Chicago Cubs: Arodys Vizcaino

Cubs' pitching competition should heat up

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
4:38
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
Now that three Triple-A Iowa pitchers have made their major league debuts, the Chicago Cubs have some decisions to make after the All-Star break.

[+] EnlargeKyle Hendricks
AP Photo/Al BehrmanKyle Hendricks settled down after a shaky first inning in his major league debut on Thursday.
The early results from Dallas Beeler, Tsuyoshi Wada and Kyle Hendricks are meaningless. Judging a starting pitcher on his debut, or even the first few starts, would be silly. Nerves and unfamiliarity with the opposition can derail a rookie more than anything else. It didn't help that it looked like Hendricks was squeezed by the home plate umpire in his debut inning on Thursday against the Cincinnati Reds as he gave up three runs in the first before settling down to retire 16 of his next 19 batters for a no-decision.

Beeler threw six innings, giving up one unearned run in his first start last month but wasn't as sharp in Wednesday's appearance against the Reds as he walked four without a strikeout in five innings, while giving up four runs. Wada may have been the sharpest of the group in his debut on Tuesday when he gave up five hits in five innings but no earned runs.

Then there's Dan Straily, acquired from the Oakland A's for Samardzija and Hammel last week. He has started one game for Triple-A Iowa, going five innings and giving up four runs but none were earned. However, he wasn't able to pitch around an error that opened the floodgates in a four-run second inning for the Omaha Storm Chasers.

"Now that I'm here it's up to me to prove that I'm ready," Straily said after his start. "I'm back to square one. It's about performance."

Performance will probably dictate who gets a majority of the starts in the second half. Cubs president Theo Epstein already indicated Straily would be part of the mix as he has the most experience, even starting a playoff game last fall for the Athletics. Straily said he was sent down this season because he lost command of his fastball but he believes it's coming back.

Straily, 25, was 1-2 with a 4.93 ERA this season after going 10-8 with a 3.96 ERA last season. Even he indicated a break from the AL West could do him well. The Cubs have had luck bringing pitchers over from the American League and Straily's numbers could improve with weaker opposition.

That leaves three pitchers for one spot if Straily gets a regular turn in the rotation. All three will get more chances at the major league level and if one excels -- or another clearly isn't -- then the Cubs might just hand the job to that person. Hendricks, in particular, is going to need a few times through the league before any kind of assessment is made on him. His game isn't based on his stuff so much as knowing how to pitch. He'll need to learn opponents and make adjustments before we can know if he's a regular for the rotation for next season.

Beeler did well keeping the ball down in his debut but less so in his second start while the 33-year-old Wada might just be a depth guy as his age and situation don't necessarily dictate a regular starter moving forward. Still, whoever is pitching well coming out of the All-Star break will end up getting the majority of starts in the final couple of months.

Let the competition begin.

Iowa observations



One of the highly touted pitching prospects in Triple-A Iowa's bullpen is Arodys Vizcaino. The flamethrower says he's not trying to hit 100 mph on the radar gun as much, just get hitters out. He struggled on Monday against the Storm Chasers, giving up three hits and three runs in less than two innings of work. That's eight runs given up in five innings since moving to Triple-A.

With Cubs' bullpen roles solidly defined right now, don't look for Vizcaino to get a call-up until things go well in Iowa. At the very least he should be at Wrigley Field by September as rosters will expand.

Outfielder Matt Szczur continues to flash his glove but his bat probably won't move him into a prime starting role at the major league level. He's batting just .245 with a .308 on-base percentage. But if he can improve at the plate his glove could come in handy as he continues to make the easy and difficult plays for Iowa in the outfield.

At 2014 midpoint, still about the prospects

June, 29, 2014
Jun 29
10:00
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
Dallas Beeler, John BakerAP Photo/Nam Y. Huh"You feel you're watching future Hall of Famers," Dallas Beeler said of his Iowa teammates.
CHICAGO -- The first scheduled Sunday off for the Chicago Cubs in 82 years comes one game before the midway point of the season. Their record is about the same as this juncture last year, but is the feeling different?

It is when you consider that Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro are having All-Star-type seasons, as both entered with their doubters. Their resurgence alone gives better hope for the Cubs' future -- something you couldn’t say a year ago. All the hype we keep hearing about the farm system is on the verge of paying off. Or at least it’s on the verge of showing us what the prospects are all about.

No, we won’t see Kris Bryant at Wrigley Field this year, and there’s a chance we won’t see Javier Baez either. That’s all right. As has been said many times, no player’s development was ever hurt by spending too much time in the minors. And we are at least finally getting to see some of the fruits of the Cubs' labor down there. If you had 41st-round pick Dallas Beeler making his debut before some of the other, more heralded prospects, you knew something the rest of us didn’t.

It was one start on one afternoon, which he didn’t even win, but Beeler was a sign of hope Saturday when he gave up one unearned run over six innings in a 3-0 loss to the Washington Nationals. The 25-year-old right-hander is the first of a slew of names that will be here soon enough.

“They’re good,” Beeler said of his teammates at Triple-A Iowa. “They’re good. It’s fun to pitch behind them, knowing you have that good of players in the field, and when they come up to bat, there’s always that chance for that big surprise. You never know when it’s going to come, but it comes often.”

[+] EnlargeKris Bryant and Theo Epstein
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastTheo Epstein looks to have hit gold with Kris Bryant, but Cubs fans will have to wait for next year to see the young slugger.
Glad Beeler said that, because whenever you overly praise prospects, you feel a little silly. So many players have had success in the minors only to fail in the majors. Many have played for the Cubs. But there is at least one who has a different feel than the rest. Bryant is a franchise-changing player in the making. Now I feel a little silly.

Beeler played with Bryant in the Arizona Fall League and at Triple-A Iowa, where the third baseman picked up where he left off in Double-A: smashing baseballs.

“Awesome,” Beeler said. “They're excellent players, unbelievable ballplayers. You can't put into words. You feel you're watching future Hall of Famers when you see them play.”

That kind of sounds like he’s talking about one player in particular. Baez might not have that same feel he had when he was ripping it up in spring training, but Bryant certainly does. And don’t forget about 2014 first-round pick Kyle Schwarber. Cubs president Theo Epstein sounds even higher on him than he was on Bryant last year at this time. If Bryant is Epstein's Jacoby Ellsbury, then Schwarber might be his Dustin Pedroia. The straw that stirs the entire clubhouse. And Beeler isn’t even the most touted pitching prospect. That could go to Arodys Vizcaino or Kyle Hendricks.

What does all this mean? Not much for the Cubs in the coming second half, but hopefully for next year and beyond. As noted in this blog, the Cubs' turnaround won’t look as gradual as it really is. Ninety losses will turn into 90 wins quickly -- if things go right.

“There’s been parity for a number of years,” Epstein said. “Once the television numbers got into the game, [it] allowed the smaller markets to tie up their young talent, some of the [collective bargaining agreement] changes. You’ve seen increased parity in the league.”

That means the Cubs can pull off what the Milwaukee Brewers are doing right now. Or the Toronto Blue Jays. Or the Seattle Mariners. But unlike those teams -- potentially -- the Cubs plan on sticking around for a number of years instead of getting that one- or two-season surge. The rebuild has been slow, but contending might not be. Yes, the Cubs will have to spend money like those other clubs have, but one headache at time.

So let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For now, the Cubs will have to settle for competing in the minors. Triple-A Iowa has been on a streak since you-know-who arrived and are closing in on first place in the Pacific Coast League's American Northern Division. The Cubs were pleased their top guns got a chance to feel playoff baseball at Single-A Daytona last year, when it won the Florida State League championship.

Now it might be Iowa’s turn. At that point, several apprenticeships should be complete -- or close to it. So take a deep breath and allow Epstein to work his July magic one more time.

You’ve always got Iowa to follow.

“The locker room is always positive,” Beeler said. “It’s a good team down there.”

That will do for now.

Cubs a phone call away from real progress

June, 19, 2014
Jun 19
1:29
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- As days go for the Chicago Cubs and their fan base, Wednesday was one of the good ones, and not just because they won their second consecutive road series while completing a long trip with a 5-5 record.

The bigger steps in the rebuilding organization came when they promoted slugger Kris Bryant, along with pitchers Arodys Vizcaino and Armando Rivero, to Triple-A Iowa. A smaller step happened the day before when 2014 first-round pick Kyle Schwarber was sent to Class A Kane County after ripping up Northwest League pitching for a few days.

[+] EnlargeKris Bryant
AP Photo/Tony FarlowKris Bryant made quick work of Double-A and earned a promotion to Triple-A Iowa.
The Cubs are on the move, but when it has a real effect in the major league standings is still anyone's guess. Javier Baez, Bryant, Vizcaino and others are just a phone call away from making it to Wrigley Field, and that's when the real progress begins. Could we see any of them in the majors before year's end? At the very least, the answer is a fluid one.

The only drawback to a Baez and Bryant September call-up involves service time. A player who accrues 172 days on the 25-man roster during the season uses up a year toward free agency. There's about 183 days in a baseball season, so a team can avoid using up a year by calling up a player a few weeks into the season. The Houston Astros took this approach with prospect George Springer this season.

Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo had a similiar path, as he accrued just fewer than 172 days of service after his first two call-ups in the majors, once for the San Diego Padres in 2011 and once for the Cubs in 2012. The Cubs also avoided Super Two status with him by calling him up in late June 2012. Teams can avoid arbitration for three years instead of two by calling a player up by a deadline that typically falls in late June or early July.

The details aren't as important as knowing this: If the Cubs want to save money down the line and still call them up in September, then they'll need to tack on those days to playing time in the minor leagues next season, unless the Cubs simply plan on starting them out of spring training, and that's not likely.

For example, 22 days of time in the big leagues this year basically means 22 more days in the minors next year to avoid a year toward free agency and/or Super Two status. It might be worth it, as the Cubs could leave a player such as Bryant in the minors for that long anyway. If both Baez and Bryant are actually going to break camp with the Cubs next spring, then getting them a cup of coffee with the team this season makes sense because service time won't matter. Most likely you'll see both next season, but not out of the gate.

However, team sources indicate the recent promotions aren't part of some long-term plan that was locked in months ago. Yes, the Bryant promotion made sense as the Southern League took its All-Star break, but Schwarber and Bryant were on track to spend more time on their respective teams.

The Cubs had obviously changed their minds when they concluded there was little more Schwarber needed to do to get his timing down while playing for the Class A Boise Hawks, so he got promoted after just a few days. And Bryant long ago proved he needed a bigger challenge than Double-A pitching, leading the Southern League in batting average (.355), home runs (22), RBIs (58), on-base percentage (.458) and slugging (.702).

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So even if the Cubs aren't planning a call-up for their major prospects, it doesn't mean they can't change their minds. That's assuming performance dictates a promotion, of course. Bryant, in particular, has proven to be a fast learner. If his history has shown anything, it's that he'll have an adjustment period at Iowa, then once again prove he's a special hitter by turning the tables on Triple-A pitching.

If individual prospects are being dubbed as saviors, then Bryant is the face of the movement right now. His ability, work ethic and attitude are unmatched in the Cubs organization, and he could be the next great player in the major leagues. Of course, Baez was thought of in similar fashion until his struggles in Iowa this season so Bryant has one more thing to prove.

A reliever such as Vizcaino or a starter such as Kyle Hendricks are more likely to see the major leagues sooner rather than later. Impending trades should open a few spots on the staff, and a player such as Vizcaino was only really in the minors to get innings in after missing so much time with arm injuries. His sub-2.00 ERA this season combined with his electric arm screams another promotion before season's end. Hendricks might simply get a chance because he's next up among those getting ready to make their debuts.

Yes, Wednesday was a good day, but minor league promotions should never be the headline-makers they are for the Cubs. The next time the Cubs make that kind of news should finally have a real effect on the long-term plan because we'll see some of these players at Wrigley Field.

Then we'll really start to find out if the front office has chosen the right talent for their infamous rebuilding strategy. Until then, they're just minor league players, as much as they do generate headlines.

Cubs vs. Sox: Whose future is brighter?

May, 5, 2014
May 5
1:12
PM CT
By Staff
ESPNChicago.com
Anthony Rizzo and Jose Abreu USA Today Sports, Icon SMIAnthony Rizzo has put his down 2013 season behind him, and rookie Jose Abreu has made a quick impact with the White Sox.
The latest installment of the crosstown series begins Monday night at Wrigley Field with the Cubs playing host to the White Sox. Our ESPNChicago.com beat writers weigh in on three Chicago baseball questions before the first of four games at Wrigley Field and U.S. Cellular Field this week.

1. Which team has a brighter future, Cubs or Sox?


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Who has a brighter future?

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Discuss (Total votes: 3,806)

Doug Padilla, White Sox beat writer: We have been hearing about the Cubs' hot prospects for a while, and the hype appears to be legit, but don't sleep on the White Sox's young talent pool. Knocked for years, the White Sox's farm system is flush with high-ceiling talent, including guys like second baseman Micah Johnson, third baseman Matt Davidson, right-handed starter Chris Beck and outfielders like Courtney Hawkins and Trayce Thompson. Add them to guys like Jose Abreu, Adam Eaton, Jose Quintana, and a healthy Chris Sale, along with Avisail Garcia, and things are looking good for the White Sox in the future.

Jesse Rogers, Cubs beat writer: The answer to the question hinges on one player: Chris Sale. With so much uncertainty about the notion of relying on prospects, as the Cubs are doing, Sale is already one of the best starters in the game. The Cubs don't have anyone who can match his potential. And if they trade Jeff Samardzija, as expected, they're even further away from finding an ace. It's the most important single aspect of a baseball team. Having a true No. 1 sets everything up for the rest of the starting rotation, eases the burden on the bullpen, and is a losing streak "stopper." We can argue about position players, from Jose Abreu to Anthony Rizzo, or Adam Eaton to prospect Albert Almora, but Sale is the difference-maker. But just as big as counting on him to be your ace for the decade to come, losing him to injury can have the opposite effect on an organization. The only thing worse than not having an ace is thinking you do and then losing him to arm problems. It wouldn't be an issue if not for the recent history of Sale, who is on the disabled list with a strained flexor. So the question is answered with this qualifier: If Sale is healthy, the Sox have a brighter future, but without him, they lag behind the Cubs.


2. Who will have a better career, Jose Abreu or Anthony Rizzo?


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Who will have a better career, Jose Abreu or Anthony Rizzo?

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Discuss (Total votes: 3,371)

Padilla: An astonishingly productive April showed that Jose Abreu has the chance to one day be mentioned among some of the most productive right-handed hitters the game has seen, so he gets the clear nod here. Rizzo is no slouch, though, having shown tons of power potential from the left side and a Gold Glove-caliber glove. Chicago will have productive first basemen for a long time.

Rogers: Power is a commodity in baseball and right-handed power is especially useful these days, so it would be hard to argue against Abreu. Although both are at the beginning of their major league careers, at his worst Abreu looks to have 30-homer power. Rizzo's best might be 30 homers someday. Abreu will never be the defender that Rizzo is, and it remains to be seen what either will hit in terms of batting average, but Abreu is quickly becoming one of the feared hitters in the game. Rizzo burst onto the scene in 2012, and then pitchers made adjustments to him. That undoubtedly will happen to Abreu, but his power doesn't look to be an issue. Most aspects of a player's game go through ups and downs, but if his power turns out to be the commodity that rarely slumps, Abreu will have a very nice career. He's the more sure thing right now if power is what you're interested in at a corner infield position. Rizzo could be more well-rounded, but you can't deny Abreu's tremendous power.


3. By the end of the season, who will emerge as the best closer in Chicago?


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By the end of the season, who will emerge as the best closer in Chicago?

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Padilla: Neither team has shown much in the closer department, but the White Sox have an interesting path emerging. Matt Lindstrom is showing signs of settling down, but in the final year of his contract, he could be traded in July if his recent success continues. The prediction here is that Lindstrom is moved and rookie Daniel Webb takes over the job at that point, giving the White Sox a new late-inning option moving forward.

Rogers: As crazy as it sounds, the best closer for either team might be playing at Class A right now. Cubs flamethrower Arodys Vizcaino is a top pitching prospect despite two years of arm problems. He could easily have made the Cubs' roster out of spring training; he's at Class A only for strategic reasons, not because he's that far from being a big leaguer. He has an ERA of 1.00 with 10 strikeouts over nine innings. Vizcaino showed flashes in the Cactus League this spring, hitting almost 100 mph on the radar gun without ever being hit hard. He just needs innings under his belt. And he seems to have the makeup to close games. That may not necessarily be the case for the Cubs' current closer, Hector Rondon. He won the job by default and is riding a wave right now, though he lost Sunday's game against the St. Louis Cardinals. He's bound to come back down to earth after a great start this season. Pedro Strop will probably get another chance to close, and either of them might be better options than what the White Sox have right now. Lindstrom is 4-of-7 in save opportunities with a WHIP of 1.50. That doesn't scream closer material, but for now that's the best they have.

Minors update: Arms showing promise

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
11:23
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
The Chicago Cubs might wait until later in the summer to bring up any of their top hitting prospects from the minors, but that doesn't mean a pitcher or two couldn't make an appearance at Wrigley Field sooner than that.

[+] EnlargeKyle Hendricks
AP Photo/Morry GashKyle Hendricks has recovered from a shaky first start with three straight victories at Triple-A Iowa.
It's common to see a hurler come up for a start because of an injury or heavy workload on the major league staff and then sometimes head right back to the minors. Best case is he sticks around for a little while. When Jake Arrieta completes his rehab assignment, Carlos Villanueva will return to the bullpen. It also means the Cubs could dip down into the minors if they need a spot start instead of trying to stretch Villanueva out again in the future.

In the first month of the season, it's the Cubs' pitching prospects who have impressed. Here's a look at what's happening down on the farm:

Triple-A Iowa starter Kyle Hendricks arguably threw his best game of April on Monday night when he beat Round Rock (Texas) and former Cub Scott Baker. Hendricks improved to 3-1, giving up just two hits and two walks in six innings, striking out six. His ERA is 3.65 after winning his third straight start following a shaky opening day. That coincides with Hendricks' spring training where he struggled early but finished strong. And it's consistent with his scouting reports, as well: He's a quick learner.

The most impressive starter at Iowa so far is Tsuyoshi Wada. He leads the Pacific Coast League with a 0.84 ERA and a 0.56 WHIP, having giving up just 12 hits/walks in 21 innings on the mound. Unlike Hendricks, Wada did not look good in the spring, but as a lefty, he could be used in a very specific situation if the Cubs need him. It's early, but Wada is off to a nice start after a rough time in Arizona in March.

Lefty Eric Jokisch throws Tuesday afternoon. In two of three starts this season, he's given up zero earned runs, but he got hit hard in the other one, as has Chris Rusin so far this month. His ERA is 6.32 after giving up four runs in six innings over the weekend. Rusin did have one decent relief appearance for the Cubs in St. Louis recently.

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At Double-A Tennessee, top pitching prospect C.J. Edwards is coming along nicely. He earned his first win Sunday, and opposing hitters have a .187 batting average against him in four starts. He's walked eight and struck out 20 in 20 innings. Ivan Pineyro, acquired for Scott Hairston last season, has a 1.15 ERA after three starts and has looked as good as he did after the trade to the Cubs last year.

At Class A Daytona, flamethrower Arodys Vizcaino earned his first save Monday night. He's given up one run in six innings. The Cubs want him in warm weather to start the season, and he could make a jump to the big leagues later, as well. Even at Class A Kane County, there is a wave of pitchers off to good starts. Jen-Ho Tseng and Duane Underwood have been impressive in the early going.

As for the hitting prospects, some of the headlines haven't been as big as they were in the spring. Javier Baez (.152, two homers, three RBIs) is just back from an injury and had a slow first couple of weeks of the season. Jorge Soler remains sidelined with a hamstring problem. Kris Bryant (.284, 4, 10) is doing well at Double-A and might be one of the first to get a promotion to Triple-A if he keeps it up. Albert Almora (.286, 1, 7) is progressing nicely at Class A, as well.

But it's the pitchers who have stood out, and because of the nature of the game, they might be the first ones to make big league appearances. Rusin is a good example. He threw five innings in relief and then was sent right back down. Expect a cup of coffee for some of the above names as the season progresses. After all, the Cubs need all the arms they can find.

Is this the Cubs' year ... to take a big step?

March, 30, 2014
Mar 30
12:00
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive


This is the year for the Chicago Cubs -- that is, if you need to believe their rebuilding strategy is taking the proper steps forward.

It is.

It’s not the year if you think the team's record or a playoff berth is all that matters.

They don’t.

[+] EnlargeMike Olt
Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY SportsMike Olt's strong spring earned him a spot on the Cubs' roster for Opening Day.
For all practical purposes, the Cubs are in Phase 2 of their plan. Phase 1 involved ridding themselves of hefty contracts while replenishing their farm system. They’ve done that even better -- and possibly more quickly -- than the Cubs' front office envisioned. That’s because the players they’ve acquired or drafted are moving quickly through Chicago's system -- even though it doesn’t always seem that fast while the major league team is losing nearly 100 games a year. The point is those players are getting closer to the major leagues. And when a rival general manager -- the Rangers' Jon Daniels -- admits he pulled the trigger on a trade with the Cubs that might haunt him, that’s a good thing for fans to savor.

Phase 1 lasted two years and Phase 2 should be about the same. It involves the transition of the prospects from the minors to the major leagues. One by one, they’ll start to make their debuts. Junior Lake had his moment last season; come Monday it’ll be Mike Olt’s turn. He had a cup of coffee with the Texas Rangers in 2012, so maybe his learning curve won’t be as steep. After Olt could be pitchers Kyle Hendricks or Arodys Vizcaino. Then, later in the summer, the mighty Javier Baez might bring his bat to town.

If things go well, C.J. Edwards, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora and others might make their way to Wrigley Field next year at one time or another. Of course, it’s impossible to predict anything past tomorrow, but there continues to be a brighter and brighter light shining at the end of a long tunnel for the Cubs. We know a few of the above names are going to get their chances in 2014 and 2015. It’s going to happen.

If you’re looking for tangible results, there might very well be some late this summer. Phase 1’s strategy allowed for some early-season “success,” but with a trade deadline in the middle of the year -- a time when opposing teams get desperate -- the Cubs were doomed in the second half of the past two seasons. Gutting their starting staff and trading position players while seeing the morale of the remaining players sink also sunk them in the standings.

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How many games will the Cubs win this season?

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Over the past two seasons, the Cubs' combined winning percentage in the first half was .428. That’s bad enough, but it dropped to .345 in the second half. That’s downright ugly, as the Cubs combined to go 49-93 in the second halves of 2012 and 2013. But, as we know, this was all by design. The Cubs could have kept Matt Garza or Ryan Dempster and won a few more games, but then Hendricks, Edwards, Olt, Neil Ramirez and Justin Grimm wouldn’t be on this team.

This season, the reverse could happen. Though the Cubs' roster looks a lot better with Emilio Bonifacio, Ryan Kalish and Olt winning jobs, Chicago is still behind other teams in terms of pure talent and experience. The Cubs won’t get first halves of Alfonso Soriano, Garza or players like that anymore.

They’re going to take some lumps, but just when morale might sink again with a possible trade of Jeff Samardzija, some energy should emerge with a few prospects being called up. It’s reasonable to assume players like Olt and Lake will be better later in the year, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility the buzz that a guy like Baez or a pitcher like Hendricks can create will have a positive effect in the win/loss column. In the short term, at least, while the adrenaline of their arrival is fresh.

So maybe the Cubs win more in the second half over the next two years even though remnants of Phase 1 will still be evident in eventual trades of Nate Schierholtz, Jose Veras and possibly Jason Hammel.

No offense to those players, but the difference now is that there are potentially better players waiting in the wings. The only question is: How soon and how much are they going to take their lumps in the major leagues? Or will they have immediate success? No one can predict that.

The Samardzija saga is the one negative in this whole equation, because the aforementioned morale drop will be evident if he’s traded. The Cubs need Samardzija for more than innings pitched -- they need him to help get them to the next level as a team. They can do it without him, but it will take more time. Keeping Samardzija while adding some prospects throughout the season is the best recipe for a better record -- now and in the future.

One by one, they will arrive. Their skill and their mettle will undoubtedly will be tested. Lake and Olt are up first, not to mention the storylines regarding rebound years for Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo. All of them are under a microscope, but the more talent the Cubs surround them with, the more relaxed they can play the game.

Phase 1 will start to be a memory by the end of this year, when Phase 2 will be in full force. By 2016, Phase 3 begins: winning.

Vizcaino, Vitters, Jackson among 8 cuts

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
6:33
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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MESA, Ariz. -- Former first-round picks Josh Vitters and Brett Jackson along with flame-thrower Arodys Vizcaino were among eight cuts from big league camp on Tuesday, Chicago Cubs manager Rick Renteria announced.

Vizcaino is the most intriguing of the names to be cut. There was some speculation he could make the team as a reliever after missing the last two seasons because of arm problems. He has been throwing in the mid to upper 90s throughout camp, but the Cubs are going to be cautious, as they've said all along.

"We're still following the plan," Renteria said. "We want him to get his innings in, in a controlled environment and kind of ease him back in. He's been out for two years, we want to get him in more game situations and things of that nature and make sure he can handle it all."

Vizcaino could be an early to midseason call-up after throwing three scoreless innings this spring. It might be a tougher path back to the majors for Vitters and Jackson. Vitters was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2007 draft, but he has struggled to make it and stay in the big leagues. Jackson has had similar problems but showed some signs of finding his swing again during camp, winning a game last Saturday over the Royals with five RBIs.

"I was impressed," Renteria said of Jackson. "Did some damage. I don't worry too much about his strikeouts because there is a lot of damage that comes with his stick."

Jackson struck out 10 times in 20 at-bats this spring. Vitters went down swinging or looking in 11 of 17 at-bats.

"His [Vitters] approaches were pretty good, I think the results may not have been what you wanted," Renteria said.

Being optioned to Triple-A Iowa along with Vitters, Jackson and Vizcaino are Zac Rosscup and Christian Villanueva.
Sent to minor league camp were Mitch Maier, Rafael Lopez and Armando Rivero.

With the cuts, the Cubs' roster is down to 45.

Bosio: Extra days off not good for pitchers

March, 16, 2014
Mar 16
3:01
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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MESA, Ariz. -- Chicago Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio gave some insight into the team’s thinking regarding its starting staff for the beginning of the regular season, which starts two weeks from Monday in Pittsburgh.

“History tells us the last couple of years our starters have not done well on the sixth or seventh day so we’ll take that into account,” Bosio said on Sunday.

That sounds like the Cubs will try to keep their starters throwing every fifth day as much as possible. With three off-days in the first 15, that won’t always be the case. Jeff Samardzija will pitch opening day on March 31 and if he stays on schedule his next game would come on April 5 at Wrigley Field against the Philadelphia Phillies. Everyone else would get an extra day between starts as April 1 and April 7 are off-days. It means a fifth starter would be necessary on April 6 and April 12.

“I’ll have a couple plans of attack to give to Rick (Renteria), Jed (Hoyer) and Theo (Epstein) and we’ll plan accordingly,” Bosio said.

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Five things we've learned in camp

March, 11, 2014
Mar 11
11:13
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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MESA, Ariz. -- The Chicago Cubs have 20 Cactus League games remaining on their schedule, including Tuesday afternoon against the Colorado Rockies. Much will be determined between now and then from their final roster to naming an Opening Day starter.

Here are five things we've learned so far in camp:

1. Baez, Bryant have power: OK, so this isn't something we learned so much as it was confirmed. In a small sample size the Cubs' top picks of 2011 and 2013, respectively, lead the team with two home runs apiece. In fact, Kris Bryant has hit two in just nine at-bats. His bomb to dead center field at Diablo Stadium in Tempe -- in his very first time at the plate this spring -- might be the best at-bat by a Cub so far. Meanwhile, Javier Baez went opposite field for his first home run giving them both hope that their power will play to all parts of Wrigley Field -- someday -- in all conditions.

[+] EnlargeKris Bryant
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesKris Bryant didn't waste any time flashing his power at the plate this spring.
2. Olt still a question: Mike Olt struck out for a team-leading seventh time on Monday and is just 4 for 17 this spring. Again, it's a small sample size but Olt needs to impress the Cubs to win a job after coming off a down year due to vision problems. He hasn't quite done that yet. Considering the strikeout total it would be easy to jump the conclusion he's still not seeing the ball well. But he claims that's not the case, and he has had a couple of hard-hit balls that have made it to the outfield grass and one that went over the fence. Only he knows if he's seeing it the way he wants to, but either way production will tell his story. And he hasn't played any third base yet due to shoulder soreness.

3. Power arms in 'pen: Led by Arodys Vizcaino's fastball, which has hit 98 mph, the Cubs have more power arms in camp than in previous years. Justin Grimm throws hard as does Hector Rondon, Blake Parker and Pedro Strop to name a few more. The competition from the right side should be fierce in the final weeks of spring training with no sure things besides the back-end of the bullpen in Strop and Jose Veras. Pitching coach Chris Bosio has made Rondon one of his projects, trying to get him to the next level on the mound. Vizcaino remains the X-factor whether he starts the season at Triple-A or the majors. He may finally start to live up to his potential.

4. Renteria's style: New manager Rick Renteria is definitely more hands-on than his predecessor, according to players. During drills he can be seen and heard which isn't always the case for a skipper. He's living up to his reputation as a communicator, talking Spanish to players and even some Japanese when necessary. On paper it's the right need for a young club in transition. Renteria might not always have to be so hands on, but he knows right now when he talks to his team he's talking to a slew of prospects who will be playing for him soon enough. He's setting the tone for them while also stressing winning. That might seem hollow to an outsider, but for players such as Jeff Samardzija, they want to hear the words.

5. Cubs fans are loyal: So maybe that's not a revelation. Granted, Cubs Park is brand new but a team that lost 197 games over the last two seasons leads all clubs -- in Arizona and Florida -- in spring attendance. In fact, they've set Cactus League records on several occasions already. That may not carry over to the regular season but hope springs eternal for Cubs fans more than any other fan base. A walk down the street in Mesa, Tempe or Scottsdale reveals people wearing Cubs shirts and hats like they just won the World Series -- instead of the one 105 years ago. All this knowing that almost assuredly by the end of the season, if not this spring, fans will hear the usual Cubs mantra: Wait 'til next year.

Cubs sign 19 players to 1-year deals

March, 3, 2014
Mar 3
2:50
PM CT
By ESPNChicago.com
ESPNChicago.com
The Chicago Cubs agreed to contract terms Monday with 19 players all with fewer than three years of experience, including catcher Welington Castillo, outfielder Junior Lake and pitcher Jake Arrieta.

Also signed were pitchers Zac Rosscup, Chris Rusin, Dallas Beeler, Alberto Cabrera, Justin Grimm, Blake Parker Neil Ramirez, Hector Rondon and Arodys Vizcaino. Infielders Arismendy Alcantara, Mike Olt, Christian Villanueva and Logan Watkins as well as outfielders Brett Jackson, Matt Szczur and Josh Vitters were also signed to contracts.

Terms of the contracts were not disclosed.

Pitching prospects highlight outing

February, 26, 2014
Feb 26
7:38
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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MESA, Ariz. -- One Chicago Cubs prospect looked sharp on the mound, while the other appeared rusty as the Cubs took the field in their new stadium for an intrasquad game on Wednesday.

Kyle Hendricks, the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year last season, retired all eight hitters he faced. Arodys Vizcaino, the top-ranked arm in camp, walked the first two batters he faced and struggled through his inning of work.

Cactus League play begins on Thursday.

“I was real happy with it,” Hendricks said after Wednesday’s game. “Not just the results. I was putting pitches where I wanted to.”

Hendricks said he threw some good changeups and was pleasantly surprised his curveball was working as hitters struggled to make good contact off him. That’s his game; he’s not going to make it to the majors blowing hitters away.

Vizcaino, on the other hand, is a flamethrower. But he couldn’t locate his spots after missing two years of action due to arm troubles. He walked the first two batters, gave up a stolen base and then a base hit.

“I was tired out there,” he said. “It was my first game. My arm felt good, but I missed my spots.”

Before Wednesday’s game, manager Rick Renteria said the only thing he’s concerned about regarding Vizcaino is his health. If his arm feels good on Thursday, then Wednesday was a successful first step -- as bad as the results may have been.

Renteria also was asked about Hendricks. His demeanor was evident even in an intrasquad affair.

“I see him as a very even-keeled individual,” Renteria said. “He goes about his business the right way every single day."

These men offer two very different styles of pitching. One is in the mode of Greg Maddux -- Hendricks’ favorite player -- and the other has an electric arm. Hendricks flies under the radar when it comes to top prospects, while Vizcaino has been among the highly touted -- before and after Tommy John surgery.

Which style will make it to the big leagues? This spring and subsequent season will help answer that question.

Youth is served: At one point in Wednesday’s intrasquad game, one side had an all prospect lineup in the game, including the Cubs’ “Big Four.”

Kris Bryant was at third base, Javier Baez was at shortstop, Arismendy Alcantara was at second base, Albert Almora was in centerfield and Jorge Soler was in right.

“That was a good feeling,” Baez said. “We’re not on the team yet, but we will be soon.”

Baez said he was impressed by Bryant’s agility and hands at third base. The No. 2 overall pick in June’s draft made several nice plays on hard-hit balls.

“My defense usually comes later for me, so it felt good to get to some ground balls right away,” Bryant said.

Playing long ball: New Cub Justin Ruggiano hit a long home run in the intrasquad game after striking out in his first at-bat.

“It’s all about getting your timing right now,” he said. “I missed a couple of pitches in my first at-bat, didn’t want to be late so made sure I made the adjustments. That’s promising for me.”

Welington Castillo also homered, as did Christian Villanueva.



Notes: Vizcaino to throw Wednesday

February, 25, 2014
Feb 25
3:54
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
MESA, Ariz. -- It might just be an intrasquad game, but Wednesday will still be a big moment for Chicago Cubs prospect Arodys Vizcaino.

[+] EnlargeArodys Vizcaino
Mike Janes/Four Seam Images/AP ImagesAfter two injury-plagued seasons, Arodys Vizcaino is looking forward to getting back on the mound Wednesday during an intrasquad game.
He hasn't thrown competitively at this level since 2011, missing the past two seasons with arm problems. He was in spring training last year but didn't get into any action as he was shut down with bone chips in his elbow.

"I want to show them I can pitch," Vizcaino said Tuesday afternoon. "My arm feels great. No problem."

Vizcaino has been lighting up the radar gun and popping catcher's mitts with his bullpen sessions. He's still listed among the Cubs' top 10 prospects despite missing so much time. He's one of nine pitchers scheduled to throw in the six-inning game in which manager Rick Renteria says he'll use most of his roster.

"Everyone is going to be participating," he said. "The veteran guys want to face some pitching before everything starts."

Kyle Hendricks and Eric Jokisch will be the starters on Wednesday with Neil Ramirez, Tsuyoshi Wada, Armando Rivero, Brian Schiltter, Marcus Hatley, Chang-Yong Lim and Vizcaino pitching as well.

Fergie talks: Hall of Fame pitcher Fergie Jenkins addressed both the major and minor league rosters as a group on Tuesday morning.

"It was nice to have him out there," Renteria said. "He talked to everyone. He brings in a different perspective."

Cubs pitchers got the most out of the session as some were awed by some of Jenkins' statistics. Vizcaino was amazed by a 325-inning, 37-walk season in 1971. Jenkins is available for advice and Vizcaino is planning on getting some.

"He showed me how to throw a slider," Vizcaino said. "I don't throw a slider. I want to throw one."

Samardzija not a fan of rule changes: Count Jeff Samardzija as one who believes there are too many rule changes making pro sports softer. He's against banning home plate collisions, and he won't wear protective head gear being offered to pitchers for the first time.

"That's what makes this game," he said. "No one is making you play this game. You signed up for it yourself. I know the consequences of being out on the mound, 60 feet away with big (sticks) hitting line drives back (at me). I'm going back way back like old NHLers not having to wear a helmet ... You're not forced to play professional sports, you choose to do it. And you also bring the consequences that come along with it."

Sliding practice: The Cubs are scheduled to practice sliding on Wednesday morning. It's good timing as the league just announced new rules to help avoid collisions at home plate.

"You can't use your hands or elbows or upper torso to go after a catcher," Renteria said.

Renteria attended a meeting of managers on Monday, helping clarify new rules including the collision issue. He says it will be a work in progress but the biggest change will be by the runner trying to avoid contact.

"Guys that need work on sliding we'll target and do more as spring progresses," he stated.

Fujikawa on the mound: Injured pitcher Kyuji Fujikawa took another step in his comeback from Tommy John surgery, throwing off a mound for the first time this spring. He threw 20-25 pitches.

"He gave me the thumbs up that it came out well," Renteria said.

Promotional schedule: The Cubs released their promotional schedule for the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field. At all Friday home games the team will give away a different Bobblehead including a limited-edition Babe Ruth "called shot" Bobblehead (May 16), a Gayle Sayers Bobblehead (July 11), a Kerry Wood 20-strikeout Bobblehead (Aug. 22) and a Greg Maddux 3,000 career strikeout Bobblehead (Sept. 5). The Cubs plan on celebrating the 100th anniversary all season highlighted by the "100th anniversary game" on April 23. Replica Chicago Federals Jerseys will be the giveaway that day. The Federals were the original team to use Wrigley Field in 1914.

Cubs notes: Olt 'seeing' just fine

February, 23, 2014
Feb 23
4:42
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
MESA, Ariz. -- Baseball players get asked it all the time, but for Chicago Cubs third base prospect Mike Olt the question has more meaning.

“How are you seeing the ball?”

Olt had vision problems last spring, which helped derail his season with the Texas Rangers before he was traded to the Cubs. He didn’t fare much better at Triple-A Iowa, hitting .168 in 39 games.

All that’s behind him now.

“I don’t mind answering that anymore,” Olt says. “Last year was so stressful because we didn’t know what was going on. I don’t mind answering that this year because I’m better.”

(Read full post)

Cubs Notes: Arodys Vizcaino impresses

February, 22, 2014
Feb 22
2:54
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
MESA, Ariz – The Chicago Cubs' 10th-ranked prospect by both ESPN.com and Baseball America, pitcher Arodys Vizcaino, is progressing on pace after throwing a live batting practice session Saturday.

“He looked very, very good,” manager Rick Renteria said afterward. “We were very pleased with his session. Very sharp. Live fastball. Was hitting his spots, burying his pitches when he needed to.”

Vizcaino is coming back from missing two years on the mound after undergoing Tommy John surgery and then experiencing bone chips in his elbow. Before he went down he was considered a top prospect with the New York Yankees and Atlanta Braves organizations. Despite the time off, his arm looks to have plenty of life early in camp.

“I feel good,” Vizcaino said as he walked off the field after throwing. “Real good.”

Renteria was cautiously optimistic, reiterating that it’s all about how a pitcher coming off an injury feels the day after throwing, but, so far, so good, for the hard-thrower.

“No setbacks,” Renteria said.

Vizcaino is slated for middle relief provided he makes the team.

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Day 2 Notes: Bonifacio could make 25-man roster

February, 15, 2014
Feb 15
4:22
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
Emilio BonifacioAP Photo/Charlie RiedelEmilio Bonifacio has a good chance of making the Cubs' 25-man roster after being released by K.C.

MESA, Ariz. -- Though new Chicago Cubs infielder/outfielder Emilio Bonifacio will certainly address his reasons for choosing the Cubs when he arrives at spring camp, it’s not hard to understand why he signed with them Saturday.

Bonifacio has a very good chance of making the Cubs' 25-man roster after being released earlier in the week by Kansas City. The Cubs have two openings among position players. Assuming they carry 12 pitchers, they have 11 other positions seemingly locked up:

Infield: Anthony Rizzo, Darwin Barney, Starlin Castro, Luis Valbuena and Donnie Murphy have jobs to go along with catchers Welington Castillo and George Kottaras.

Outfield: Nate Schierholtz, Ryan Sweeney, Justin Ruggiano, and Junior Lake are locks as well.

So there’s a spot open in the infield and outfield. Bonifacio plays both. In his career he’s appeared in the infield in 396 games and the outfield in 198. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s a seven-year veteran.

“He’s certainly been around in different organizations,” manager Rick Renteria said Saturday after morning workouts. “His experience surely doesn’t hurt us.”

So Bonifacio joins a group that includes 40-man roster guys like Logan Watkins, Josh Vitters, Brett Jackson and Mike Olt fighting for a spot. And there’s more competition with other non-roster invitees like Ryan Roberts, Ryan Kalish, Darnell McDonald, Mitch Maier and former rookie of the year, Chris Coghlan. Bonifacio should have a leg up on most of the competition.

Bullpen sessions: Newcomers Jose Veras and Jason Hammel were among pitchers to throw bullpen sessions Saturday but the most intriguing player might be highly touted prospect, righty Arodys Vizcaino.

“The ball comes out of his hand pretty easy,” Renteria said. “He snapped off really strong breaking pitches. You can see every now and then it might get away from him as it is for everyone early in the spring.”

Vizcaino is coming off two years of injuries but still can get his fastball into the upper 90’s. As previously stated by the front office, they’ll take things slow with Vizcaino as he’s ticketed for the middle of the bullpen right now -- either for the Cubs or Triple-A Iowa.

“I think he looked as good as we would want him to look right now,” Renteria said.

Cubs monitoring Castillo: Coming off right knee surgery the Cubs will keep an eye on their starting catcher.

“We’re cognizant that he had the issue with the knee,” Renteria said. “We’re going to monitor the innings that he catches just like anyone that comes off of something, especially a catcher.”

Renteria explained the caution is only for spring training.

Parker pukes: Renteria said the only “casualty” from Day 1 of bullpen sessions Friday was pitcher Blake Parker getting dehydrating and throwing up. It’s unusually hot for this time of year in Arizona, undoubtedly contributing to Parker’s woes.

“I wanted to keep going,” Parker said Saturday. “But the training staff said it probably wasn’t a good idea.”

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Jake Arrieta
WINS ERA SO IP
10 2.53 167 156
OTHER LEADERS
BAS. Castro .292
HRA. Rizzo 32
RBIA. Rizzo 78
RA. Rizzo 89
OPSA. Rizzo .913
ERAT. Wood 5.03
SOJ. Arrieta 167