Cubs Spring Notes: Stewart, Villanueva, Garza, Soler, Dolis

The Cubs position players officially report today, though that’s mostly been a formality the past two seasons since most players have arrived early.

Here’s a few notes I rounded up yesterday …

  • In the “In Case You Missed It” category: This article got lost in the shuffle a bit with the minor league previews, but yesterday we had video and analysis on Brett Jackson‘s new swing.  We also rolled on with our minor league preview, covering Kane County outfielders (including Albert Almora and Jorge Soler) after kicking it off with catcher and infield early yesterday.
  • Patrick Mooney of CSN writes that Ian Stewart had other offers but chose to re-sign with the Cubs because he feels he owes them something.  There was some concern about Stewart not spending time with the club after his injury.  Sveum acknowledged much but says it wasn’t a “major issue”.  Said Sveum, “I think he could have been around team a little bit more, yeah. And I told him that. It’s nothing he doesn’t know.”  Stewart is grateful because the front office did grant him permission to go home. “It was just a trying time,” Stewart said. “I talked it over with management. It wasn’t something where I was like: ‘Yeah, I want to go home. I want to get away from here.’ I explained to them the situation our family was in (and) I had their backing 100 percent. It was basically directly between me and Theo. I really wanted to give the Cubs a chance. I feel like I owe the organization something for the way they stuck with me and they allowed me to do these great things, by supporting me and my family, supporting me through the injury, sticking with me through the surgery and providing the rehab for me.”  That is encouraging because we had some concerns about Stewart ourselves and for awhile it seemed like he wouldn’t be back.  But if he truly wants to pay the Cubs back, then nothing would do that more than a healthy, productive season at 3B.
  • Carlos Villanueva spoke with Meghan Montemurro of the Northwest Herald (who, by the way, did a great job yesterday reporting and conveying Cubs info on Twitter).  He said he thinks he can pitch 200 innings as a starter despite a career high in IP of 125.  If he’s in relief he believes he can pitch 100.  His preference, though, is to be a starter.  “In my mind, I feel if I’m out there every 5 days we have good chance of winning & that’s how I see it.”  Manager Dale Sveum said he’s in much better shape and much more prepared than he was when they were together in Milwaukee.  That’s been the knock on Villanueva, some think he lacks stamina because a lack of conditioning and preparation.  It sounds like this year he’s on a mission.  I don’t know about 200 innings, but I like the confidence.  It sounds like he has something to prove this year.
  • Montemurro also reports that Matt Garza‘s arm strength really stood out in a bullpen session, according to Sveum, who added  “Ball came out of his hands even better than the other day. His changeup was really good.”  This is encouraging news whether you are in the keep Garza camp or the trade Garza camp.
  • Much buzz about Jorge Soler yesterday.  You can see his batting practice session here and here.  I talked about him in the earlier piece on Kane County today, so I won’t rehash too much here, but it seems to me he looks like he’s grown into his frame a little, though it’s hard to tell with that loose jacket he has on.  Also something of interest, Sveum said that Soler and Javier Baez, who will both be at MLB camp will probably get in the same lineup on occasion.  We can only hope those will be televised!  You can get more info on Soler in this article by Carrie Muskat.
  • The Tribune has more on Soler and also a fun story on Dale Sveum setting up a play-in match between competitive front office members Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein for the last spot in the bunting tournament.  Hoyer is the favorite as he was the better athlete, having been a SS and closer in Division III ball.  He actually set a team record for saves at Wesleyen (CT).  Theo, meanwhile, was “not a natural born athlete” and described as a “gangly sports geek” who wore sports goggles for years after a soccer injury left a gash over his eye.  I’d pay to see those pictures but something tells me Theo has them well stashed away somewhere.
  • Noted a small mistake by MLBTradeRumors on their Out of Options pieceRafael Dolis is not out of options.  According to AZ Phil, who is the go-to guy in such matters, Dolis actually has a 4th option year. Per AZ Phil, “Rafael Dolis has used three minor league options through the 2012 season, but because he has accrued only four “full seasons” through the 2012 season he will be eligible for a 4th minor league option in 2013. And as things stand right now, Jorge Soler and Matt Szczur will be eligible for a 4th minor league option in 2015.”  That’s good news because Dolis is going to need that option this year.  It should also buy time with Soler and Szczur, if needed.

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  • fb_avatar

    Dolis is a guy I think might come on strong now that people have drastically lowered their expectations on him. Still has great stuff he just needs to trust in it. My bold prediction is the season after this coming one he'll be that years "Project: Samarzdija" and try his hand at starting again if he improves his command and secondaries like Shark and not Cabrera. As we saw Lucas Harrell do against us last year, you can dominate a game with one pitch, especially when that pitch is a power sinker.

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    Yes, very true. Kevin Brown pretty much threw one power sinker after another and made himself a pretty nice career.

    Bold prediction on Dolis but if he steps up the way Cabrera did in the minors last year, it's not out of the question. Only problem is he really will be out of options and he'll have to be converted offseason and do it right away in the bigs. Can't go back to AAA like Cabrera.

  • I like the idea of them trying Dolis as a starter, too. He was pretty good as a starter in the low minors, and the best pitch to have as a starter is a good, hard sinker--which he has. In a late inning power reliever, you want a guy who generates more swing and miss than Dolis does, but the double plays he gets with the sinker would work well as a starter, and I think starting would also get him out of throwing mode (which he was in last year) and into pitching mode.

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    In reply to SVAZCUB:

    Very good points. We'll just have to see how he develops this year. As John said the fact that he only has one option left means he'll have less breathing room then Cabrera has now. He'll have to do it in Samardzija-type fashion and work on things during the offseason. If i'm the cubs I start him in Iowa, pitch him in relief and if he improves like Cabrera and Shark did, stretch him out and go from there.

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    It's interesting that Castillo is out of options. If he can't cut it as the starter, the Cubs' lack of catching depth could become a major issue.

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    I can't envision a scenario where Castillo is anywhere near as bad as the production we got from C last year. His physical tools alone should ensure at least a slight upgrade and hearing the coaching staff rave about him and his improvements I think they'll give him every chance to keep the job even if he struggles at times. At worst he's already a solid backup.

  • If Castillo is a bust then the Cubs will be forced to look for one via free agency or trade in the short term. Which can get expensive in terms of either $$ or players/prospects. He's an underrated key player for them in their rebuild.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    That's a scenario I hope never has to happen. Young, impact Catchers are so hard to acquire and when you can it's extremely costly. Not to mention the fact that no team will trade one unless they already have a surplus ie Toronto or the reds pre-latos trade. The usually command big deals on the FA market as well.

    It's infinitely more efficient for an organization to develop their own catchers just like shortstops. A lot riding on Castillo this year.

    One or two guys i'm keeping my eye on who could possibly be had at a fair price are Ryan Lavarnway and Devin Mesoraco. The former much more plausible than the latter. I doubt Weiters makes it to FA but if he does that would be interesting.

    Any other catching prospects who are blocked in another ORG?

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    Agreed. I especially think Lavarnay would be a good target.

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    In reply to John Arguello:


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    In reply to John Arguello:

    There's always Navarro, who I think they are looking at as more than a backup to Castillo this year, but as potential insurance if he fails.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    True, but he's really a below average player on offense. Still, they may well keep him because he can handle the pitching staff and control the running game.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    IIRC, he was a pretty highly rated offensive prospect once. They may have seen something they think they can correct. Just a guess.

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    Stewart is such a wild card. That story is incredibly heartening, and it's easy to forget just how highly his natural tools were regarded. If he does put it all together this year and become the third baseman he was supposed to be, it is a huge step forward for the team.

    Having said that, I just can't forget the stories from last year about how Jed and Theo didn't think they had the future third baseman in the organization right now. (Given that both Baez and Villaneuva were in the organization at the time, I have to believe that was exaggerated a bit, but not much.) That doesn't speak highly for their expectations.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Interesting too in that they are looking to try Baez at 2B. Aside from the physical play at the position on DPs, I like it. It'll keep him more involved and as a high energy player, he needs that.

    I don't think they've ruled out any of the 3B prospects, but I think they were trying to say that it wouldn't preclude them from acquiring a more MLB ready 3B. Olt springs to mind, of course.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Baez at 2nd is MVP-candidate material(if he reaches his offensive potential) and I have no doubt he could play well there. Also opens up 3B for a Candelario, Vitters, or Villanueva.

    I like that option a lot but won't be mad if he ends up at 3rd.

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    If Baez reaches his offensives potential, he will be in the lineup somewhere and has the talent to play the position that the Cubs need him at.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Yep. Baez's bat should play anywhere.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I remember they said the same thing about Ty Griffin!

  • In reply to CubsTalk:

    Ty Griffin was like Pete Incaviglia, the aluminum bat king. Once Griffin had to switch to wood bats he couldn't cut it, plain and simple.

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    In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    Castro-Baez up the middle is a crazy thought. It does open up the door for a guy like Villaneuva at third for a truly excellent defensive infield with more than enough punch offensively.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Agree. It would be so old guard to call a guy who has never played a day at AA the third baseman of the future. But it really does temper expectations for Stewart, who is well past that stage.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    Exactly...and they said as much when Hoyer said something to the effect of, "We can't count on prospects from A ball". Not that they don't have the talent to be big league players some day, just that it's too far away to count on them as part of your current plans.

    That kind of stuff extends into the draft too. If the Cubs think Frazier or Meadows is the BPA, for example, they won't say they're not going to draft him because of Almora. You have to keep acquiring talent and worry about positions later. As Theo said, those things tend to sort themselves out.

  • It's nice to see a young man with character, who turns down a contract for perhaps more money, because they feel an obligation to a baseball organization. Kudo's to the organization who puts family, over what is perceived as values, in being a 'team' player. Three cheers for Ian and Theo!

  • My fear with Stewart is that he will never be what he could have been because of his wrist injury. His ceiling may be at best part time 3bman. This opens up a spot for a fast track young stud like Baez as early as the 2nd half of 2014.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    He should be given a chance to win, or lose, the job. He is still
    young enough to have value to the team.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    I'm pulling for him.

  • I think it is far to early to give up on stewart. In fact, he could be a comeback of the year type player for the cubs. The main knock against him is he has wrist injury, and he chose to rehab it at his wife's family home in carolina. Oh well, that must be a real problem for some chicago media who like to have the injured players around where they can discern any potential character problems. Give me a break, levine caught wind of a comment or two from people who didn't know what Stewart and Theo had arranged, and then Levine creates some sociopathic scenario to appear to have team insight when he has none. Story is how Levine once again has no idea what was going on with Stewart and others went along with it since they didn't really know either.

    Stewart may or may not play well, look at how long Derrick lee struggled to get back from his wrist injury, did he ever really fully recover? How many years did that take to work out? Stewart is younger and hopefully can get back to where he was or even better. He is still a better prospect than any minor leaguer who has never played third, or a converted shortstop who has no intention of accepting a switch to third. Did you see how well Baez took to playing third? I doubt Castto is going to accept a move there very willingly either, they may try it but it will be error express. The other option is raw at best. So Stewart is far and away the best prospect the cubs have. Trading for Olt who has only marginally better upside if any would be a diversion from where the Cubs should be focussing their trades at this point. For the long term Cubs may be better off gaining some pitching prospects and going with Vitters as an alternative to Stewart. I hope stewart plays well, he and some of the young pitchers are my breakout year picks, because it is easy to have breakout seasons it there is no one ahead of you. Besides what facilities does "being with the team" give a rehabbing player at wrigley? Everyone is saying how awful it is and the team training space needs rehabbing. It you get traded from colorado, and have no ties or familiarity with chicago area, why wouldn't you want to be with your family in Asheville? Would you stay in chicago by yourself or be in the mountains of NC? Levine was just casting unfounded aspersions on an injured player with no ties to the team or area to support him, that's the where the disappointing player is to me, very poor blogging.

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    A successful offensive season by Stewart gives the Cubs a lot of options.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    That would be a great development for the Cubs. He's one guy I'll be curious to see in the spring to see if he improves/bounces bak or he really has regressed.

  • I'm pulling for Stewart, as I feel he holds alot of cards on what moves the Cubs brass, and Dale Sveum, can play. John, your articles and effort are second to none. As you know, I've been a long time fan of this site, and I read every story, and every comment...every day. I just want to pass on kudos once again to you, and let you know I think Marcel has a future with baseball. This guy is insightful and smart. I think next to Felzz, he could pinch hit for you. God bless....

  • In reply to copinblue:

    Thank you copinblue! Much appreciated. Marcel is excellent. Very thoughtful commenter. We'll have to have him guest post someday soon.

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    In reply to copinblue:

    Truly appreciate the high praise guys. Baseball has always been a true passion for me and in place of physically playing the game(due to school, work, etc) I have directed that passion to this Cubs team and the league in general.

    Been a Cubs fan for 21 short years but now I want to get into the analysis side of things and in that respect John, Tom, Felzz, the insightful commenters, the entire site have been a godsend for me. You have them for enabling my insight and progressing it.

  • I second that motion, Copin.

    This is far away the best site for everything Cubs. And not just John's terrific insight and analysis. I appreciate the views of many of you guys who regularly comment here. That's why I check this site, oh I don't know, about 10 times a day.

    And, John, that's also why I am disappointed anytime yo go more than 12 hours without a new post. LOL. Seriously, I can't get enough, especially, with that its finally time for baseball.

    So excited for the season -- at every level from Boise to Wrigley! I can't wait!

    Let's Go Cubs!!!!!

  • In reply to Nondorf:

    Haha and thanks! I'll try and keep them coming. Weekends are my time to disconnect a little bit :)

    And it will get pretty busy once spring training games start and should stay that way all season, so I'm trying to get some longer, feature-type articles in now. Kane County pitching later today or tonight.

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