It's a day off so no preview. Starlin Castro is expected to play tomorrow and Ian Stewart will play on Thursday. Depending on what happens with Italy in the WBC, the Cubs will finally see their projected starting lineup soon...
Cubs Minor Leagues Updates
- AZ Phil of the Cubs Reporter has a few interesting observations from minor league camp. The first is that Dillon Maples appears to have hurt his right shoulder or elbow. No specifics at the time but if we hear anything we will update. Maples has already missed significant time and only has 10+ innings of organized professional experience. I expected the Cubs to jump him to Kane County to make up for missed time, but anything serious pushes his timetable back even further.
- Also noted in the same update is that Dan Vogelbach was taking grounders at 3B. I'm not sure if this is just getting a look or this is something the Cubs are serious about. Vogelbach, of course, faces a major roadblock at 1B with young budding star Anthony Rizzo entrenched there, but 3B is home to a lot of minor league talent, including teammate Jeimer Candelario and possibly top prospect Javier Baez. Vogelbach has trimmed down and it's nice to see it pay off with at least an opportunity to prove he can handle another position. I'm still skeptical but I'm hoping the big guy can prove me wrong.
- Jim Callis looked into his crystal ball and predicted the top 10 prospects in baseball for 2014. Javier Baez was #3 on the list.
- Baseball Prospectus has a best tools series out and yesterday it was top infield arms. I'm not sure which pleased me more -- that Junior Lake was rated the prospect with the best arm or that they picked ex-Cubs Shawon Dunston as the player with the best infield arm of all time.
- Speaking of the minor leagues you can catch my Iowa position player preview here and you can click this link to view preview pieces in the series.
MLB Draft Updates
- Kevin Gallo, Dan Kirby, and I are holding a round robin mock draft that I will publish a bit down the road when we finish. We'll go all the way down to the Cubs 2nd round pick. We'll all chime in on who we think the Cubs will select with each of their first two picks. I'm also considering doing one on my own and a mock draft with the readers using our polls for each pick.
- Chris Crawford of MLB Draft Insider is contributing to ESPN during draft time and he has some good stuff out on some top draft prospects (insider only). The focus on the piece is LHP and while Sean Manaea is clearly the top lefty, Crawford reports that his stuff is down this year. The velo is in the low to mid 90s and his slider has gone from plus-plus to above average and a plus change now looks average. It's early and it's still cold in the midwest, so Manaea has time to heat up -- but Crawford thinks that while it's still good stuff, it could drop him out of the top 5. When you consider his agent is Scott Boras, teams may be even more wary of taking that risk.
- Other LHP mentioned are Marco Gonzales, a very advanced finesse type who many think is the 2nd best in the draft, and Thomas Windle, who is not as polished but has a higher upside. Windle seems to be closing the gap. Kevin Ziomek is just outside that group. He needs to develop a 3rd pitch and scouts may need more time to make sure that improved command is for real. The top two lefty preps appear to be Stephen Gonsalves, a tall (6'6", 180) and highly projectable pitcher who is in the low 80s and high 90s with plus breaking stuff and Ian Clarkin, who throws in the low 90s but with a change that's not as far along as Gonsalves'.
- Phil Rogers pointed out that Friday's scheduled pitching matchup is Sean Manaea vs. Thomas Windle -- arguably the top two LHP in the draft. You can catch the game on ulive (h/t Harry Pavlidis).
- If your philosophy is for the Cubs to use the Astros strategy and try to sign a top talent to an over-slot deal later in the draft, an interesting candidate may be Kohl Stewart. Many feel Stewart is the best pure high school arm in the draft but two things may cause him to slip. He was injured in the offseason and missed the start of this season and he is an excellent QB with a scholarship to Texas A&M. He reached 94 mph in his first game back and that may well improve as he regains strength. He's a top 10 talent but probably won't go that high because of the questions surrounding him right now -- if he doesn't go top 10, he could free fall as teams get concerned about his signability.
Observations on yesterday's 7-5 spring training victory over the D'Backs...
- Jeff Samardzija made a few bad pitches but pitched pretty well overall. I was encouraged he threw strikes, he just needs to fine tune for the season.
- Javier Baez went 0-4 but made two very good defensive plays showing range to his right and a powerful arm at SS. I was also impressed that he worked the count a little bit again. We all know that if Baez can harness that aggression at the plate and swing at more strikes, he's going to be a monster. So good to see him making some progress on that front, though he still has a ways to go.
- Jorge Soler not only got another hit, but showed he has some pretty good instincts by taking 2nd base on a play at the plate. Nice heads-up play for a rookie.
- Steve Clevenger is mashing the ball all spring and has hit even better than his .348 average would indicate. It's likely going down to the wire for him and, even if he doesn't make it, he'll probably be among the first in line to get called up should there be an injury.
- Brett Jackson has cooled off and is batting .231 but went two more PAs without a strikeout. He has 5 Ks in 21 PAs for the spring (23.8% rate).
- Christian Villanueva continues to sparkle with the glove. He made the play of the day defensively when he fielded a ball that deflected off the pitcher. He has drawn raves from both Cubs announcers Mick Gillespie and Len Kasper for his glovework this spring.
- Hector Rondon appears to have come up with a breaking ball that has been a legit out pitch this spring. Rondon was known primarily for his fastball and change-up, but if he can add a breaking ball to go with it, he may be able to do more than just be a mop-up guy. He throws strikes and the breaking stuff has helped him get by when is velo wasn't up to usual standards.
- Rafael Dolis threw strikes and lo and behold....he pitched a scoreless inning. Dolis is going with a different delivery this year that I am anxious to see. His stuff is too good -- he just needs to trust it and throw strikes.
- You can see the final results of the Javier Baez prank we caught in progress yesterday on my Cubs Den Facebook page.
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