Early Results from Around the Farm

Despite a recent winning streak (hey, two in a row is a streak in these parts) and bragging rights over the best park in baseball celebrating it’s 100th birthday, now is not a bad time to divert our attention from the 7-13 Cubs and take a quick glance around the farm. Believe it or not, affiliates like the Iowa Cubs have already knocked out over 13% of their schedule. While short-season squads, such as Boise, don’t even kick off until June, we can take a look around the higher level organizations and see which Cubs prospects have gotten off to notable starts.

Iowa Cubs (10-9, 1.5 GB)

Fast Start: RHP Kyle Hendricks picked up right where he left off last year and is once again knocking on the door to the Bigs. Hendricks has maintained a WHIP of just over 1.00 through his first four starts while striking out a batter per inning. While wins are far, far from the best stat to quantify a pitcher’s success, Hendricks has picked up a ‘W’ in three of his four starts and has a 3.65 ERA as well. The cherry on top? Hendricks has yet to allow a home run.

Slow Start: Brett Jackson really, really needs to turn things around at this point. He has 17 strikeouts and just 3 walks to go with a  .121 batting average. This, in all likelihood, is Jackson’s last chance to prove it in this organization and as much as we’d all like him to succeed as a Cub, he is quickly approaching ‘change of scenery’ status.

Of Note: Javier Baez has only played in 11 of Iowa’s 19 games due to a stint on the 7-day DL thanks to a sprained ankle. It’s tempting to call him a slow starter seeing his .184 average but considering his injury, the nasty April weather in Des Moines, and his incredible 2013 campaign let’s just chalk this up to small sample size and give the phenom some time to find a rhythm again.

 

Tennessee Smokies (10-10, 2 GB)

Fast Starts: Kris Bryant is scorching hot. As a polished collegiate product, it was expected that Bryant would move quickly through the system. That said, even his biggest fans have to be impressed with the success the powerful righty has shown at every step thus far. He is mashing double-A pitching to the tune of .303/.432/.561 with nearly half of his hits of the extra base variety. Bryant has even tacked on four stolen bases in 19 games, which is a nice surprise, though likely not a sustainable pace. While third base may not be Bryant’s long term landing spot at the highest level, his bat is going to carry him to Des Moines and (I’d bet) on to Chicago before the year is out, even if he moves to a corner outfield spot.

CJ Edwards, not unlike Kyle Hendricks, has already turned in four strong outings with impressive numbers. The slender righty has a 2.61 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and a K/9 rate of just under 9.00. After winning Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2013, Edwards bandwagon is only growing as he continues attacking hitters at higher levels.

Slow Start: Tony Zych is expected to be a big league reliever before long but his numbers after seven appearances are rough. He has an ERA over 6.00 with a WHIP of 2.71, allowing 15 hits in just seven innings on the mound. Zych has plenty of time to turn it around but this isn’t the start that was expected for a potential fast-mover this year.

Of Note: Pierce Johnson’s debut was pushed back due to injury and his first start didn’t go great, allowing 3 ER in just 4 IP but Johnson struck out 5 and will be just fine moving forward.

Jorge Soler is another top Cubs prospect trying to come back form an early season hamstring issue. Soler doubled in his only AB of the season to this point but really needs to catch up on reps after a broken leg cost him games last year.

Daytona Cubs (5-14, 10 GB)

Fast Start: Marco Hernandez is a slick fielder who has a glove that might be good enough to get him to the Majors on it’s own. That’s why his .321 batting average is so exciting, even though it’s early in the year. He will never offer much power but for an up-the-middle defender, the development at the plate could make him a really intriguing piece that sneaks up on some people mesmerized but the upper-echelon prospects at the top of ranking lists.

Slow Starts: Dan Vogelbach is hitting .154 with just two extra-base hits after 18 games. The big first baseman has the potential to hit for both average and power, but hasn’t had good early returns in 2014.

On the other side of the diamond is the third baseman Jeimer Candelario. Candelario is another fun infield prospect who can be overlooked due to the stacked Chicago farm, but similarly to Vogelback, Jeimer is in an early season funk, hitting just .188 and committing eight errors at the hot corner.

Of Note: The ever-steady Albert Almora is barely 20 years old but is producing for high-A Daytona, hitting .271 in the early going. Almora could handle CF in Chicago tomorrow if the Cubs asked him to, as his preternatural ability to track down balls is nearly unrivaled and he has the swagger to match. Almora needs to continue to develop offensively but is doing everything he needs to in order to keep earning aggressive promotions, having a great shot at getting to double-A before reaching legal drinking age.

Kane County Cougars (13-6, 1st place in MWL Western Division)

Fast Start: Jen-Ho Tseng has received some high praise from Baseball Prospectus since the end of Spring Training and their positive reviews from Arizona seem to be holding true thus far in Kane County. Tseng has started three games, posting a 2.93 ERA thus far. The early highlight was when he fanned six in 5.1 innings, blanking the Bowling Green Hot Rods en route to a win.

Slow Start: Jacob Hannemann is fun to root for because he is a superb athlete who has serious impact speed. Hannemann, a two-sport athlete at BYU, didn’t have the polish that you see with a lot of collegiate prospects, but he does have intriguing upside. The outfielder was a third round draft pick in 2013, but is hitting just .212 so far for the Cougars. Though, the low batting average makes his eight stolen bases even more impressive.

Of Note: The Cubs are taking it slow with Duane Underwood, allowing him to throw just 8 total innings in two starts thus far, but the results from that small sample are encouraging. Underwood has fanned nine batters while allowing just one earned run. He is a long, long way off, but Underwood has the potential to be an impact arm in a system that could certainly stand to see some of their lottery ticket-type arms pan out in the long run.

While small sample size caveats apply, and things continue to look less than desirable at Wrigley, taking a quick glance at the farm gives us a chance to dream on the talent that will shape the future of the Cubs.

Happy Birthday Wrigley Field!
(You Are Showing Your Age)

Wrigley100As Wrigley Field turns 100 years old today, we thought this would be the perfect opportunity to share our opinions on the state of Wrigley Field and the inevitable renovation. Earlier in the month, we all shared our favorite memories from Wrigley Field.

Corey Fineran
I am a Cubs fan and a Notre Dame fan. That makes me part of two fan-bases that are essentially obsessed with tradition and not changing ANYTHING. I definitely fell in this camp as recently as a handful of years ago. Then I realized if I want Wrigley Field to be around for my daughters and their children to enjoy, Wrigley renovations need to happen.

Notre Dame Stadium is “The House that Rockne Built” and a renovation in the 90′s left the traditionalists appalled that the new construction would block the view of Touchdown Jesus. It was unfortunate, but necessary.

Notre Dame recently announced they will introduce artificial field turf. Alumni are threatening to stop giving money, just as some Cubs fans are vowing to stop going to games and supporting the organization if they make changes to Wrigley Field.

I wish Wrigley Field could remain the way it is, but the fact of the matter is that it can’t. What we can hope for is that the organization will make the necessary updates and still keep the general vibe and aspects we all love just the same.

Added revenue streams are necessary, just as necessary as it is for the Cubs to have a facility that is safe for fans and appealing to free agents. Given all of the raving reviews of the new Spring Training facility in Mesa, I can’t wait to walk into a renovated Wrigley Field.

Kurt Tucker
I’ve always been a nostalgic sports fan. I like old stuff. I’m a sucker for the old timers who “played the game the right way”. But as time goes by I’m starting to change my view. Old is not always better. Baseball is business. I love baseball. I don’t love big business, but there is no separating the two. Wrigley field needs to be renovated. For business and for baseball. For the fans and for revenue. For those still clinging to nostalgia—as I very recently have done—don’t forget that in it’s 100 year history things have changed at Wrigley Field. Here’s just a few.

  • It was originally Weeghman Park.
  • There was originally no ivy on the walls.
  • No luxury boxes and certainly no Captain Morgan Club.
  • The marquee used to be done by hand like the scoreboard (and it was green and then blue).
  • There were no lights until 1988 (the sky nearly fell when that happened).

While I suppose some would disagree, none of those things have changed what we love about the Cubs and Wrigley. In fact, some ARE what we love about the Cubs and Wrigley. I trust that the Ricketts’ aren’t going to strip it of everything that makes it the best park in baseball.

The Yankees tore down old Yankee Stadium. “The house that Ruth built”. They won 9 world series there. I don’t make a habit of comparing the Cubs and my fellow fans to the Yankees and their fans. We’re not the same, but perhaps we need to be a little more, pardon the pun, ruthless.

Matt Veto
Wrigley Field is old, dilapidated and at one time was literally crumbling to pieces.

And I love it with all of my heart.

I wasn’t sure what stance I was going to take on this Ivy Envy prompt even though I was the one who pitched the idea. In fact, I’m at this paragraph, and I’m still not entirely sure I know what I’m going to say.

So, let’s try to put this together: Wrigley Field is 100 years old and reeeeaaally hasn’t changed that much since 1914. If not for the ivy growing up the outfield brick, someone would surely have said, “Wait, you guys … Did you know some ballparks have lights on their scoreboard that change the score automatically?” “Yeah, I heard some scoreboards shoot off fireworks, too.”

No thanks. We prefer things just the way they are — for-ev-er.

Now that’s not to say there’s been no progress. I mean, they did replace the absurdly antiquated technology of piss troughs with … newer piss troughs.

We should celebrate the fact that Wrigley Field has outlasted all but one other park in baseball. It became historic because it was left untouched (disregarded?) all these years. It’s one of the few ways a tangible item becomes “historic” outside of being discovered in an archeological dig.

Yet I count myself as one of the millions of Wrigley Field protectors that have flocked to the ballpark to watch a century’s worth of shitty baseball. But it’s our baseball, and it’s one of the only parks that continues to place emphasis on the game.

And I believe that’s going to change.

Three years ago, I somewhat publicly predicted that the Cubs would introduce a mascot and fire a T-shirt cannon inside the ballpark before the year 2016.

We’re a bleach-blonde intern and a can of compressed air away from fulfilling what even I would have wagered to be a long shot.

“A mascot? But they don’t even have a video board!”

Oops.

Let’s all suppress our know-it-all “NOT MY WRIGLEY FIELD!” bravado for a second and ponder the basic question: How do you compete in a money-driven industry with money-hungry owners and money-hungry athletes and NOT open a book on marketing? Families — with kids — bring in the cash. The Polish-sausage fingered bachelor buys only so many Old Styles.

And I know you were totally into the game and questioned the manager’s decision to pitch to the four-hitter with two outs and first base empty when you were 7 years old, but not “kids these days.”

Friends, it’s time to tip our cap. The Cubs have had an improbable run. But they need a second act, and it starts with massive renovation and more entertainment.

It’s business. It makes sense.

And I hate that fact with every ounce of my being.

Doug Green
Wrigley Field is one of the crown jewels, not only of Major League Baseball, but all of professional sports.
But that jewel is in need of polish, and the prongs that hold it in place are rusty.
Everyone on this site loves the Cubs and Wrigley, but it needs improvements and updates. Now, I’m not advocating blowing her up and putting up the latest high-tech hi-rise, or even landing a spaceship on it like the way the Bears did to their house.
What I am talking about is doing some updating. To help pay for those updates requires advertising. To get advertising, you need places to advertise in and around your facility. Businesses aren’t romantic. They don’t care about how glorious the green ivy looks against the red bricks in the bright August sun. They want return on their investment.To get that initial investment though, you need to show businesses your potential, which includes the packaging, especially when the product on the field is struggling.
When you have a jewel, it’s not enough to just display it, you have to put it in the best light.

Sean Clement
I am all-in on the Wrigley reno project. The benefits are widespread. For starters, giving the players a clubhouse that isn’t a complete embarrassment (widely considered the worst in MLB) is a long time coming.

Revamping the players’ stomping grounds will improve morale and broaden the Cubs pitch when trying to recruit free agents. Adding new video boards and signage in general will lead to increased advertising revenue. If even a dime of that new money ends up going towards players salaries, it’s a win. Theo has said that when the time is right, the Cubs will step on the throat of every team in the division financially. With the new TV contract on it’s way and a farm system that is on the brink of paying massive dividends, we are quickly converging on the time being ‘right’ to go out and spend money on big name free agents to expedite the rebuild.

The renovations, like every other aspect of ‘The Plan’ are about building a successful, sustainable future at Wrigley and I am looking forward to the results, both on the field and around the stadium.

DeRose
Wrigley field is turning 100 years old. To put that number into perspective, I am going to list a few things around when Wrigley or Weeghman Park, was opened.

  • World War I was still a few months away.
  • The Ottoman Empire was an Empire.
  • The Model T assembly line was built.
  • The world’s first Airline is started. (St. Petersburg Tampa Airboat line)
  • The Panama Canal was finished.
  • Woodrow Wilson was President
  • George Washington Carver began his experiments with peanuts.
  • Boston Braves beat the Philadelphia A’s for the World Series.

Though Wrigley Field has been renovated in the past, the ballplayer really does need an update. There are multiple issues (like a crumbling upper deck) that need to be address, but the general plan looks amazing on paper. I think that the renovation will be great not only for the team/fanbase, but wonderful for the people that live near this baseball cathedral. Let’s be honest, the majority of the business near Wrigley Field IS generated by the Chicago Cubs.

With all of that being said, I personally find it frustrating to see these delays because they directly effect the performance of the team. The Ricketts’ spent a great deal of money to purchase the Cubs. To go along with that, they purchased the team when the economy was just in the toilet. This is one of the reasons why the Tribune company still owns 5% of the team. It was hard to get credit and the Ricketts are paying for that now. This is why you might hear more and more about people investing, as minority share holders. That 300 million is not going to come out of nowhere. I truly believe that the Cubs will NOT spend money until this renovation is complete. We might all love baseball, but the team is a business. Renovation completion is imperative because it will not only free up a large portion of the team budget, but will also help fund the future. The advertising money would pay for several big contracts, but this is the crux of the matter.

The rooftop owners signed a contract in 2004 and it states that the Cubs can’t place obstructions, blocking the view. Here is the actual clause wording.

6.6 The Cubs shall not erect windscreens or other barriers to obstruct the views of the Rooftops, provided however that temporary items such as banners, flags and decorations for special occasions, shall not be considered as having been erected to obstruct views of the Rooftops. Any expansion of Wrigley Field approved by governmental authorities shall not be a violation of this agreement, including this section.

The important caveat of this clause is that the government authorities HAVE approved the expansion. The lawyers will have to fight over whether the large “Jumbotron” is part of the expansion or not. This will likely go to arbitration and just delays things further. Sigh…

Until this mess settles, let’s dream about the future and enjoy the present. If you are going to the ballpark for the centennial celebration, have a look at the food specials.

Cubs preview for April 21-27

What happened last week: Lost to New York Yankees 0-2, Lost to Cincinnati 1-2; 5-12 overall, 5th place in NL Central

What’s up this week: April 21-24 vs. Arizona, April 25-27 at Milwaukee

Who’s pitching: Monday (Bronson Arroyo 1-1, 9.95 ERA vs. Travis Wood 0-2, 3.00 ERA), Tuesday (Brandon McCarthy 0-3, 7.11 ERA vs. Jason Hammel 2-1, 3.05 ERA), Wednesday (Wade Miley 2-2, 4.35 ERA vs. Jeff Samardzija 0-2, 1.29), Thursday (Mike Bolsinger 0-1, 10.29 ERA vs. Edwin Jackson 1-1, 5.40 ERA), Friday (Carlos Villanueva 1-4, 10.93 ERA vs. Matt Garza 0-2, 4.50), Saturday (Travis Wood 0-2, 3.00 ERA vs. Marco Estrada 1-1, 2.66 ERA), Sunday (Jason Hammel 2-1, 3.05 ERA vs. Wily Peralta 2-0, 1.96 ERA)

Who to watch for: Arizona OF Mark Trumbo is tied for the Major League in homers with six, but has only one dinger since April 6. Cubs rookie third baseman Mike Olt is hitting .357 with 3 homers and 5 RBI in Chicago wins, but just .105 with no homers and 1 RBI in the losses. 

“Cubs Baseball Reference” – Podcast Episode 6.10

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WINNER (8)Andy, Corey and Kurt convene to talk about a pretty bad week in Chicago Cubs baseball. The Cubs are swept in a series in less than 10 hours and then lose 2 out of three to the Reds. There was very little in the way of offense. Kurt talks a little about the Yankees series and then we look at some positives. Edwin Jackson has a strong outing and Jeff Samardzija LOOKS like an ace.

We check on Jake Arrieta and Javier Baez, both returning from injuries. We look back at the free agency signings the front office has made since they took over the Cubs.

At the end of the episode, I talk about my brother, who happens to be a White Sox fan. He will be going with us to the Wrigley 100th game and claims that he may ditch the White Sox for the Cubs. So help Patrick see the light. Tweet us your best Cubs pitch, and you can use #Patrick4Cubs if you’d like.

Interesting Trade Discussion Involving Starlin Castro

starlin-castro-mlb-pittsburgh-pirates-chicago-cubs2Every morning, I wake up, check my messages, and look at my podcast app. I listen to a variety of baseball podcasts, including the Ivy Envy podcast of course. Last Friday I was looking through my podcast app and saw that Keith Law, ESPN prospect guru, was going to be on to talk with Buster Onley on the ESPN Baseball Tonight podcast. Onley opened the intro by saying Law was going to talk about a few prospects including Javier Baez and Kris Bryant. I immediately got excited and began listening to it.

About halfway through the section of Javier Baez’s season so far, Onley discussed an interesting theory. Now that Baez is on the brink of the majors, as we all know, and the Cubs current shortstop Starlin Castro either has to come back to his pre-2013 self or he might be on his way out, this brought an interesting trade proposal. Onley and Law discussed trading Castro to the New York Mets, who need a shortstop, for a young pitching prospect, which the Cubs have more bats than arms.

I found this so intriguing, so I went in depth looking at this. Lets say Castro continues this pace he is on this year, which is fantastic to see. He is hitting .300 with an OPS of .787 and an OPS+ of 106 through 12 games. Now, yes, this is a small sample size, but you can see Castro is a lot more comfortable at the plate through the early going of 2014. If Castro keeps this up throughout the year, I don’t see any reason to move him.

But if he struggles again and comes back to the tendencies that we saw in 2013, why not try to get a solid, young starting pitcher that has the ceiling of a 1 or 2? A name that was thrown out during the discussion is young Mets pitcher, Zack Wheeler. Wheeler has gotten off to a rough start to 2014. He has given up nine runs in only 17.1 innings, which equals to a 4.67 ERA. But if you look back to 2013, Wheeler was magnificent for a rookie. He started 17 games for the Mets compiling a 3.42 ERA while striking out 84 in only 100 innings.

If the Mets and Cubs were going to get involved in a trade discussion, this would be a solid deal for both teams. For the Cubs, Wheeler stabilizes the rotation and since he is only 23 and has less than a year of service time. He can be in the rotation for a long time and will be under team control through the Cubs “plan” years were all the prospects will finally get up to the big leagues. Also, trading Castro will open up shortstop for Javier Baez himself and keeps Arismendy Alcantara at second base for the future. For the Mets, Castro holds down the short stop position through 2020 on a team friendly deal.

Now, this is not a rumor and I’m not saying that the Cubs are going after Wheeler nor the Mets after Castro, but this is an interesting thought. It keeps you thinking that there are options if the Cubs infield becomes crowed when Baez, Alcantara, and Bryant join Castro, Barney, Olt, and Bonifacio. It’ll be interesting to see how this pans out over the next few months.

Series Recap – Cubs vs. Yankees –
4/16/14 (Doubleheader)

Result
Wednesday Afternoon: Yankees 3 Cubs 0
Wendesday Evening: Yankees 2 Cubs 0

Cubs Record: 4-10

The Good
The Cubs saw another good outing by Jason Hammel. Unfortunately, 7 innings pitched, 5 hits and 3 runs wasn’t good enough for the Cubs offense. Hammel is a piece I’m sure the Cubs would like to flip this season and he’s pitching well, early in the season.

The Bad
Don’t look now, but Emilio Bonifacio is 1 for his last 21. He’s still hitting .339.

The Ugly
Well, offensively speaking…pretty much everything. Even if it was a two-game series, 0 runs in a series is rough. At the end of the game, Len Kasper said that today was the first time the Cubs have been shut out in a day-night doubleheader since 1962. Also, the Cubs have never won at Yankee Stadium, old or new.

Small Sample Size

On this week’s episode of The Ivy Envy Podcast, we questioned if we should have a “small sample size” disclaimer at the beginning of the early season episodes. Small sample sizes are pretty fun this time of year. If it wasn’t for small sample sizes, we wouldn’t have had Emilio Bonifacio leading MLB with a .800+ batting average.

As Cubs fans, we are really hoping that some of the bullpen performances have been examples of small sample sizes.

We also wondered, at what point do sample sizes stop being too small? Well, we’re not there yet.

If you enjoy the anomalies that small sample sizes create, you will also enjoy this video that Shaun (@spbastien on Twitter) shared with us today.

Cubs vs. Yankees 4/15/14 Game Postponed –
Watch Jeff Samardzija Instead

Tonight’s Cubs vs. Yankees game in New York has been postponed because of rain.  The game will be made up as part of a day-night doubleheader tomorrow.  It’s probably nice for the players that the game was called early, essentially giving them another day off.  Without any other weather interferences, the Cubs will basically have a total of 3 days off this week.

Since you won’t be watching the Cubs tonight, if you haven’t watched this interview that Dan Patrick did with Jeff Samardzija, it’s an interesting one.  Samardzija talks about doctoring baseballs, the impact of the party atmosphere in Wrigleyville on players and his future with the Cubs.

Cubs preview for April 14 – April 20

What happened last week: Lost to Pittsburgh 1-2, Lost to Cardinals 1-2 (4-8 overall, 4th place in NL Central)

What’s up this week: April 14 off, April 15-16 at New York Yankees, April 17 off, April 18-20 vs. Cincinnati

Who’s pitching: Tuesday (Jason Hammel 2-0, 2.63 ERA vs. Masahiro Tanaka 1-0, 3.21 ERA), Wednesday (Travis Wood 0-1, 2.92 vs. Joel Pineda 1-1, 1.50 ERA), Friday (Alfredo Simon 1-1, 1.20 ERA vs. Jeff Samardzija 0-1, 1.29), Saturday (Tony Cingrani 1-1, 2.60 ERA vs. Carlos Villanueva 1-3, 11.57 ERA), Sunday (Homer Bailey 0-1, 7.71 ERA vs.  Edwin Jackson 0-1, 6.19 ERA)

Who to watch for: The Reds’ Tony Cingrani has never allowed more than five hits in any of his career starts. Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo has had at least one hit in six of his last seven games and is hitting .423 during that time with 6 RBIs.

Coming and going: 4/12: recall LHP Chris Rusin from Triple-A Iowa; option RHP Brian Schlitter to Iowa; 4/13: recall RHP Blake Parker from Triple-A Iowa; option LHP Chris Rusin to Iowa.

“Weasons and Leasons” – Podcast Episode 6.09

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WINNER (7)In this, the 247th episode of the Ivy Envy Podcast, we look at what we have found to be encouraging and discouraging about the 2014 Chicago Cubs. Despite their 4-8 record, there have been some encouraging things from Castro, Rizzo, Samardzija, Hammel and Wood. But there have been some things that have been deflating for Cubs fans early in 2014. It’s mainly been the bullpen, but Veras, Russell and Ricky’s use of Olt make our list.

Javier Baez is on the DL and we talk about this injury and his ejection from a game. Kurt checks in on Kris Bryant, who is with AA Tennessee.

Andy awards the title of “Asshat of the Week” to Cardinals pitcher, Joe Kelly. Kurt gives a bullpen scary stat of the week and Corey gives a Emilio Bonafacio scary stat of the week.

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