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Keep Your Heads Up Cubs Fans

Thursday, December 5th, 2013

This is a post for Cubs fans.

Fans of a team that, at the moment, are seemingly spinning their wheels in the proverbial mud.  Fans of a team that with each new signing, trade, and scrap of news loose a little bit of hope.  Fans of a team that simply are exhausted.

Where do you fall in? Optimistic? Pessimistic? Confused by the big words (This isn’t a White Sox blog!)?

Everyday I turn on my computer and iphone hoping for a glimmer of life.  A team that is in desperate need of outfielders, pitching, bullpen help, and quality bench players.  That is a lot of needs right?  Not really.  A lot of teams need a lot of things.  They also make desperation plays like trading Doug Fister for a mediocre prospect and some bullpen help.  Do you want to be that team?  Or do you want to be the team that is okay with sending a stud prospect like Taijuan Walker to the Rays for David Price, arm issues and all?  (Hasn’t happened but is rumored)

My biggest issue when waking up and looking at the Cubs news it the pessimism.  Everyone realizes that you aren’t bound by any contractual relationship to be a Cubs fan?  Now this isn’t a holier than though piece.  This is simply a slow your ‘tude message.  A lot of back and forth on message boards and disgust being thrown around.

Take a chill pill fans.  Take a moment to realize that we have one of the best, if not the best, farm systems in the entire league.  Hit or miss that is an accomplishment.  You can’t hit on prospects if you don’t have them to begin with.  Not only that, it will be better before the end of this off season mark my words.  More talent will be infused in this system that will provide ample opportunity to lead to success in the near future.

I don’t want to be a fan of a middle of the road team.  I like seeing a team contend.  If they can’t contend this year, so be it.  At the very least I don’t have unreasonable expectations.  We have a very honest and open front office.  They are spreading unreasonable expectations.

Here are some things you can look forward to in the next 90 days:

1. Trades for B to B+ pitching prospects that are a year or two from ready

2. Signing of more flippable assets

3. A significant trade that changes next season (this is a toss up, most likely for the worse)

4. A major play for Tanaka

Keep your heads up Cubs fans.  All isn’t lost.

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Step 2- Have a plan

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

With the World Series coming up next week, Cubs fans can only watch with spite for another year. 105 seasons to be exact since the last time the Chicago Cubs won the holy grail of baseball.  I wish I could talk to someone who was alive then that could describe that feeling; too bad that won’t happen.

The Cubs are deep in the process of rebuilding and have a plethora of talent on the way to the majors.  There is exceptional quality when it comes to position players, and depth to boot too.  While there might not be a diamond on the farm when it comes to pitching, there are a lot of rocks that are being polished in to jewels.  You’ll remember the Cubs Way was introduced when Theo and Jed took over the reigns.  Here is what I would like to see.

Most of the successful teams continue to see a variety of young pitchers sprout out of their farms each year.  They consistently groom and develop pitchers that were scouted to be average to slightly above average in to something much shinier and effective.  Call me pessimistic but there must be some thing that is preventing the Cubs from doing this very same thing.

Throughout the years, the Cubs most prized pitching stars have seen their arms completely fall off.  This was from a combination of bad managing and bad luck.  Last year saw a turn for the better with our young pitchers, Smardzjia and Wood, taking a step forward in their development.  The issue is that the Cubs need more in place during their farm development to prepare the young guns for the majors.

Much can be said about having a plan.  Yet, to follow through with a plan is the key part to seeing sustained success.  I believe with addition of Minor League Pitching Coordinator Derek Johnson, the Cubs have found someone who can create a plan that drives sustained success.  The key here is to making sure that all of the minor league pitching coaches are on the same page.  The plan must be implemented through all six stops of system.  Johnson can’t be in six places at one time and will need coaches following a consistent and similar guide to develop our young pitchers.

There may be a plan in place now that is being used.  Unfortunately, to this point the Cubs have not seen results.

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Step 1- Get a Coach

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

The shuffle.  Its not just a dance.  Its not just a song. In Chicago Cubs land, currently, it is a way of life.  So, for the foreseeable future it is time to learn to enjoy the song and dance.

Yesterday saw many roster fluff dumped back in to the Triple-A stock pile of ever so slightly more than laughable major league capable players. That may be a stretch or even an exaggeration, but if you get the call then your skills aren’t really anything to sneeze at.  The 40 man roster was purged for the highly anticipated offseason. An offseason that is expected to see even more dramatic turnover and many difficult roster decisions.

So where does the team go? Up? Down? Stuck in a rut of mediocrity? My answer would be one of the three options.

You hear and read a lot about the plan Theo and Jed have in place.  The plan has gotten pretty tricky to this point.  The ownership, from all accounts, is putting pressure on the front office to keep pay roll at or below this years level.  With plummeting ticket sales and costs of ownership soaring, from a business stance at the very least, you can understand why.  Yet, they find themselves in a catch-22.  Needing to spend money to make money.  Buying talent to put butts in the seats.

In past off seasons the front office has done well to hit on one year fliers who became very tradeable assets.  They have done a great job identifying talent that has been jettison off by other teams and gave them a solid opportunity to show what they are made of. (see Ryan Sweeney)  The one big acquisition they have made so far, in so far as the free agent signing of Edwin Jackson, has seemingly been a bust to this point. So again, where does the team go?

The first direction hinges on a solid acquisition of coach. Giardi is not available, but who wanted the superstar anyway?  Too much hype would have let to unreasonable expectations.  I thoroughly believe the next coach will be someone who can relate to the young players and demand their attention. Manny Acta, the seven-hour interviewee, would fit this mold as someone who could command the attention of and respect of Latin American players. AJ Hinch comes highly touted as a player development guru, but may lack the buzz to gain instant credibility.  Too bad Ryno and the Phillies worked out immediately when the Cubs seemingly would have been prepared to finally allow him to take the reins in Chicago. There could be a lot of candidates that no one knows about.

I have a proposal of two potential coaches who understand player development, have instant credibility, and are widely considered incredible baseball minds.  Greg Maddux and Cal Ripken Jr.

I admit that because I grew up as a child watching these guys I may be a bit star struck with both of these names have been bantered about in various nooks and crannies of the internet.  The only thing the two are missing is managing experience, but as Mike Matheney has shown, you don’t really need that with a good roster.  Greg Maddux has been said to be considering throwing his name around through the back channels.  Please discuss amongst yourself that possibility.  Cal would rival Maddux in my choices because of his reputation as being blue collar and tough as nails.  Some times when you are dealing with young, immature players, a tough dad who is affectionately known as the Iron Man, may be just what they need.

Step 1:  Get a coach who commands respect and understands how to use the resources he is dealt wisely.

Step 2: Fill out the roster, like a boss. (Read next week)

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September Call Ups – A “Thank You”

Monday, September 9th, 2013

I finally have another chance to write.  To share some of my thoughts.  It has been one crazy Summer.  In the midst of it all I got an opportunity to join this community and I can’t say thank you enough for welcoming me to it.  I used my writing as a way to draw my attention away from studying for the bar when I needed an absolute break.  Well, thank you.  It was helpful, I passed the NC Bar, first try.  Thanks for reading my stress relief and helping me stay sane by discussing something I love with others who are just as, if not more, passionate. I promise I will tie this in.

With all the yucky lovey-dovey thank yous out of the way let’s get to the Chicago Cubs.

So here is what has been the burning thought on my mind recently.  September call-ups- are they a thank you or are they a try out?

The Thank You-

During September you see a lot of guys get the call who have worked their butts off in the Minors all season; most who have toiled their for quiet a while. At times you will see the prospect for the proverbial “cup of coffee” but mostly it some of the older minor leaguers in a kind of see-what-you-got-left deal.  I wouldn’t say this is really the try-out, this is more of a thank you.  A reaching out to some of the folks who hung around and took a little stress off.  The guys that were always there just-in-case.  Well, for the most part that scenario didn’t pop up and their was no reward during the season.  So here comes September.  Let’s call it Christmas in September for the career minor leaguer.

I believe in and understand the role of September expanded rosters.  It gives some of the veterans a chance for a breathier and allows for teams in contention to really try to make a one last ditch effort for a push to the playoffs.  Cool. I get it and like it.  I even like the idea of the thank you; most years.  Not this year.  Show me prospects.  Show me something juicy.  I have waited impatiently all season whilst a minor league team was passed off for major market professional baseball team.  So no thank you to the thank you.  Give me the other alternative.

Current “Thank You” Callups- JC Boscan, Donnie Murphy (although he did come earlier), Darnell McDonald, Brian Bogusevic

The Try Out-

This is what September is about when your team has looked like a pile of dog excrement in one way or another for the majority of the season.  Don’t get me around there is a lot of promise on the horizon.  Unfortunately, my MLB.TV subscription that I paid for this year doesn’t offer rain-checks for when the team takes off.  So here is to the future.  Cheers.  Now put some of them on the field. I like the influx of young arms brought up.  I like acquisition of Daniel Bard although we won’t see him this year.  I can even understand the Scott Baker call-up (although worse case scenario I see us paying him 5 million to rehab all season and he signs with someone else in the off season).  Alberto Cabrera should be pitching. Justin Grimm should be pitching. The same for Rosscup and Chang-Yom Lim.  So why am I complaining?  Mostly because as my wife will tell you, that is what I do.  I am a pie in the sky type of guy.  I just wished everyone else was.

Here’s my pie in the sky.  Mike Olt seeing a little time.  Josh Vitters playing a little outfield (if he was healthy).  Heck, show me some Szczur.  I know that last one is a stretch.  Bring them up and let them travel; see what the life is like.  Let them watch the top tier guys as they go through the hardest of the grind day in and day out.  Give them a big league at bat against a really scary pitcher.  Why not?  Who is going to lose playing time that it is significantly going to affect their development? No one (that was an easy answer).

The way I see it “Try  Outs” are better than “Thank Yous”.  Give me more prospect, less last hoorahs.

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Take It With A Grain of Salt

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

Now that the trade deadline has been over for more than a week, and life has restored to some sort of normalcy, let’s discuss the elephant in every chat room/message board, “The insider”. Everyone knows of one or has seen one posting as an insider. It is the guy/girl who has the scoop based on their tenuous relationship with someone who is connected to the organization. Don’t take my condescending tone as a message that all of these folks don not have some type of connection—just take it as my skeptical nature not believing a good bit of what I read. This is infinitely important to Cubs fans right now because we are left clamoring for the next big move as Theo and Jed reshuffle the roster again in hopes of making the team competitive.

After time to reflect on the deadline and the weeks leading up to it I decided that I may have fell victim to the internet insider guy. This is the guy who tweets or shows up on message board with the “I’m hearing x is of interest to A, B, C and the Cubs are listening.” To some this may seem like earth shattering news with immediate responses of “who are you hearing in return, what does the package look like, when will it be done?” I’m not trying to sound preachy but the insider guy has done some basic deductive reasoning and for the most part hasn’t committed to anything other than speculation. This is not an insider.

Next you have the guy/gal who take it up a little. This is the one who posts “I am hearing the Cubs are in talks with team X for Cubs player A and they are looking at team X player B plus more.” Wow, he must have an inside source to know all of that information. Matter of fact he must be talking to someone in the room with Theo or Jed as they discuss over the phone with other GMs. This is very unlikely. This again is more of deductive reasoning and speculation. Again nothing is really committed to because, well, if it falls apart there is no harm.
Finally you have the hero of the message board. This is the guy everyone looks to for solid insider information. This is the guy that the message board posters flash the bat signal for. A guy, who in all honesty, gets insider information the runs to an obscure message board to tell all of his friends what he has heard. Take a moment and step back from what you are doing. Yes the guy/gal is probably right every so often. (They also likely point back to this when showing how they are insider). Let’s look at this year’s deadline.

I could have told you Soriano was going to be traded to the Yankees and Garza was going to the Rangers. My only source was the internet. I could have dropped that nugget and picked some prospects from each team that made sense and….BOOOOOOOM…. I am now an insider. Take what you read with a grain of salt and a little bit of a light heart.

There are legitimate sources on the internet who probably do have some tenuous connection to an organization that allows them to hear things others aren’t privy too. I am sure that some of those folks enjoy being clamored over on message boards and websites as legitimate internet hero. As with the factual information that they present it is likely they are often over swept with confidence in presenting their predictions as fact.
Nothing is wrong with the internet inside source guy/girl. Just don’t let yourself get caught in the nonsense and become the unintelligent fan, spitting out vocal garbage like “Did you hear that the Cubs are in talks with the Padres for Chase Headley in exchange for Darwin Barney and Luis Valbuena.” One, no. Two, you don’t want to look like that big of a fool.

My only caution is not to believe everything you read. In fact, take my opinion above with a grain of salt because I don’t know any of these posters personally. They could be Jed and Theo sitting in their office laughing and having fun with the Cubs fans.

Game Notes

  • Who is Donnie Murphy?  Two games.  Three home runs (two of the three run variety).  One go head in the 9th inning.  Move over Supper Joe, Super Sam, and the like…  I present to you Demolishing Donnie.  Coming to a ball field near you.
  • Cubs won on the efforts of  Travis Wood, Junior Lake, and Donnie Murphy.  Wood was dominant only giving up two runs in 6.1 IP.  Junior Lake had another nice day at the plate and continues to be impressive in his game.  Murphy as mentioned above is going to earn some major playing time.
  • Bad news- Thomas Neal left the 7th inning with a dislocated shoulder after a strong throw from left field where he didn’t quite have his feet or a grip.  I had a similar injury in rec league softball.  It was one of the most painful things I have ever experienced.  I was just trying to win a spot on the team too.
  • More Bad News- Dioner Navarro took a monster hit from Chase Utley in the same 7th inning when Utley was trying to score the plate.  Cole Gillespie unleashed a cannon of a throw from right that one hopped in to Navarro’s glove a split second before he was trucked by Utley.  He held on to the ball and got the out but rolled up his right leg underneath him.  It wasn’t a dirty play at all, just good hard baseball.

MLB News

  • Twitter is awesome.  First it was the Rays and Red Sox twitter war now it’s the Braves and Nationals.  The Braves official organization tweet out “Clown move, bro.” after Bryce Harper was enraged from taking when off the hip in his second at bat on Tuesday night.  Then the Nationals released Bryce’s fury with the was the homer the clown move or the 20 year old getting beaned the clown move.  For the record Nationals you don’t get to use the 20 year old excuse anymore.  I could read lips from the broadcast and he was speaking like a grown man… a very mad grown man.
  • Dodgers are playing out of their mind and it appears that they saved Don Mattingly’s job by going 32-8 in their last 40 games.  I would reflect further on that and their payroll but the stat speaks for itself.
  • Tampa still hates their stadium.  Still not having much luck getting out of it.  That is all.


by Rob Willer

Top Prospect: Javy Baez

Bio: Javier Baez was the ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft getting selected ninth overall in the first round by the Chicago Cubs. Baez has been the Cubs top rated prospect the past two years and will be the first of the big four to reach the majors. The big four includes Jorge Soler (International Free Agent Nine Year Contract), Albert Almora (2012 First Round Pick Sixth Overall) and Kris Bryant the Cubs 2013 First Round Pick who was picked second overall. He has the natural power and raw bat speed to hit for average and power and the defensive tools to be at least average at shortstop. The Cubs probably won’t move him to third until he is a few months away from the majors, but that could be as soon as sometime next year. His first real game action started with Low-A Peoria after some additional time in extended spring training last year he hit .319/.385/.560 in 39 games despite being just 19-years old. Had four doubles, three triples and eight home runs as well as 16 stolen bases.

The Promotion: In 2013, Javy has taken big strides to getting the call to the majors by performing well at two levels this summer. Through his first 76 games at High A Daytona Baez chipped in 17 home-runs and 54 runs batted in while batting .274. The more impressive number is his OPS which combines slugging percentage and on base percentage. Javy’s OPS at Daytona was .873 which used his .338 OBP and his .533 slugging percentage. Things that still worry are his plate discipline that included 78 strikeouts to 21 walks. His plate discipline is getting better but we would still like to see the number of strikeouts go down a little bit as overall across both levels he is striking out at 32% while only walking at 8.5%. After Javy’s gaudy season at Daytona the Cubs called him up to Double A Tennessee where he has spent the rest of the summer up to date. Baez’s season totals for Tennessee include a .273 batting average 11 home-runs and 27 runs batted in only 132 at bats. This reflects highly on his slugging percentage at Tennessee where it’s an unreal .612. Overall his OPS is.945 which exemplifies a great season to an MVP caliber season when your lurking around a 1.000 OPS.

Final Thoughts: Incredibly talented hitter with a potential plus-plus bat in every respect.  Most scouts believe he could hit 25-30 home runs with .290+ batting average. In retrospect, for the 2013 season through 105 games he has already hit 28 home-runs and driven in 84 runs while batting .274. This resembles the exact thoughts of scouts on his incredible bat speed and potential power mentioned above. I have alluded throughout this piece, that Baez’s plate discipline will tell us if he reaches that MVP caliber player scouting potential in the next five years. Only time will tell as Baez looks to start at shortstop for the Iowa Cubs next season and will probably earn an extended look at Spring Training after his already great 2013 minor league campaign. There is a great chance that he makes the switch next year to third base to better harness his arm strength and to shadow his limited range abilities at shortstop.

Sleeper Prospect: Marco Hernandez

Hernandez was signed out of the Dominican Republic and started playing professional baseball with the Chicago Cubs in the Rookie League. As a 17 year old in 2010 Hernandez hit .286 across 255 plate appearances. Those numbers also included 21 doubles and a.736 OPS. Regarded more as a defensive shortstop he proved in 2010 he can hit for average. The jury is still out whether he can consistently hit at the big league level and he has a high ceiling just like Baez but not to that extent. Hernandez then moved on to Boise in 2012 where he hit .286/.310/.416 while also hitting 12 doubles, five homers and four triples. This year Hernandez has played exclusively at the new Low A affiliate for the Cubs the Kane County Cougars. Hernandez is part of probably the best infield lineup the Cubs field throughout the minors that also includes Dan Vogelbach, Gioskar Amaya and Jeimer Candelario. Overall he is still adjusting to the Midwest League only hitting .241 on the season with only 16 extra base hits on the season. If Hernandez can end up being a .250 to .270 hitters throughout the minors I could see him getting a call-up in late 2016 barring any injuries.

Final Thoughts: Hernandez has a chance to be the best all-around shortstop not named Baez in the farm system, but he is still several years away. Look for Hernandez to continue to harness his full potential over the next two to three years. Hernandez probably will get the call-up to Daytona to start next season if he can finish this year at a .260 batting average or better. There seems to be no reason to rush him since he is only 20 years old and would only benefit from the full season at Kane County this year.

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