Being on spring break, I think I am going to write a little bit more this week than the usual once a week blog post. Today’s plans call for the wife and I to watch today’s game in an hour. I watched Thursday night’s game along with Friday’s and I listened to yesterday’s on the radio. I saw/heard some things that excited me (like Bryant’s home runs) and other things that I did not (like Starlin Castro’s defense). However, there are a lot of things I am excited about seeing this year at both the major league and minor league levels.
- The Rizzo, Bryant, Soler Trifecta
Teams have to be dreading facing this 3-5 combination on a daily basis. You can’t pitch around any of them and if the two guys ahead of Rizzo get on, it could get ugly early for Cubs opponents. Add in the emergence of Alcantara and La Stella as table setters along with Chris Coghlan’s steady presence this spring, the Cubs look to put up a lot of crooked numbers in a hurry this year. What I find most exciting is that these three just hit the ball hard everywhere (especially Soler). With the solid bullpen the Cubs have, they could turn those early crooked numbers into a lot of wins.
- Jake Stinnett and Trevor Clifton at South Bend
The prospect bats get all the praise in prospect lists. On Friday, MLB Pipeline listed the Cubs as the number one farm system in the game. In their top 30 list, there were approximately 14 pitchers, two of them, Jake Stinnett (#13) and Trevor Clifton (#29) should both start at South Bend. Both have young arms and both are still developing. For me, Stinnett could move quickly. Clifton, at only 19, is more interesting to me, mainly because he has yet to master his arsenal. Stinnett has two plus pitches now in a mid 90s fastball, a plus-plus slider, and is working on a changeup. This year will be his first year pitching in professional baseball and his electric stuff could jump. Clifton is in his second year and struggled commanding his curveball last year. He is in no rush. However, he has a massive frame upon which to develop and still project at 6’4” and 180 pounds. He can touch the mid 90s occasionally on his fastball. With last year being the first year he used a new windup, there were some adjustments, hence the curveball command. I cannot wait to see what the young kid can do and develop over 120 innings.
- The Comeback Trail – Skulina, Masek, and Maples
I have made no secret of my liking of these three pitchers. Last year, Skulina had a knee tendonitis issue, Masek, shoulder surgery, and Maples, a broken rib to start the season. This year all three are in minor league camp with all three projected to be in Myrtle Beach or South Bend. Skulina has regained his form from Kent State and is throwing 92-95 at camp. He is likely to start the season at Myrtle Beach. Maples had his first outing in a games the other day. He threw one inning and gave up two runs. He threw 16 pitches, 11 for strikes, while giving up two hits. I think Dillon will start the season at South Bend. I think the Cubs brass would like him to start but he really needs some confidence. He might be used out of the pen instead. Masek, on the other hand, will likely stay on a restricted activity list and pitch in extended spring training until the weather warms up for him to travel east.
- Torres and Jimenez at South Bend
I am ready for these two 18 year old kids to light it up. Torres has done well in the big league camp this spring and does not seemed fazed by anything at all. Jimenez has just been crushing the ball in minor league camp including going 3-3 on Thursday with a HR. When Bryant and Soler come off the prospect lists in late May, these two will move close to the top of the list with Torres the more polished prospect right now. When I see Jimenez, I see another Jorge Soler in the making – although, Jimenez does not have the plate discipline of Jorge yet, but the power is definitely growing.
The great thing about this summer is that I could be watching five games at once this summer. I could be watching the big league club on WBBM while watching all four affiliates on MiLB.TV on the Internet. Last year, I was only able to get Tennessee and Iowa for most games and occasionally Kane County, depending on whom they played. It was a lot of fun watching Bryant, Baez, and Soler rake. This year, it will be interesting to see all the names mentioned in this post plus to see how Javy Baez responds in Iowa playing alongside Addison Russell every night. With Myrtle Beach now installing the system, I will get to see Underwood, Tseng, Torrez, Martinez, Blackburn, Skulina, and others pitch every day. In addition, it will be great to see what further steps Trey Martin and Shown Dunston, Jr., can make this year after their great second halves in 2014. Add in my favorite baseball rat, Chesny Young, at 2B and that team is solid. Two South Bend young lefties, Carson Sands and Justin Steele, will be exciting, too. They could arrive at the start of the season, or they could arrive mid-summer. Whenever they do, I will be watching.
To me, he was a big surprise in the 2015 draft class. I not only like his bat, but I love his makeup and versatility. It will be interesting to see where he plays (South Bend or Myrtle Beach or both) and where he plays in the field – catcher and/or outfield. I saw him play at Kane County last August and loved him! To me, he makes getting a walk exciting!
- Tennessee Smokies Bomb Squad
This team can rake. With Almora having a resurgent spring in 2015, I wonder if that will rub off on some of the other top prospects in Vogelbach, Schwarber, McKinney, Hannemann, and Rademacher – all of whom will be at Tennessee this summer. That’s six top prospect bats on one team. That’s unreal. Outside of Vogelbach and Schwarber, the others don’t hit for a lot of power, but McKinney and Rademacher have that potential. Now that these six aren’t in the poor hitting Florida State League, the power should hopefully return in the mountains of Tennessee.
- Going to Burlington, Iowa, for three nights in June
My parents are getting up there. They are now in their late 70s and once a month I go down to their home in western Illinois and do some odds and ends around the house. Only 30 minutes away is Burlington, Iowa, the California Angels low Class A affiliate. So, from June 10-12, I will be working at Mom and Dad’s house during the day and going to Burlington at night. I am pretty stoked as the South Bend Cubs will be there at the time. The South Bend team only plays twelve games west of the Indiana state line each year. This year it’s three each in Burlington, Appleton, Beloit, and Peoria. With South Bend being three hours away, I can’t go there and back in one day. However, to spend three days in a row in Iowa watching the Cubs low A team will be a treat to see how the players react nightly. In addition, I will see most of the pitching staff in one stint. It could be a plethora of information.
Pierce Johnson and CJ Edwards both had great stints in the big league camp this spring before being sent down to minor league camp to be stretched out to start. Last year, Edwards had a rough year with shoulder stiffness and Johnson had a very good year interrupted by a hamstring issue. While both are two of the Cubs top pitching prospects, and the two closest to the big leagues, neither has pitched over 120 innings in their careers. This year could be crucial to stretching out those arms to be ready for the grind of a major league season where 180-200 innings is needed. I think to get them both between 140-innings would be a nice range. Edwards, whom Joe Maddon loves, could arrive in Chicago if needed in the pen in late August.
- June 8-July 2
On June 8, the 2015 MLB draft will take place. It will only be round one that day, but it should be interesting to see who the Cubs get because I have no clue. I know they like to take a bat in the first round. However, with such high value pitching available, will the Cubs break a habit and take a pitcher? What could influence that is who the Cubs target in international free agency. Starling Heredia is linked to the Cubs and the 6’4” behemoth would be the best hitter the Cubs might get in either part of talent acquisition. And if the Cubs have Heredia inked up ahead of time (even though they officially can’t sign him until July 2), do they take someone like Nathan Kirby or Carson Fullmer? It is an interesting question. But with two and a half months of baseball and injuries to occur between now and then, it is best to be patient and let things sort themselves out.
So, with all of things in mind, baseball is getting very close to happening for real. In two weeks the regular season begins. And to think, I didn’t even mention Jon Lester. I am excited to see him in Wrigley (or what there is of it at this point) but I think that is a given along with seeing Joe Maddon doing his magic. But most of all, winning baseball in Chicago will be back. And that is very, very exciting.
Also, it was exciting news to see that Tim Saunders, who voluntarily retired last spring, to return to the Cubs this week in minor league camp. The SS, who had a solid 2012 and 2013, seems to have put whatever the problem was into his past. Good for him.