Chicago Cubs: Arismendy Alcantara

Second half preview: Baez's time nearing?

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
9:36
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
The Chicago Cubs' second half begins in Phoenix on Friday night with two questions in mind: How many more prospects will make it to the major leagues this season, and who will grab starting jobs heading into 2015?

The addition of Arismendy Alcantara before the All-Star break has already given the baseball world a taste of what the Cubs have on the farm.

[+] EnlargeBaez
Jerry Lai/USA TODAY SportsJavier Baez played second base Thursday at Triple-A Iowa for the first time this season, a sign that a call-up could be on the horizon.
Additionally, pitchers Dallas Beeler, who could pitch Tuesday at Wrigley Field on regular rest if needed, Kyle Hendricks and Tsuyoshi Wada will all get more opportunities, as should newly acquired righty Dan Straily.

And 2011 first-round pick Javier Baez could be prepping for a second-half promotion, as well, after playing his first game at second base for Triple-A Iowa on Thursday. The puzzle is starting to take shape for the Cubs, although it's far from complete. But at least the pieces are becoming available to manager Rick Renteria as he tries to incorporate the newcomers.

The significance of Baez playing second Thursday -- he also homered against Round Rock -- shouldn't be overlooked. Junior Lake played six games in the outfield last season before being called up, while Alcantara played 11 this year.

A move from shortstop to second for Baez signifies that the Cubs believe his offense has improved enough this year to give him another challenge. They said long ago Baez would have to play somewhere other than shortstop when called up from the minors, considering they employ a three-time All-Star at that position in Starlin Castro.

If and when Baez makes it to the majors, it means Alcantara might move to center field full-time. That's the smart decision, considering the Cubs are light on major league-ready outfielders while they have waves of infielders getting closer to the big leagues.

Unless internal All-Star break meetings have changed their minds, the Cubs aren't bringing up ESPN.com's No. 1 prospect Kris Bryant this season. Bryant hit his minor league-leading 32nd home run Thursday, but the Cubs would potentially put him a year closer to free agency if they brought him up this season instead of waiting until early 2015.

The Cubs might need to do some roster maneuvering moving forward in order to fit in some newbies, but that shouldn't be a problem with the trade deadline approaching and two struggling players -- Lake (.218/.245/.402) and Mike Olt (.144/.230/.367) -- eligible to be sent to the minors. Any 40-man roster shuffling won't be a big issue, considering the Cubs have some dead weight that could be moved off there, as well.

[+] EnlargeArismendy Alcantara
AP Photo/Al BehrmanArismendy Alcantara could see a lot more time in center field if Javier Baez is called up to play second.
If the Cubs finish the season with Alcantara playing every day in center field and Baez at second, then the second half might be deemed a success based on that alone. Any emergence on the mound of a starting pitcher would be a pleasant surprise, as well. Beeler and Hendricks have a chance to turn the tables on their scouting reports and prospect rankings. Neither is thought of as a top-of-the-rotation guy -- nor necessarily a lock for a starting spot. But that doesn't mean it can't happen. Hendricks is still the most intriguing of the candidates, but he'll need time through the league before a true assessment can be made.

If things realistically pan out, by May 2015, Bryant could be at third base, Castro at shortstop, Baez at second and Anthony Rizzo at first. Alcantara would be manning center field, while the corner outfield spots would be open for business with Lake possibly holding one for Jorge Soler or someone else. Hendricks, Beeler or Straily could be in the rotation. Olt simply might be the odd man out considering his dismal season at the plate.

In the meantime, the Cubs still have some housecleaning to do. Outfielders Nate Schierholtz or Justin Ruggiano could be moved before too long, as will undoubtedly one of the Cubs' lefty relievers, James Russell or Wesley Wright.

But those are small storylines compared with the successes and failures of the prospects. The Cubs' win-loss record won't be a day-to-day headline, but how they achieve it -- and with whom -- certainly will be. That's what this second half is all about.

Hold the ovation for Cubs on lauded system

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
11:59
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
Kris BryantDennis Hubbard/Four Seam Images/AP ImagesKris Bryant now tops Keith Law's prospect rankings, one of three Cubs in his top 10.
CHICAGO – The midseason prospect rankings by ESPN.com's Keith Law were released on Thursday and the Chicago Cubs have three of the top eight prospects in the game, including the top-ranked player in third baseman Kris Bryant.

Bryant went from No. 15 in the preseason to No. 1 thanks to a 31-homer, 81-RBI first half. Joining him in the top 10 are Double-A newcomer Addison Russell (No. 4), acquired from the Oakland Athletics in the Jeff Samardzija trade, and Triple-A shortstop Javier Baez (No. 8). Also in the top 50 is outfielder Jorge Soler (No. 28). Single-A centerfielder Albert Almora dropped out of the top 50 after a slow start to 2014.

While Bryant, 22, has torn up minor league pitching this season, the Cubs don't believe he'll make it to the big leagues this year.

[+] EnlargeAddison Russell
AP Photo/Morry GashShortstop Addison Russell is fourth on Keith Law's prospect rankings.
"I don't foresee a scenario where he would be up this year," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said after Bryant was promoted to Triple-A. "I don't think it's the right thing to do in someone's first full professional season, barring extraordinary circumstances, both in terms of the player and what's going on with the big league team."

Not surprisingly, Bryant's agent, Scott Boras, didn't necessarily agree with that assessment.

"Why not?" Boras told the Chicago Tribune over the All-Star break. "Bring him up in September, let him get his feet wet, get that out of the way, and let him go hit."

It's a nice thought, but it would mean Bryant would be eligible for free agency sooner than if he stayed in the minors until the middle of April next year. With Boras as his agent it might be the prudent thing to do. If Bryant comes up in September and then starts 2015 with the Cubs he'll be a free agent after 2020. If the Cubs wait a couple weeks into next April before calling him up -- due to service time rules -- he wouldn't be a free agent until after 2021. In this case that difference could entail a lot of money. It's exactly how the Houston Astros dealt with prized outfielder prospect George Springer earlier this season.

In the meantime the Cubs will have to settle for being one of the top farm systems in the game. Their scouting of both the amateur players they drafted and young, professional players they've acquired via trades is admirable, at least on paper. The development of those players is seemingly going well. The current front office didn't sign Arismendy Alcantara or draft Baez, for example, but they are overseeing their final stages of development. So far so good, not withstanding Baez's rough first half.

But the Cubs should only be getting a nice golf clap for their rebuilt farm system, not necessarily a standing ovation just yet. After all, how difficult is it to draft high every year and get talent? Or trade pitchers such as Samardzija, Jason Hammel, Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm and receive young talent in return? Of course, you don't just pick those prospects out of a hat, but when your strategy is to tank and sell, sell, sell, it's a little easier than navigating through a normal season.

The Cubs will get that standing ovation when the prospects start to perform at the major league level. One has shown promise -- Alcantara made the most of his two-day tryout last week and is staying with the Cubs for now. The good news is, the days of simply acquiring young talent is coming to an end. Epstein said as much right after dealing Samardzija when he expressed hope that 2014 would be the last year the Cubs were obvious sellers.

Even though no one officially has ranked the Cubs' farm system the best in baseball just yet, they're in the team photo. How much higher can they go and what's the point if it doesn't start to translate at the major league level? It might not be Bryant's time just yet but between starting pitchers and some other prospects -- perhaps Baez -- the Cubs should be moving their top farm players to the majors.

The best news for fans might come when the Cubs' farm system takes a fall in the rankings because the good prospects are actually playing in the majors. That's when the job of rebuilding will be complete. Winning would be next.

First-half positives: The kids can play

July, 14, 2014
Jul 14
10:02
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
Kris BryantElsa/Getty ImagesCubs top prospect Kris Bryant has 31 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A this season.
CHICAGO -- As the first half of the Chicago Cubs' season comes to an end, it might go down as the most positive of the three under president of baseball operations Theo Epstein. And that’s with a 40-54 record. The positives extend from the majors down to Triple-A. Here are five of them -- ranked in order -- with five negatives coming on Tuesday:

1. Kris Bryant



A minor leaguer is at the top of the list because Bryant hasn’t slowed down since he was drafted No. 2 overall last season. And he’s vaulted to the top of the Cubs' prospect standings with 31 home runs and 81 RBIs at the break. He has 107 combined strikeouts in Double-A and Triple-A, but that’s meaningless as he’s hit a combined .346.

“You have to give something to get something,” Bryant said recently of striking out.

The Cubs will take those totals -- or anything close to it -- once he gets to the majors. As sure things go, and there are few if any in baseball, he comes the closest. And his pattern has been the same since college: a small period of struggles followed by adjustments followed by a streak that hasn’t stopped. Bryant may not make it to Wrigley Field this year, but he’ll be there soon enough.

With right-handed power a premium in baseball these days, Bryant stands as a potential franchise-changing player.

[+] EnlargeJake Arrieta
AP Photo/Charles KrupaJake Arrieta has raised his level and come close to a no-hitter and perfect game already this season.

2. Jake Arrieta


While many believed Arrieta had the stuff of an ace or at least a No. 2 pitcher, there seemed to be a need for some gradual advancement. He missed all of spring training because of a sore shoulder that set him back further and then came out of the gate in May looking just OK. He took off after a few starts and hasn't looked back, flirting with no-hitters and perfect games. His stuff has been insanely good and hard to hit. He would be third in the majors in ERA (1.95) if he qualified, behind Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright. That's some pretty good company. He'll still need to perform throughout the second half to stamp himself as an elite hurler, but right now Arrieta is proving his head has caught up to his arm.

3. The Bullpen



Yes, this ranks higher than Starlin Castro or Anthony Rizzo because, if we take a step back, that duo's resurgence isn’t all that surprising. One was a two-time All-Star before this season and the other had only to raise his batting average from last year to advance his game. But the bullpen has been a sore spot since the day Epstein & Co. arrived on the scene. Their mistakes with Carlos Marmol and Jose Veras will be long forgotten if the young arms they employ now take the proper steps. No one, and I mean no one, could have predicted Neil Ramirez as a lockdown setup man (1.08 ERA, 3 saves) and Hector Rondon accumulating 11 saves in the first half. And remember, one was acquired in the Rule 5 draft (Rondon) and the other (Ramirez) was a player to be named later in the Matt Garza deal. There are no guarantees with the bullpen from one year to the next, but these arms have a chance of sticking around for a while and growing together.

4. Starlin Castro/Anthony Rizzo



There were many doubters of both players, but Rizzo's and Castro's All-Star selections tell the story of their first half. They both deserve it, especially in putting up numbers with very little help around them in the lineup. It’s not about protection, it’s about pitching stress. Opponents felt very little of it until Rizzo and Castro came up in the lineup, and then they could “relax” again for another inning or two. When they get more dangerous hitters around them -- think Arismendy Alcantara and Kris Bryant -- their numbers might go up even more. Rizzo and Castro were roundly criticized and had major issues at the plate last season and both responded with first halves that have them at Tuesday's game in Minnesota instead of vacationing.

5. Arismendy Alcantara


[+] EnlargeArismendy Alcantara
AP Photo/Al BehrmanArismendy Alcantara is off to an impressive start with the Cubs.
Five games hardly makes a career -- think back to Junior Lake last season -- but there is definitely something about Alcantara that should excite the most pessimistic Cubs fan. Unlike Lake, Alcantara has been moving up in the prospect rankings for several years. There are many in the game who have scouted him and more than liked what they’ve seen. His switch-hitting ability, his defensive prowess in the infield and outfield, his surprising power for his size and his speed put him in a great position to succeed. That’s not to mention his baseball instincts, which those who played with him at Triple-A Iowa rave about. More than anything, he represents the future of the Cubs. Not some ambiguous idea of rebuilding but an actual product of the farm system who’s shown a lot of talent. He was an extra-base machine in Iowa this year and already has five extra-base hits in five games in the majors. Now he needs to make a major league career out of it and the Cubs might have found their leadoff man of the future.

Honorable mention: Wrigley Renovations



Before Sunday’s first-half finale, Rizzo discussed with reporters the need for an improved clubhouse, as all the new amenities, he claims, will help the players prepare for games. Rizzo should finally get his wish as renovations have been approved by the city and construction is getting ready to begin. The Cubs may have some tough days ahead with rooftop owners, but at least the hurdles of starting have been overcome and Rizzo should get his new clubhouse in due time.

Baez homers, prospects have their day

July, 13, 2014
Jul 13
11:22
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
Chicago Cubs' prospects made noise all over the country on Sunday as Triple-A Iowa shortstop Javier Baez led the way with a two-run home run in the Futures Game in Minnesota where the major league All-Star Game will be played on Tuesday.

Baez went deep in the sixth inning, but Texas Rangers Double-A prospect Joey Gallo won MVP honors with his home run to help the U.S team to a 3-2 win over the World squad. Gallo is tied for the minor-league lead in home runs (31) with Cubs prospect Kris Bryant. Bryant went 0-for-3 in the Futures Game with two strikeouts.

Baez and Bryant are off until their Iowa Cubs season resumes after the Triple-A All-Star game on Wednesday. Bryant already played in the Double-A All-Star game last month. Baez didn't make the team after a slow start to his season. He has picked up the pace in recent weeks finishing the first half on a 10-game hitting streak, though he has exactly 10 hits in those 10 games. Baez is batting .240 with 14 home runs and 47 RBIs for the season.

Soler breaks out
Double-A outfielder Jorge Soler is finally healthy and on a rampage since returning to Tennessee's lineup following a long rehab for hamstring issues. He was 3-for-5 with two home runs Sunday, and in seven games since returning he's 12-for-23 (.521) with five home runs. If Soler can stay healthy, he'll probably finish the year in Double-A with a chance to make it to Triple-A at the start of next season. Health is his main concern right now.

Kane County
Single-A Kane County continued a monstrous season by sweeping a doubleheader over Beloit on Sunday and improving to 62-31. This year's first-round pick, Kyle Schwarber, was 3-for-6 on the day raising his batting average to .380. Highly regarded starter Jen-Ho Tseng threw a complete game (seven innings) to improve to 4-0 while lowering his ERA to 2.74. He struck seven without giving up a walk.

Alcantara homers
And just to put the icing on the cake, newly recalled Cubs infielder/outfielder Arismendy Alcantara hit his first major league home run in the Cubs' 10-7 loss to the Atlanta Braves at Wrigley Field. Alcantara has five extra-base hits in five games for the Cubs since being promoted from Triple-A on Wednesday. Alcantara will stay with the Cubs through the week missing the Triple-A All-Star game.

Rapid Reaction: Braves 10, Cubs 7

July, 13, 2014
Jul 13
4:57
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive


CHICAGO -- The Cubs lost 10-7 to the Atlanta Braves on Sunday in the first-half finale. Here’s a quick look at the game.

How it happened: Like Edwin Jackson on Saturday, Travis Wood didn’t fool the Braves much as they scored seven times in the first three innings. Gerald Laird's two-run double in the second got the Braves rolling but Chris Johnson's third home run in two days, a three-run shot in the third, put the game away. Arismendy Alcantara hit his first career home run in the sixth but the Braves put up three more in the seventh with a bases-loaded, three-run double by Tommy La Stella. Chris Coghlan countered with a two-run home run in the seventh and then a bases loaded walk to Ryan Sweeney and a two-run double by John Baker in the eighth brought the Cubs within three, but that’s as close as they would come. Wood lasted six innings, giving up seven runs on seven hits and three walks.

What it means:
Alcantara had two more extra base-hits to give him five in five games. He took an 0-2 pitch out to right and the Cubs had done little off Braves starter Julio Teheran to that point. His power is astonishing given his size as Alcantara has earned every right to remain in the major leagues after the All-Star break. This could be the beginning of a special career for the Cubs.

Coghlan has also earned more playing time as he finished the first half as hot as anyone in the league. The former Rookie of the Year has raised his batting average from .204 on June 30 to .277 at the All-Star break. Without other outfield prospects pushing him, Coghlan should get a lot of playing time in the second half.

Wood, who in 2013 was an All-Star, finished this year's first half with an ERA a tick under 5.00 (4.96). He’s simply leaving too many balls over the plate and getting hammered for it. Wood and Jackson need turnaround second halves as the Cubs' starting staff has been thinned by the trade of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.

First half over: The Cubs hit the All-Star break with a 40-54 record after going 42-51 last year in the first half. Anthony Rizzo leads them in home runs with 20 while Starlin Castro has 52 RBIs while batting mostly cleanup.

What’s next: Castro and Rizzo leave for Tuesday's All-Star Game while the rest of the team is off until Friday when they begin the second half in Arizona. Before Sunday’s game manager Rick Renteria set his rotation for that series against the Diamondbacks with Jackson, Wood and Jake Arrieta starting over the weekend.

Cubs announce top of second-half rotation

July, 13, 2014
Jul 13
1:12
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- At least one thing is known about the Chicago Cubs for the start of the second half of the season next Friday in Arizona. Edwin Jackson, Travis Wood and Jake Arrieta will start the three games against the Diamondbacks before the Cubs come home for the start of a 10-game home stand. Manager Rick Renteria announced as much on Sunday.

After that, it’s anyone’s guess who pitches and who’s in the field.

“Those are still pending,” Renteria said before Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Braves. “We still have to have conversations.”

Those conversations will undoubtedly take place during the All-Star break, but it’s not believed the Cubs will settle on one pitcher right away to take over in the rotation for the departed Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel -- other than possibly Dan Straily. Straily, who was acquired from Oakland in the deal, has been a major leaguer in the past but has struggled at times this season. In two starts at Triple-A Iowa since the trade he’s 0-1 with a 4.00 ERA. He’s given up 11 hits and five walks in nine innings pitched. He’s had issues with his fastball command -- which is one way to keep yourself in the minors -- but it’s believed Straily will get his chances with the Cubs in the second half.

“There are more opportunities before us,” Renteria said.

Those other opportunities will come in the form of Kyle Hendricks, Dallas Beeler and Tsuyoshi Wada. The three pitchers all made their major league debuts over the past few weeks and, depending on how the Cubs want to try them out the rest of the season, they all should see the mound again for the major league team. Beeler and Hendricks are the younger prospects while Wada, 33, is the older veteran getting his first chance since coming over from Japan several years ago and undergoing Tommy John surgery.

It would probably benefit Hendricks, in particular, to make his way through the league for a couple of months and learn some lineups. His style is to pitch -- not just throw -- and to navigate lineups with his softer pitching means learning those lineups. If he learns hitters now, he won’t have to as much next season, if indeed he’ll be in the rotation.

In the field, only Arismendy Alcantara is expected to get a real look in the second half, at least until September. The Cubs haven’t announced that he’ll be back with them after the All-Star break, but even if he heads back to Triple-A he’ll be recalled sooner rather than later. It would be a surprise if the Cubs stood pat with the trade deadline approaching. They’ve done their blockbuster deal, but just one minor trade would probably open up a roster spot or two for Alcantara. As is, he might stay anyway. The Cubs have some options to alter their roster, there’s no reason they shouldn't take advantage of that.

As Renteria said, the second half is all about opportunities. Who will seize them?

An easy decision: Alcantara should stay

July, 12, 2014
Jul 12
7:58
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive

CHICAGO -- The best new storyline to a dismal Chicago Cubs season showed no signs of slowing down on Saturday in the team’s 11-6 loss to the Atlanta Braves. Arismendy Alcantara played a flawless center field -- just his 12th time playing there this season and first in the big leagues -- while collecting two more hits and scoring two runs.

"He looked very smooth," manager Rick Renteria said after the game about Alcantara’s defense. "He looked exactly the way he did [shagging fly balls] in batting practice the other day. He’s obviously an athlete, has a feel, looks like his reaction and routes were good. And he has a good arm."

[+] EnlargeArismendy Alcantara
Dennis Wierzbicki/USA TODAY SportsAlcantara's satisfactory play in center field is part of what must give the Cubs pause about shuttling him back to the minors.
Alcantara went to his left and his right with ease while a gusting wind out to center kept things interesting. He made four putouts on the afternoon, begging the question which position he would like to play.

"It doesn’t matter," Alcantara said. "I just want to be in the lineup that day. I just want to play the game."

Undoubtedly, he would be more comfortable in the infield, where he’s played shortstop and second base in the minors. Renteria wouldn’t publicly commit to Alcantara starting on Sunday, but it would be a shock if the player with seven hits in his first 18 at-bats (.389) isn’t in the lineup the day before the All-Star break begins. He’s scored five runs in his first four games, setting the table at the top of the lineup, as he did with a leadoff double on Saturday. That was long before the game got out of hand.

"It’s something special for me," Alcantara said of being in the big leagues. "I can’t explain it to you."

So, will he stay with the Cubs after the break? That’s all anyone wants to know.

"We’ll have conversations," Renteria said before the game. "I can’t tell you when, but I’m sure we’ll have conversations."

The Cubs have several options. The simplest one might be to send a pitcher down to the minors, as they’ve carried 13 for much of the season. With the All-Star break, their relief corps will be well rested, and the need to baby arms after the four-day break might not be as necessary right away. By the time it does, the trade deadline will be upon us and the Cubs will undoubtedly make a move or two with a position player. That would open the spot for Alcantara to stay.

If the Cubs need to play Emilio Bonifacio to show teams he’s healthy when he returns, or even Darwin Barney to show them he’s still viable, then so be it. Nothing is written that Alcantara has to start every day -- as much as anyone watching the Cubs wants it.

"When we get together as an organization and discuss those things, we have to take in a lot of factors," Renteria said. "We’ll come to a good conclusion, sound decision. That’s best for us as a club and best for the organization."

Or the Cubs could send Junior Lake or Mike Olt down to the minors in light of their struggles. Or maybe the Cubs will make a deal during the break. The front office has stated on many occasions that once the Cubs promote, they don’t want to go backward. After changing their minds about Alcantara going back to the minors when Barney came off paternity leave, the writing should be on the wall. Keep him.

"Whatever they want me to," Alcantara said. "I don’t expect that [staying]. I just try to play good baseball."

Rapid Reaction: Braves 11, Cubs 6

July, 12, 2014
Jul 12
6:20
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive


CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs lost to the Atlanta Braves on Saturday, 11-6. Here's a quick look at the game:

How it happened: Edwin Jackson didn't get out of the fourth inning as he gave up nine runs, seven hits and four walks. Three hits left the park, including two by Chris Johnson and one by the pitcher Mike Minor. The Cubs actually took a 2-0 first inning lead as Arsimendy Alcantara scored on a Justin Ruggiano single after doubling to leadoff for the Cubs. Chris Coghlan also had an RBI in the inning. Down 9-3 in the fifth, the Cubs cut the deficit in half as Coghlan doubled home two more but that's as close as they came. The Braves added two more in the ninth on RBI singles by Justin Upton and Jason Heyward.

What it means: Jackson's ERA rose to 5.64, and juxtaposed against gutty performances by rookies this past week, his start looks even worse. Yes the wind was blowing out but once again Jackson got outpitched by his competition. It has been an ongoing story since signing with the team before last season. Coghlan continued a recent hot streak with two more hits. He's batting .428 in July with a .500 on-base percentage.

Alcantara OF debut: After playing only 11 games in center field this season at Triple-A Iowa, Alcantara had no issues out there on one of the most windy days of the year. He tracked down all catchable balls and played the ones that got behind him correctly. He showed promise with a smooth debut in the outfield at Wrigley. And he was as good as ever at the plate adding another two hits to his first week total. He has scored five times in his first four games.

What's next: The rubber game of the series -- and the finale before the All-Star break -- comes Sunday afternoon when Travis Wood (7-7, 4.64 ERA) faces Julio Teheran (8-6, 2.57).

Cubs showing a youthful exuberance

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
8:08
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- Finally home after a road trip that would shake even the most confident player to his core, the Chicago Cubs insist they still have plenty of fight left inside them.

Five days into an 11-day journey that ended Thursday, the Cubs saw pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel get traded to the Oakland Athletics. A day after that a six-game losing streak started.

[+] EnlargeArismendy Alcantara, Justin Ruggiano
AP Photo/Andrew A. NellesJustin Ruggiano, right, says he likes the inclusion of Arismendy Alcantara, left, in the Cubs' lineup. "He's got a little spark to him," Ruggiano said.
Now the Cubs say they are ready to scratch and claw, but in comparing their roster to teams around the league, any fight they face in the foreseeable future looks to be fairly lopsided. The past two days, though, they have looked willing to stand up to conflict, both literally and figuratively.

On Friday, the Cubs went toe-to-toe with the Atlanta Braves, getting past the disappointment of a Hector Rondon blown save to win it 5-4 in walk-off fashion on Justin Ruggiano’s RBI single in the bottom of the ninth inning.

“[The spirit] is still there,” Ruggiano said. “We were probably a little down losing those two guys, they were big guys in the clubhouse. But we’ve got a pretty tight group of men in here and we all pull for each other. We’ll be all right.”

Fight, and youthful exuberance, will get you only so far, though. New staff ace Jake Arrieta was his typical stingy self on Friday, giving fresh-faced Arismendy Alcantara the chance to deliver when it mattered. Alcantara not only singled with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, his steal of second base helped set up Ruggiano’s game winner.

“When you have a young person come in fresh to the big leagues there is a lot of energy and excitement,” manager Rick Renteria said. “There is a willingness to want to go out and show you what they have. This young man actually just has the energy and desire to get out there. He is very composed. He has a lot of composure to him for being out there for the first time.”

The problem is that he doesn’t have numbers on his side, specifically roster numbers. The Cubs can actually get away with only three starters until July 22 and with four starters until July 24. That means somebody will have to go when the rotation is returned to full strength, and Alcantara might be on borrowed time.

“I think that any player when they impact your team and show you what they have, I think the easiest thing to do is for people to start to speculate if he will stick around,” Renteria said. “We’ll have to make that decision as an organization when we come to it. It would be premature and irresponsible for me to say something like that, but he does impact the way you view him for sure.”

On Thursday, Alcantara had three hits in a game that ultimately became known for Anthony Rizzo’s beef with Aroldis Chapman. After Chapman sent two fastballs to the backstop while facing Nate Schierholtz, Rizzo was among Cubs players who expressed displeasure with the pitches.

When Chapman dismissed the Cubs’ gripes with a wave of his glove, Rizzo kept the conversation going before the next half inning started by shouting in Chapman’s direction while walking toward the Reds’ dugout.

Benches cleared, with no punches thrown, but the biggest happening of all might have been Rizzo’s move into a leadership role. The backup All-Star first baseman might have set a tone moving forward in the wake of Samardzija and Hammel taking a combined 2.91 ERA with them to Oakland, while not leaving a whole lot of experience behind.

“Yeah, there is always spirit, win or lose,” Rizzo insisted. “It’s a great group of guys and you just want to keep coming together and keep getting better.”

Since winning will be tough, getting better will be the key. It’s uncertain how far a rotation of Arrieta, Edwin Jackson, Travis Wood and whoever else (likely Tsuyoshi Wada and Kyle Hendricks) will take the Cubs.

But for now it’s about not letting things get too out of hand, while also learning as much as possible in the process. The Cubs know that a whole lot of talented young players are coming soon, so for now it’s about bridging the gap until they are ready to arrive.

“The future's bright; that's very apparent,” Arrieta said. “There are guys like Alcantara, and we know we've got some guys in the pipeline who can definitely help us in the near future. I look forward to seeing those guys, [Javier] Baez and [Kris] Bryant, a couple of others.

“It's going to be a fun, fun period of time here over the next six to eight months, toward the end of season and beginning of next season -- just seeing those guys blossom and continue to grow and get some experience up here. That'll be very valuable for them leading into the coming season.”

For now, it’s Alcantara’s time to blossom, however long his stay lasts.

“We saw him play in spring, I saw him play in my rehab and he’s got all kinds of tools,” Ruggiano said. “Youth eventually can sometimes be a factor, but from what I see, he’s got enough tools I think where he could stay afloat and probably be a very good player for many years. Who knows what will happen? But I like him around. I like him in the lineup. He’s got a little spark to him.”

Cubs behold future with Alcantara, Beeler

July, 9, 2014
Jul 9
10:48
PM CT
By Tom Ramstetter
Special to ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CINCINNATI -- At 38-52, 13 games out of first place in the National League Central and with two top pitchers already traded away weeks ahead of the nonwaiver trade deadline, the Cubs are looking to the future again.

Despite a sixth straight loss Wednesday night in a 4-1 final to the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park, a couple pieces of the future were on display and happy about it.

Rookie right-hander Dallas Beeler (0-2) held the Reds to two hits and a run through four innings in his second major league start before taking his second loss.

Arismendy Alcantara, a 22-year-old second baseman/outfielder was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in his first major league game, but he made several plays in the field, including a relay throw to nab a runner at third base. He said he was never nervous.

[+] EnlargeArismendy Alcantara
AP Photo/Al BehrmanAlcantara was 0-for-4 in his major league debut, but he delivered on his defensive potential with a few strong plays in the field.
Right-handed starter Kyle Hendricks will make his major league debut Thursday afternoon.

"It’s a whole bunch of fun," Beeler said. "It was nice having Kyle come up here. I didn’t know Arismendy was even coming up until I saw him today. It’s a lot of fun and it’s going to be the same for Kyle tomorrow. He’s going to have a great time. The results weren’t what I wanted tonight, but I still had a great time pitching. It’s a lot of fun to watch, too."

A three-run fifth inning ended Beeler’s second start. He allowed four earned runs, six hits, walked four in five innings and did not record a strikeout.

"I just got some ground balls that got through the holes," Beeler said. "I felt like I had good control tonight. I got behind in some counts, and you can’t get behind on some of these guys. Some things didn’t go my way, and I have to make better pitches in some situations, too.

"I can’t get behind the first two pitches, especially the second and third time through [the batting order] because then I’m throwing all fastballs. So just cut down the walks and everything."

Still, the Cubs were in the game.

"I don’t know if he felt his command was where he wanted it to be," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "He settled down, I thought, a little bit. He started moving the ball in the third or fourth inning, I think. He kept us in the ballgame, quite frankly."

(Read full post)

Rapid Reaction: Reds 4, Cubs 1

July, 9, 2014
Jul 9
9:17
PM CT
By Tom Ramstetter | Special to ESPNChicago.com
ESPNChicago.com

CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Reds beat the Chicago Cubs 4-1 on Wednesday night at Great American Ball Park. It was the fifth straight win for the Reds and the sixth straight loss for the Cubs.

Here’s a quick look at the game:

How it happened: The Reds finally got to Cubs starter Dallas Beeler for three runs with two outs in the bottom of the fifth to break a 1-1 tie. Billy Hamilton had the go-ahead hit for the Reds with a two-out triple past center fielder Justin Ruggiano to drive in Zack Cozart from second base. Cozart had lofted a single into right-center, just out of the reach of second baseman Arismendy Alcantara, and moved to second on a sacrifice by pitcher Alfredo Simon.

Skip Schumaker followed Hamilton’s triple with a walk and Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce each singled in a run to cap a three-run inning. The Reds took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second when third baseman Ramon Santiago belted a two-out double into the gap in right-center to plate first baseman Brayan Pena from first base. Santiago was thrown out trying to stretch the double into a triple. Pena drew a two-out walk ahead of Santiago. Anthony Rizzo tied it in the third with his 20th home run of the season, a towering shot down the line in right on a 2-0 pitch. But Chicago never got another runner as far as second base.

What it means: The Cubs have followed a four-game winning streak with what is now a six-game losing streak and four games to go before the All-Star break.

Beeler’s night: Beeler, a rookie right-hander, held the Reds to two hits and a run through four innings, but a three-run fifth inning ended his second major league start. Beeler allowed four earned runs, six hits and walked four in five innings and did not record a strikeout.

Beeler (0-2) made his major league debut June 28 and allowed four hits and an earned run in a 3-0 loss to the Washington Nationals. He gave up four hits and struck out six.

Alcantara’s debut: Hot prospect Alcantara was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in his first major league game. The 22-year-old infielder/outfielder, who hits from both sides of the plate, started at second base and hit in the No. 2 spot in the batting order Wednesday. The Cubs promoted him to take the spot of veteran Darwin Barney, who is on the paternity list.
Alcantara has hit .307 with 10 homers, 11 triples, 25 doubles and 62 runs in 89 games for Triple-A Iowa this season. He boasts an .890 OPS with 21 stolen bases in 24 attempts at Triple-A.

Renteria tossed: Cubs manager Rick Renteria was thrown out of the game in the bottom of the fifth inning by third-base umpire Andy Fletcher for arguing a foul-ball call. It was Renteria’s fifth ejection of the season.

Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco’s tapper down the third-base line with two outs, two on and three runs already in was just foul. Third baseman Luis Valbuena fielded the grounder and tagged third, but Fletcher called the ball foul.

The play was not reviewable.

Mesoraco grounded out to Valbuena moments later to end the inning.

Stat of the night: Simon (12-3) retired 13 straight Cubs after Rizzo’s game-tying home run in the third. Simon struck out eight in 6.2 innings, allowing four hits, two walks and one earned run.

What’s next: The Cubs wrap up the five-game series in Cincinnati at 11:35 a.m. CT, hoping to avoid a sweep. Kyle Hendricks will make his major league debut for Chicago, and Homer Bailey (8-5, 4.15 ERA) will take the hill for the Reds.

The Cubs return home for a three-game series leading into the All-Star break beginning Friday.

Renteria ready to give Alcantara a chance

July, 9, 2014
Jul 9
5:53
PM CT
By Tom Ramstetter
Special to ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CINCINNATI -- Cubs manager Rick Renteria is wasting no time getting a look at Arismendy Alcantara.

Alcantara, a 22-year-old infielder/outfielder who hits from both sides of the plate, will start at second base and hit in the No. 2 spot in the batting order Wednesday night in the fourth of five games in Cincinnati.

“A switch-hitting hitter that’s been doing really, really well,” Renteria said of Alcantara. “If it seems like it might be a little overwhelming, maybe we’ll make an adjustment (in the order) tomorrow. But there’s nothing wrong with us allowing him an opportunity to be seen in what might be kind of a slot he might be able to fit in as a switch hitter.”

Alcantara has hit .307 with 10 homers, 11 triples, 25 doubles and 62 runs in 89 games for Triple-A Iowa this season. He boasts an .890 OPS with 21 stolen bases in 24 attempts.

“He’s been hitting for power from both sides of the plate,” Renteria said. “He’s been hitting for extra bases, hitting well in terms of average, stealing bases. He’s played some center as well as second. He’s been doing a very nice job.”

The Cubs promoted Alcantara to take the spot of veteran Darwin Barney, who is on the paternity list.

And while Alcantara is up with the big club, even if it's for a short time, he’s going to play.

“He’s going to be here a couple days and he should be in there,” Renteria said. “He’s one of our young prospects and he’ll get a couple of days of playing time. Hopefully he’s able to just enjoy it and be himself. He’s been doing very, very well this season and hopefully he feels comfortable with his teammates here.”

Alcantara was not the only young Cub in the lineup. Right-hander Dallas Beeler, 25, was making his second career start Wednesday night. Beeler made his major league debut in June and allowed four hits and an earned run in a 3-0 loss to Washington. He gave up four hits and struck out six.

“He’ll start for us tonight and then we’ll have that conversation as to how he’s going to proceed,” Renteria said. “But I’m glad to have him here. He did a nice job for us the last time. He looks good, and again, these guys are coming in and they have a very calm presence about them.”

Right-hander Kyle Hendricks will make his major league debut Thursday against the Reds, becoming the third Cubs pitcher to make his big league debut in the last 13 days. Hendricks will follow Beeler (June 28) and Tsuyoshi Wada (Tuesday) in making his debut.

The 24-year-old is 10-5 with a 3.59 ERA in 16 Triple-A starts this season after being named the Cubs' minor league pitcher of the year last season.

Alcantara, Beeler, and Hendricks are part of a growing youth movement expected to lift the last-place Cubs in the coming years.

“We as an organization have to make sure that when any time you give opportunities to young guys that do get a look that they’re ready to be given that opportunity,” Renteria said.

Cubs to get brief look at 'do it all' Alcantara

July, 9, 2014
Jul 9
1:49
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
OMAHA, Neb. -- Chicago Cubs Triple-A outfielder Ryan Kalish has played or been around some good talents in his years in baseball.

Coming up with the Boston Red Sox, he saw greats such as Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Adrian Beltre go about their business. He also played alongside Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo when he was with the Cubs earlier this season.

[+] EnlargeAlcantara
Gregg Forwerck/Getty ImagesArismendy Alcantara has impressed Iowa teammate Ryan Kalish. "He's one of my favorites I've ever come across," he said.
So what does he think of teammate Arismendy Alcantara, who was called up Wednesday to make his major league debut while second baseman Darwin Barney is on paternity leave?

"He's one of my favorites I've ever come across," Kalish said Wednesday morning before the Iowa Cubs played the Omaha Storm Chasers. "He can do it all."

"Doing it all" is the phrase you hear often from people who have watched or played with Alcantara. He's the first of the position player prospects to get the call, albeit for only two days. The Cubs made it clear that he'll be coming back to Triple-A, but at least fans will get a glimpse of the future. The Cubs have started the transition everyone has been waiting for.

"He's been going in the right direction for some time now," VP of player development and amateur scouting Jason McLeod said. "He's earned a chance."

Alcantara has put up a fantasy player's dream season so far in Iowa. He's hitting .307 with 10 home runs, 41 RBIs, 25 doubles, 11 triples, 21 stolen bases and a .353 on-base percentage. Since moving to the leadoff spot 35 games ago he's been even better, batting .348 with a .401 on-base percentage. Some have compared him to Emilio Bonifacio as he can hit from both sides of the plate and play both the infield and outfield.

"I describe him as a Jose Reyes-type," Kalish said. "He's got all the tools. The power, the speed, the arm. Fans should know he has an unbelievable head on his shoulders."

The 5-foot-10, 170-pound Alcantara doesn't look the part of a guy who can drive the ball, but he says since going to Triple-A he's had a better time finding the outfield gaps.

"These parks are bigger (than Double-A) and better for my game," Alcantara said before leaving for Cincinnati to join the Cubs for Wednesday's game against the Reds.

The numbers prove that out. He had 55 extra-base hits in 571 at-bats at Double-A Tennessee in 2013 and he already has 46 this season in 366 at-bats. The big parks in the majors might play to his style as well.

"He has gap power and raw speed," Kalish said. "When he has a clean double he just glides into second. When he's going for a triple, watch out. He turns it on."

Fans will only get a taste of his talent for two days until Barney returns. But that doesn't mean he can't come back to the big club someday soon. Trading season is upon us and the Cubs could move any one of the following players: Nate Schierholtz, Justin Ruggiano, Darwin Barney, Luis Valbuena and Bonifacio, if he's healthy.

That opens a spot for Alcantara, who has played 11 games in centerfield, 70 at second base and six at shortstop this season. Or the Cubs could decide to send down Junior Lake or Mike Olt if their struggles continue, or perhaps Alcantara finds his way to Wrigley Field by the time rosters expand in September.

One thing is for sure, Alcantara is going to get his chance. As for next season, if things go well he could be the Cubs Opening Day second baseman or centerfielder, or maybe somewhere else. The Cubs don't know how it's going to play out, they just know he's a talent.

"The season he's had here is insane," Kalish said. "The guy can play."

The future is finally here. At least for two days.

Alcantara called up to Cubs for two days

July, 9, 2014
Jul 9
12:27
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
OMAHA, Neb. -- It came a little sooner than he expected, but Chicago Cubs prospect Arismendy Alcantara will make his major league debut when he's called up to the majors for two days in place of Darwin Barney, who's going on paternity leave.

[+] EnlargeArismendy Alcantara
Gregg Forwerck/Getty ImagesArismendy Alcantara will get a brief chance to show what he can do at the major-league level beginning Wednesday.
"It's exciting to be in the big leagues, to get called up," Alcantara said after Triple-A Iowa's 7-6 loss to the Omaha Storm Chasers on Tuesday.

Alcantara has been a rising prospect in the Cubs' system over the past two seasons but really came into his own this year. After Tuesday's leadoff double against Omaha, Alcantara has 46 extra-base hits this season, including 10 home runs, 11 triples and 25 doubles. He's hitting .307 after going 1-for-4 on Tuesday.

"It's one of my dreams," Alcantara said. "Just going to keep focused and do my job."

Alcantara, 22, was signed as an international free agent in 2008 as a shortstop but moved to second base when he and Javier Baez teamed up at Double-A last season. To further help his cause, he has played 11 games in center field this year, including Tuesday night's game. After the Iowa Cubs lost 7-6, in a game that featured several ejections, Alcantara was told he was going to Cincinnati to join the Cubs for games there on Wednesday and Thursday.

"They called me into the office and I didn't know what was going on after that crazy game," Alcantara said. "They said, 'Congratulations, you're getting called up.'

"I'll take it easy and just play my game and see what happens."

The Cubs have already told him it's only for two days, until Barney's paternity leave is over. The Cubs return to Chicago for their final series before the All-Star break starting Friday. Until then, Alcantara is a big leaguer. Then he'll play in the Triple-A All-Star game next week.

"I feel great," he said. "I feel excited. It's all players' dreams to play in the big leagues."

McLeod: Not time to move Bryant to OF

July, 8, 2014
Jul 8
10:42
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
With the addition of another highly touted infield prospect in Addison Russell to the Chicago Cubs organization, vice president of player development and amateur scouting Jason McLeod says it's still not time to move Triple-A slugger Kris Bryant from third base to the outfield.

The Cubs are thin in major league-ready outfielders but have plenty of infielders. That's why regular second baseman Arismendy Alcantara is playing more in center field as he did on Monday night against the Omaha Storm Chasers. Alcantara is most likely to see Wrigley Field first among the position player prospects.

Meanwhile, Bryant made his third error at Iowa on Monday and 17th overall this season on an easy ground ball through his legs that would have ended the second inning. Instead, four unearned runs were scored.

McLeod also discusses the infield/outfield situation and the trade that sent Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland A's last week.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Jason Hammel
WINS ERA SO IP
8 2.98 104 108
OTHER LEADERS
BAA. Rizzo .281
HRA. Rizzo 23
RBIA. Rizzo 53
RA. Rizzo 65
OPSA. Rizzo .907
ERAJ. Samardzija 2.83
SOJ. Hammel 104