February 28, 2013


Spring training is supposed to be about public relations, fan service and hope for the season. Everyone believes a team has a chance to be successful. Championship is the goal. Players and managers feed the press the public relations that things will be different. The team is improved. We will compete. Anything can happen. The good vibes are supposed to translate into home ticket sales.

But for the lower tier teams, mere improvement is the reality. A harsh reality.

And it appears that the Cubs are looking ahead . . . to 2014.

Manager Dale Sveum basically said that yesterday, when he remarked that another wholesale roster sale at the July trade deadline is probably going to happen. "That's part of the business," Sveum said. "If your team is out of it, to start building and getting a healthier organization, unfortunately or fortunately, that's part of the business. Hopefully, we don't have to worry about that. Hopefully, we're buying people."

Fans are not buying that the Cubs will be competitive this year. The Cubs look to finish last in the NL Central. Most of the new players have not impressed so far. Scott Baker has yet to throw a pitch. Matt Garza tweeked his side muscle in a set back. Carlos Villanueva's first outing on the mound was a disaster. Even longshot Dontrelle Willis' comeback lasted only 7 pitches before injury.

Last year, the Cubs dealt Ryan Dempster, Paul Maholm, Geovany Soto and Reed Johnson for prospects. One can already begin putting together The List of assets to be traded in July if healthy: Garza, Baker, Feldman, Marmol, DeJesus, Soriano and Hairston.

February 27, 2013


Manager Dale Sveum has made it know that the top of his lineup this season will be:

1. DeJesus, cf.

2. Castro, ss.

3. Rizzo, 1b

4. Soriano, lf.

The rest of the order will be part time journeymen, old rooks and Barney batting 8th.

The key to the new top-of-the-order is moving Castro out of the uncomfortable third slot in the order. Castro never was comfortable in the third spot, even though he was the team's most consistent hitter.
This parallels a young Soriano, who demanded to lead off because as a fast ball hitter, he would see more of them in the first position.  In certain respects, Castro hitting second is like hitting 1.B. because DeJesus is not a prototypical lead-off man with his low OBP and lack of steals.

For this lineup to work, Rizzo must not have a sophomore slump. The team is projecting a 30 HR- 100 RBI year from Rizzo, which seems very high expectations. Because the Cubs don't score that often to begin with, Rizzo would have a good season at 22 HR-65 RBI which seems like the norm for the middle of the order guys in the Cubs lineup the past few seasons.

And Rizzo's success is tied to how healthy and productive Soriano is batting clean-up. If he is hurt, Rizzo will not see as many fastballs. The biggest learning curve for a major league hitter is hitting a major league curve ball.

Soriano bats clean-up by default. The team has no other RBI producer on the roster.

February 25, 2013


There is an excellent column by writer Bruce Jenkins in today's SF Chronicle.

Jenkins makes a valid point on how relatively small market teams like the A's and Giants can be competitive without overspending or mortgaging their futures.

He calls it "baseball intelligence."  We have commented in the past on player's having a "baseball IQ." i.e. inherently knowing what to do in a given situation and/or anticipating the situation to make the appropriate play. Players will raw talent and skills may still lack the baseball field intelligence to utility those skills to their maximum potential.

Jenkins takes that requirement to the front office. Some teams have more organizational "baseball intelligence" than other teams.  He states that "the game's most essential truths: that scouting, character and basic instincts are the tools that build a winner."

Both teams have built winners. The Giants rely upon scouting and field observations more than computer sabermetrics to build their roster. The A's pioneered the mathematical approach to player evaluations. Both systems can work.


Both Ian Stewart and Josh Vitters have gone down with lateral strains. Both are expected to be out at least two weeks.  Vitters had been slated to start the season in AAA Iowa. Stewart was signed to win the third base job.

As the Cubs website reported:

Cubs manager Dale Sveum said injured third baseman Ian Stewart should have enough time to prepare for the regular season but that the team now will get a look at the other options on the roster.
Both Stewart and third baseman Josh Vitters are sidelined 10 to 14 days with strained left quads. Luis Valbuena, Junior Lake and Christian Villanueva will get most of the playing time at third now.

"It sounds like both [Stewart] and Vitters, at the earliest, will be on the field in two weeks, but realistically three weeks," Sveum said. "It's unfortunate for them. There will still be a fair enough amount of games left after that to get enough at-bats and evaluate."

The Cubs do face some decisions regarding Stewart. His $2 million contract is non-guaranteed, which is not unusual for an arbitration-level player, but there is a March 16 deadline. If the Cubs decide at that date that Stewart isn't ready, they can release him and will be obligated to pay one-sixth of his salary ($333,333). If he's released after that date and before the regular season opener, the Cubs would owe Stewart $500,000.

"The fact of the matter is, three weeks from now puts you basically at March 14, which puts you three weeks before Opening Day," Sveum said. "If he's capable and the leg is fine, it'll be a cram session, that's for sure."

Valbuena, 27, already has secured a spot on the 25-man roster and impressed Sveum with his defensive play. On Saturday, he hit a solo home run in the second inning, his second in as many days if you count Friday's intrasquad game. He batted .306 in Venezuela this winter, taking a more aggressive approach at the plate.

What if he was the Cubs' Opening Day starter at third?

"It's not my decision," Valbuena said. "I'd be so happy if I won that job. That's what I'm trying to do."
Lake, 22, who batted .279 at Double-A Tennessee last season, would be next in the pecking order.
"In the intrasquad games, he's done fine," Sveum said of Lake. "He hasn't been tested. There's some mechanical things. He's very tall and playing tall. He's got to play the position smaller. What I mean by that, he wants to stand straight up after he fields a ground ball, so there's some things we have to tweak.

"He's such a good athlete," Sveum said. "He's going to be one of those third basemen who's not going to look like Scott Rolen but the athleticism will allow him to do a lot of things at that position."
Villanueva, 21, played at Class A Daytona last year. There are no plans to move top prospect Javier Baez from short to third, Sveum said. Right now, it's wait and see.

"We really don't have a whole lot of other third basemen," Sveum said. "They both just went down."

In the last post, we commented on the Cubs lack of depth problem, especially at third base. The problem is now a full blown crisis. Valbuena is now the default starter. He brings little offense to the power position. Vitters stock is falling more than Apple. The idea of "rushing" Lake up the depth chart is a dangerous risk. First, he has only reached AA. Second, he is a shortstop. You would be coverting him to another position on short notice.

As odd as it sounds, the final decision may come down to money. The Cubs may want to cut their losses on Stewart and pay him the $333,333 for him to leave. That would open up a roster spot for a utility player like Brent Lillibridge, who would probably sign for the league veteran minimum.

February 23, 2013


There is a clear difference between how Chicago baseball teams view their spring training. One is proactive, the other is staid.

As camp opened, the Cubs third base corps was a mess. Ian Stewart and Josh Vitters both strained their lat muscles. Stewart, coming off wrist surgery and a busted 2012 season, had an MRI and may miss some time. Vitters injury appears to be less severe. However, when one looks at the entire organizational chart, only Luis Valbuena remains as a third base option for 2013.

In contrast, the White Sox opened camp with newly signed free agent utility man Jeff Keppinger slated to be at third. Injury prone Bret Morel was targeted to be the back up third baseman if he was healthy.  But the White Sox front office saw their roster being right hand hitting dominant. And to further bolster roster depth, the Sox decided to go out and find a left handed bat that added depth at third base.

So the White Sox traded minor league pitcher Jeff Soptic to the Giants for minor league third baseman Conor Gillaspie.

Gillaspie, 25, is a left handed hitting infielder, who was a former fast-rising prospect and 37th overall selection in 2008. He played in the major leagues less than 100 days after he was selected. He has spent most of his time in the minor leagues since then, though, batting .287 with 37 home runs and 259 RBIs over five seasons. To make room for Gillaspie, the White Sox waived first baseman Lars Anderson, whom they recently picked up off waivers.

Over 29 major league games spanning three seasons with the Giants he hit .205 with one home run and four RBIs. As ESPN Chicago reported:

"He conceivably fits in nicely on the roster, which we’ll obviously decide more about toward the end of next month," general manager Rick Hahn said. "But we see him having a solid hit tool, above-average awareness of the strike zone, solid defensively. He gives us a little versatility in his ability to play third base as well as first. He gives (manager) Robin (Ventura) some options potentially."

Gillaspie is out of minor league options, which means that if he doesn't make the White Sox out of spring training he would have to go through the waivers process.

 In certain respects, Gillaspie fits a real need for the Cubs, someone who will be able to back up third and first base this season. Currently, the Cubs have no one on the roster for that role. Non-roster invitee Brett Lillibridge is getting some play because he can also play the outfield.  But the Cubs appear not to want to trade any prospects (especially their own) to fill current season needs. This is a clear signal that the Cubs do not want to tinker with their rebuilding plan by trading away young talent that they are signing or developing for a player that meets a current roster need.

February 18, 2013


MLBTR reports that the Cubs announced that they have traded outfielder Tony Campana  to the Diamondbacks in exchange for minor league right-handed pitchers Erick Leal and Jesus Castillo.  The Cubs designated Campana for assignment last week to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for Scott Hairston. The Cubs had 10 days to trade Campana or put him on waivers.

As MLBTR report stated, Campana, 26, finished 2012 with a slash line of .264/.308/.299 in 192 plate appearances.  The speedster also racked up 30 stolen bases last season, good for ninth in the National League.  The Diamondbacks are already more than set in the outfield, so its not clear what kind of role they have in mind for Campana.

Venezuelans Leal and Castillo are both just 17-years-old and spent time with the D'Backs Dominical Summer League affiliate in 2012.  Leal posted a 2.44 ERA with 9.0 K/9 and 1.4 BB/9 in 12 starts and two relief appearances.  Meanwhile, Castillo had a 5.40 ERA with 7.9 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 in eight starts and six games out of the bullpen.

 The bottom line: trading a pinch runner gets you two very raw young international players does not yield much in terms of talent or immediate help.


Matt Garza came into camp healthy. So he said. So the media reported on his off-season rehab.

Garza threw to live batters for the first time since July, 2012. From most observers, he looked good. But then he was taken off the mound by the trainer. It appears he pulled a lat muscle in his side. It does not seem serious by initial reports.

But it is a set-back. We were under the impression that Garza would be back at full ready this spring. Even if the elbow issue had resolved, it did not mean that Garza's overall strength and mechanics were in good order.

No matter the hopeful prose from the Cubs PR department of a .500 season, a much improved off season acquisition spending spree, or fan anticipation, the Cubs roster is a house of cards. The bolstering of the pitching staff is suspect: Baker was signed post-Tommy John surgery; Garza was coming back from elbow issue; Feldman was demoted by the Rangers, Carlos Villanuena by the Blue Jays;  and Edwin Jackson has been inconsistent even with championship caliber teams.

There are no AAA understudies in the wings to fill in holes in the rotation, third base, second base, catcher or bullpen duty this year. The Cubs have mortgaged the future on Class A prospects who will be slow to develop under the new systematic plan of one year advances per level. The best prospects will be at Class AA Kane County this summer. That means hope is still three years away.

If Garza is unable to make the opening day roster, the rotation starts to crumble. Samardzija becomes the opening day starter by default, followed by Jackson, Feldman, T. Wood and Villanueva.

Another weak position continues to be third base. If Ian Stewart cannot bat more than .200 and keep healthy, then Luis Valbuena's .210 stick is the only current third sad sack option.

The outfield would collapse if Soriano gets hurt. He is the one consistent power hitter run generator in the lineup. If Sori goes on the DL, Scott Hairston is his full time replacement. Which means the right field platoon of journeymen would make Nick Schierholtz a full time player for the first time in his career.

But the Cubs cobbled this roster together for a reason. This is another short term place holder team until the Epstein-Hoyer picks come of age in three years.

February 15, 2013


MLBTR reported on players who have enough service time to be "out of options," meaning that those players on a team's 40 man protected roster must be put on waivers in order to be sent to the minors.

The Cubs who are out of options:

Michael Bowden, Wellington Castillo, Rafael Dolis, Jeff Samardzija, Luis Valbuena, Travis Wood.

Players who are out of options are more likely to be kept by their current teams. The Cubs front office claims that the minor league system is not full of AAA prospects. So one or more of these players could squeeze out another player, especially a non-roster invitee, from making the 25 man roster.

Clearly, Castillo will make the 25 man opening day roster as the team's projected starting catcher.

Also, Samardzija will be in the rotation, possibly as the opening day starter.

Sveum strongly indicated that Wood would be the fifth stater when the team breaks camp.

Valbuena ended last season as the Cubs third baseman. Ian Stewart is back to try to reclaim the starting role after another injury plagued season. Valbuena is probably going to stay on the roster as a reserve infielder, unless a non-roster invitee like Lillibridge's performance blows away the coaching staff.

So clearly, relief pitchers Bowden and Dolis are on the waiver bubble. Bowden is a Hoyer pick up. Dolis is a hold over from the Hendry era. Dolis has shown a power arm, but has control and injury issues. Bowden had his show case last season, and he did not perform well. So is it more likely than not at this point that both Bowden and Dolis will not make the bullpen so they will have to clear waivers to remain Cub property.


Even before throwing an actual or simulated game, manager Dale Sveum announced the Cubs starting 2013 rotation.

The top of the rotation are the two guys that are healthy: Jeff Samardzija and Edwin Jackson.
The third man in the staff is Matt Garza, who appears healthy after missing half of last season with an elbow injury.

Sveum gave the fourth spot in the rotation to Scott Feldman. Now, Feldman told the media when he signed with the Cubs that GM Hoyer had "promised" him a starting rotation spot after his demotion to the bullpen by the Rangers in 2012. I guess that promise was truly a binding obligation.

And the final starter role appears to go to Travis Wood, the only left hander starter in camp, by default. That moves swingman Carlos  Villanueva to the bullpen for long relief and spot starter duties.

But the real news is that the other big free agent signing, Scott Baker, will not be ready for opening day. Baker is coming off Tommy John surgery.  That is disappointing because Baker had the most WAR upside from his prime with the Twins.

So the opening day rotation is set (2012 stats):

1. Samardzija, 9-13, 3.81 ERA, 28 GS, 174.2 IP, 180 K, 80 BB, 79 RA, 1.219 WHIP, 1.6 WAR

2. E. Jackson, 10-11, 4.03 ERA, 31 GS, 189.2 IP, 168 K, 58 BB, 90 RA, 1.218 WHIP, 1.6 WAR

3. Garza, 5-7, 3.91 ERA, 18 GS, 103.2 IP, 96 K, 32 BB, 48 RA, 1.177 WHIP, 1.0 WAR

4. Feldman, 6-11, 5.09 ERA, 21 GS, 123.2 IP, 96 K, 32 BB, 79 RA, 1.383 WHIP, 0.0 WAR

5. T. Wood, 6-13, 4.27 ERA, 26 GS, 156 IP, 119 K, 54 BB, 80 RA, 1.199 WHIP, 0.6 WAR

From a WAR prospective, all these players are below a starter threshold of 2.0. Except for Feldman, they all fit into the WAR category of being a "reserve" player, which for pitchers are bullpen arms. Feldman projects out as a AAA replacement player.

So when the Cubs are saying that the goal for this season is to be a .500 ball club, a 33% improvement (20 more wins) from last season, it is hard to believe that this starting rotation can make up that much ground. The only saving grace is that four out of five pitchers last year had excellent control as stated in their WHIPs. But that did not translate well into wins, including Jackson, who was on a division championship caliber team last season on the Nationals.

February 13, 2013


The origin of spring training is quite simple. There was a time where baseball players had "real" jobs in the "real" world (factory, steel mills, farmers, etc.). Baseball was a summer diversion, a hobby, which did not pay that well. In order to get an early season competitive advantage, team owners brought their squads to a warm weather climate (Florida), to conduct workouts to get the players back into "playing shape." That meant shedding some winter pounds, throwing the medicine ball around instead of hay bales, and running to sweat and limber up the muscle groups. The basic premise of spring training was to exercise and prepare for a 154 game season.

Today, players are paid beyond the average annual salary of their fans. They are professional ball players. They are paid to remain in shape all year round. Players work out on their own or in team approved settings all year round. Some players have their own off-season conditioning coaches. By the time spring training comes around, the players should be in regular season shape.

So modern spring training serves different purposes.

First, it is a media and marketing kick-off for the season. Teams want to get their fans interested in the excitement of a new season. "Hope springs eternal." This is the first true opportunity to show case what the front office did all winter: new players, new coaches, new attitude. It is a way to sell tickets.

Second, it is the first collective, in depth injury census for a team. Until a rehabbing player actually gets back on the field of play, medical reports are mere speculation. Team doctors, trainers and staff get to evaluate the host of players, their recoveries and their status to determine the most appropriate training schedule to best meet the needs of injured players. The observations and training reports will allow the front office a very clear picture of what their entire organizational roster looks like from a health, recovery and issue stand point. It will give guidelines to the team on how far off a player is to returning to a roster; and will give the team pause to find a replacement player if there are issues or setbacks.

Third, in some professional organizations, spring training still allows for open competition for major league roster spots. However, it is highly unlikely in today's guaranteed contracts, expensive free agent signings and pre-packaged faces of the franchise promotions that non-roster invitees to camp or high minor league prospects will win a starting job in The Show. However, competition for a position is a good measure of how good (or bad) your team is - - - and will force veterans to "prove" that they still belong (instead of resting upon past performance). Smaller market teams have overcome the prejudice of promoting and playing younger, less seasoned rookies. Many of those decisions have become high profile players, like Mike Trout with the Angels, who made an impression last spring and was called up early in the season.

Fourth, spring training is the time to tinker with the final few openings on the organizations complete roster tree. Slotting prospects at the various levels is key to their development. Matching appropriate coaches with those prospects is key. A team having a solid philosophy of training at all levels in the system is also a key to consistency in rookie promotions and performance. Every player should have a road map to success. It is the team's obligation to try to get their players in the best position to succeed. And each player needs to recognize the opportunity and individually work hard at developing his skill sets. The only reward worth anything to a professional ball player is playing time against the best competition. Example, if a prospect hits lights out in Class A last season, it would be natural to move him to Class AA this season. Likewise, if a player promoted last season to Class AA struggled, it could be thought of moving him down to Class A to get his confidence back would be better than having him be a bench player on his AA team. Any demotion may have an affect of setting back a player's mental attitude because failure to advance in the minors is a sign to scouts that the player is not on track to be a major leaguer.

Fifth, spring training gives the hometown media some human interest, feature stories to fill an otherwise dull part of the winter sports scene. There are only so many "roster battle" non-stories that a columnist or beat reporter can file in a given week. Fans of bad teams are interested in stories about younger players who may make an impact in the near future. Fans of good teams are interested in stories about the last piece(s) of a championship puzzle for this season.

Spring training has many functions. But recently, the actual playing of exhibition games by one's known starters has diminished. It may be the fear of injury, re-injury or overwork. But most teams will pull veterans fairly quickly in games, especially pitchers. It is only until the last week of camp do managers normally field their opening day lineups for extended play. And at that time, fans will really get a final picture of what their team will look like for the season.

February 11, 2013


Scott Hairston's contract was finalized, so a move had to be made on the Cubs 40 man roster. Tony Campana was designated for assignment.

Hairston becomes the third/fourth platoon outfielder for the team. Dave Sappelt, who current management traded for in the Sean Marshall deal, stays over Campana for the fifth outfield slot.

Campana, 26, batted .262 with nine doubles, one home run, 54 stolen bases, a .306 on-base percentage and a .300 slugging percentage in 184 games with the Cubs over the last two seasons. He totaled 30 stolen bases last season, tops on the Cubs and ninth most in the National League. However, he had trouble getting on base, even with his speed.

The Cubs now have 10 days to trade Campana or place him on waivers. He could return to the team if not claimed. It is possible that no team is running to pick up a mere pinch runner, base stealer prior to spring training. Campana will probably land back at AAA Iowa for this season.

The choice shows that the Cubs offensive philosophy is still a station-to-station grind. None of the projected starters are base stealing threats. That means the club needs to generate more walks to move base runners into scoring position. This is something that the club did not do well last season, even with Campana on the roster.

It would be fine if the Cubs have an old Earl Weaver, Oriole lineup where the three-run home run was the offensive weapon of choice. But the Cubs only have two recognized home run hitters: Soriano and Rizzo. The push for Starlin Castro to hit with more power will hurt his batting average and on-base percentage. Wellington Castillo has just HR potential at this point since he has not caught a full season at the major league level. Ian Stewart is still living off five year power numbers and he is not expected to contribute much this season.


Bruce Levine, ESPN reports that last August, the White Sox made a waiver claim on Campana. However, the Cubs pulled Campana back off waivers when the two sides failed to agree on a trade.

Levine thinks it appears unlikely that a deal will be made at this time. The Cubs and Sox have not had conversations about Campana as of Wednesday, according to his report.

In August, the Sox were looking for a speed player in hopes of winning close games with a stolen base or a forced defensive mistake. Campana stole 30 bases with the Cubs in 2012 despite a reserve role. The White Sox did bring back DeWayne Wise to bolster their outfield last season. But the Sox are looking for a real lead off hitter, and Campana does not meet that criteria because he does not get on base enough.

If Campana is not traded, he will go on waivers. If he goes unclaimed, the Cubs can offer him a minor-league contract.

As Levine noted, trades between the Cubs and Sox are uncommon due to the possible negative result from a lopsided deal.

February 8, 2013


Felix Hernandez is a good starting pitcher. He is the ace of the Mariners staff. Hernandez, 26, was 13-9 with a 3.06 ERA last season. He pitched a perfect game on Aug. 15 against the Devil Rays.

Yesterday, he was rewarded with a whopping 7 year/$175 million contract extension. He becomes the highest paid pitcher in league history.

By comparison, the Dodgers signed Zach Greinke, 29,  to a 6 year/$159 million deal this winter.

Greinke's career stat line:
9 years: 91-78, 3.77 ERA, 12 CG, 1.187 WHIP, 3.51 K/BB ratio, 29.5 WAR.

King Felix's career stat line:
8 years: 98-76, 3.22 ERA, 23 CG, 1.212 WHIP, 3.10 K/BB ratio, 31.5 WAR.

It may be hard to believe but for most national baseball fans, Hernandez's accomplishments are being made in the shadows, since the Mariners have not been in the post season, and he plays mostly on the west coast. He is clearly one of the best pitchers of his generation.

There are some owners who refuse to sign pitchers to any contract that has a duration of more than four years. The risk of injury is too great to guarantee big money to ace starters. However, some teams believe you have to reward star players who are the faces of their franchises. King Felix does bring people into the ball park to see him pitch. That is the one throwback constant of baseball earlier days-- people used to buy day of game tickets based upon who was pitching that day.

February 7, 2013


There is much mid-winter filler stories about who are the best prospects on each major league team. A prospect is someone who is likely to succeed - - - which means in base major league teams, make it to the big show one day. Casey Coleman made it to the show, so he was technically a successful prospect, even though he was a dreadful major league pitcher.

Many fans take the word "prospect" and equate it to being an "above average" to star player in the future. It is all speculation, based upon raw talent, fundamentals, the desire to work at one's craft, luck and health.

So who are the consensus top Cub prospects?

1. Dan Vogelbach. The former overweight high school first baseman can really hit with power. He has to be the best slugger in the organization. When he hits a ball, he crushes it. Scouts think he may turn into a DH. If he can continue to hit with massive power, this prospect has ALL STAR potential.

2. Arodys Vizcaino. The former Brave has made it to the big leagues. But Tommy John injury derailed his progress. He had electric stuff, but now the worrisome health issues may damper his career. But as a veteran prospect, he could be a STAR, a solid number 2 starter if healthy.

3. Javier Baez. This Class A shortstop has vowed the scouts with his five tool abilities. He has hit well at each level of his development in the low minors. Starlin Castro is the Cubs shortstop keystone in the rebuilding of the team, so in some respects Baez may be blocked when he would be ready to be promoted to the major league roster in 2015. But you make room for a player with STAR potential.

4. Junior Lake. He may be the second best consistent slugger in the organization. He is also a shortstop, but may beef up to play third base or a corner outfield spot. The concerns are his batting eye and defense. He needs to continue to improve basic skills If so, he projects to be a major league STARTER.

5. He needs to continue to improve basic skills If so, he projects to be a major league STARTER.

6. Jorge Soler. The big international free agent signing from Cuba. He hit near .300 in Rookie-A ball with a good OPS. He still has raw talent that needs to be developed so with such a scant track record to date, he still projects as a prospect that will make the majors: most likely as a STARTER.

7. Brett Jackson. He is a veteran prospect who has a problem: strikeouts. His short debut with the Cubs last season has caused him to start the season at AAA Iowa. Scouts say he has the tools, and he is working to change his mechanics. At this point, scouts think it could be a classic hit or miss type career as a AAAA/BENCH player.

8. Josh Vitters. He is also a veteran prospect who has been in the Cubs system for forever. But he is still young, and all the scouts believe he can hit major league pitching. His defense at third is also not the best. In his debut, he did slightly worse than the poor Jackson showing. People are clearly on the fence with Vitters. The prospect may turn into a classic AAAA talent.

9. Matt Szczur. He is an outfielder who some above average skills (defense and speed), but no power. He would project to be at best a CF, bottom of the order guy. From a fan's prospect perspective, he could be projected as a substitute for Sappelt or Campana as a BENCH quality player.

10. Albert Almora. This high school outfielder is only 18. He hit near .300 in rookie low A ball, but his OPS was not high. He also lacked any power stats. The Cubs selected him with the Number One pick so they believe he has the potential to be a star player. One would expect a star player to project bigger numbers in the low minors. He will really have to hone his skills and substantially increase his batting skills (average, runs batted in, walks) in order to become a true major league starter. But he has time. At this point, he may succeed to a major league team in 2016, but his role could be that of a BENCH player.

February 4, 2013


The Cubs have added to the previously announced 16 non-roster invitees to the major league spring training camp. The current list includes Javier Baez, the Class A shortstop who is now rated the Cubs number one prospect.

Baez, the Cubs' No. 1 pick in 2011, was ranked No. 16 overall on MLB.com's Top 100  list released earlier last week. The 20-year-old shortstop hit .333 with 12 home runs, 10 doubles and 33 RBIs in 57 games at Class A Peoria last year, then posted a .188 average after being promoted to Class A Daytona.

Baez is one of five non-roster infielders invited to Spring Training, joining Alberto Gonzalez, Brent Lillibridge, Edwin Maysonet and Brad Nelson. The list of invitees also includes three outfielders -- Brian Bogusevic, Johermyn Chavez and Darnell McDonald -- and three catchers -- J.C. Boscan, Michael Brenly and Rafael Lopez.

As for the pitching staff, 11 non-roster players with varying degrees of Major League experience will arrive in Mesa, Ariz. on Feb. 12, when pitchers and catchers report. That list includes right-handers Drew Carpenter, Jaye Chapman, Casey Coleman, Dayan Diaz, Jensen Lewis, Barret Loux, Blake Parker, Zach Putnam, Nick Struck and Cory Wade, along with left-handed reliever Hisanori Takahashi.

For any of these players to make the big club, a player currently on the 40 man roster would need to be waived or DFA.

Of the selections, the best chance to make the major league roster would be lefty reliever Takahashi, since the bullpen only has James Russell. In the utility infielder role, Lillibridge's versatility makes him a probable selection.

The rest of the invitees are players who are either given a pat on the back for last season's minors success, such as Baez. The reward is an incentive to make the prospects work harder to progress up the development ladder. The journeymen players and minor league pitchers and catchers are mostly in camp to fill innings so as not to burn out players who will be on the 15 man roster. The Cubs as a team are so bad that there is no real competition on the depth chart this year.

February 1, 2013


 The White Sox claimed first baseman Lars Anderson off waivers from Arizona. Arizona had designed Anderson for assignment last week as a result of the Upton trade.

The White Sox's 40 man roster is now full. Previously, the White Sox outrighted waiver pick up pitcher Zach Stewart to AAA Charlotte.

Anderson, 25, has been on this blog's radar since Theo Epstein came from Boston. Before the Rizzo deal, we thought Anderson could be a potential first base candidate in Chicago. Now, he is a candidate but on the south side of town.

Anderson hit .250, 9 HR, 59 RBI for Boston and Cleveland AAA clubs in 2012, with .353 OBP. He also played 32 games in  LF in the minors.The knock on Anderson is that he may be a AAAA player; however, he has been blocked at the major league level with every organization so far in his career.

Anderson adds a left handed bat to spell Paul Konerko at first base.


The Ricketts family has now spun off the Cubs marketing department into a separate company. The new company signed its first client, the Cubs. It makes perfect sense for a disjointed organization.

The Ricketts family also threw out more artist renderings for their vision of the New Wrigley Field. But this time, they have given up on trying to squeeze millions in taxpayer dollars for their renovation. The original $400 million Wrigley Field proposal suddenly has changed to a $300 million Wrigley rehab and development of the McDonald's hotel property across the street. In return, all the Ricketts family wants is that government and the neighbors just leave them alone; let the Cubs do anything they want on their properties.

The Ricketts must be living in cave. They purchased the Cubs and Wrigley Field knowing that a) there were severe zoning restrictions on the property; b) that Wrigley Field has landmark status which requires certain preservation; c) that the rooftop owners have a deal with the team for unobstructed views in exchange for 17% of the revenue; d) the Cubs are already in default on the triangle building plan that was approved in exchange for the bleacher expansion under Tribune ownership and e) the neighborhood is primarily residential in character so the neighbors do have a say on what is done to their neighborhood. But today, none of that really matters to ownership. They are now real estate "developers" with properties to re-create in their own business image.

The "get the government off my back" message does not play well when a multimillionaires are at the bullhorn. Every business in the city needs to comply with the rules. Zoning rules are very strict. Aldermen in Chicago have their one power point in their wards: control of zoning and development. Wrigleyville Alderman Tunney was skeptical of the plans from the outset; stating that community involvement in any expansion of Cubs business and events at Wrigley needs to meet neighbor's concerns.

The Ricketts want Wrigley to be a 365 day, 24/7 entertainment complex. They want to build a 175 room hotel across the street. That is not a "boutique," or small operation. Hotels are high traffic and congestion places that operate all day and night. The neighbors are concerned about more traffic, noise, and trash a large hotel-retail complex will generate next to Wrigley. In addition, the "new" plans basically increase the number of sky boxes, restaurants and "party decks" - - - which have the common denominator of more alcohol sales. Wrigley Field is turning into a Disney-esque theme park of bars and restaurants that compete on a daily basis with the neighborhood joints. And the Ricketts want to end the cap on night games and "other events" at Wrigley. The Cubs owners would want their entertainment complex to be used (with paying customers) for more concerts, soccer games, corporate outings, etc. on a daily basis, on each and every day the Cubs don't play. It does not matter that the field would turn Soldier Field bad by overuse and misuse from multiple concerts or other sporting events. Ricketts seems to be offended that Wrigley sits idle for most the year.

All of the changes proposed by Ricketts do really nothing to add to the prospect of getting better players or building a better ball club. Ricketts was clear that the real estate is a "separate" family business than the Cubs. The Cubs have fallen to mere tenant status in business hierarchy of the Ricketts Lakeview operations. The Cubs were also looked upon as a mere entertainment chip of programming by the Tribune, so it languished as a step-child to the Trib broadcasting higher cable and network ambitions.

So the city and the neighborhood will push back on Ricketts grand plans. And Ricketts will pout and yell that there is a conspiracy against him. So be it. The massive changes to the historic look, views and beauty that is the picture postcard memories of long time Cubs fans will drive baseball fans away. The charm of Wrigley Field is that it is a throwback to a simple era. The plastering of advertising signs and electronic billboards cheapen that charm. Ricketts loudly proclaims that he is not "running a museum." But again, he bought a team with a landmark ball park so he should have known that preservation was part of the deal. If he wants to line the outfield ivy with beer and athletic shoe ads, or add jumbo trons above the bleacher catwalks to block the rooftops - - - in essence making the field into a shanty AA ball park, then maybe the Ricketts should have purchased the Royals instead of the Cubs.