just 45 innings in 2012. If he can stay healthy, he could move up the system quickly. He doesn’t have top of the rotation ceiling, but I could easily see him as a three or four if he can handle the workload.

Additionally, if we have this conversation again in 5 months I would bet that the pitching in the Cubs’ farm system will be very improved. To start, odds are that the Cubs will pick either Stanford star right hander Mark Appel or 2012 Cape Cod League darling and Indiana State Ace Sean Manaea, a left hander, with the number two pick in the draft in June. I also expect that the Cubs will focus on adding pitching depth to the farm in any trades they make this season.

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More Roster Cuts = More Roster Discussion

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

On Monday, the Cubs announced another series of roster cuts, so it’s a good time to look at who’s left and see what we can piece together as far as a roster.

Josh Vitters had a nice opportunity to make the team out of Spring Training with injuries hurting Ian Stewart. Instead, he’s was optioned to AAA on Monday.

Infielders Junior Lake and Josh Vitters have been optioned to Triple-A Iowa, while infielder Christian Villanueva has been optioned to Double-A Tennessee.  Outfielder Jorge Soler has been optioned to Single-A Daytona.

Three non-roster invitees have been assigned to minor league camp: Right-handed pitcher Barret Loux, infielder Javier Baez and catcher Rafael Lopez.

We’re inching closer to the final 25 so let’s take a look at the remaining spots up for grabs.


This is always the biggest crap shoot when it comes to a roster out of camp. So many GM’s will go out and spend money on relievers only to see them under-perform. I’ve always been a strong advocate of building your pen from your system and spending money on position players and starting rotation guys. The Thed regime seems to be following that model with this year’s pen, with the exception of Kyuji Fujikawa, who was brought in this off-season. There are still a good amount of guys competing for those last three spots. The remaining names in camp that could win a job are: Michael Bowden, Drew Carpenter, Jaye Chapman, Casey Coleman, Rafael Dolis, Jensen Lewis, Blake Parker, Zach Putnam, Hector Rondon, Chris Rusin, Hisanori Takahashi, and Cory Wade. Of those names, there are really only a few legit contenders.

Carpenter, Chapman, Wade, and Lewis all have no shot and should be included in in the next series of roster cuts in the next week. That still leaves eight guys for three spots. If it were my call, I’d give one of the spots to Bowden because he’s out of minor league options and has pitched well enough this spring to earn it. He can fill the long relief role.

Both Coleman and Rusin have both pitched well this season, but I think I would send both down to continue to develop as starters. The Cubs have very few arms anywhere close to ready for the Majors in the farm so both of these guys can work on that in Iowa and be ready if needed.

To me, the most intriguing two names are Rondon and Takahashi. Rondon would need to make the team if the Cubs want to keep him, since he’s a rule 5 selection. Reports are that he’s more Major League ready than some of the more recent rule 5 guys the Cubs have selected in the past, so you have to root for him to make the team. Takahashi is old, but interesting because he has experience and throws left-handed. I don’t think he’ll make the team out of camp, but I’m curious to see what happens to him from there. If I’m his age, I don’t think I’d be accepting a minor league assignment. If I had to guess, I’d predict Rondon to get one of the spots with Dolis taking the last one.


The final spot in the outfield appears to be coming down to a pair of righties (Dave Sappelt & Darnell McDonald) and a lefty (Brian Bogusevic). To be honest, I don’t know how it’s even a question. Both Sappelt and McDonald have struggled to hit .200 in spring training. Before you mention that those stats mean nothing, save it. I understand that spring numbers are useless, but when you’re fighting for a job and are at times facing less than stellar pitching from the opponent, shouldn’t you be hitting a lot closer to .300 than .200? I give the job to Bogusevic, despite the fact that he’s a non-roster guy.


This is down to one spot and it’s a matter of if it goes to Ian Stewart or not. You can pencil Brent Lillibridge in for a roster spot as the super utility guy. I think Svuem’s patience with Stewart is waning so it may end up coming down to another non-roster guy with the injury to Junior Lake late last week, with Alberto Gonzalez the likely leader in the clubhouse. The concept of adding this many non-roster guys to the opening day lineup completely blows my mind, which got me looking for guys that would be likely candidates for removal from the 40 man. I didn’t like what I found. It’s going to be a very interesting next two weeks to see how this roster shakes itself out.

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Morning News: March Madness Is Here

Sunday, March 17th, 2013

Cubs Recently
The ladies haven’t been digging the chauvinism so Dave Sappelt provided a long ball but the Cubs lost. And the ladies still don’t dig him…

Nate Schierholtz hit a blast of his own, his trot around the bases gave us time to remember that I comes before E. But the Cubs lost that one too.

NCAA Basketball
The collective productivity of the nation’s employees will once again face a sharp decline this week. The NCAA Tournament starts this week. Brackets are out.

NFL Rule Change
Bears RB, Matt Forte is one of many NFL players – past & present – who believes some of the new rule changes in the NFL are beyond stupid. It almost seems as if the change will guarantee ball carriers are more off-balance when they absorb a hit; they’ll certainly be more upright and easier to bring down.
*(If you can’t wait for the NFL, enjoy some Rugby League from the NRL. Guys hitting each other at full speed WITHOUT pads!)

Arena League Wants Tebow
The Arena League desperately wants to be cool again.

Crazy Woman Dies
Apparently the real woman who inspired the crazy lady in The Natural died this weekend.

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Go: Lines

Saturday, March 16th, 2013

Tell us your favorite line from any song. (Feel free to offer more than one if you have a few favorites!)

This Go question was submitted by Gymjok (thanks Gymjok!) Do you have a question you’d like us to feature in the Go! column? Send it to and she’ll see what she can do!

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