Chicago Cubs: Ryan Kalish

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
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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.

Don't rush to judgment on Ramirez

May, 26, 2014
May 26
3:09
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
Manny RamirezBrendan Maloney/USA TODAY Sports Manny Ramirez helped Mike Olt while the two were at Triple-A Round Rock.
SAN FRANCISCO -- The best response to the Chicago Cubs signing Manny Ramirez to be a player/coach for their Triple-A Iowa team may have come from the man he’s meant to mentor the most: top prospect Javier Baez.

"He's a great hitter, and we'll see what happens," Baez told the Des Moines Register.

It’s hard to argue with the wait-and-see approach considering the move is so outside the box in the first place. How can anyone have a definitive opinion on something like this within 24 hours of the announcement? Have you spent a lot of time wondering if Ramirez would be a good coach or not? More important, we have to see this version of Ramirez, not the one that brought controversy with him wherever he went.

Until recently at least.

“We really didn’t know what to expect,” Cubs third baseman Mike Olt, who experienced playing with Ramirez while at Triple-A Round Rock, said Monday before the Cubs played the Giants. “The first day he got (to Texas) he was really interacting with everybody.”

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Rapid Reaction: Yankees 4, Cubs 2 (13)

May, 21, 2014
May 21
6:13
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Here's a quick look at the Chicago Cubs' 4-2 loss to the New York Yankees in 13 innings on Wednesday afternoon:

How it happened: Jose Veras gave up two runs in the 13th inning as the winning run crossed after a wild pitch. Jeff Samardzija's winless streak continues after Hector Rondon squandered a 2-0 lead in the ninth following seven shutout innings by the Cubs ace. Samardzija, who surrendered just four hits and lowered his ERA to an MLB-best 1.46, has not won since Aug. 24, 2013, a span of 17 starts. Mike Olt put the Cubs on the board with a bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the fourth inning. The Cubs added to their 1-0 lead when Emilio Bonifacio put down a bunt to score Ryan Kalish from third after Kalish tripled pinch-hitting for Samardzija in the seventh. But the Yankees loaded the bases with no outs off Rondon in the ninth inning before Ichiro Suzuki grounded into a fielder's choice, but Darwin Barney's throw to first was wide, allowing the tying run to score from second base.

What it means: Heading into the ninth inning the Cubs had been playing their best baseball of the season, winning three straight games. They got situational hitting they weren't getting over the first six weeks, with Olt being the best example. He has driven in four runs over the past two days with a base hit, two sacrifice flies and a bases-loaded walk.

Samardzija: If it was closer to mid-July, Samardzija would be in line for a starting nod in the All-Star Game -- that's how good he has been. His ERA is easily the best in baseball, and he hasn't slowed down, going seven innings or more in seven of 10 starts.

What's next: The Cubs hit the road for 10 games starting with a four-game series in San Diego. Righty Jake Arrieta (0-0, 2.70) takes on Eric Stults (2-4, 4.50) in Game 1 at 9:10 p.m. CT on Thursday.

Cubs' outfield plan needs an overhaul

May, 19, 2014
May 19
3:28
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- The rebuilding Chicago Cubs are heavy in infield prospects, but where are the outfielders who are going to help lead them to contending status?

They certainly aren't employed by the big league club right now.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Rizzo
Brian Kersey/Getty ImagesJunior Lake leads Cubs outfielders with five home runs but his 45 strikeouts also lead the team.
This will come as no surprise to the Cubs, as they know they hired a group of fourth outfielders to roam Wrigley Field this season, but the numbers are staggering.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Cubs outfielders have a .289 on-base percentage, second worst in baseball. Their .639 OPS is third worst. Their 24.7 strikeout percentage is third highest and their 5.9 walk percentage is fourth lowest. Their six home runs are the fewest in the National League. When Junior Lake (five home runs) doesn't start and with Justin Ruggiano (one homer) on the disabled list, the Cubs' outfield has zero home runs.

At least their strikeout percentage goes down when Lake sits, as he alone brings that way up with 45 whiffs in 114 at-bats. There's no other way to cut it, the Cubs' outfield isn't very productive, and that's even with early-season surprise Emilio Bonifacio (.292, .337 OBP) playing there more often than not since Ruggiano went down with a hamstring injury.

A bad six weeks by veteran Nate Schierholtz has really affected the numbers, but again, this can't come as a big surprise. Were Ryan Kalish, Ryan Sweeney, Chris Coghlan and Ruggiano along with Lake and Schierholtz really going to shock the baseball world this season? Not according to the back of their baseball cards.

But we know this was by design. The Cubs don't want to clog up their outfield with expensive and older players when their prospects are ready, so they passed on free agents such as Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo. You may think that was all about money, but when the Cubs are on the record saying they didn't spend everything they could have last offseason then passing on those players was by choice. And it was the right choice.

But for an organization with so many prospects, not one at Triple-A Iowa is projected as an everyday outfielder in the big leagues. In fact there's only one with any intrigue: defensive whiz Matt Szczur. Josh Vitters, Brett Jackson and Logan Watkins aren't going to be starting on the Cubs when the team is ready to compete -- or likely ever. At the lower levels of the minors we know there are some names with some talent such as Jorge Soler and Albert Almora. Soler hasn't been healthy enough to know when he'll be ready and Almora is still (for now) at high Class A ball in Daytona. If the Cubs are honest about not skipping any levels and prospects having to dominate before advancing then both still have a ways to go, maybe a long ways.

[+] EnlargeKris Bryant
Tony Farlow/Four Seam Images/AP ImagesKris Bryant could end up in the outfield by the time he gets to Wrigley Field.
So how can the Cubs advance their rebuilding? How about getting serious about moving some players to the outfield, starting with Double-A stud Kris Bryant? It's not that Bryant can't play third base, but he's needed more in the outfield and right now the Cubs have a third baseman (Mike Olt) leading all rookies in home runs and just four behind the National League leader despite not playing every day.

Bryant recently told ESPNChicago.com that he's working extremely hard at third base. There's a good chance the Cubs are going to move him to the outfield eventually. Why not now? Why let him put all that work in at third instead of the outfield? Why wait as they did with Lake and now with Javier Baez? Lake is paying for it now, and Baez will almost assuredly be paying for it later when he's moved from shortstop.

In fact, maybe Baez or even Starlin Castro should move to the outfield or at least out of the shortstop position. Both might be best suited for third base. There's a chance neither Castro nor Baez is suited to play shortstop for a championship-caliber team. Scouts confirm what the eye test shows: Castro doesn't see the ball well off the bat, especially on line drives. On all balls hit to his left and right he's plus-16, on balls hit straight at him he's minus-27 for his career. Either he doesn't pick up the spin or isn't judging the speed or trajectory.

Unless the belief Baez is going to go down as one of the greatest power-hitting shortstops of all time he needs to move from shortstop, as well. Let him focus on the thing he does best: slugging. Could either play center field? Are the Cubs going to wait for one player at Class A right now and not give a shot to anyone else in center until Almora is ready? Prospect Arismendy Alcantara could move back to shortstop. He's the more prototypical candidate for a team that should employ bigger sluggers around him.

Not to say Castro is an awful shortstop, but he could be an option to improve the black hole that is the outfield.

The Cubs say things will play out and that's just fine in a lost season like this one. Let Lake learn on the job. Give new manager Rick Renteria something to do -- like when he was animatedly teaching Lake the finer points of defense on Saturday during batting practice -- but the Cubs could quickly change the outlook in their outfield if they started moving some pieces around. That way 2015 or more likely 2016 might not only be about developing but maybe it starts to be about winning.

Otherwise, the rebuilding project might continue on that snail's pace. No one wants that.

Series preview: Cubs at Cardinals

May, 12, 2014
May 12
11:00
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
ST. LOUIS -- The Chicago Cubs begin a four-game series with the St. Louis Cardinals here on Monday.

The series:

Monday: Travis Wood (2-4, 4.75 ERA) vs. Tyler Lyons (0-2, 3.43 ERA) at 7 p.m. CT.

Tuesday: Jake Arrieta (0-0, 2.89) vs. Adam Wainwright (6-2, 2.02) at 7:15 p.m. CT.

Wednesday: Jason Hammel (4-1, 2.45) vs. Michael Wacha (2-3, 2.85) at 7:15 p.m. CT

Thursday: Jeff Samardzija (0-3, 1.45) vs. Lance Lynn (4-2, 3.83) at 12:45 p.m. CT

Key game: It might be Game 1, as Wood is coming off his worst start in almost two years. He’s been giving up too many hits and walked five during his last outing against the Chicago White Sox. And will Samardzija finally get a win in Game 4? The team is 1-7 in his starts despite that sparkling 1.45 ERA.

Who’s hot and who’s not: Cubs outfielder Ryan Kalish has been getting on base as the leadoff batter when Emilio Bonifacio isn’t starting. He has 6 hits in his last 20 at-bats (.300) and has six multihit games this season. Kalish hasn’t played regularly in several years, so it’s possible he just needed at-bats to find a level of consistency. Expect more playing time as the Cubs’ outfield hasn’t been very productive. Samardzija has been as hot as anyone. He has not given up an earned run in two starts this month.

Bonifacio has been slumping. He’s 2-for-13 (.153) since the Cubs left Wrigley Field for the road. His average has dropped to below .300 after a torrid start to the season.

Cubs go month without a series win

April, 30, 2014
Apr 30
12:21
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive


CINCINNATI -- The Chicago Cubs don't have to know the outcome of their Wednesday game against the Cincinnati Reds to understand they won't win a series in the first month of the season. The best they can do is split this one after dropping a 3-2 game that was filled with rain delays Tuesday night.

Monday's game was rained out and will be made up at a future date, meaning Wednesday is just about not getting swept.

It also means the Cubs will not have won a series in April for the first time since 1997.

They've won two games in a row, just not two against the same opponent in a three-game series or three in a four-game series.

It's more symbolic than anything, but all you ever hear a manager say is, "We want to win each series."

Instead of being depressed about this situation, it might be time to take a step back. The Cubs are rebuilding. Part of that rebuilding is learning how to play the game with a very young group. Cubs manager Rick Renteria addresses that aspect all the time; his players are constantly in the classroom learning.

"If we keep inching forward, at some point those [series wins] will start to come," he said after Tuesday's loss. "Hopefully they come in bunches."

But they won't come before the Cubs learn to play the game better, while adding more talent to the roster. Just over the last few days there were mistakes made that veteran teams simply wouldn't make as often.

"We've learned this first month that to win big league ballgames you have to put all phases of the game together," said Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija, who suffered the loss Tuesday. "Not just one can show up. You have to pitch, play defense, and you have to hit. These good teams that we are playing do all three, and they do it every day."

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Cubs go down quietly in New York

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
11:59
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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NEW YORK -- The Big Apple just took a bite out of the Chicago Cubs' offense.

On a long, cold day and night in the Bronx, the New York Yankees did just enough at the plate, while the Cubs did little there in losing 3-0 and 2-0 in a rare doubleheader shutout sweep. It’s the first time it has happened to the Cubs since June 27, 1962, against the St. Louis Cardinals, according to data from ESPN Stats & Information research.

"Both of them were good," Cubs shortstop Emilio Bonifacio said of Yankees starters Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda. “Their breaking pitches were pretty good, both of them.”

And the Cubs aren’t very good. They just came off a decent seven games on offense but still went 3-4 last week. You get the feeling there will be more days like Wednesday over the course of the next 148 games. They’ve already been shut out four times in their first 14.

"They just have to keep playing. They have to keep getting after it and keep adjusting," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said.

Without much mystery to the talent on the team, the conversation turns back to playing time. Should Renteria play potential core players more, or is he doing a good job of protecting them by platooning?

"We have been giving everyone an opportunity to face as many guys as possible," Renteria said. "We’ll continue to evaluate and allow these guys to get into a rhythm if we can. Everybody has been getting a lot of at-bats. It’s really not for a lack of playing time."

But what’s the point if you’re simply not as talented as most of the league? The Cubs know this. If they’re going to lose 100 games, do it with a purpose. Ryan Kalish and Darwin Barney left a combined 11 runners on base in the nightcap on Wednesday. That does no one any good. At least if Mike Olt or Junior Lake struggle in that way, they can still actually get something out of it. Let’s face it, if Barney or Kalish are in a Cubs uniform in a year it will be a surprise to everyone. That’s not the case with Olt and Lake.

Olt struck out three times against Tanaka during the day game. He looked bad, but this is the time to let him struggle. The more he plays, the better he will be in the future. That’s common sense. The bottom line is the Cubs need to lose with some purpose. There was little of that in New York over the course of their 12 hours at Yankee Stadium.

Castillo bunting: Renteria indicated catcher Welington Castillo bunted on his own in the fifth inning of Game 2 on Wednesday night. With runners on first and second and none out, Castillo laid down a nice sacrifice, but it wasn’t what his manager wanted.

"We wanted him to swing the bat," he said.

The Cubs' Nos. 8 and 9 hitters were due up, as Kalish subsequently struck out and Barney flew out. Renteria has used the bunt often so far this season, so maybe Castillo thought it was the right move. It wasn’t.

Rapid Reaction: Yankees 2, Cubs 0 (Gm. 2)

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
9:30
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive


NEW YORK -- The Chicago Cubs dropped Game 2 of their doubleheader to the New York Yankees 2-0. Here’s a quick look:

How it Happened: The Yankees scored single runs in the fourth and fifth innings while starter Michael Pineda pitched six scoreless innings in Game 2 as the Yankees shutout the Cubs twice on Wednesday. Three singles in the fourth off of Travis Wood plated their first run, then three more in the fifth got them their second. Pineda wasn’t as dominating as Masahiro Tanaka was in the matinee, but he was plenty good. He gave up just four hits and a walk while striking out three. He gave up one, two-out extra base hit in the sixth to Anthony Rizzo, but that was quickly forgotten about when Nate Schierholtz popped out. The Yankees’ bullpen got into some trouble as the tying runs were on second and third in the ninth, but Ryan Kalish grounded out to end the game. He stranded six himself, while Darwin Barney left five men on base. Wood gave up 11 hits but 10 were singles and he didn’t walk a batter.

Key early moment: It came in the fifth with the Cubs trailing 1-0 and men on first and second with none out. Cubs manager Rick Renteria had Welington Castillo bunt the runners over with his No. 8 and No. 9 hitters up. Kalish struck out while Barney flew out. Rally and inning over.

What it means: An offense that had scored four or more runs in 7 straight games came to an abrupt halt on Wednesday. The cold weather and good Yankees’ pitching had something to do with it, but the Yankees had to hit some good Cubs pitching in the same conditions. They got the job done. Kalish has regressed from spring training, while Barney is getting limited starts and not doing much at the plate either. In 18 innings of baseball on Wednesday the Cubs had nine hits, while the Yankees had 17 in two less innings at the plate. That tells the story of the day and night right there.

Bosio tossed: Pitching coach Chris Bosio was thrown out of the game in the seventh inning after arguing balls and strikes from the dugout.

What’s next: The Cubs are off again on Thursday before starting a run of 13 consecutive days of games starting with Friday’s contest at Wrigley Field with the Cincinnati Reds. Jeff Samardzija takes on Alfredo Simon.

Renteria's style proving to be unpredictable

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
1:22
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
After two weeks on the job, Chicago Cubs manager Rick Renteria might best be described by one word: unpredictable.

Maybe he realizes he doesn't exactly have a roster full of All-Stars or maybe this is how he's always going to be as a manager. But either way, trying to guess a lineup or strategy move of his isn't the easiest of tasks.

[+] EnlargeRick Renteria
AP Photo/Andrew A. NellesRick Renteria hasn't shied away from some unconventional decisions in his first two weeks as Cubs manager.
He has bunted in unusual moments, called hit and runs when least expected and hasn't used the same lineup twice. In fact, only two players -- Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro -- have started every game. The result is a 4-8 record as the Cubs take an off day in New York before beginning a series with the Yankees on Tuesday.

This past weekend in St. Louis some of his unconventional thinking was on display. On Friday, after the Cubs tied the score 1-1 in the seventh and put runners on first and second with none out, Renteria called for a hit and run as Nate Schierholtz took off for third and Castro swung and missed at a pitch. Schierholtz was easily thrown out and the inning ended soon after.

"Here is a guy [Castro] who had been swinging the bat really well," Renteria said after the game. "You would think I might bunt him there ... Starlin hits a lot of ground balls. My hope was at the bare minimum he puts the ball in play and we have men at second and third and I'm back to the same situation."

It's unconventional as much for what Renteria said just there as anything. Castro was hot, plus the Cubs had just reached with three straight batters, and with a slower runner in Schierholtz trying to make it to third, Castro almost had to hit a ground ball or get a base hit for a good outcome. And pitcher Carlos Martinez had gotten 32 percent of hitters to swing and miss at him so far, well above the league average, according to ESPN Stats &samp; Information. In fact, Renteria said he's done the same move in the past and hit into a line-drive triple play. But he did it anyway.

Then there's the bunting. The Cubs are at the top of the league in sacrifice bunts with seven and that doesn't include the unsuccessful tries such as later in Friday's game. It was the top of the 11th in a 3-3 game and after already bunting Ryan Sweeney successfully to get Schierhlotz to third, Renteria had lefty Ryan Kalish attempt a safety squeeze with one out. Kalish was so taken aback by the sign he wasn't focused enough on the execution.

"I put all thought of anything besides I need to hit out of my head when I finally got [the sign] I didn't execute," Kalish said after the game. "My goal was to bunt it down to first base. They had to get my attention."

Schierholtz was as surprised as anyone. (By the way, does Renteria think Schierholtz is faster than we think?) With the great Yadier Molina behind the plate and a lefty up, he didn't exactly have a great lead and so a perfect bunt was needed. Kalish popped out but luckily catcher Welington Castillo followed with a homer to help win the game.

"Believe me I sit there thinking, 'Guys, I'm thinking outside the box here and here are all the things going through my mind and why,'" Renteria said.

So he knows it isn't the norm to call some of these plays, yet Renteria is willing to try. That part of his managerial style might be a work in progress but some of the other results so far give credence to his abilities as a communicator.

Rizzo and Castro are off to good starts, so whatever buttons he's pushing are working there. And as Renteria preached "good approaches" at the plate during spring training, and the first week of the regular season, the offense sputtered. He stayed the course -- and for better or worse -- stayed with his platoon lineups. The result was seven straight games last week of scoring four runs or more. The last time the Cubs did that was late May of last season. In that span they went 5-2. This time it translated into a 3-4 record and they have dropped two of three in every series so far.

"If we keep pushing, at some point it has to turn," Renteria said after Sunday's 6-4 loss to the Cardinals. "If we were playing really bad baseball I'd go, 'Gosh, I'd be really concerned.' But the reality is they're showing a lot of fight."

Renteria's defense of his players also fits with people's descriptions of him before he took the job. He has gone to bat for the struggling Edwin Jackson as well as Jose Veras, though he didn't remain stubborn after initially saying Veras was still the closer. He backed Veras up Saturday to reporters after a blown save then talked to him Sunday and announced a change. There's nothing wrong with that.

Analyzing Cubs managers is a rite of spring -- and summer, fall and winter as well. With just a few short weeks on the job, Renteria is already leaving an impression. Is it the start of something special or is he too optimistic and unconventional for the gig in the Cubs dugout? Time will tell, but it has been an interesting start to his managerial career.

Teammates marvel at Bonifacio's 'epic' start

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
10:00
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- As the milestones pile up for Chicago Cubs infielder/outfielder Emilio Bonifacio, so do the accolades from all over the baseball world, including his teammates.

"It's pretty epic," outfielder Ryan Kalish said on Wednesday before the Cubs beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 7-5.

[+] EnlargeBonifacio
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsEmilio Bonifacio has 19 hits through eight games this season.
Bonifacio is putting up numbers that haven't been accomplished by a Cub in many years.

For example, not since 1914 has a Cubs player had 17 hits in his first seven games; Bonifacio added hits 18 and 19 in his eighth game on Wednesday night.

Only one other player has had 19 hits in eight games; that was Randy Jackson in 1954, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

No one before Bonifacio ever had a one-, two-, three-, four- and five-hit game in his first seven tilts. Check that one off for him, as well.

He's been outstanding.

But it's the praise from teammates that Bonifacio loves hearing.

"I think we were in awe the second day," outfielder Nate Schierholtz said. "When you collect nine hits in two games to start the season, I guess that's every guy's dream. It's been impressive. You think it's going to slow down, and it hasn't."

If it's not praise from teammates, Bonifacio has plenty of family and friends letting him know how he's doing. He doesn't need to look at the stats to know he's leading the league in hitting.

"A lot of friends they send me texts," Bonifacio said. "They're happy for me. Sometimes they send me texts telling me what I did and I'm like, ‘I was there. I did it. I know.' But I know they are excited, especially in the Dominican Republic."

Friends, teammates and even former teammates are wanting some time with Bonifacio, whose .500 batting average is tops in the majors entering play on Thursday.

"Jose Reyes [of Toronto], I talk to him almost every day. He says, 'Keep doing it,'" Bonifacio said.

Bonifacio has made it easy on Cubs manager Rick Renteria. No matter who's on the mound, Renteria can pencil him in as a switch-hitter who can play nearly anywhere on the diamond. With the Cubs' lineup in flux each day, Bonifacio has become entrenched.

"It's a unique skill to have," Renteria said of getting on base. "He's using it to the best of his ability. We're glad that we have him out there as often as we can. If you have a leadoff guy you can slot in, it's really big."

In a matter of a few weeks, he's become a leader on the team. Quiet by nature, Bonifacio is being sought out by teammates.

"Now we're just expecting it with him right now," Kalish said. "He's super educated; just picking his brain. He really has a good idea of what he's trying to do. That's huge for any player. It's really fun to watch right now."

Most Cubs say they've never seen or experienced a hot streak like the one Bonifacio is on, especially at the start of the season.

It takes time to get locked in and usually some warm weather. The Cubs haven't played a game in a warm-weather city yet, but that hasn't stopped Bonifacio.

"That's a serious hot streak any time of the season," Schierholtz said. "He's found a home here. He's so valuable because he can play everywhere. Something that every team needs."

The Cubs need it more than most. Getting on base and causing havoc isn't something they've had in great supply lately. That might be prospect Albert Almora's future role. Right now it's Bonifacio's role, as he has more natural speed than just about any other Cub.

"I think he's always going to have a really good chance when he goes up to the plate because of his overall knowledge of the game and experience," Kalish said. "He's been through it all and can get on base in so many ways. I love having him as our leadoff man."

Week in review: Closer, lineup questions

April, 7, 2014
Apr 7
12:19
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
Jose VerasGregg Forwerck/Getty ImagesJose Veras hasn't provided much relief for the Cubs in two appearances this season.
CHICAGO -- The first day off for the Chicago Cubs on Monday gives us a chance to review the first week of the season.

No conclusions can be drawn from their 2-4 start, for the team or individual players. The most we can examine is whether there are any short- and long-term trends forming. In analyzing the Cubs, the long-term implications are always more important than the short term, at least for now.

With that in mind, let's review the first week:

Starting staff: Like early last season, they're doing their job. The lone so-so performance came from All-Star Travis Wood, but there is little to worry about with him. The Phillies' Chase Utley destroyed the Cubs over the weekend, and Wood made one costly mistake to him on a wind-aided home run Friday. Newcomer Jason Hammel was great in saving the bullpen Thursday in Pittsburgh in the Cubs' first victory of the year.

Jeff Samardzija has been very good through two starts, although he has no wins to show for it. With zero runs scored while he's been on the mound -- losing 1-0 and 2-0 -- the idea of a trade to a contender might sound better and better to him. It's simple. If Samardzija can keep his pitch count to a reasonable number and have success throughout the first half while staying healthy, that combination should bring a huge return for him in a trade by July 31. That is unless the Cubs change their minds and sign him. The starting staff produced a 1.93 ERA through the first week, good for fourth in baseball. Cold weather or not, that's impressive.

[+] EnlargeRyan Kalish
Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY SportsCould Ryan Kalish play his way into the Cubs' future plans?
The lineup: If you want to give manager Rick Renteria the benefit of the doubt for the first week of the season, go ahead. If you think Ryan Kalish deserves some starts, an argument can be made for it, and not just because of his two-hit, three-RBI performance Sunday. He was a rising prospect with Boston before injuries sidelined him, and he's young enough (26) that he could play his way into a larger role in Chicago. But there is no short- or long-term reason that outfielder Ryan Sweeney should be getting starts over Junior Lake. And Mike Olt needs to be playing more often as well.

Are the Cubs really going to rotate a platoon through basically four positions at third, second, left and center? That does no one any good. Renteria might be trying to win a game that day, but if the Cubs are interested in winning every game, they would have a better team on the field in the first place. Nothing against Sweeney, but he isn't going to be a starter on this team when it becomes a contender; neither will Luis Valbuena. The other players could be. The argument ends there.

As for Emilio Bonifacio, he's been amazing. What team wouldn't want a player with speed who can play as many positions as he can? In fact, how many players play center field, shortstop and second base in a season? It's not a long list. Bonifacio played all three in the first three games and hit .500 for the week. It's unclear what his long-term role on the Cubs could be, but any contender would like to have this version of Bonifacio somewhere on the field or bench. He made the first week fun to watch.

The closer: For the second spring in a row, the Cubs chose to ignore all the signs that their closer wasn't ready for that role to start the season. Even if we're supposed to look the other way at the results in spring, Carlos Marmol and now Jose Veras simply weren't moving in the right direction with their stuff as the Cactus League progressed. It's no surprise that Veras has blown one save and gave up runs in his second appearance of the season on Sunday against the Phillies in a nonsave situation.

Renteria has said he's not worried about Veras, but he might be the only one. Long term, it isn't a big deal because Veras won't be here, but at this point handing the job to Pedro Strop might be the way to go. Then again, Veras' trade value will plummet like Marmol's. But at least there will be fewer late-inning headaches along the way.

Overall analysis: It's no surprise the offense struggled through the first week. It's not very good, and Starlin Castro is just starting to look better after missing most of spring training. Their poor hitting (.170) with runners in scoring position is getting all the headlines, but getting on base is more important right now. Their .294 on-base percentage through one week -- which includes a seven-walk day against A.J. Burnett and the Phillies on Sunday -- pretty much mirrors their .307 figure this spring and .300 for all of last season. It's not nearly good enough.

When that improves, everything else on offense will as well. And the offense will improve over time if the best hitters and hitting prospects are in the lineup. Even if players struggle on a certain day, playing Olt and Lake -- and to a smaller extent Kalish -- should be the Cubs' No. 1 priority at the plate.

Kalish glad to play role in victory

April, 6, 2014
Apr 6
6:41
PM CT
By Sahadev Sharma
Special to ESPNChicago.com
Archive
CHICAGO -- Ryan Kalish says he lives like every day may be his last. With his parents watching in the Wrigley stands, Kalish made sure Sunday was a good one for him and the Chicago Cubs.

The Cubs' offense has sputtered early in the season, especially with men on base, but Kalish quickly put the team at ease by driving a run-scoring triple off the wall in right-center field in the first inning. Kalish drove in two more with a double in the sixth and had two walks for good measure as the Cubs went on to defeat the Philadelphia Phillies 8-3.

[+] EnlargeRyan Kalish
David Banks/Getty ImagesRyan Kalish had a big day for the Cubs in a victory over the Phillies on Sunday at Wrigley Field.
Kalish, who was making only his second start of the season, was asked if that's what he called making the most of an opportunity.

"I call it making the most of helping my team win," Kalish said. "Every day I just come in and I'm just ready for whatever's thrown my way. Especially with everything I've been through, I don't really care, I just want to give it my all when I'm given the chance."

Before this season, Kalish hadn't played in a major league game since September 2012. After having recurring back and neck issues stemming from a collision with an outfield wall in April 2011, Kalish underwent cervical fusion surgery and missed the 2013 season.

Once a well-thought of prospect in the Boston Red Sox system, Kalish was an afterthought by many heading into spring training with the Cubs. But after proving he was healthy and productive, he earned his way onto the Opening Day roster.

"It's been awesome, I've enjoyed every single day," Kalish said of making the team out of spring. "I'm trying to live my life like every day could be your last mentality. Especially my story, it's just the way I have to live and the way I think we all should live. We're all really blessed to be here in the major leagues, a lot of people aren't as fortunate to have that opportunity. I'm just trying to do what I can with it."

Kalish also flashed the leather, going to the wall to make a catch on a long drive from Ryan Howard, and making a nice snag on another Howard liner to end the game.

"I love the outfield, I'm comfortable in any position at any time, any park, you just have to know what kind of wall you're dealing with. I'm not going full-speed into this one here, guys, I'm just going to keep it real," Kalish said with a smile of the soon-to-be ivy-covered brick wall at Wrigley Field. "I sat out way too long; you gotta pick your spots."

(Read full post)

More intrigue in Cubs roster than year ago

March, 30, 2014
Mar 30
7:20
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive
PITTSBURGH -- The Chicago Cubs' 25-man roster includes seven new position players compared to Opening Day a year ago, as well as eight new pitchers, including the injured Jake Arrieta and James McDonald. Both were placed on the disabled list to start the season, along with Kyuji Fujikawa.

Position players

Among the bigger stories coming out of spring involve Mike Olt and Emilio Bonifacio, though the addition of Ryan Kalish should be interesting, as well.

Olt and Junior Lake will get a shot to play themselves into the core of the team; but don’t count out Bonifacio or Kalish, either, considering they’re only 28 and 26, respectively. Their age and abilities give them a chance to stick around, even if they aren’t every-day starters.

As for this particular season, the roster is much more balanced and athletic than the one then-manager Dale Sveum utilized in April last year. The Cubs were too left-handed in the outfield and without any speed to speak of as last season started.

Bonifacio changes all of that by himself, while Kalish can disturb on the basepath, as well. The Cubs will have some late-inning options they didn’t have a year ago and more flexibility on the bench and in the outfield.

Pitching

On the mound the Cubs feature newcomers in Jason Hammel, Wesley Wright, Jose Veras, Pedro Strop and Brian Schiltter. In other words, it’s nearly a whole new bullpen from opening day last year, and two-fifths of the starting staff will be new when Arrieta returns from a pre-camp injury.

On paper the bullpen should be better -- it couldn’t be much worse -- but there are still question marks. The Cubs needed all the way up until the last days of spring to decide on the final spot. Veteran Alberto Cabrera blew up near the end of camp and it may have cost him a job, as Schiltter came out of nowhere to take it. Hector Rondon and Veras struggled in the spring, while holdover James Russell and newcomer Wright were heavily used over the last two years.

Simply put, the bullpen could go either way. But pitching coach Chris Bosio has done less with more in his tenure, so maybe they max out.

Veras is a key as the Cubs do have the ability to keep things tight with a decent starting rotation. Last year the Cubs set records with all sorts of close games early in the season. Veras will get the opportunities to save and win games at the back end -- something Carlos Marmol and Fujikawa were unable to do early in 2013.

Outlook

Six weeks ago this would have been an easy call: The Cubs would lose close to 100 games. But Olt, Bonifacio, Kalish and a few pitchers at Triple-A Iowa give more hope than first thought. It might look more respectable from Game 1 to Game 162. If Javier Baez makes his debut, along with pitcher Kyle Hendricks, the Cubs could have a decent second half.

The big question is this: Can the Cubs get on base enough starting Monday to give their offense some hope? If Bonifacio and Castro are hovering around .300 or .310 for an on-base percentage, then the Cubs are in trouble. If it’s closer to .340 or .350, they’ll have something with which to work.

Olt and Lake are somewhat of X factors in the starting lineup. What will their first full year look like? And can Kalish recapture what he had going back several years? This is assuming Anthony Rizzo hits better with men in scoring position and Castro returns to his old self. There are no sure things. And then there is the Jeff Samardzija saga, certain to make headlines until the day he’s traded. Or signs. The former is still more likely.

But what was a stale lineup at the beginning of spring training now has some life, and the starting staff should be about the same as last season. How much noise this team can make is yet to be determined, but at least some intriguing pieces are in place. That’s more than you can say for a Theo Epstein run Cubs team in the past.

Predicted final record: 71-91

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.

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.

Reaction: Olt, Kalish, Bonifacio make Cubs

March, 27, 2014
Mar 27
1:39
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive

 
MESA, Ariz. -- The Chicago Cubs announced their roster for position players is set. Third baseman Mike Olt made the team as did spring invitees Ryan Kalish and Emilio Bonifacio.

[+] EnlargeMike Olt
Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY SportsMike Olt now has a chance to prove he belongs in the Cubs' core.
What it means: At the very least the Cubs have a new potential core player in Olt as he'll get a shot to be their every-day third baseman. If he succeeds, it will have ramifications all over the organization. He's only 25 so he should be coming into his prime as the Cubs hope to turn into a winning team in the coming years. Olt has great power and seemingly hit every ball hard in spring games, even his outs. If he solidifies third base it could eventually move 2013 top pick Kris Bryant to the outfield. For now, it simply means he has a chance to grow with Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Welington Castillo and perhaps Junior Lake into the nucleus of a young Cubs team.

Just turning 26 on Friday, Kalish also has a chance to stick around. He plays baseball like a football player, with tremendous energy and speed. He was the Red Sox's rookie of the year as a July call-up in 2010 when he hit four home runs and stole 10 bases in 53 games.

Bonifacio may not be an every-day player, but at 28 years old he has a chance to stick around as a super utility guy. He's a switch hitter who can play the infield and outfield and has tremendous speed.

The lineup: Manager Rick Renteria will use his entire Cubs roster as much as ever starting next week. A lineup against a left-handed pitcher could have Bonifacio playing the outfield along with Junior Lake and Justin Ruggiano. The infield would consist of Rizzo, Darwin Barney, Castro and Olt.

Against a righty it's possible Kalish and Nate Schierholtz will be in there along with Luis Valbuena playing second or third base. It could change nearly every day.

What's next: The Cubs will announce their pitching staff in the next couple of days, including the early-season fifth starter. Chris Rusin and Carlos Villanueva have been battling for that spot all spring.

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TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Anthony Rizzo
BA HR RBI R
.286 25 59 72
OTHER LEADERS
HRA. Rizzo 25
RBIA. Rizzo 59
RA. Rizzo 72
OPSA. Rizzo .910
WJ. Hammel 8
ERAJ. Samardzija 2.83
SOT. Wood 108