Spring Training news and notes 3/6

bradbrachMajor League Baseball has finished hammering out a new transfer agreement with the Mexican League (Liga Mexicana de Beisbol). Here is the full statement:mlb-lmb_announcement

What this boils down to is in previous years, Liga clubs would often take as much as 75% of a player's signing bonus from MLB in order to release their players from contracts. The percentage that went to the Liga team did not count against the MLB club's IFA cap. But with no standard in place, you can understand that there was the potential for abuse. The Cubs agreement with former Top 30 IFA prospect Florencio Serrano (RHP, 2017) was voided prior to the MLB suspending all transfer agreements with Mexico last June. Now, for players that are under 25 years old, which figures to be the vast majority of the deals, the Liga club will receive a standard 35% rate. This fee will continue to not count against the MLB club's IFA spending limits.

The Cubs have previously done a lot of business with Liga clubs, not only in the failed Serrano deal, but also for recent top prospects Jose Albertos, Reivaj Garcia, Luis Verdugo, as well as Isaac Paredes, who the Cubs dealt to the Tigers in the Justin Wilson/Alex Avila trade in 2017. Paredes is now rated as the Tigers #4 prospect.

With the deal still fresh, and the Cubs 2018 IFA budget almost all spent, it is hard to say if the club could rekindle talks on an agreement for Serrano. It is possible another MLB team would have more IFA room remaining. Or Serrano and his Liga club could potentially wait until the next signing period opens this summer.

  • Brad Brach is scheduled to make his Cactus League debut today. Brach's signing with the Cubs was delayed due to a case of mono revealed during his physical that led to a restructuring of the previously agreed upon deal, with more of the contract incentive driven and the club's buyout of their team option next year shrinking. His base salary for 2019 is now set at $1.65M with up to $850K available in appearance bonuses, and a $5M team option for 2020 (with $100K buyout). Brach also holds a $1.35M player option for 2020.
  • The Cubs other late signing, lefty Xavier Cedeno has been slowed by a wrist injury. There is no word yet on when he will take the mound, but if it is not soon there is a good chance he will not be ready for Opening Day. With Brian Duensing pitching fairly well this spring, Cedeno would have faced an uphill battle to earn a job out of the gate anyway considering he still has an option year remaining. The Cubs will have a very deep stable of left-handed arms available in Iowa, with Cedeno joining fellow 40-man options Kyle Ryan and Randy Rosario, as well as 2018 PCL All-Star Alberto Baldonado. Veterans Mike Zagurksi and Rob Zastryzny are also available. I have not seen any updates or appearances from another AAA/MLB veteran Jerry Vasto, who the Cubs acquired on waivers, so he may be hurt. The Cubs also picked up former 1st round pick Ian Clarkin off waivers from the White Sox, and traded for Connor Lillis-White from the Angels in the Tommy La Stella deal, but the log jam in Iowa figures to push those two down to AA Tennessee.
  • Some pitchers prefer to get their spring work done in simulated games rather than against divisional opponents they will already face multiple times throughout the year, which appears to have been the case on Monday when Cole Hamels and Mike Montgomery both threw two innings on the backfields rather than pitch in the game against the Reds that was started by Alec Mills. Brandon Kintzler also joined that group for an inning.
  • If you have a subscription to the Athletic, Sahadev Sharma has gained some insight into the Cubs highly secretive Pitch Lab that they opened in Mesa last spring, and have continued to supplement over the past year. One interesting tidbit from the article is Kyle Hendricks credits it with helping him solve his velocity problems that cropped up last season when had dropped into the mid-80s with his fastball.

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  • Good info Michael, thank you.

    I like the idea of the “pitching lab”. Pretty cool. And I hope the Cubs can still get Serrano.

  • That pitch lab article is fantastic. While some fans were upset that the Cubs didn't sign bigger-name relief pitchers, the Cubs were quietly working to get more from their current roster. Unless I missed it, Sharma didn't mention Carl Edwards Jr. - I wonder if the "lab" can help him be successful with that awesome stuff he has.

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    I wonder if anyone is willing to share more info about the Atlantic article and the Cubs pitch lab. I don't have a subscription to read the Atlantic.

    On another note, I was at the game yesterday against the Angels sitting behind home plate. Willson Contreras got his "little league home run" 100% because he respected 90, and even with that hard hit ball, he busted it right out of the box and was in high gear all the way. As soon as the ball bounced and went off of Trout's glove, we all knew he would have a good shot at the HR. Hopefully that kind of hustle will continue throughout the entire season.

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    In reply to Cubber Lang:

    Short summary of the article is that the Pitching Lab is an area with several different technologies that are able to, in REAL TIME, provide feedback to pitchers to help them refine their "stuff." And allow them to develop GOOD habits rather than bad ones. Or work out "what happened." For instance, they mentioned Hendricks' drop in velocity (2017?). Using their technology they noticed a small mechanical difference (you have to read the article to find out what it was) but when he corrected it he got BACK those missing 2-3 mph and was more effective.

    To me the cautionary tale of it is that we can't just assume that we can always just adjust the mechanics of a pitcher and he suddenly will become good. We also can't just add spin rate and assume the guy will blossom. It is more complex than that. Sometimes players with less than perfect mechanics dominate and guys with perfect mechanics fail. Spin rate isn't everything. Nor is launch angle. Like many things in baseball they HELP, but there are a lot of factors. Assuming that there is one perfect solution can lead us to some ugly places.

    My favorite example of this is an article I read a while ago. In it it said that the Cubs had success with Jake Arrieta but a "failure" in Chris Volstad. Both pitcher's had talent. One they were able to unlock his potential and he became a dominant force, if only for a few years. The other wasn't able to make the adjustment. The problem wasn't necessarily obstinacy by Volstad. It wasn't necessarily lack of talent. It just "works" for some guys and not others. This is also why we can't get too hung up on "Why didn't we make that change when we had that guy?" Every team has stories of success and stories of failure.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    You are right that it isn't just mechanics. The story of the Astros Josh James is amazing. He was a guy throwing low 90's stuff. He worked on command and control because that was all he had to stay in the low minors. He was just another High-A & AA guy with a 90mph fastball. Then the Astros found he was suffering from sleep apnea. Once they fixed his situation, James had more energy to work out, pitch, etc. Within 15 months, he was throwing at 100mph with command and control. You just never know what will do the trick.

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    In reply to TexasCubsFan:

    Hadn't heard that story. Good example of how something that isn't obvious can jump up. I am all in favor of using "big data" to help make the team better. But we have to remember that this is a game played by human beings who have their own thoughts/feelings. Not everyone can do the same things mechanically. Not everyone can have "the right swing" or the "correct pitching motion." This doesn't mean that the org shouldn't try to help them but it doesn't guarantee success. We love to point to guys who could make a seemingly small adjustment and their career took off. But sometimes no one is able to "figure it out." And sometimes the player simply can't do it. Their habits are too ingrained.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    Thanks Joel. I agree, the pitch lab thing probably won’t work for every pitcher, but if it helps with just a couple of them, then it's probably worth it. From what I’ve read about Hottovy, it sounds like he’s a good match in our organization and the current technology situation.

  • In reply to Cubber Lang:

    I LIKE hustle! Thanks for sharing that.

    As for the Pitch lab, there is a lot of secrecy around it, but there's a whole building just west of the Cubs' agility field in AZ. They use Rapsodo devices and Edgertronic cameras, pretty much everyone is these days. They also use KinaTrax, who has a website at kinatrax.com that explains a lot. Hendricks said it was almost like seeing a "skeleton view" because it deals with "bone segment orientation." Joel explained what it did for Kyle. Steve Cishek claims it showed he was "hooking" his slider too much and was able to "back off" in his delivery. Sharma's piece also talked about Dillon Maples and his phenomenal spin rate and how his pitches rotate on an axis that creates minimal rise on his fastball. They aren't having him do it yet, but claim the problem might be mitigated by a change in arm angle or even tilting his torso. The data is mega detailed and will undoubtedly help some, but the pitcher has to be willing to follow suggested changes and it can take time to incorporate them into the routine.

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    Thanks for the info Cliff.

  • In reply to Cubber Lang:

    Personally, I think Contreras hustles too much for a starting catcher. Not saying he shouldn’t pick his moments but he goes all out on virtually every play. That leads to injuries for catchers. Ask Jason Kendall who was a joy to watch play back in the day and whose prime was cut short by lower body injuries.

  • In reply to TC154:

    Unless Contreras is inured he should be hustling every play. It's his game. It's Joe's job to give him needed rest. Willsons struggles last year were caused by fatigue not by hustling. His pulled hamstring the year before was probably fatigue related as well. Some players(Aramis , Rondell) are injury prone not Contreras.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Yep caratini needs to play early and often. Since they didn't grab a vet this offseason, he has until the deadline to prove he can be a productive big leaguer.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Hustle is the most over-rated thing ever. I like "playing hard" at all times. Hustle, IMO, is for the untalented and is used as a crutch or excuse for not being very good or failing. "But at least he hustled......." There is a difference in playing hard as you can and hustling. There is no sense to running 100 miles per hour when you have a routine out. I never understood this. At all times you give everything you got WHEN the ball is in play AND running hard determines the outcome of a play (playing hard). Running at an 80-90%% clip is plenty when you ground out to SS or fly out to CF or pop up to 2B is completely acceptable. I have never seen a guy get hurt going 80%. I've seen plenty of guys hurt running crazy when not necessary. Willson needs to stay healthy and save some fuel in the tank. I could care less to see him sprint like Usain Bolt down to 1B after a meek ground out to the P when he is out by 65 feet. I saw a coach yell at a 14U player last night for not "hustling" back to the dugout after the kid struck out. Are you kidding me???!!! You didn't yell at him for not sprinting to the batter's box from the on deck circle. Hustle doesn't make a K any better and sends no message to his team or the other team like he was putting more effort or trying harder. Just lame.

    To be more clear, I am not talking about pimping a hit ball out of the box--there is no excuse for that. As I said above -- ball in play and going hard determines the outcome. Watching and slow trotting out of the box when a ball hits the wall is unacceptable. Running 100 miles per hour through the bag to get down the line in 4.2 when the 1B already caught the ball and you are out by 4 steps is stupid. No one ever complains when a P doesn't run out a grounder when an easy out on a routine play. Why is that? Not saying Willson should shut it down and not run a ball out. But he should pick his spots to exert all his energy better than last year. I agree with TC in that regard.

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    In reply to rbrucato:

    YES! There is a difference when you think there might be a close play at 1B and running hard might get you there 1/2 step faster can make the difference. But the vast majority of the time you know OFF THE BAT if it is likely an out, or a single, or possibly an XBH. As far as the "What if there's an error?" the fact is if the 1B doesn't catch the ball in most circumstances you will get to 1B if you are jogging. And those missed throws often happen on difficult plays where you can see off the bat that you have a chance to be safe so I am fine with the guy running full out. And if the ball gets by an OF you are looking at likely making it to 2B/3B any way.

    As for the "running hard puts pressure on the defense," this is true if the play is likely to be close. If it is a simple play and the runner is likely to be out by 5 steps then being out by 2 steps isn't really relevant. Professional players, even BAD defenders are actually pretty good at routine plays.

    Running full-speed on a routine groundout is just wasted energy. To me "Respect 90" has to do with on a likely close play go like heck. Not run full speed on a 3 hopper to 2B.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    I agree with your situations -- I almost went there trying to explain how you know off the bat if running as fast as you can is warranted. But I could not find the words to convey it like you did. Nice reply, Joel.

    To me it is about staying fresh over 162. It's easy to sit here and say "running all out every play all the time doesn't make a difference." But it does over 6 months as brutal travel schedules and inconsistent rest patterns are the norm. When you can take the gas off and it doesn't affect performance or results, I think the guys need to do that.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    I like this. I have often thought of "hustle" as the same thing as "playing hard," but I can see the difference in the way you explain it.

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    Thanks Cliff. I know it is a touchy subject for some. I"m glad I was able to explain my POV on it.

  • In reply to TC154:

    I know what you mean, but it’s just not a good practice to take a play off every once in a while. Contreras could probably benefit from only catching about 120 games per season, and maybe still playing another 10-15 games or so in LF or DH. More regular rest would be the ideal situation to keeping him playing strong for the entire season.

  • In reply to Cubber Lang:

    True. I prefer him getting days off vs dogging it down the line to get a breather... I’ll never understand that, unless it’s a pitcher in the early innings or when he has a comfortable lead not running out a batted ball. These guys are highly trained, conditioned & the best at what they do. If they can’t run 100% down the line, then they better be hurt or sit down & let someone who wants to run hard be there.

  • In reply to Cubber Lang:

    Good call. Sounds like it all started because he respected 90. I’m glad Joe emphasizes that.

  • All I could see was a popped hammy as he rounded 2nd base; major surgery and out for the year. Why? To get an inside the park round-tripper in an early spring training game. Makes no sense.

  • "Hustle is the most over-rated thing"

    Said no one to Pete Rose, ever.

  • In reply to hoffpauir6:

    Rose “played hard” as I described above never giving an inch to anyone.

    Maybe his nickname was about how he was off the field with the gambling. LOL!!!!

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    I am SO ready for baseball to get going....the Bears new kicker....that’s his real last name correct? Sure hope it’s not a nickname...

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    As Pete Rose said - What do you think put the hustle into Charlie hustle - amphetamines

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    The thing about hustling (or running hard) only when there is a close play involved, is that there are many times this assumption is wrong. The fielder may boot a routine grounder hit to him, or drop the ball getting it out of his glove, or his throw may pull the first baseman off of the bag and then he needs time to locate it with his foot.

    You can't assume that you are automatically out when you hit a groundball to an infielder. That is the gist of why you always hustle. That's what 'respect 90' means in a nutshell. I agree that if running hard all the time is too hard on a player, then that player either needs more rest or better conditioning.

  • In reply to HefCA:

    I believe I wrote while the outcome of the play is still in question. I think that would cover the assumptions you wrote.

    I understand what you are saying. I am just not of the belief hustling for the sake of hustling no matter the situation is smart or called for. I think some energy can be saved for future use. Play hard when the ball is in play. When outcomes are still questionable keep going 100%. When you are out or not in a play, throttle it down. I could care less if a guy sprints thru 1B when out by 20 feet or sprintis around 1B when an easy fly ball is caught. Makes no difference. I realize some don’t agree and I am ok with that.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    So you're saying that after a player is clearly thrown out, he should stop running so hard. I don't think anyone has a problem with that philosophy. Do you really think that is a problem the team needs to address? I don't see that for any player.

  • In reply to HefCA:

    Sorry for piling on, if it feels that way, but is that your definition of hustle? People who keep running hard after they are obviously out? I only ask because that definition differs from the convention view of hustle.

  • In reply to HefCA:

    Hi Hef. No, this isn't piling on at all. We are simply having a conversation. All good by me. This is the good discourse I enjoy most.

    There are a lot of ways to answer your question. But if I go back to the first reply I posted in regards to Willson playing like his hair is on fire at all times. He is running 100 miles per hour in every circumstance. I think his hustle is for the sake of hustling. It has no bearing on the game or certain plays. He should throttle back to conserve energy. That is first premise of my post--hence "hustle is overrated". Hopefully that sets up the subsequent dialogue.

    Hiustle is someone's way of forgiving failure, IMO. You hear or read "at least he is hustling....." That boithers me and one reason why, IMO, hustle is over-rated. I believe guys do wear out over a season. I think they need to throttle it back when the effort is meaningless. In Willson's case, he squats 200 times in 3 hours, with 3-4 sprints in between minimal rest. And that doesn't include his pre-game workouts. There is no one that can tell me with a straight face that he would not wear down doing this for 6-7 months. I have seen a couple of replies that suggest a player get in better shape or conditioning. I think that is a poor take as well. Would someone say that to the Olympic sprinter who blew his hammy or quad in his race? Or the NBA player who blew his achilles or strained his groin in a game? No, because it would be a bad position. Hope I am making some sense. When given the opportunity to relax and slow down, I wish Willson would do that to conserve his energy.

    I'll give you an example. During last night's game versus Seattle, Javy came up after Rizzo's HR. First pitch he was sitting fastball and got it. He swung as hard as he could and hit a rocket right at Crawford (SS). Javy couldn't even drop the bat before the ball was in Crawford's glove. Crawford set his feet and got rid of the ball quickly and Javy was out by 45 feet--no exaggeration (half way down the line). I guarantee some banged on Javy for not hustling and he literally slow jogged the last 45 feet to 1B. My point is there is not a reason for him to hustle. The play is over. I don't need Javy running 100% through the bag where he could possibly get injured-- tweaking a hammy, twisting his ankle on the bag, hurting his groin then that would be a waste of his effort and it had no bearing on a play. His next at bat he lined a 2B into the LF corner and busted it out of the box even making a turn at 2B as the ball was coming in. That is "playing hard" and all the way through the outcome of the play. Some will say Javy should have run all the way through 1B 100% on the grounder AND like he did on the 2B because that is "hustle". My opinion is Javy did it right. I used the example of the opposing coach at my 14U travel game that yelled at his player "hustle back to the dugout!!!" when the kid struck out. That is absolutely lame. He didn't tell him to "hustle to the batter's box" when in the on deck circle. It's is simply a misguided attempt to mask effort, IMO.

    To answer your direct question, no, my definition is not "people who keep running hard after they are obviously out" -- it is the people who run all over the place for no apparent reason other than to convey they are a hustler. It's almost like a fake facade so no one could question effort or lackadaisical play or simply not caring. Yes, those are generalizations. But I have heard too often "I will take hustle over talent" or "hustle beats talent" and nothing could be further from the truth. I have heard too often when a player pops up in the IF, "HUSTLE!!!!" if the player is jogging. Like that really matters. It's like if the player hustled on the pop up that he is forgiven. Like it is a magical cure all for a bad at bat or a bad play in the field. "At least he hustled......."

    I hope I answered your question and I appreciate the discussion. Thanks Hef!

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    Great explanation of your point. And right on the money, I wholeheartedly agree.

  • Actually, the story goes that Mickey Mantle gave Pete Rose the nickname in a Spring Training game when Rose was a rookie trying to break into the big leagues. I think this was from an interview of Whitey Ford I read a while back (my memory is bad so I am not certain here but I know I read an interview of someone on the Yankees telling the story). He claimed Mickey hit a no doubt home run in a meaningless Spring Training game that went well over the wall. Pete Rose ran back to the wall and practically tried to climb it as the ball soared a good 50 feet over his head. Mickey came back to the dugout laughing how ridiculous it looked and said to Whitey something like, "What's up with Charlie Hustle out there?" Word got back to Rose and he actually liked it and it stuck.

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