Chicago Cubs: All-Star Game

All-Star Rizzo now leading way for Cubs

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
3:23
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- That on-field dust-up the Chicago Cubs had with the Cincinnati Reds on Thursday was all part of Anthony Rizzo's master plan to get to the All-Star Game.

"You know, I knew there was 30 minutes left in the Final Vote, and I didn't hit a home run that day so I had to do something," Rizzo joked Friday.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Rizzo
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastAnthony Rizzo says he's looking forward to being a part of the final All-Star Game for Derek Jeter, a childhood hero.
Rizzo did end up winning the Final Vote and securing a spot on the National League All-Star team so it was easy to look back and laugh. But in the heat of the moment Rizzo didn't like it that Reds reliever Aroldis Chapman threw two fastballs to the backstop when Nate Schierholtz was at the plate.

He seemed to be angered even further when Chapman was dismissive of the Cubs' protests and stepped toward the Reds dugout before the next half inning started, a gesture that caused the benches to empty.

A day later, Rizzo had no regrets, saying it was something he had to do.

"It was just an incident where you stick up for your teammates and that's all it is," Rizzo said. "I respect the Reds, I respect Chapman, I respect their players, but you just have to stick up for your teammates."

The entire incident might just be one more sign that Rizzo is becoming the complete player as he evolves into a leader.

"I think yesterday, quite frankly, I thought Anthony standing up in that moment yesterday during the ballgame showed that he's got a little bit of heart in what it takes to be a leader, and I think everybody gravitated to it," manager Rick Renteria said.

While Rizzo might work hard in the batting cage and on his defense, he isn't trying to force the issue when it comes to leadership, so that wasn't his intention when it came to the mostly verbal sparring with the Reds.

But the leadership skills of both Rizzo and Starlin Castro have been emerging all season, with both being rewarded with an All-Star spot.

"I don't think we'll ever look back; that's not the type of players we are," Rizzo said. "I don't know, we just want to get better and keep our heads down and when we are good just go with it and don't think about, 'Remember when we weren't good.' We just want to get the pieces and keep getting better."

He is obviously respected by his teammates. The cheer that broke out in the Cubs clubhouse Thursday when Renteria told the team Rizzo was an All-Star was as genuine as it was spontaneous. But it didn't just end with the cheer.

"I walked in after the game, a nice big win and (director of media relations) Peter Chase looked like his dog just died, so from that look I accepted that I didn't win the Final Vote," Rizzo said. "But we were happy with the win and Rick called a team meeting and he told me. It was unbelievable. All the guys rallied around me, poured some stuff on me and it was great."

While sitting in the same clubhouse with all his NL teammates will be nice, he will have his eye on one particular player from the opposing side.

"I'm looking forward to Derek Jeter, seeing him,' Rizzo said. "He's a childhood hero, basically. I can always say I was a part of his final All-Star Game. He's just the true definition of a professional. Everything he has done in his career, on the field and off the field as well, everything he has done and to be part of his last All-Star Game will be surreal. I will just soak it all in, be very wide-eyed and enjoy it all."

Anthony Rizzo taking cues from Joey Votto

June, 25, 2014
Jun 25
1:00
AM CT
By Sahadev Sharma
Special to ESPNChicago.com
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Anthony RizzoAP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastRizzo's homer on Tuesday was just the latest in what has been a great first half for the young Cub.
CHICAGO -- Anthony Rizzo’s young career has been filled with plenty of ups and downs.

When he was first called up to the big leagues while with the San Diego Padres, Rizzo struggled in a 49-game stint and put up a measly .523 OPS.

After getting traded to the Cubs the following offseason, Rizzo continued to tear up the minor leagues before arriving at Wrigley and delivering a strong .283/.342/.463 line with 15 home runs in a half season’s worth of at-bats. Rizzo followed it up with a rough 2013, in which many of his peripheral numbers improved (more on that later), but he was dragged down by a poor .233 batting average.

Clearly, that didn’t unnerve Rizzo. If anything, it made him work harder to prove he was still a young piece the Cubs could build around and prove he was same guy the front office felt was worth investing seven years and $41 million in when they extended him in May 2013.

So far in 2014, that hard work appears to be paying off, as Rizzo improved his All-Star-worthy line to .288/.404/.532 with a 3-for-4 night Tuesday and knocked out his 17th home run of the season in the Cubs' 7-3 victory over the Cincinnati Reds. Between his OBP and very strong 14.9 percent walk rate, people have started comparing Rizzo to perennial All-Star and stathead darling Joey Votto.

“It’s an honor,” Rizzo said when asked how he felt about the comparisons. “He’s an MVP, he’s a Gold Glover, he’s hit a lot of home runs and done a lot of good things in this game for a lot of years. So it’s definitely an honor.”

Although Votto admitted he hasn’t been able to watch Rizzo much, the Reds star said he believes the young Cub might be making the proper adjustments to lead to a long and productive career.

“I think he can do a lot of different, good things,” Votto said. “I think that he’s starting to spread the ball out over the ballpark, which is something that he was working on and is finally starting to see it executed in a game, which could benefit him in the long run.”

Votto and Rizzo trained together in the offseason in Florida with mutual friend Casey Kelly, a pitcher with the Padres. Both played down their relationship, with Votto deadpanning, “I have no friends in baseball,” as a teammate laughed in the background.

“It’s funny, one person says that me and Votto are best friends, and now everyone asks,” Rizzo said. “I was in Sarasota, [he and Kelly] had the same trainer, and we were just working out together. I got to know him a little bit better off the field, and it’s just like any other friendship.”

One of Votto’s most impressive traits is his ability to lay off pitches outside the zone. According to Fangraphs, Votto has only swung at 21.1 percent of the pitches he’s seen outside of the strike zone, good for eighth in all of baseball. Rizzo isn’t quite at that level, but his 26.6 percent is nothing to sneeze at, and it’s just another area in which he has steadily improved throughout his time with the Cubs.

Rizzo’s walk rate has gone from 7.3 percent to 11.0 to 14.9. His ISO (isolated power, which is slugging minus batting average, a great indication of a player’s true power) has jumped from .178 to .186 to .243. Up and down the line, it appears Rizzo has steadily improved as his career has gone along, with 2013 just a blip on the radar dragged down largely by his .258 BABIP.

But Votto accurately cautioned that looking at BABIP and assuming a player is having bad luck can lead one astray.

“The idea that your numbers will come around because your luck will turn around ... Well, are you being honest with yourself?” he said. “Whether you really have been unlucky, or is this a byproduct of too many ground balls, too many easy fly balls? I’m not really sure, but I do notice that some form of regression can be a bit of a lie if it’s not actually happening during a game. That’s where the scouts’ eyes come in. There needs to be a complement, a good relationship between both sides. When a scout says this guy’s just not driving the ball, how are you going to expect the luck to kick in if you’re swinging like [crap]?”

It’s a fair point by Votto, but it appears that, along with some smart adjustments and the natural development of a young player, Rizzo’s gotten the luck back on his side in 2014.

One thing that might've helped Rizzo is self-scouting -- watching video of himself and identifying issues that might be causing struggles at the plate. Votto is a fan of self-scouting but also knows it can lead to a player overthinking things and finding problems that really aren’t there.

“I think there’s a fine line,” he said. “You don’t want to get too critical of yourself because I think you can get in trouble with that. If a lot of players look at themselves on video, they’ll always find something to adjust or that doesn’t look quite right. So I think you have to go off of feel as well as what you think of yourself on video. So it’s kind of a balancing act.”

While the two seem to agree on a lot of things, Rizzo doesn’t take much satisfaction in his improved ability to take a free pass.

“I don’t really take pride in walking -- I don’t really want to walk,” he said. “I’d rather drive the ball in the gap. But if I get a free pass, I get a free pass. It just depends on the situation. It really comes down to me swinging at the right pitches, and if I don’t get them and I have to walk, then I’ll walk.”

Rizzo is on to something when he suggests his job is to look for pitches to drive, but if he doesn’t get one, a walk is the next best result. As Votto points out, their advanced approaches, which lead to high walk totals (Votto’s 18.1 percent walk rate leads the National League), mean they always provide value to their teams even if they’re not hitting.

“Yeah, I take pride in it ... because I think that style ages well, and it avoids slumps,” Votto said. “I have not been healthy this year on a consistent basis, and I’ve still had a fine year. I’m still providing value for the team, despite how I’ve felt physically. And I’m going to continue to do that because it’s one of the skills that I have. That’s the sort of skill that has a chance to stick with me the rest of my career.”

And it’s putting together a strong, productive career that’s the ultimate goal. Right now, Rizzo is just working on one full season.

“It’s very difficult, but Anthony’s doing very well,” Votto said. “The numbers point to a difference in performance and how, relative to his peers, he’s done better than most.”

But Rizzo knows he can still get better.

“Every day,” Rizzo said when asked if he picks the brains of those around him, specifically his hitting coaches and first base coach Eric Hinske. “One at-bat, I’ll get out of my approach, [and] they’ll calm me down, because I’ll be mad, obviously. Every day is a learning process. I think Miguel Cabrera is still learning as well.”

Miguel Cabrera. Maybe Rizzo should make plans to train with him next offseason.

Bryant, Baez named to Futures Game

June, 24, 2014
Jun 24
7:24
PM CT
By Sahadev Sharma
ESPNChicago.com
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Javier Baez and Kris BryantUSA Today Sports, Getty ImagesShortstop Javier Baez and third baseman Kris Bryant will represent the Cubs in Minneapolis.
CHICAGO –- The Futures Game rosters were announced Tuesday, and two Chicago Cubs prospects headline a loaded field of minor league talent. Third baseman Kris Bryant and shortstop Javier Baez, his teammate at Triple-A Iowa, earned the honor for the Cubs.

"That's got to be one of the biggest honors of my baseball career so far," Bryant said Wednesday on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN Chicago 1000. "Just to be considered a future star in this game is very humbling and I really can't wait to share that game with Javy and it should be a fun couple of days for us."

Bryant was promoted to Iowa this past week and has already managed to hit five home runs (with a robust .952 slugging percentage) in just six games. Bryant merited the call-up after putting up a .355/.458/.702 line with 22 home runs and 20 doubles in 68 games in Double-A. The flaws in the tall slugger’s game are his questionable defense at third and his high strikeout rate (he has 86 over two levels this season), but he more than makes up for those with his elite power.

Although the strikeouts will likely always be part of his game, many talent evaluators believe the combination of Bryant’s makeup, work ethic and advanced approach at the plate will mitigate those issues and help him adjust more quickly than the average talent as he makes his way to the big leagues.

After tearing through two levels this past season, Baez has struggled at Triple-A this season. He is hitting just .229 with only 18 walks, compared to 91 strikeouts. Even with the slow start, however, Baez, who might be the best power hitter in the minor leagues, does have 11 home runs and is slugging a respectable .424. After suffering a rough first 29 games, in which he posted a line of .145/.230/255 while striking out in 36.9 percent of his at-bats, Baez has slowly started to turn things around.

In his past 37 games, Baez is still striking out a lot (31.1 percent of the time), but when he has made contact, he has done damage, and he has delivered a strong .894 OPS with eight of his home runs in that span. Although it’s his elite bat speed and awe-inspiring home run power that should carry him to the majors, Baez continues to hone his aggressive approach. With Triple-A pitchers unwilling to throw him fastballs in the zone, the young shortstop is starting to learn to wait for his pitch, instead of chasing and trying to send every offering 500 feet.

Baez will play for the World team, while Bryant will represent Team USA. Both managed to find themselves in the top 10 of Keith Law’s midseason top 50 prospects list earlier this month.

Also considered likely to represent the Cubs were second baseman Arismendy Alcantara, who has recently seen some time in the outfield, and pitcher Kyle Hendricks. Both are having strong seasons at Triple-A and could make an appearance at Wrigley in the second half of the season (as could Baez). However, the star power provided by Baez and Bryant was clearly too much to pass up.

The Futures Game will be held Sunday, July 13, at Target Field in Minneapolis.

Cubs All-Stars? There's just one sure thing

May, 28, 2014
May 28
4:56
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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SAN FRANCISCO -- The Chicago Cubs are guaranteed an All-Star selection this season, and it's not just because the rules say so. Pitcher Jeff Samardzija should be a lock for the mid-summer classic -- whether he's still a Cub at the time is anyone's guess, of course.

[+] EnlargeStarlin Castro
AP Photo/Andrew A. NellesStarlin Castro might be the Cubs' best hope of landing a position player on the All-Star team.
"The way he's been pitching," manager Rick Renteria said before the Cubs played the Giants on Wednesday. "His ERA -- his record not withstanding -- his ERA has been phenomenal."

Initial results in fan voting for National League All-Stars was released on Wednesday and there isn't a Cub in the top 5 at any position. Pitchers are voted in by players and coaches so there's no fear that Samardzija's win/loss record will play a part in him being denied. He's 1-4 with a 1.68 ERA as the calendar turns to June.

"We have to look at everything in context," Renteria said. "He deserves a nod."

But does any other Cub? Renteria mentioned Anthony Rizzo as a possibility and threw Starlin Castro's name out there. Because of the competition at their respective positions, it might be Castro who sneaks in. He's already a two-time All-Star and has the numbers to merit a backup role.

Troy Tulowitzki is clearly having the best year at shortstop but after that the players are bunched. Castro is actually second in batting average and slugging percentage among those at that position, going into games on Wednesday. He ranks fifth in OPS. If he keeps it up he could make the team, which is announced in early July.

As for Rizzo, he faces a stiffer challenge. His on-base percentage is his best statistic as it ranks third (.394) in the league but his power numbers (8 homers) aren't impressive for a power position. It doesn't mean he isn't useful for the Cubs, but it also doesn't mean he's an All-Star. His OPS (8.29) ranks sixth of 11 first basemen who qualify. And players such as Freddie Freeman and Paul Goldschmidt have a better reputation behind leading vote-getter Adrian Gonzalez.

The better narrative when it comes to All-Star questions is which future Cubs will be playing in the minor league games? Kris Bryant is a lock for this year's Double-A contest and Javier Baez might need to continue his hot streak to make the Triple-A team. At the very least both could be home run derby candidates someday. But that day hasn't arrived yet so the Cubs could be resigned to yet another one all-star player season.

"I'm not a big accolades guy," Samardzija said of the chance to be an All-Star. "I'm not a big goals guy outside of 200-plus innings. I don't set many goals. Your game speaks for yourself."

And it's spoken volumes so far. Samardzija remains the one sure thing among players who should be working All-Star week. And Renteria will make sure it happens.

"I will lobby for that," he said.

No room for LaHair, this year or next

September, 17, 2012
9/17/12
11:21
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Bryan LaHair was expected to be trade bait in the offseason and Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum’s comments Monday did little to alter that perception.

LaHair started the year as the Cubs’ first baseman and earned an All-Star Game nod by midseason. But even before the All-Star Game was played, LaHair had been unseated at first base by Anthony Rizzo.

LaHair saw some action in right field until the early August arrival of Brett Jackson. Since then, his uniform has rarely needed to be washed since it hardly gets dirty.

Is there anything LaHair can do to help his playing-time prospects next year?

“I think for his sake he needs to go play winter ball again and get those at-bats he missed out on and be ready for spring training just like he was this year,” Sveum said.

But won’t it still be hard for him to find playing time?

“Yeah, that goes unsaid really,” Sveum said. “Rizzo is healthy and playing time will be tough to find.”

LaHair’s All-Star appearance was one of baseball’s better stories at the break. He figures to be elsewhere next year with another chance to be a great story if he is playing in the All-Star Game again.

Experience the reward for Chicago's Stars

July, 10, 2012
7/10/12
11:58
PM CT
Levine By Bruce Levine
ESPNChicago.com
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- This combined tale of one city’s teams in the 83rd All-Star Game is highlighted by first-time appearances from Chicago White Sox pitcher Chris Sale and Chicago Cubs outfielder/first baseman Bryan LaHair.

Although none of the six Chicago All-Stars factored in Tuesday’s final outcome, an 8-0 National League victory, the experience was unforgettable for the two newcomers.

“It was awesome and more than I could have even thought [it would be],” said Sale, who pitched a scoreless sixth inning, allowing two hits and striking out David Freese to end his work day.

[+] EnlargeChris Sale
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesChris Sale pitched a scoreless inning, allowing two hits and striking out one.
“I loved the whole thing, packed crowd, it was nuts,” Sale said.

LaHair entered the game in the seventh inning as a defensive replacement for Freese. The 29-year-old journeyman seemed to enjoy every moment he had on the field.

“It was awesome because the team came out banging and we had a dugout that was excited from the first inning on,” LaHair said.

The night was highlighted for LaHair when he batted against Fernando Rodney in the ninth inning.

“I tried to ambush his fastball but it didn’t work for me,” LaHair said of his groundout to shortstop. “I put it in play but I did not get enough barrel on it.”

Both Chicago players walked away from the game with an added feeling that they belong with the best.

“I leave with even more confidence,” LaHair said. “I had a good talk with Chipper Jones and took a little advice, hopefully use that to my advantage in the second half.”


Jones was a factor in Sale’s experience as well. The Sox starter had to step off the mound when the Atlanta Braves superstar was announced to a standing ovation by the Kansas City crowd.

“It was a special moment for him and the player he has been,” Sale said. “He has been a class act over his career. It’s not too often I like giving up hits but that one is a little easier to handle.”

Jones apparently fired up the entire National League squad with a short speech to the team before they took the field.

“Chipper said this is his last game and he didn’t come here to lose,” said Starlin Castro, who flew out to centerfield in his only at-bat. “That got us all going in this clubhouse.”

LaHair, Castro see All-Star action

July, 10, 2012
7/10/12
9:40
PM CT
By ESPNChicago.com
ESPNChicago.com
Bryan LaHair played in his first All-Star Game on Tuesday night in Kansas City, taking the field at first base in the bottom of the seventh.

Starlin Castro entered the game as a pinch hitter in the top of the eighth, taking over for Rafael Furcal, who was 1-for-3 with a triple. Castro flied out to centerfield.

LaHair batted in the ninth, grounding out to shortstop on the first pitch.

LaHair chose Cubs chance over Japan

July, 10, 2012
7/10/12
10:05
AM CT
Levine By Bruce Levine
ESPNChicago.com
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Bryan LaHair's long road to Tuesday’s All-Star Game would have taken a detour East if not for an intervention by Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein last winter.

[+] EnlargeBryan LaHair
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonBryan LaHair got the answer he wanted from Theo Epstein in an offseason conversation and turned down offers from Japanese teams.
“I was on my way to play in Japan this year,” said LaHair, who will play in his first All-Star Game in his first full major league season at age 29. “Theo basically eliminated me going to Japan by his conviction that I had a place in their plans.”

After nine seasons trying to become a major league starter, LaHair and his family had a big decision to make over the winter. He was coming off a monster offensive season at Triple-A Iowa, leading the Pacific Coast League in home runs (38) and RBIs (109) en route to being named the league MVP. LaHair and his agent were listening to offers from six Japanese teams.

“My agent and I decided that when we talked to Theo if there was any doubt in his mind or any hesitation that I would be a part of it we were going to take an offer from Japan,” LaHair said. “(Theo) told us he was excited about me getting an opportunity and showing I could play for the Cubs every day so we were convinced.”

The decision paid off on the field but was costly financially for LaHair. According to a scout who works in the United States for one of the teams interested in LaHair at the time, the former journeyman minor leaguer turned down a two-year deal that would have paid between $2.8 million and $3 million in Japan. LaHair is making the major league minimum of $500,000 with the Cubs in 2012.

“My first obligation is to my family so I had to think hard about playing in Japan, but when I heard Theo say I would have a real chance to be a starter we decided to stay,” LaHair said. “I am happy I did and now look where I am at.”

LaHair knows that his near future is in the outfield for the Cubs as a platoon player against right-handed pitching now that top prospect Anthony Rizzo has taken over at first base. There is also a chance LaHair will get traded to a contender in need of a left-handed power bat for the stretch run.

“I have heard both, but until I hear I am being traded I will concentrate on getting better and enjoy being a Chicago Cub,” he said.

Castro plans to be perennial All-Star

July, 9, 2012
7/09/12
9:29
PM CT
Levine By Bruce Levine
ESPNChicago.com
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro is thrilled to be back as a National League All-Star for the second straight season.

“I am much more comfortable this year because my English is much better and I can talk to everybody without help,” said the 22-year-old Dominican infielder. “Last year I was kind of lost and didn’t know where I was going. Now I have more experience at these things. I will take [teammate and fellow All-Star Bryan] LaHair with me everywhere I go.”

[+] EnlargeStarlin Castro
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesStarlin Castro is ready for his second consecutive All-Star appearance.
Castro, a career .300 hitter, is setting lofty goals for himself as his big league career evolves.

“I look at what Derek Jeter has done and it is crazy,” Castro said. “That is what I want to be like, I want to be a 13-time All-Star. That is a goal.”

In his first All-Star game, Castro set a record with two stolen bases in one inning.

“This year all my family will be here [at the All-Star Game] to see me, so I want to do something special again, Castro said. “I don’t know what it will be, but this is a special game so I want to do something different. We will see. “

Castro also is looking forward to sharing his 2012 All-Star experience with his Cubs teammate.

“How do you stay in the minor leagues with so much talent?” Castro said. “I don’t understand it, but Bryan is here and people know who he is now. I feel very happy for him.”

After struggling all season, the Cubs won nine of their last 13 going into the break and Castro gives a lot of the credit to new teammate Anthony Rizzo.

“Now I have another good hitter behind me so I will get better pitches to hit,” Castro said. “He is a good guy, a good teammate and a very good first baseman. With him in the lineup we have been a better team, you can see it.”

NL teammates happy for LaHair

July, 9, 2012
7/09/12
8:20
PM CT
Levine By Bruce Levine
ESPNChicago.com
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The rags-to-riches story of a ball player who spends a lifetime in the minors and other obscure baseball outposts before making it to the major leagues has already been the subject of numerous books and movies. The Chicago Cubs have their own in-the-flesh version of fictional player Roy Hobbs in Bryan LaHair.

The 29-year-old first baseman-outfielder made his first All-Star team only three months after securing an opening day job in the major leagues for the first time in 10 professional seasons.

[+] EnlargeBryan LaHair
H. Darr Beiser/US PresswireBryan LaHair is on the NL All-Star team in his first full year as a big leaguer.
The National League teammates who greeted LaHair in Kansas City love that he was able to overcome scouting reports and down seasons to join the elite at the 83rd All-Star Game.

“That is an extremely impressive thing to do, to have perseverance like that,” 2011 NL MVP Ryan Braun said. “This is a really difficult game that we play, with a lot of adversity and a lot of failure. For Bryan to continue to fight like that and continue to work through countless minor league seasons had to be extremely frustrating. It is great to see him succeed the way he has and deservedly become an All-Star. His story is pretty special.”

LaHair will definitely get a chance to play in the Midsummer classic and his NL teammates are eager to see it.

“I always heard Bryan LaHair’s name coming through the minor leagues myself,” 2010 NL MVP Joey Votto said. “He always put up consistent numbers and now to have received a chance from the Cubs, which is a difficult market to break into, is very impressive. Most guys get the cup of coffee in the majors and then get sent back. Bryan seized the moment and has done great, culminating with his All Star selection.

“I hope he has a long and great career.”

Votto’s Reds teammate and fellow All-Star Jay Bruce is also a fan.

“It took all those years for him to get to the big leagues, so to finally have success here and now share this All-Star experience with the best players in the game is something he will never forget,” Bruce said. “He definitely earned it and I am very excited for him because he was able to mentally stay strong and above negative reviews. This is something both he and Chicago Cub fans should be proud of.”

Cubs, Sox prospects make Futures impact

July, 9, 2012
7/09/12
10:24
AM CT
Levine By Bruce Levine
ESPNChicago.com
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HaH. Darr Beiser/US PresswireCubs prospect Jae-Hoon Ha had two hits in the Futures Game, including a home run.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox were represented well in the All-Star Futures Game on Sunday.

Infielder Carlos Sanchez of the White Sox and Cubs center fielder Jae-Hoon Ha had big offensive days playing for the World team in the annual event that showcases the top young players in the minor leagues. Sanchez, a 20-year-old switch-hitter playing at Single-A Winston-Salem, had a double and a run scored in two at-bats. Ha was 2-for-2 with an opposite field home run.

[+] EnlargeCarlos Sanchez
Ron Vesely/Getty ImagesWhite Sox prospect Carlos Sanchez, a switch-hitting infielder for Double-A Winston-Salem, had a double and a run scored on Sunday.
“I always look to drive the ball to right field,” said Ha, whose World team lost to the U.S. 17-5. “He threw the ball right in my zone.”

Ha is considered the best outfielder in the Cubs system, according to some team officials. He is off to a slow start at Double-A Tennessee, batting .251 with two home runs and 20 RBIs.

“They tell me work hard don’t be lazy, and I will get there someday,” Ha said.

Sanchez, who is batting .327 with a .799 OPS, is listening to what minor league director Buddy Bell has to say. And he knows that 10 rookies were on the Sox roster in the first half of the season.

“Buddy tells me to work hard and pay attention to the little things,” Sanchez said through translator Sylvia Perez. “Anything can happen and hopefully at some point if they are giving a chance to all those rookies, why not me?”

LaHair could get NL starting nod at first

July, 3, 2012
7/03/12
12:48
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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ATLANTA –Bryan LaHair’s All-Star experience could get even more memorable with the possibility that he could be the National League starter at first base for next Tuesday’s game.

The Cincinnati Reds’ Joey Votto, who was voted by both fans and players to be the NL starter at first base, is experiencing knee issues that have kept him out of the last two games.

Votto is considering the option of taking a pass on the All-Star game to make sure he is rested and healthy for the second half.

The LaHair All-Star story keeps getting more fascinating and not just because he spent nine seasons in the minor leagues while finally getting the chance to be an everyday player at age 29.

The reality is that LaHair could start at first base on a team of the NL’s best players and he doesn’t even start at first on his own team anymore. He was moved to the outfield last week after Anthony Rizzo was called up to the major leagues.

By rule, LaHair would get the All-Star Game stating honor if Votto takes a pass because he finished second in the players’ vote, but that doesn’t matter since he’s the only other first baseman on the NL roster at this point.

LaHair is batting .284 with 13 home runs and 28 RBIs. His .521 slugging percentage would be 11th best in the National League, although technically he doesn’t qualify among NL leaders because he doesn’t have enough at-bats.
LaHair
Jake Roth/US Presswire
Cubs first baseman Bryan LaHair joins Carmen, Jurko and Harry to discuss his surprise All-Star selection.

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CHICAGO -- It seems that everybody was certain Starlin Castro had made the National League All-Star team except for Starlin Castro.

As Sunday morning turned to afternoon, the Cubs shortstop had lost hope. Apparently last season former manager Mike Quade told Castro he had made it on the morning of selection day. So as Castro took batting practice Sunday, he figured it wasn’t going to happen.

“It’s different because this year I’m a little bit nervous because he told me late,” Castro said. “Last year when I came here in the morning he tell me right away. But today I go to practice and say, ‘Why nobody say anything to me? I don’t go or what?’ Then Dale [Sveum] did the meeting and told me. I said, ‘OK, deep breath.’ "

The Cubs manager elected to tell the team in group-meeting fashion before Sunday’s series finale against the Houston Astros. Castro was the slam dunk selection, but then came the surprise when Sveum announced Bryan LaHair had made it into the All-Star Game as well.

“I just couldn't stop staring at the [information] package, I was kinda like in awe,” LaHair said. “It's like another dream that came true for me.”

Sveum was also holding a third information pack, which Castro was hoping would go to Alfonso Soriano. Instead it went to first-base coach Dave McKay, who earned the honor for being on the coaching staff of the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals last season.

It still wasn’t a bad All-Star haul for the Cubs, who started the day with the worst winning percentage in baseball.

For Castro it’s his second honor, while LaHair will obviously be making his first All-Star Game appearance.

“It was a dream as a little boy to be an All-Star,” said the 29-year-old LaHair, who had been somewhat of a minor-league journeyman before this season. “But to think that it was going to happen this fast or at all, it's really tough to get into that game. I'm just really thankful for the players to vote me in.”

Indications are that LaHair finished second in the players’ vote among National League first baseman, while Castro won the players’ vote at shortstop.

“[Cubs players] were excited for me,” LaHair said. “They all told me before the votes were counted and stuff they all voted for me, so they all congratulated me, gave me a hug, shook my hand, but it was a great feeling.

“It's just an incredible feeling, really. I'm so thankful for those guys and I can't thank them enough. It's just an incredible opportunity for me.”

Making things easier for LaHair is the fact that Castro can show him around. Castro’s All-Star Game debut was last year and said he was a late arrival at the players’ hotel and didn’t know what he was expected to do or where he was supposed to go.

“Yeah, I will take him with me,” Castro promised.

Like LaHair, Castro said appearing in an All-Star Game is a dream come true from his youth.

“It’s impressive for me, big time, because it’s unbelievable,” Castro said. “As a little kid I saw a lot of baseball games, a lot of good players that make All-Star Games and I say ‘Oh my gosh, it’s unbelievable. I want to be one day in there.’ Now it’s my second one but it’s not stopping here. I will keep working hard to make some more.”

Soriano comes up short of All-Star bid

July, 1, 2012
7/01/12
6:36
PM CT
Levine By Bruce Levine
ESPNChicago.com
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Although Alfonso Soriano has seven All-Star games under his belt, making the 2012 squad would have been a feather in his Chicago Cubs cap.

The Cubs will be represented on the National League team by shortstop Starlin Castro and first-time All-Star Bryan LaHair, however Soriano is the player who has carried the RBI and home run load for the club this season.

[+] EnlargeAlfonso Soriano
Jerry Lai/US PresswireCubs left fielder Alfonso Soriano hit eight home runs in June.
“I thought he would make it,” Castro said after the Cubs’ 3-0 win over the Houston Astros on Sunday. “He played very good for us. I thought three would make the team but he didn’t make it.”

The 36-year-old veteran outfielder has been singled out by manager Dale Sveum as an emotional leader on his ballclub.

“The outfielders that are going obviously deserve it,” Sveum said. “What Soriano has done for us going out there every day on those [sore] legs and leading the major leagues in home runs since May 15th is a tribute to a wonderful guy. You just wish that someone would appreciate him once and awhile.”

Soriano will go back home to the Dominican Republic and rest for four days during the All-Star break. You could tell, however, that he was disappointed not making the team.

“I am for happy for Castro and LaHair making the All-Star team. They worked very hard for it,” Soriano said. “There are a lot of good left fielders in the National League and those left fielders all had good numbers.”

Soriano, who got the day off on Sunday, had eight home runs in June and seven in May after going six weeks without a home run to begin the season.

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TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Starlin Castro
BA HR RBI R
.278 11 52 43
OTHER LEADERS
HRA. Rizzo 20
RBIS. Castro 52
RA. Rizzo 61
OPSA. Rizzo .886
WJ. Hammel 8
ERAJ. Samardzija 2.83
SOJ. Hammel 104