Chicago Cubs: Matt Szczur
CHICAGO – The Cubs beat the St. Louis Cardinals 4-3 in 10 innings on Tuesday night. Here’s a quick look at the game.
How it happened: Welington Castillo drove in Anthony Rizzo with the winning run after Rizzo doubled with one out in the bottom of the 10th inning. The Cubs got out to a 2-0 lead when Castillo drove a ball into the left-field bleachers in the bottom of the second inning for his 13th home run of the season. They added one in the fifth on a Matt Szczur home run, his second of the year. But the Cardinals tied it in the sixth while chasing starter Kyle Hendricks. Matt Holliday hit a game-tying, two-run home run before Castillo's heroics in the 10th.
What it means: Hendricks pitched well but got hit in his final inning. Still, he gave up just five base knocks and made that one bad pitch to Holliday. His ERA climbed to 2.46 with one start to go, as he’ll pitch the season finale Sunday in Milwaukee. Szczur had only one home run in 414 at-bats in the minors this season. He has two in fewer than 60 at-bats in the big leagues.
Rotation set: Before the game, manager Rick Renteria announced the three starters for this weekend's season-finale series in Milwaukee. Eric Jokisch will pitch Friday, Tsuyoshi Wada on Saturday and Hendricks on Sunday.
What’s next: Game 3 against the Cardinals takes place Wednesday night and features Jake Arrieta (9-5, 2.65 ERA) against John Lackey (3-2, 4.50).
“It’s nice to finally shake the catcher's hand at the end of the game,” Arrieta said of going the distance for the first time in his career. “I was able to come out and pound everything down in the strike zone. When I missed, I missed out of the strike zone and not over the heart of the plate.”
Arrieta’s lone blemish was a ball he left up in the zone to Brandon Phillips in the top of the eighth inning. Phillips hit it to the wall in left center, but not before a streaking Matt Szczur attempted a diving catch with just five outs to go for Arrieta’s first no-hitter.
“It was close,” Szczur said. “I was about four inches off. It was close. I would have run through the wall if I had to. It’s a shame I couldn’t come up with it.”
We’ve seen this act before with Arrieta, as he’s now taken a no-hitter into the eighth inning twice this season. He also has flirted with perfection into the middle innings several times. According to ESPN Stats and Information, he’s retired the first nine batters to start a game five different times this year. That’s the most in baseball.
“Today was as good as he’s been all season,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. “His pitch count was very well in check. His stuff was pretty electric.”
Arrieta only needed 109 pitches to get through nine innings. He flew through some of the middle frames using his devastating array of pitches. Simply put, when he’s been on this year, he’s been unhittable.
And now he’s the unquestioned ace of the staff. There’s no denying that.
“It’s not going to frighten me if that’s what you’re wondering,” Arrieta said of that notion.
Arrieta trusts his stuff like he never has before. Several times in the bullpen before a game, including on Tuesday night, he hasn’t felt he’s had much to work with. But each time he gives pitching coach Chris Bosio a knowing nod, as if to say, "I got this." Then he takes the mound and proves it.
“He’s turned a big corner,” Renteria said. “His maturity has definitely improved. He has a trust in his stuff.”
And the Cubs should trust he can carry over what he’s learned this season. Arrieta has emerged as a leader in the clubhouse as much as he’s emerged on the mound. He didn’t flinch when asked how close the Cubs are to winning.
“We’re right there,” he said. “It’s obvious for the guys in the clubhouse.”
Arrieta acknowledges adjustments have to be made, as he knows “the transition to the major leagues from Triple-A is the biggest in sports.” While his teammates continue to absorb and learn, Arrieta is already there. His ERA sits at 2.65, with one or two starts remaining.
Maybe he’ll get that no-hitter.
“It was a little easier having those experiences earlier in the season,” he said. “I kind of tried to just put it in the back of my mind.”
"He's a guy I can use in many ways," manager Rick Renteria said Tuesday afternoon. "He can pinch run, he can pinch hit, plays all outfield positions. Pretty astute baseball player."
Szczur feels like a throwback. A defensive whiz without much pop -- he hit one home run at Triple-A this season -- he's more interested in the brick behind the ivy than which way the wind is blowing.
That's hardly the talk of the next slugger to crack the Cubs lineup. There'll be enough of those when it's all said and done, but what contending team can't use an athlete like Szczur? A two-sport (football) star at Villanova, he's made it to the big leagues because of his defense and speed (30 stolen bases at Triple-A). As a fifth-round pick in 2010, Szczur showed the Cubs that athleticism.
"They are very valuable players," Renteria said. "They are components of a winning team -- guys you can use later on in the ballgames. The skill set that he brings in terms of speed is really big."
Think about it: There is no Cub with that dimension who isn't already a starter. When is the last time they brought in a player as a defensive replacement or pinch ran with someone? Darwin Barney earlier this year? Every winning team has that kind of a guy on its roster. It’s not a luxury. It's a need. Szczur could be that guy, but he'll have to prove himself at the plate first and foremost.
"These guys coming off the bench need to play, too," Renteria said. "You might have a player go 10 days, two weeks without playing. They still have to perform."
As much as his defense could help the Cubs win games, it'll still be his bat that states whether Szczur has a future in Chicago. He knows that.
"I have to produce when given the opportunity," he said. "That could mean any number of things -- taking a walk or pinch hitting. I hope to stay."
His type will be needed.
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.
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.
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.
Of course, it was just a decade ago that names like Mark Prior, Angel Guzman and Juan Cruz littered top-100 lists. But as the saying goes, there's no such thing as a pitching prospect, so it's likely a good thing the current Cubs system is heavy in high-ceiling offensive talent. They don't possess an elite, Archie Bradley-like arm, but through bulk-drafting and some shrewd trades, the Cubs have put together a solid group of pitchers, many of whom project as solid mid-rotation candidates or slightly better.
The fact is, if the topic of the Cubs system is brought up in front of opposing talent evaluators, one will quite often find oneself in a long conversation. Long gone are the days of people wondering who, beyond one or two players, has any real future impact in the Cubs system. In fact, Brett Jackson, who not so long ago sat atop the Cubs' prospect rankings, would find himself among the back half of a Cubs top 10, even if he were still at his peak prospect value.
A few things to remember here: This is not a top-10 list or even a ranking of any sort. It's just a quick glimpse at some players who range from superstar potential to role player. Trying to judge a minor league player on his statistics is a highly imperfect way of analyzing prospects. Minor league stats never tell the whole story. That's why, as always, much of the information provided here is gathered from discussions with scouts and front office members from around the league.
Javier BaezPosition: SS Age: 20 Highest level in 2013: Double-A Tennessee
It's not often that broaching the topic of what a prospect could do at the major league level if everything goes right leads scouts to giggle with excitement, but that's what Baez's bat does to people. After struggling early at High-A Daytona, Baez quickly turned things around and forced a promotion by posting an .873 OPS with 17 home runs in 76 games in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League (FSL), then went on to terrorize opposing team's pitchers at Tennessee.
In 54 games at Double-A, Baez's elite bat speed continued to wow scouts, while delivering numbers to do the same. With a .294/.346/.638 line and 20 home runs and 15 doubles, it's clear why many believe Baez will be ready to send fastballs over the ivy at Wrigley Field at some point in 2014.
That's not to say that Baez is without his warts. Baez struck out 147 times with only 40 walks and committed 44 errors at two levels this season. Baez is an aggressive player who believes he can hit any pitch when he's at the plate and make any play while on defense. The defensive issues have nothing to do with fundamentals, but reining in his at times out-of-control play would do a lot in helping him reduce the errors.
As far as his aggressiveness at the plate, Baez has definitely taken some strides in 2013. The slider breaking low and away from him was quite often a bugaboo, but he's learning to stay away from the offering, forcing pitchers to come back over the plate and often making them pay for that decision. Baez also had numerous games in August in which he'd see 25 or more pitches in only four or five at-bats. Not only does seeing so many pitches wear down the opposition with a rising pitch count, but it increases the likelihood that Baez will see a pitch more to his liking. When that happens, good things usually follow.
Early in his career, there were questions about Baez's makeup, but those have quickly faded away and proven to be a non-issue. When watching Baez play, effort is never a question. In fact it's his intensity that sometimes gets the best of him.
What we saw from Baez this season was a big step forward. He still has work to do before the questions subside, but Baez has passed the biggest test a player will face at the minor league level by having a monster season at Double-A. Now it's just a matter of time before he has the opportunity to show what he can do at the big-league level.
Also agreeing to terms were pitchers Michael Bowden, Brook Raley, Chris Rusin, Alberto Cabrera, Rafael Dolis, Trey McNutt, Hector Rondon, Arodys Vizcaino and Robert Whitenack, catcher Steve Clevenger, infielders Junior Lake, Christian Villanueva, Josh Vitters and Logan Watkins as well as outfielders Brett Jackson, Dave Sappelt and Matt Szczur.
The only thing that Szczur lacks is enough baseball games under his belt to get him to the big leagues.
"I am excited that they have a lot of faith in me," Szczur said. "They are giving me excellent chances to play so I need to make the best out of my opportunity."
A football and baseball player at Villanova, the 23-year-old former two-sport star got a bit of a late start in developing his baseball skills because of fall and spring football practice.
"I am always my own harshest critic," he said. "I analyze and look back on everything I do on the field. My training makes me aggressive by instinct. Little things like playing a little shallow in the outfield (are) part of that approach. I want to take away hits and not let a ball fall in front of me, the game inside the game, and I think that has helped me become a better defender."
Szczur hit .295 at Class-A Daytona in the first half of the 2012 season. He was then moved up to Double-A Tennessee and struggled a bit, hitting .210 in 35 games. The young outfielder has had a lot of instruction along the way that has helped the former fifth-round pick improve since signing with the Cubs in the summer of 2010. One of those teachers has been Daytona manager and Fall League hitting coach Brian Harper.
"Brian Harper really took me under his wing," Szczur said. "He really helped me a lot with the base stealing part of the game and an overall approach. Learning how to play the game the right way is what he hammered home to me.
"Another person who had a big impact on me is (major league first base coach) Dave McKay. I was around Dave for only a short time in spring training but he helped me every day to get better. If I needed extra work at 7 a.m., Dave was there to work with me trying to prepare me. He knew my knowledge was a bit ignorant in the game because I had spent so much time with football. He helped me so much and it was in a period of less than two months."
Szczur will most likely begin the 2013 season back in Double A.
"I feel like the sky is the limit for me," Szczur said. "There is always room for improvement. I want to get better reads on balls hit right at me and Improve my baserunning and stealing ability. I believe that it is pretty good, but I will work hard to be better."
As of Wednesday, the right-handed batter from Cape May, N.J., was tied for second in the Fall League with nine stolen bases.
Outfielder Matt Szczur and shortstop Javier Baez were the highlights among the eight-player contingent the Cubs will send to play for the Mesa Solar Sox.
Also scheduled to play in the Arizona Fall League’s 20th season are infielder Rubi Silva and pitchers Dae-Eun Rhee, Kevin Rhoderick, Zach Rosscup, Nick Strunk and Tony Zych. Rhoderick will be a taxi squad member, which means he can only be activated on Wednesdays and Sundays.
Sveum, who makes his offseason home in Scottsdale, Ariz., said he has plans to take in some games.
“I’ll go; it’s not like I have anything else to do,” Sveum joked. “I think living there and being so close, you can go and watch a game and see the guys in your organization play and get a little more evaluation of them as well.”
Not on the Cubs’ list of players headed to the AFL is outfielder Jorge Soler, who has been impressive since joining the organization this summer. The Cuba native has batted .305 over his first 15 games at Single-A Peoria, following a short stint with Mesa in the Arizona Rookie League.
Not only do the Cubs want Soler to take it slow rather than play in the AFL, he will not play winter ball either.
“Jorge just hasn't played much baseball,” new farm director Brandon Hyde said. “He was in Arizona getting in shape and we're excited about the start he's had in Peoria. He just hasn't played much. We'd like to get him to instructional league and to get him five weeks to continue get his legs underneath him and just get into playing shape. He was just short on experience this last year and so we're excited about getting down there and getting with him every day. He's a special talent.”
Outfield prospects Brett Jackson and Matt Szczur were the highlights as they guided their team to a 10-4 victory Friday over a Cubs team made up largely of everyday players.
Jackson was 2-for-2 with two walks, two RBIs and two runs scored, leading off the game with a home run against Travis Wood. Szczur was 3-for-4 with a grand slam, double and six RBIs while also scoring two runs, including one from second base on a sacrifice fly to right field.
“It was definitely good to be out in the outfield with Jackson,” Szczur said. “I’ve never played with him before. It’s supposed to be the future and hopefully it is. It was fun. I had an awesome time today.”
Both are long shots to break camp with the team, but have made their presence felt -- and the Cactus League schedule hasn't even started.
“I’m more prepared than I have been coming into a season,” Jackson said. “I’m showing up to camp early and the hard practices we’ve had in the last couple of weeks have really prepared us for the spring and season.”
After Jackson’s home run to lead off the game, Szczur singled to right. While on second base two batters later, Reed Johnson lifted a fly ball to right field that was wind-aided. David DeJesus caught the ball while slamming into the fence in front of the Cubs dugout.
Szczur was off and running after the catch and when DeJesus took a beat to compose himself, he picked up speed and headed for home, scoring just ahead of the throw to the plate.
“You guys saw us out there doing base running [in camp],” Szczur said. “I think that’s what helped a lot. I cut down my corners and [manager] Dale [Sveum] has been doing an awesome job, [base-running coach] Dave [McKay] has been doing an awesome job. I think that helped out and that’s why I scored. Tony [Campana] scored too because he made an awesome turn and it helped out. It shows that base running does help.”
They also outrighted right-handed pitchers Esmailin Caridad and Kyle Smit and outfielder Lou Montanez off of the 40-man roster, which now stands at 34 players. Players on the 40-man roster are protected from the Dec. 8 Rule 5 draft.
Lake, a 21-year-old shortstop, had a strong 2011 Arizona Fall League season, batting .296 (34-for-115) with eight doubles, three triples, five home runs and 18 stolen bases in 28 games. Beliveau, 24, was named the Cubs 2011 Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
Szczur, 22, is listed as the third-best prospect in the Cubs system by “Baseball America” while Vitters, 22, is ranked ninth by the publication.
Keep in mind that the man hasn’t even been officially introduced as the new general manager.
As Chairman Tom Ricketts has stated all along, building a strong farm system is one of the top priorities for this team and Epstein is the perfect man to help do so, as his work in Boston proves.
Some seem to believe that the Cubs farm system is barren of high-ceiling talent, but that's a bit off. It’s true that impact talent at the higher levels of the minors is few and far between, but when looking at Single-A ball and below, the Cubs have some intriguing names that could eventually crack many top 100 prospect lists in the coming years.
When evaluating bats, Epstein’s philosophy has often been to emphasize patient hitters that will drive up the oppositions’ pitch count, draw walks, and have some power. He often looks for athletic players with some upside on the defensive end. As for pitchers, there really hasn’t been a consistent trend from Epstein during his Red Sox days, but as any talent evaluator would tell you, the ability to strike people out is always at a premium.
Below is a list of players in the Cubs organization that fit the mold Epstein and his staff will be looking for down the road. As always, this analysis is based upon information gathered from scouts and front office executives that have evaluated the players in question.
BRETT JACKSONAge: 23 | Position: CF | B/T: L/R | Highest level in '11: Triple-A Iowa
Jackson is definitely the obvious choice when it comes to Epstein-type players in the Cubs system. He’s also the most major-league ready, it’s nearly a certainty he’ll be playing every day in the Wrigley Field outfield at some point next summer. Cubs fans have been hearing about Jackson for so long that the hype has likely overtaken his actual value. Although Jackson is a five-tool player, none of those are at an elite level. His eye-popping 23.9 percent minor league career strikeout rate is of concern, but his ability to take a walk and hit for some power along with good defense in center field should counteract the strikeouts enough to make him a solid above-average regular.
TREY MCNUTTAge: 22 | Position: P | B/T: R/R | Highest level in '11: Double-A Tennessee
A 32nd-round pick in the 2009 draft, McNutt was a hot name entering the 2011 season. After posting a 2.48 ERA, with 132 strikeouts and only 37 walks in 116 1/3 innings through three levels in the minors in 2010, McNutt seemed to be on the fast track to the majors. However, an injury plagued 2011 (a finger blister on his throwing hand and later on bruised ribs) led to inconsistent performances, command issues, and a worrisome decrease in strikeouts (65 Ks in 95 innings). However, scouts tend to remain very encouraged by his stuff -- a power fastball, strong breaking ball and a developing changeup -- and most seem to agree that McNutt’s 2011 is a bad year that the Cubs can just write off due to injuries.
ZEKE DEVOSSAge: 21 | Position: 2B | B/T: S/R | Highest level in '11: Low-A Boise
This is where we start to mine the lower levels of the minors to find the future of the Cubs. DeVoss is an obvious choice as someone Epstein will be happy to have in his farm system considering the Red Sox drafted him in the 38th round out of high school in 2009. DeVoss nearly signed with Boston for an over-slot deal, but ultimately honored his commitment to play at the University of Miami. The Cubs drafted DeVoss in the third round of this past summer’s draft and found themselves an athletic speedster who profiles as a future lead-off hitter and a legit stolen base threat. DeVoss has shown in a very small sample to be an extremely patient hitter (.449 on-base percentage in 187 plate appearances at two levels). While he has very little pop (no home runs in 42 minor league games) it’s possible he may develop enough power to be comparable to other second basemen. Whether he can play second every day, as opposed to eventually moving to center, is another question. But he’s athletic enough that he’ll be given every opportunity to remain in the infield.
DANIEL VOGELBACHAge: 19 | Position: 1B | B/T: L/R | Highest level in '11: Arizona Rookie League
Vogelbach was a 2011 draftee like DeVoss, but Vogelbach didn’t sign until the Aug. 15 deadline. The Red Sox were interested in him, but that’s where the similarities end. Vogelbach has battled weight issues throughout his high school career, but it never stopped him from hitting monstrous home runs. Along with the prodigious raw power (a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale), Vogelbach brings extreme patience, racking up high walk totals. With his power and body type, the Prince Fielder comparisons are obvious, but on the downside, the name Bob Hamelin has been mentioned as well. He is unexpectedly light on his feet and is a good runner for his size. If Vogelbach can continue to keep his weight in check (he is said to be at 250 pounds as opposed to the 280 he was carrying a year ago), the Cubs may have found their first baseman of the future.
DILLON MAPLESAge: 19 | Position: P | B/T: R/R | Highest level in '11: None
A 14th-round draft pick, Maples received $2.5 million from the Cubs, who lured him away from the University of North Carolina. He is going to be relied upon heavily in an organization with a dearth of talented young pitchers. Maples has an above average fastball that sits at 92-94 mph -- and sometimes ticks up a bit higher -- to go along with a really good, hard curveball. He has a stiff, upright delivery that can lead to command issues and will likely need some cleaning up. However, some scouts feel that due to his athleticism (in addition to playing baseball, Maples was recruited to punt for the UNC football team) it’s worth the risk that he’ll make the adjustments necessary to take advantage of his above-average stuff.
MATT SZCZURAge: 22 | Position: CF | B/T: R/R | Highest level in '11:High-A Daytona
Another two-sport star that the Cubs paid big money for, the speedy Szczur recently gave up playing wide receiver at Villanova to concentrate solely on baseball. Scouts seem to be pretty split on Szczur’s potential, since he’s 22 and still hasn’t progressed past A-ball. However, the fact that he’s just now focusing on baseball leads some to believe that he can finally tap into his vast potential. Szczur was quite strong at low-A Peoria in 2011 (.314/.366/.431) but struggled when he was promoted to high-A Daytona (.260/.283/.410). Szczur is clearly a wild-card as expectations seem to range from comparisons to Jacoby Ellsbury all the way down to a fourth or fifth outfielder whose swing will never produce much more than slap singles. What isn’t debatable is his elite speed, which many scouts have put an 80 label on.
BEN WELLSAge: 19 | Position: P | B/T: R/R | Highest level in '11: Low-A Boise
Wells is a projectable, unfinished product, but his upside is what attracted the Cubs to him. They were thrilled to get someone of his talent in the seventh round of the 2010 draft, but it definitely came at a price. They gave Wells $530,000 to keep him from going to the University of Arkansas. Wells has a big fastball and impressive feel for his curveball considering his age. He’s mostly an upside guy, and upside guys -- especially pitchers -- are risks, but it’s an educated gamble that’s worth taking on the Cubs part.
LOGAN WATKINSAge: 22 | Position: 2B/SS | B/T: L/R | Highest level in '11:High-A Daytona
Watkins has gotten off to slow starts the past two years, but seems to really take off in the second half. Regardless, he still managed a respectable .281/.352/.404 line this season. While he’s not yet a great base runner, he’s just a tick slower than DeVoss. He’s also more likely than DeVoss to remain at second, and there are some who believe he could handle shortstop, which makes him all the more valuable. Like most of the kids on this list, Watkins is extremely athletic with a very polished approach at the plate.
JEIMER CANDELARIOAge: 17 | Position: 3B | B/T: S/R | Highest level in '11: Dominican Summer League
Pretty much an unknown at the age of 17 and playing in the Dominican Summer League, Candelario could turn out to be a star or may never be heard from again. But regardless of the competition he’s facing, Candelario drew 50 walks in 305 plate appearances, leading to a .443 OBP. That’s a rare display of patience by someone at that age. When he did swing the bat, Candelario did some damage, batting .337 with 16 doubles and five home runs. With power being one of the last things to develop for a prospect and adding to that the fact that he bats from both sides of the plate, Candelario is surely an intriguing prospect. Again, take the numbers with a grain of salt as they’re at the very lowest level of competition associated with major league baseball, but he’s definitely a name to file in the memory bank as he continues to progress through the Cubs system.
“I’ve had good support from the Cubs,” Szczur said before Sunday’s Futures Game at Chase Field in Phoenix. “I’ve been successful in Peoria and hopefully I’ll be successful in Daytona. “
The Cubs signed Szczur to a four-year contract worth more than $1 million to allow him to concentrate on baseball. Szczur was an all-purpose receiver at Villanova and a legitmate NFL prospect.
“I’m still learning the skill set in baseball,” Szczur said, “But I really think it’s coming for me. I played mostly football growing up, so I switched sports. The Cubs have been very supportive. They just want me to get experience and put the work in.”
Szczur could be a leadoff man in the big leagues, or hit further down in the order. The Cubs feel that he’ll be able to produce both speed and power as he progresses in his professional career.
“He’s an upper-tier runner in our organization already,” Fleita said. “And he has great hand-eye coordination. The way he’s playing, it appears he’ll only get better.”
Fleita believes that Szczur will be playing at Double-A Tennessee by next year and by age 22 could be projected on a fast track to Wrigley Field.
Szczur himself feels that all he needs is more repetition to round out his resume.
“I don’t have much experience yet and I’m working on my fundamentals,” Szczur said. “I believe my swing is coming along, but I’m learning to stay back on the ball and give it a better swing than just slapping at it.”
The Cubs are projecting an outfield of Brett Jackson, Tyler Colvin and Szczur sometime in the near future.
Baseball America reported that in order to give Szczur, a star football player at Villanova and solid NFL prospect, more money to give up football, the Cubs had to release the outfielder and re-sign him to a new deal which opened him up to Rule 5 considerations.
But that's standard procedure, Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said before Friday's home finale at HoHoKam Stadium.
"If he's healthy, we should put him on [the 40-man] before next year, and he's got three years to get to the big leagues," Hendry said. "It's a procedural thing. It's a standard minor league contract. If you change the contract for additional money you have to re-do it. You can't just write a check and then at the end of next year have to decide whether you want to add him on."
The Cubs are expecting Szczur to move quickly through the system and compete for the center field/leadoff job before his minor league options are up.
Szczur, 21, got drafted in the fifth round last year and initially signed for a $100,000 bonus.
He got a hit in his first 21 games last summer and earned a brief promotion to Class A Peoria before returning to Villanova for his senior season. He hit .347 in 25 games. The Cubs re-signed him for $1.4 million in January.