Day game today and a good time for some lunch-time news and notes...
Stanton to stay in Miami?
It appears that the Marlins are set to make a run at extending Giancarlo Stanton. There's some talk here time to time about the Cubs acquiring the 24 year old superstar slugger. While I like Stanton (who wouldn't?), such a deal has always seemed highly unlikely and the Marlins recent overtures indicate that it may be even less than we thought. Not only are they going to make a run at extending him, but they have also stated that, even if they can't, they plan on keeping him as long as possible, meaning his free agent year, meaning the year 2016. So if the Cubs want Stanton, it appears they'll have to wait a couple of years.
Adding to that unlikelihood is that the Marlins have also indicated they intend to pursue a top of the rotation starter to help replace the injured Jose Fernandez, who will be out until midseason next year. At first I thought, "What's the point?" They certainly have enough pitching to carry them through the all-star break. But the point may be to keep Stanton happy and giving themselves the best chance to compete in what is now a two-year window for them if they can't extend Stanton. Their best chances of keeping him are to build a contending team. And that appears what the Marlins want to do.
Soler to Chicago soon?
Maybe the Cubs can develop their own Stanton.
The "news" of a possible call-up isn't really news. We have assumed he will be here in September. If nothing else, the extra reps are a good enough reason for the oft-injured prospect. The downside is also low. He is already under contract and on the 40 man roster. He can opt out and choose arbitration, so calling him up speeds that clock a little, but in all honesty that's probably outweighed by the potential benefits in this case. GM Jed Hoyer said a September call-up is under consideration,
"[Soler] has been playing great, and is locked in now, and great at-bats, great attitude, playing good defense," Hoyer said. "We have to decide if he's had enough at-bats or not."
One potential issue as to call-up date is that the Iowa Cubs are tied for first place and contending for a playoff berth. Hoyer isn't inclined to undercut the I-Cubs anymore than he already has when he called up Kyle Hendricks, Tsuyoshi Wada, and Javier Baez.
"They worked hard down there," Hoyer said. "We don't want to raid them and leave them with nothing if they do make the playoffs."
The playoffs are good for Soler, if not for us fans here in Chicago who are anxious to get a glimpse of another talented prospect. Soler hasn't had time to stay in one place very long and the word is he is developing into something of a leader. The chance to experience the playoffs with Kris Bryant, a probable future teammate, as well as extended time at a level where pitchers can begin to make adjustments may be better for Soler's development than an early call-up anyway. Even if Iowa makes the playoffs and goes all the way with each series going the full 5 games, Soler could still be here by mid-September at the latest. Everybody wins in that scenario...more reps for Soler, more continuity, more development time, playoff experience...and we still catch a glimpse, albeit one a little later than we might like.
The Maddux-Hendricks connection
Disclaimer: This is not saying Hendricks = Maddux, but...
One of the things that made Greg Maddux great was an encyclopedic knowledge of his opponents. It appears that Kyle Hendricks has the same cerebral approach, not just one the mound, but in his off the field preparation. What's more, he actually likes it.
"I just try to sear the game plan into my mind by watching a ton of video," Hendricks said. "That way, when I'm on the mound, I don't have to think about, 'What was this guy supposed to do again?' It's just kind of there because of watching so much video.
"It's studying for sure. You're looking at the hitters. The scouting report is just a bunch of words. You have to read it and have to be able to retain it. It's fun studying, it's not like school. It's fun sitting there watching hitters. You're watching baseball."
We don't yet know what Hendricks is going to be. He still needs to improve his breaking ball (per @enosarris Hendricks only got two swings and misses out of 15 breaking pitches in his last start), but we do know he is going to make sure he squeezes every ounce of talent he has. Hendricks study habits are enhanced by his advanced command, so he is able to execute well.
And we shouldn't get too hung up about the breaking ball. A veteran scout told me he doesn't have to develop a great one. Heck, he said he doesn't even need an average one. Just one that is just good enough to keep hitters honest and one that breaks lower in the strike zone so it doesn't drop right into a hitter's happy place. Coming from the studious, hard-working Hendricks, it doesn't seem like that is going to be a huge issue for him to learn that too.
Castro, Rizzo learning to turn on the ball
One story I remember hearing from a former MLB pitcher (sorry, can't remember which), was how Ryne Sandberg sort of lulled pitchers into thinking they can go inside by lunging and weakly fouling off outside pitches. Then, just when they thought they could bust him inside...Boom! Sandberg was ready to take it pull side to Waveland Avenue.
Similarly, Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, though not intentionally, probably created a book last year that they will settle for opposite field and that they can be busted inside.
Pitchers are beginning to find that both Cubs young hitters have made the adjustment and they are more than ready and willing to turn on pitches in the inner half.
The power surge from the Cubs two best young hitters stems from an increased willingness to pull the ball. We saw Rizzo do it yesterday and he ranks among the most improved in this category, per this article by Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs. Starlin Castro ranks as the most improved overall on what is a very impressive list of ballplayers.
Both Castro (24) and Rizzo (25) are young but they have been in the league long enough to have adapted to pitchers as pitchers have adapted to them. We sometimes forget that development continues at the MLB level, particularly in those first 3-4 years. It may have been a bumpy ride, both both are vastly improved, more well-rounded hitters than the ones that first came up. Painful as it was to watch, especially last year, the struggles have made them better and I'm beginning to think that each can be a great resource to up and coming Cubs prospects for this reason. The Cubs could use some veteran leadership too, but if anyone can understand the ups and downs of adjusting to MLB pitching as a young player, it's the Cubs two top young hitters.
McKinney, Schwarber draw praise
Jeff Moore of Baseball Prospectus scouted the FSL (free) and had good stuff to say about the two top LH hitting prospects the Cubs acquired this year. They acquired Kyle Schwarber via the MLB Draft and Bill McKinney as the second prospect in the Addison Russell deal.
Moore hangs a 65 grade on McKinney's hit tool, feeling he can be a .300 hitter at the MLB level. He grades his power as average and was surprised by his athleticism. McKinney likely ends up in LF but he has the bat to carry the position, especially since he enhances his hit tool with the ability to draw walks, giving him the potential to put up big OBP numbers. That will compensate for having a corner OF'er with average power, a spot you normally reserve for big thumpers.
The Schwarber praise is less effusive and some may be disappointed in this hit/power tool grades, both of which are a grade above average at 55. But Moore thinks he can produce at the level of a first division left-fielder -- that implies a very good bat. One scout similarly told me he could end up a .280 hitter (supplemented with a good walk rate) with 25 HRs. That is an asset -- especially one at 6 years of cost control. That is no small thing.
But it could be even batter. Imagine that kind of bat at catcher. Moore thinks he can stick there, possibly everyday or possibly in a part-time roles similar to what we have seen at the minor league level so far. The Braves have shown that can work with Evan Gattis, who projects as a 3+ win player in that role. That's a good player and a potentially unique asset for the Cubs. They don't need Schwarber to be a star, but if they can get that kind of production from the left side and from the catching position, it will go a long way toward balancing the Cubs lineup.
Rusney Castillo update
Castillo will narrow down the field in the next few days with the Red Sox expected to be very aggressive. His camp claims there is no leader right now but that is likely due in part to getting as many interested bidders involved as possible.
There has been Castillo hype out in the media but privately I have heard more tempered evaluations. Yes, he can be a good player. He's a quick-twitched CF who relies on speed and quick hands, but the question will soon become is how much to invest in such a player, especially for the Cubs, who may have a similar player in Arismendy Alcantara that will come at far less money over the next few years. Unless the Cubs consider Castillo a significant upgrade over Alcantara in the short term, I'm not sure they will have the motivation to enter a bidding war against teams who have a greater current need.
Of course, the recent reports from workouts suggest that Castillo may have improved and perhaps gotten stronger, so maybe he is a different player now. We don't know how the Cubs feel but we do know they were impressed enough to bring him in for a private workout. Its worth following for that reason alone, so we'll keep tabs.
- Coghlan, LF
- Baez, 2B
- Rizzo, 1B
- Castro, SS
- Valbuena, 3B
- Alcantara, CF
- Ruggiano, RF
- Castillo, C
- Jackson, P
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