Archive for February, 2014

Baseball is Back; Theo Talks Prospects

Friday, February 28th, 2014

It always feels great when baseball returns. The Cubs played their first spring training game yesterday against the Diamondbacks. Shark got the “start” (2 innings) against Bronson Arroyo. There wasn’t much insight to be gained from the action on the field – since it’s the first game, guys were in and out of the game very quickly – even the broadcasters were having a hard time keeping up. Starlin Castro looked great in his 2 at-bats, smoking a line-drive double to right center in his second at-bat. Mike Olt did nothing with his two at-bats, and the big-time prospects didn’t make it into the game, so we’ll have to wait for Baez-Bryant-Soler-Almora highlights.

Rick Renteria did his first in-game interview as Cubs manager. I know those things are always sort of awkward (the manager is trying to pay attention to the game while speaking to the broadcasters), and I know Rick was probably a little nervous doing this for the first time, but man, is that guy LOW KEY. That’s not a bad thing, but I think I nodded off 3 times when he was speaking (the content – the most important part – was just fine).

This was the first game in the brand new Cubs park in Mesa. I have to admit, even though it’s a corporate, suburban nightmare simulacrum of Wrigley, it looked pretty fun. This game set the Cactus league record for attendance at over 14,000. The dimensions of the outfield walls are a replica of Wrigley (the walls are moved back a few feet to compensate for the thinner, drier air of AZ), and the grandstands have that Wrigley look as well (there’s even replica brick behind home plate). That’s where the similarities end, however. The player facilities at this new park are state-of-the-art. The training facilities, weight room, batting cages, video rooms, theatre, etc. are amazing. It’s going to be a real downer for the players to leave those facilities and return to the horrendous  player facilities in Chicago. I suppose we’re getting a taste of what the Wrigley facilities could be if the renovations ever begin.

The most interesting part of the WGN broadcast was surely the interview with Theo Epstein. There are so many great quotes that make me feel good about the future of the team:

  • “You want wave after wave of prospects. When these kids come up to the big-league level, you want another wave that’s knocking at the door in the high minors. You want to avoid a gap. One bad draft can set an organization back for years because it creates a vacuum, and you often have to fill that vacuum from a position of desperation from outside the organization, and you can make mistakes that way.”
  • “We attack [pitching depth] with volume through the draft every year, and we try to get an arm back in every deal we make.”
  • When asked about the timeline of prospects coming up to the minors: “When people ask me, ‘when is player X gonna get here,’ I try to shift the question from ‘when’ to ‘how.’ How is he gonna get here? We don’t focus on timing as much as we do getting the player as fully developed as possible in the minor leagues. Our goal is to develop each prospect to their maximum potential physically, mentally, and fundamentally. We have individualized development plans for each player, they have them in writing, they sign off on them, they contribute to them. So when we talk about what it will take to get to the big leagues, we point them back to the plan. Here are your weaknesses physically, here are your weaknesses fundamentally, here are your weaknesses mentally, and here’s a plan to get better in those areas. When they turn those weaknesses into strengths, that’s when they’re ready for the big leagues. It’s not a question of time, it’s rounding out their development. You only get one chance to develop a player in the minor leagues – you can do an awful lot of damage by calling a player up too early.” This is my absolute favorite quote. I love the emphasis on a player’s accountability and ownership of their own development. I love that they sign a written copy of their own development plan. As a teacher, I always try to emphasize process with my students, so I’m thrilled to hear Theo speak about “how” over “when.” You can argue the merits of Theo’s plan, but you certainly can’t argue that he doesn’t have one.
  • Good news for those that have lamented the bullpen woes of late: “We’re pretty excited about the power arms we have now [in the bullpen]. We have plenty of depth in the bullpen this year, we’ll have two left handers, some more power arms with good breaking stuff, some swing-and-miss stuff. Knock on wood, but we have a chance to get off on the right foot with the pen this year. The last couple of years, the pen has cost us early, and it has a chance to be a strength for us out of the gate this year.”

I’m excited to finally have on-the-field action to write about, and I’m looking forward to our discussion from now until October. Hey, if you haven’t checked out the VFTB podcast, give us a try. You can subscribe to us on iTunes, where we always appreciate your ratings and reviews. We’d also love to receive your questions for our mailbag segment.

Until the podcast Monday night, have a great weekend, Cubs fans!

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The Fallen: Brett Jackson Edition

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

In some ways, Brett Jackson is the most disappointing prospect of the four in this series. He never had quite Josh Vitters’ pedigree, as Jackson was a very late first round pick (31st overall). It just seemed like he was so darn close to at least being an average MLB regular, providing speed, a solid on base percentage, 15 to 20 home run power, and above average defense in center field, and it came crashing down so quickly. Can Jackson approach his promise again?

The Heights: After speeding through the minors in his first 24 months as a professional baseball player, Jackson put up a fantastic, even for the Pacific Coast League .297/.388/.551 in his first 48 Triple A games, despite striking out in 29.8% of his plate appearances.

The Depths: Jackson’s return to Triple A for the 2012 season resulted in a solid, but unspectacular .256/.338/.479, although the strikeouts only got worse, increasing to 33.8%. The wheels really came off with a call up to the Cubs in early August 2012, when he struck out in more than 40% of his plate appearances and batted just .175. No amount of walking can make up for a batting average and strikeout rate like that. The Cubs tried reworking Jackson’s swing, and it did not take, at least for 2013. Jackson was terrible in both Double A and Triple A, when he was not struggling through injuries.

Best Case Scenario: Jackson somehow is able to get the strikeout rate below 25%, and is able to tap into the power enough to become a rich man’s David DeJesus. Odds are he is a player you’d rather not start regularly against left handed pitching, but he could be one of the better platoon players in baseball, and a starter on a second tier team.

Worst Case Scenario: Jackson keeps striking out in 30% percent of his plate appearances and never sniffs the Majors again. Or, ever worse, he never sniffs the Majors again for the Cubs, gets DFA’d, the Cardinals pick him up, and then they magically fix him with that human sacrifice altar they have under Busch Stadium. Oh yes Cardinals fans, we have discovered your secret.

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VFTB Radio – Episode 4

Monday, February 24th, 2014

Episode 4 of the show welcomed back the full crew, including a report on Sean’s trip to Sochi to cover the Olympics.

SHOW OUTLINE

  • Recap of the Cubs news & notes from the past week, including topics on Javier Baez, Tom Ricketts bold predictions, Dan Vogelbach’s weight loss and more.
  • Mailbag questions
  • The guys “plant their flag” on three players each that they are all in on.
  • “Like It or Strike It” which included questions on Jake Arrietta, Derek Jeter and Ray Rice.

Download the Episode – (57 min / 13 MB)

SUBSCRIPTION INFO

Subscribe to the show in iTunes (Please remember to review and rate the show)

Follow us on Twitter: Joe – @vftb / Josh – @JCstats / Sean – @powell_sean

E-mail the mailbag – viewfromthebleachers@gmail.com

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Can The Cubs Win With Castro & Baez

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

If you follow the Cubs even a little, you probably saw all the tweets yesterday about the batting practice session of Javier Baez. If not, let’s just say that he did some damage:

It, no doubt, has Cubs fans excited about the future. The talent is there for him to be an impact offensive player with MVP potential at the plate. But what about the glove? And what will happen should Starlin Castro turn things around this year? The obvious choice would be to shift one of the two to second base and leave one at shortstop, but what does that do to our defense?

In 2013, both players played shortstop exclusively. Castro committed 22 errors (a career low), and Baez committed 44. That’s almost 70 errors between the two of them. Can we afford that type of defensive production in the center of the diamond where a team is supposed to be the strongest.

There are those who love MLB betting and will consult sites like live betting at williamhill to get their odds. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that the Cubs aren’t projected to win a lot of games this year (unless you speak with Tom Ricketts), but that they are close and could even be competitive in 2015. Can that happen with such poor defense up the middle? Just to give you an idea, the World Champion Red Sox last year had Dustin Pedroia and Stephen Drew up the middle. They combined for a total of 13 errors all season. That’s almost half of Castro alone.

I’m concerned about the defense. I love the bats, but I’m nervous about the gloves. I have actually begun to wonder if the long term plan needs to involve dealing one of the two in an effort to balance the system a little and acquire much needed pitching help, particularly in the starting rotation. It’s clear from the recent evaluations of the farm system that the system is top heavy on hitting and lacks the arms. Perhaps a move to deal one of the two will solve that issue.

 

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Betting tips for baseball: Who will win this year’s World Series?

Friday, February 21st, 2014

The LA Dodgers are already looking like good bets for the World Series this year, even with the entire season to play. The Dodgers were the runners up in the National League last season and this has seen them installed as bookies favorites for the World Series at 8/1. The Dodgers certainly represent a decent pick for those who haven’t placed a bet on this yet, but are they the only side with a realistic chance?

Well no, as the likes of the Red Sox (10/1), the Yankees (14/1) and the Cardinals (9/1) must also be considered in contention – at least if the odds at bookmakers’ sites are anything to go by. There is also the inherently unpredictable nature of MLB to consider, so could the Cubs a chance this season? Last season was a bit of a catastrophe for the team in the windy city, finishing bottom of the NL Central, thus not making it to the Post-Season match ups. But at 50/1, Cub’s fans might fear the same could happen this season. It could be worse, you could follow the Astros who have a 200/1 shot of World Series glory. We all know how sport can throw up an upset, so assuming the latter could win the crown. This is true to some extent of all types of gambling but the themed slots games like Avalon II or Hot Shot on offer at online casino sites perhaps present a greater chance of winning a payout from your gambles than standard sports betting does.

This is because they feature so many elements designed to enhance your chances of winning money – one of the reasons why so many casino fans love the slots. For example there is the presence of wild icons on the reels, such as the burning baseball one in the MLB themed game Hot Shot, which substitute for missing icons to improve the chances of scoring winning combinations. These games also offer multiple pay lines (Hot Shot has nine) and free spins features, all intended to stack the odds in your favor, so you should end up ahead financially if you play them, whether you win the top jackpot or not.

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