As Cubs rebuild with youth, expect lots of growing pains

This is what we've wanted and now it's finally here.  Since last offseason, the Cubs have been cleaning house and bringing in some young talent, but that was just prelude.  Now the makeover begins in earnest as the the Cubs have taken the rebuilding to the actual playing field.  They've replaced short-term assets with what they hope are long-term pieces --players whom, if all goes well, will play important roles when the Cubs are ready to contend.

Last night's game showed that it isn't always going to be a lot of fun.  Growing pains never are.  The Cubs are the equivalent of a transitioning adolescent:  awkardly proportioned, somewhat uncoordinated, decidedly pimply, and occasionally foul-smelling.  Yet, every so often, we catch glimpses of what they will eventually become.  It's all part of the growth process and, frankly, we'll be glad when it's over.  One day we'll look back and thank the stars above that we won't ever have to go through it again...well, except for maybe a Red Sox type mid-life crisis down the road.

Brett Jackson got schooled yesterday by a veteran LHP.  As good as Jackson looked against lefty Randy Choate yesterday, that's how bad he looked yesterday against Eric Stults, donning the Golden Sombrero with 4 strikeouts.  Josh Vitters also made his debut and went hitless.  Even Cubs "vets" Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, and Darwin Barney went a combined 1 for 11 with one walk.

Yet, it wasn't all bad.  Welington Castillo had a couple of hard-hit singles, Vitters made the play of the day defensively, and Jackson showed smooth, effortless range in CF.  And all of the Cubs young hitters did a good job of working the count at one point or another, even noted free swingers Vitters and Castro.

And then there's the learning process.  Said Jackson,

"It's never fun to strike out four times.  It's how well you can adapt and how professional you can be. It's something I'll continue to work on and improve on."

It's something manager Dale Sveum is going to have to live with.  One encouraging point for Cubs fans is that, unlike his predecessor, Sveum is willing to take his lumps and let the kids grow, even if it means a good amount of frustration, and yes....a few more losses.

"You know we're going to be a little behind the eight ball when you have to match up against the Dodgers' lineup or their bullpen and things like that," he said. "Truthfully, a lot of this is development and watching. To tell you the truth, even as a manager, you probably do some things you wouldn't do in certain situations, just to see how a guy would handle (it) in the future."

The Cubs could well feature a lineup tonight where over half the players started the season with one of their minor league affiliates: C Welington Castillo, 1B Anthony Rizzo, 3B Josh Vitters, CF Brett Jackson, and starting LHP Brooks Raley.  That's not to mention bullpen arms like Alberto Cabrera and Jeff Beliveau, who could also see action.

So be it.  It's a time for the Cubs to find out about themselves, about what works and what doesn't.  It's time to give the kids the keys, even though that we know they'll probably end up wrecking the car.  Sometimes that's the only way to grow up.

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  • I know it's hard to watch, but it's also very nice to watch them grow
    and develop. During the next 2 years there will be many more
    coming up, so we better get used to it. We should only make
    trades and sign FA's as needed not as a must thing to do.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    That's part of the process and there are times, such as the Dodgers game, where they'll show how good they can be, but it'll be fits and spurts this season and probably next year too.

  • As long as they play hard and continue to show occasional glimmers of hope, they will be more fun to watch than last year's team.

  • In reply to Ratmoss:

    Agreed! That's pretty much what we've wanted all along.

  • I need a root canal to get my mind off these growing pains.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    Haha! There will be some good games here and there, but yeah, mostly this will be painful to watch.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    Just have a few beers.
    I can watch just about anything if there's beer.

  • Nice article

    I am all for it, it will be rough for awhile but i believe it will be totally worth it

    I personally believe jackson has the mental makeup and the drive to be the type of player that can make adjustments, if he can get his k rate down to around 25% while doing the 20/20 thing he will be immensely valuable, dont think he will hit for high average but he will play plus D at a premium position. Anyway i think he can work it out.

    I am also of the belief that vitters emergence with the bat at AAA is pretty real, probably not all star but i believe he will hit in the mlb

    Also good to see sveum willing to roll with the young guys, that is a welcome change of pace

    I am very much interested to see this all play out.

  • In reply to Andrew13:

    Thanks Andrew...I'm really, really looking forward to the game tonight and seeing how Raley's stuff plays in the MLB. Needs to throw strikes...but like everyone else, I'm expecting some ups and downs. At least we're no longer depending on short term assets to win meaningless games at the end of the season. I was thrilled to read Sveum's take on development and the rest of the season.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I have only seen raley pitch once so i am also really looking forward to tonight

    Rebuilding go!

  • I don't know how many people follow " the dude in the hat" AKA Kevin Goldstien on twitter, but he was pretty spot on.

    His first tweet was ( and I'm paraphrasing) "Look. Brett Jackson is going to strike out a lot. get used to it."

    Then someone asked him " If that's the Case, why are the Cubs even playing him?"

    and his reply was " +power, +speed, +defense."

    All of the sudden, the Strikeouts seem more like a supporting actor and less like the entire movie. The K's are a problem. No doubt. And last night was UGH-Lee.... But He's up here to work with Dale and Rouson on that very thing. Will we see improvement in September? Hopefully, but this 2 month run isn't a judgment with a yay or nay answer. It's an assessment in which they'll decide what the next steps are....

  • In reply to felzz:

    Saw that as well and it's a good point about the strikeouts becoming the entire focus on Jackson. I understand that he needs to cut them down because he needs to put balls in play, but it gets a little old when it's all people want to talk about.

  • In reply to felzz:

    I saw that tweet from Goldstein. His avatar reminds me of comedian Lewis Black for some reason, so when I read his tweets, inside my head I hear them spoken by him. Maybe because Goldstein usually seems irritable.

    I think Jackson needs to look more for pitches in his zone and jump on them rather than trying to work the count until he's got two strikes on him.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    If we could combine Goldstein with Lewis Black, I think we'd have something.

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    John, I enjoy reading your articles, but it is just so painful watching us lose so much. I have been a Cubs fan for most of my life and I will 75 later this year. I think the youth movement is great, but it is hard to see any real stars on the horizon. All of our prospects have major flaws at this point. That is not to say that none of them can overcome them and become great players. I hope some do, but realistically try to name even 3 players who will be really good players in the majors who are not already on this team and I can't do it. If we are going to use the farm system to develop these players then we have to sign better players. Other teams seem to be able to do it. We don't and all of our players have large question marks. Even Baez has some concerns like position and if he will hit better pitching. He is young and might be a star, but not for sure. Soler is not performing that well yet and frankly I was expecting more from him and Alomar even though they have not played much yet. I think we still need to use free agency quite a lot if we are going to win in the next three or four years. Pitching is real important as you know and I don't see any locks for a #1 or # 2 starter right now in our farm system do you?. I don't like Garza not because he is hurt, but he is just an awful fielder at his position. I consider him a #3 or #4 at best and far from a stopper. He might be good in the clubhouse and a cheerleader, but please trade him. I would be very happy if we could get one good starter for him. I do like the way Anthony Rizzo plays and if we can find 2 or three more like him we might have a decent offense. It has been far to long for the Cubs to continue to flounder. I am tired of watching Amish porn. It is worse than watching paint dry. Keep up the good work. Sports Den is great.

  • In reply to Leon Feolo:

    Thank you and good points Leon. And you're right, there may not be 3 future starts on this team right now, but there are a couple of ways to look at that 1) Even if you've got two future stars right now with perhaps more on the way, that's a good thing, and 2) You need to fill in the everyday players on the roster too. Not everyone is going to be a star, but if you can produce a regular starting catcher or CF, that's a heck of a lot better than having to overpay for average regulars on the open market. Maybe with the saved money, you can buy a star or two.

    I'm not going to get too excited or down on Almora or Soler. It's just the first year and if you were to go off of first year stats, you'd see a lot of guys with incredible numbers who never made it and a lot of guys with so-so numbers who became stars. The most important thing is are they showing the kinds of skills that will one day translate to MLB success and, in both cases, the answer has been yes.

  • In reply to Leon Feolo:

    patience grasshopper ....

  • In reply to Leon Feolo:

    What's that website for the Amish porn? ;^)

    Seriously, if you need a Cub-losing laugh, listen to this:

  • In reply to Leon Feolo:

    I hear ya Leon. After watching two older generations of cubs fans in my family pass away with out seeing a series winner, now it's my generation that is next up to check out. I guess it will be so for most of the baby boomer cubs fans now. Makes waiting years for a rebuilding youth movement look at bit different if you're not sure you'll be around to see the payoff. Still has to be better approach than what they were doing before so I'm willing to be patient, as long as they're trying to make the right moves to win. And I don't expect every move to pay off but at least having a coherent plan and trying to win will be refreshing for a change.
    I still can't help but looking at some of the new players coming up from the minors and wonder "will you be on the field when the cubs win it all". Maybe they will, so they can deserve a little slack starting off.
    Let's win a series for Leon!

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    In reply to Leon Feolo:

    Leon, I believe I'm one of the older readers here, not as old as you, but getting there. The problem I see with your anaylsis is the Cubs have gone the free agency route in the past and yes they made the playoffs as recently as 2008, and had a winning record in 2009. But what I also saw happen was a complacency set in with the veterans with high dollar, long term contracts. And frankly I got real tired of watching their lame ass effort.
    I will gladly suffer through the growing pains of the young players just starting out. By the way I grew up in Amish country, and boy were those Amish girls hotties.

  • For all the hand-wringing over Brett Jackson, I'd argue Welington Castillo is a more important prospect for the future of this team. If he can hit over .250 with over 15 HRs while playing solid defense and keeping runners honest, that's a huge boost, given the premium on that position. That kind of production is priceless on the open market, and yet we'd have him cost-controlled, meaning that money can go to other positions. But the biggest reason Castillo's performance matters more is that there's a huge dropoff in organization talent if Castillo fails, whereas we have Szczur, Ha and Almora as possibilities in CF if Jackson fails.

  • In reply to Taft:

    That would be huge. A solid everyday catcher who can hit for power and control the running game is a nice asset.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I'm surprised there's been no banter about Baez possibly switching to back-stop.... I'm not a scout, but I am a former H.S. catcher, and have umpired H.S. & travel tournaments in Jacksonville & other FL parts since the early 90's. I umpired a tournament where the Apaches (Baez's H.S. travel team) played and he caught one of the games I called. Yes, he played the 6 position for the championship game, so clearly that's where he spent most of his time. But he was a pretty solid backstop at that time/level. But I don't recall hearing anything about him other than SS maybe switch to 3B.....

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Well, look at Bryce Harper. He was a catcher most of the time in HS and a good chunk of his Junior College season, but he has never played a professional inning behind the plate. He certainly has/had a cannon for an arm and would nail a number of base-stealers, but his great range in the field was would be wasted behind the plate. Also, catchers aren't great for long-term durability; you only get a Johnny Bench or an Ivan Rodriguez every generation or so. Other than Joe Mauer, there aren't many tall catchers out there, so that also counted against Harper.

    Baez is in a similar spot: rangy defender (not to mention potentially Gold-Glove caliber at a premium position), a potential long-term asset, and decent height probably preclude catching. I could see a move to the OF if Castro endures and Vitters is a revelation, but I don't see a move behind the plate in his future.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Thanks for that great input. There was a time when teams considered making Baez a catcher, but I don't think that's the case anymore. Like the Nats with Bryce Harper, the Cubs want to get his bat in their lineup as quickly as possible and don't want to slow his development down as he learns how to catch. That could always change, but I don't think it's something that's in the plans right now.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Good points, but I wasn't advocating that they change him to Catcher... only surprised that it hadn't been mentioned previously. Especially seeing how good he looked at the position in 2010. But like you said, that had been considered.

  • I honestly think that if a few prospects were to advance quickly up to the majors, and assuming that Vizcaino becomes a starter, that we could contend a lot sooner that expected, especially if we can pick up a starter or two via free agency. I think we could be seeing light at the end of the tunnel within 12 - 18 months.


  • In reply to SFToby:

    I tend to agree. I'm looking at the kind of improvement we've seen with the Pirates, D'Backs, and the Padres a couple of years ago. We're going to go through a lot of fits and starts, but I think it'll come together sooner than we think. And that's going to be a lot of fun when it happens.

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    In reply to SFToby:

    I agree 100%! I think it was from Theo who said you usually see some gradual improvement from a young team, but most times it just kind of all comes together suddenly. A team can look like it's light years away from contending, then something clicks and you see improvement in leaps and bounds. They could go from a struggling team that is frustrating to watch to instant contenders in a very short time. Think of the D-Backs last year or the Pirates this year.
    I think it's very important to do what the team is doing now and that is putting all the young players together at the same time so they can grow and experience MLB together. I expect this team to be contending by mid-2014, especially if they plug in a couple of good SP's through free agency to join Shark, Garza, and Wood.

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    In reply to SFToby:

    Yeah, Vizcaino is really important. If he comes back, and can start -- this team could surprise a lot of people in a hurry. Also, if we're as bad as we could be down the stretch, Appel might be available when we pick. He could get to the majors quickly to complement Vizcaino, Shark, and Wood (and hopefully Panigua). That isn't the Phillies rotation by any stretch of the imagination, but it isn't bad -- and it could nicely complement a decent offense that's coming together.

    As you say, if...

  • John, I'm curious how much of the plan depends on losing enough to get a top draft pick? With draft picks so uncertain in baseball, why can't they develop picks and also fill in the major league roster from outside at the same time? The baseball we watched in July, for example, was infinitely more enjoyable than what we will likely see from here on out. Thanks for a great post.

  • In reply to drben:

    It's certainly not an explicit plan, but I'm sure the Cubs realize that if they do lose they're going to get a crack at a potential front line pitcher from the college ranks. Combine that with Vizcaino, as Taft said above, plus Samardzija, possibly Wood, plus Garza or whomever we obtain for him, and you have the makings of a potentially good young staff.

  • Any educated Cubs fan will have to know that Theo needs a couple of years to put this club 2013 and maybe 2014 are write offs.....maybe, we can sneak into a wild card spot in 2014....but for sure by 2015, this team has to be clicking on all cylinders. Our young hitters need to practice during the off season to hit every type of pitch.....they need to study pitchers and their delivery... sit back and take the pain and punishment that comes with a young team that is learning.

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    It will certainly take time and they are a few pieces from even sniffing contention...agreed that 2015 is a good year to target and anything before that would be a very pleasant surprise.

  • No matter how painful this may be, Hendry could have stuck around for another year. Just imagine - Prince Fielder earning $30 million to lead the league in intentional walks and times stranded at first, Big Z would be leading the league in walks surrendered and WCD/9 (water coolers damaged per nine innings), Bob Howry would be back for the third time and Soriano would be a defensive liability swinging a heavier bat.

    I certainly take heart that the organization is on the right track. After three weeks of Cubbie occurrences and another week-long losing streak, things don't look pretty.

    We may not have hit bottom yet. However, to use a math analogy, the Cubs have hopefully passed a point of inflection and are hopefully now "concave up"; they may still be going downhill, the rate of descent is now decreasing and will eventually change to ascent.

  • In reply to gocubsgo25:

    Using math you're taking this discourse to a new level! :) Totally agree with you on this.

  • I'm really glad the Cubs are doing whatever they can to rebuild, but it's frustrating that it will take so much longer it should have because of ownership's and Hendry's mismanagement. Hendry should have recognized the need to rebuild long ago and sold high on some vets. Instead they let them hang around too long until they'd lost their trade value. Hendry could have traded high on some of the following players at various points over the past four seasons: Dempster, Soto, Ramirez, DLee, Lilly, Marshall, Wells, Marmol, Byrd. I really liked each of these players a lot, but it's been obvious since 2008 that the Cubs weren't real WS competitors. They should have converted some of these players for prospects.
    I mean we're discussing waiting until 2015 before the Cubs might contend! It's so frustrating because it didn't have to be this painful for so long.

  • In reply to baseballet:

    I don't know. I thought the 2008 Cubs were pretty good. They just played their worst ball at the worst possible time.

    I look at 2015 as a target, but it wouldn't surprise me if they got competitive quicker than that, much like the examples listed above. In fact, I could see them start to show flashes of good baseball by next season -- but my guess is they won't be very good when all is said and done.

  • On a related note, here's an article I came across recently. I have also come across a study that found Cubs fans are better able to deal with failure in life than Yankees fans, though I have been trying to track it down again for a while.

    "Rooting for a loser makes one thoughtful, or perhaps neurotic, which on Chicago's North Side may be a distinction without a difference. 'The scientific literature,' Grafman says, 'suggests that fans of losing teams turn out to be better decision-makers and deal better with divergent thought, as opposed to the unreflective fans of winning teams.'

  • In reply to gocubsgo25:

    Haha! That's great! At least we got that going for us :)

  • Considering that we've had our shares of arm and shoulder woes since, well forever it seems, Shouldn't we look at getting a biometric coach? The Orioles have a guy named Rick Peterson, who is director of pitching for the entire organization, who has been doing wonders with Dylan Bundy and others. Mark Prior, while in high school and college worked with Tom House who was credited for the delivery that Prior used to have when he got drafted, the one that was described as appearing as easy as if he was playing catch. A short time later it seemed everyone was talking about the violent mechanics that Prior had developed.

    Shouldn't the Cub Way embrace biomechanics, so we can help assure that prospects like Vizcaino or Maples and MLB players like Garza/Wood/Prior don't injure themselves while they are pitching? They don't have to be pitching coaches per se, maybe a roving coach, so the pitching coach can concentrate on making a game plan and helping with the mental aspects.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    It seems to me it's still somewhat controversial -- not to say that it doesn't or won't work, but knowing how this front office depends on tons of info, my guess is they don't feel there is enough supporting that it works.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I guess one way of finding out if it works or not is to look at the careers of the athletes that have worked with each and see what their history of physical breakdowns have been compared to everyone else. I don't think that would be too difficult. Or interview some of those who worked with House, such as Nolan Ryan, and see if they thought he helped with their pitching motion.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    It seems to me they would have looked into it at some point. Not that I know for certain, just that they don't seem the types to leave a stone unturned.

  • I am not a baseball coach, but I just returned to the US after spending the summer working with the ISF Olympic development teams in Women's Softball in Europe. Yes, I know baseball and softball aren't part of the Olympics again, just yet! But there are 30 teams - Greece! I can teach these girls to swing generally like an Albert Pujols, I hope! But regardless of how clean their mechanics, what breaks down is the difference in pitching talent they face at the International level. I think it is a similar difference between levels of the minors and Major League baseball. The skill level will not make up for experience against superior pitching, and only time and exposure can complete the transaction. Some may never catch up! Some may eventually. This is my fear of guys like Jackson who have big-time natural talent, but lack the fundamentals to match up well with major league pitching. It will be interesting to see who can climb out of this hole, and who will sink. But for some, as in Europe, the leap may seem pretty big. I don't worry about Castillo, or Rizzo. I am not real worried about LaHair. But I am a little more cautious about Jackson and Vitters. Baez has struggled a little in Daytona, but I saw him in person. I have no reservations about him making it in the next couple of years. He stands out as a man among boys.

  • In reply to Quasimodo:

    Great stuff, Quasimodo...good luck with the softball endeavor!

    There does come a point where you have to wonder if a guy is good enough, in this case, is Jackson a good enough hitter as the competition gets better. Maybe he was good enough to get by with what he had in college and up to AA but it won't cut it at the highest level.

    We won't really know for sure until we see him play for a while...I'm hopeful, but the possibility that he doesn't make it has to be considered.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Well I think it is better to need a mental adjustment than to magically discover talent. You can't teach athleticism or coordination. It can be improved but not created. If so, Mr Bean may someday be the Cubs 3rd baseman. I think Vitters and Jackson have the talent, but will they force themselves to adjust. I see it all the time in Softball where a girl has the talent, but she never accepts the need for adjustment, or refuses to put in the time. Brett Jackson has had the same issues at the last four levels, but doesn't seem to have made the adjustment. I just question if it is his time? Since writing this, I see he struck out 7 straight times in official AB's.

  • John, watching Brett Jackson in the outfield is a beauty. Looks like he covers a lot more ground than Dejesus.

  • In reply to drew:

    100% agreed. It's a big upgrade defensively.

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    Might the Cubs show some interest in Andrew Carpenter?

  • Maybe, but just as another arm.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    A team can never have too much pitching.

  • I went to the Peoria game tonight and Starling Peralta struck out 14 in 7 innings. Our seats were behind home plate and, while the umpire had a wide strike zone, Peralta was overpowering with a good fastball and sharp breaking ball. He had a perfect game with 2 outs in the sixth when he gave up a homerun.

    Also Zeke Devoss went 4-4 tonight. His first 3 at bats were from the right side and he tripled off of the wall in right center and had two doubles right inside the third base bag. His last at bat was from the left side and he singled to left center. All in all a fun night at the ball park and two outstanding performances.

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    Brett Jackson seriously is frustrating me so bad...

  • Congrats to Josh Vitters on his first hit, a two run double as a pinch hitter. Based on that Im happy with today's game, another notch towards a higher pick with a young player producing. My ideal Cub game these days would be a 10-8 loss with Rizzo, Castro, Vitters and Jackson all having good days at the bat. Unless Shark is pitching then I want to win 10-0.

  • Holy crap jackson has more holes in His swing than a hamburg lady of the night. Seriously I fine Him everytime he doesnt bunt in a game .

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    I had the worst nightmare. I dreamt that Brett Jackson has struck out his last 8 official at bats. Thank God that was just a bad dream.

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