In a move that many fans had long been begging for, the Cubs demoted the struggling Junior Lake to AAA on Friday. This was initially done to make room on the roster for Dan Straily, who was to make a spot start on Saturday before immediately heading back to Iowa.
This, of course, instigated all kind of speculation as to the identity of the prospect who would come up to take Straily's vacated spot. The Cubs had already plundered Iowa's riches for the likes of Arismendy Alcantara, Javier Baez, Kyle Hendricks, and Tsuyoshi Wada, but much talent remained.
GM Jed Hoyer spoke to the team's decision-making process a few days ago, saying: "We don’t want to raid them and leave them with nothing. If your big-league club is in the pennant race that's the only consideration, but it’s a little different in this situation."
Hoyer, like Theo Epstein, is a master of couching the truth of the matter in his carefully-chosen words. Following the designation of Darwin Barney and the trade of Emilio Bonifacio, Hoyer stated that the moves weren't made for the purpose of bringing Baez to Chicago, but some read between the lines.
So hearing Hoyer's more recent statement wasn't enough to stop many from asking, "Et tu, Jorge?" But alas, Soler isn't the one being called up to fill the roster. Instead, it's a former standout wide receiver with a hard-to-properly-spell-and-pronounce last name replete with incongruous consonant combos.
Huh, weird, I thought they traded that guy. Oh wait, no, it's...
Matt Szczur Getting Called Up
At first blush, it might seem an odd choice to call up a light-hitting outfielder to fill a role on an offensively-challenged team. On the other hand, the Cubs may see this as a change to audition the 25-year-old for future consideration as a 4th or 5th outfielder.
Szczur's (pronounced like Caesar, as in Julius or Little, in case you were as yet unfamiliar) offensive numbers aren't going to jump off the page. He is slashing .261/.315/.312 with a .626 OPS, 1 HR and 24 RBI, which appears insanely pedestrian to those accustomed to the gaudy stats of Kris Bryant or Jorge Soler.
But Szczur's strength lies in his speed and athleticism, both in the outfield (where he can easily play all three postions) and on the bases (he's got 30 steals and has been caught only 7 times). Maturity is also a factor, as the Cubs newest member is older than all of team's more-hyped prospects, not to mention its two current cornerstones.
In time, Matt Szczur could develop into a useful role player, but it's doubtful he'll ever rise to the level of his homophonic namesake. Another young Cub, however, is doing everything in his power to dictate games with his bat.
Starlin Castro on a Tear
I don't know whether it's ironic or poetic, or just plain Cubs, that a young man would defect from Cuba only to eventually play for a baseball team led by Castro, but that's exactly what will happen when Jorge Soler comes to town. That's because Starlin has once again asserted himself as the phenom who broke out with a 6-RBI debut.
After an ofer on July 31st, Castro really started hitting in August, opening the month with a 14-game hitting streak and raising his average 12 points (.272 to ..284) in the process. Even including an 0-4 night on Saturday, Castro's month has been spectacular: .393.413/.492 with a .905 OPS.
He continued that hot streak on Sunday, collecting a hit in his first at-bat and then lofting a game-winning, opposite-field home run to right in the top of the ninth.
His 140 hits lead all MLB shortstops and his 31 doubles rank him 2nd in that same group, while his batting average ranks 3rd. Not too shabby for a kid many were willing to write off after a down year. The errors are down too, as Castro's .977 fielding percentage is a career-best mark.
The historical significance of Castro's hitting should also be noted, particularly as one of the position's standard-bearers nears the end of his career. Starlin, who just turned 24 prior to the start of the season, has tallied 830 hits in his young career.
Derek Jeter, who currently sits tied for 6th all-time with 3,435 hits, didn't reach that mark until his age-26 year. Castro's got a long way to go to catch The Captain, but he's on pace to be named with some of the greats.
Jake Arrieta Pitching Lights-Out
He might not be quite ready to assume the mantle of "ace," but Arrieta sure has been pitching like he wants to earn it. With the exception of a rough outing in Colorado on August 6th, the former Oriole has continued to play the role of poster boy for Theo Epstein's strategy.
That Rockies game was a little scary, but it's looking more and more like just a hiccup at this point. Well, maybe more of a vurp really, but an aberration either way. The 9 earned runs allowed inflated his ERA from 2.11 to 2.80, but after giving up only 2 runs to the Brewers and shutting out the Mets, it's back down to 2.61.
And with a WHIP of just 1.02, it's obvious that Arfieta is exhibiting a good deal more control, the lack of which had been his undoing in the past. He's walked 3 or fewer in each of his last 16 starts and in all but 1 of his 19 games this season. If the Cubs are able to add a proven top-of-the-rotation arm in the offseason, they'd have quite a formidable combo.
So here's to hoping the Cubs' newest rookie finds the Friendly Confines a bit more welcoming than the steps of the Roman Senate, that Castro maintains fidelity at the plate, and that Arrieta continues to be jake.
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