What the Kris Bryant Draft Means for The Cubs

Kris

Thursday, at the Major League Baseball draft, the Chicago Cubs made a surprising move by not drafting the power arm of Jonathan Gray from Oklahoma after the Houston Astros chose Mark Appel from Stanford with their first overall pick. It was assumed by many that they would pick whomever the Astros would not take. They instead chose Kris Bryant from San Diego with their second pick.

I like them taking Bryant once Appel was off the board. While Gray is a great power arm that hits 100 mph with his fastball, Bryant has huge power and out homered a majority of the other Division I colleges by himself as he hit 31 home runs in only 228 ABs that will have an immediate impact in the middle of the lineup when his time is to be in Chicago.

It’s no secret the Cubs need some better arms in the organization. They’ve made some pretty picks in the last two years with Pierce Johnson and Duane Underwood last year and Dillon Maples in 2011. If you take out Maples couple of real bad starts, both he and Johnson have been pitching well. Underwood will be pitching for the short season Boise Hawks later this summer. It should be known that after the Bryant pick they did pick up pitchers with 19 of their draft picks this year. I haven’t had a lot of time to delve into those picks yet to see if there were any good arms in those picks, though it is worth noting a lot of these kids are college pitchers rather than kids being drafted out of high school. I like this move too.

What does this move mean for the Cubs? Continue reading

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What To Expect From These Third/Fourth Year Hitters

Des

John Mayberry:  In 2011 he hit 15HR in 267AB.  Last year he hit 14HR in 441AB.  His RBI total dropped as well despite having 174 more AB.  Which Mayberry will we see in 2013?  He seems to thrive in a reserve role.  With Ryan Howard healthy, he’ll probably return to a backup role.  Expect numbers similar to his first season.  But he could be a Yankee before the year is over…just a hunch.

Lucas Duda:  Last year, the Mets saw his decline in HR and batting average as a step back, and sent him to the minors for “seasoning” in mid-season.  The Mets show patience with washed up players, but show impatience with young struggling hitters.  Go figure.  Though his average did fall from .292 in 2011 to .239 last season, his HR per nine innings actually improved.  His true stats lie in the middle.  Look for 20HR and a .250 average. Continue reading

My 2012 Predictions: NL Central

I am continuing my 2012 prediction series by revealing my NL Central standings and adding a few positive and negative predictions for each team. In case you missed it, I have already revealed my AL East Predictions, AL Central Predictions, AL West Predictions, and NL East Predictions and we, as a staff, revealed some of our overall MLB predictions. Enjoy. Continue reading

2012 Chicago Cubs Outlook: Infield

In our third installment, we’ll take a look at what options the Cubs have an the infield while they work to build their 25 man roster.

Key Departures

Aramis Ramirez: The longest tenured third baseman since Ron Santo has left Chicago and now plays for the rival Brewers. It’s going to take a lot to replace his production in the lineup, but I really think it’s time for Ramirez to move on. He’s not a clubhouse and team leader. With a younger team taking the field, veteran leaders are going to be more important than ever.

Carlos Pena: In a typical Scott Boras move, Pena signed a one year deal with the Cubs last season in hopes to boost this worth for a long term contract. It didn’t work out with him batting .225 but hitting a team leading 28 home runs. Between Pena and Ramirez that’s 54 HRs and over 170 RBIs gone from the previous season. We might see an increase in Starlin Castro‘s throwing errors without Pena scooping everything he can reach. He’s back on the Rays. Continue reading

Wrigley Field Isn’t a Dump. The Team Might Be

A recent stop to Wrigley Field by the crew of Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN did much to again dispel the notion that the place is more a dump than it is a shrine of baseball. The stadium had come under recent scrutiny as something that needed to be replaced. Let’s hope that idea doesn’t happen soon as we’ve lost enough landmarks as it is. The emphasis on the stadium by the Sunday Night crew was merciful because it lessened the scrutiny that should be put on the team and not the stadium. Nothing is going right for the Cubs and we’ve heard talk about injuries to people like Marlon Byrd and Darwin Barney. But injuries occur for every team. The contention of this writer is that the stadium shouldn’t be torn down and rebuilt. The Cubs, though, perhaps are another story.

There are so many cheap shots this writer could take. The owner has a name that calls to mind a childhood disease. The field is named after childhood dentists’ worst nightmare. But we’ll try to take the high road here. The obvious fact is that this team needs to be torn down to begin again. Lou Piniella obviously lost the team last year. The Cubs had a brutal start. This writer railed from the outskirts that old Lou needed to go. He was the problem. And sure enough, the old guy did step down and Mike Quade took over and the team took off. But here it is a year later with that same Mike Quade and the Cubs are pretty much where they were a year ago with Sweet Lou. And Buster Olney of ESPN.com is hinting that Quade has lost some of the clubhouse.

None of those facts and innuendos add up to good news for the Cubs. If a certain segment of the team has been “lost” by Quade after Piniella “lost” the clubhouse last year, perhaps it’s time to get rid of the members in the clubhouse. Let them go poison some other teams for a change. Part of the Cubs’ story is about sunk costs. There are enormous contracts to Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano. What good are those three if you have a team that is kicking its legs like a turtle turned upside down? Sunk costs are sunk costs. You aren’t going to get rid of the costs no matter what, but you can get rid of the players.

Alfonso Soriano will make $18 million this year…and next year…and the year after that…and the year after that. He was worth around $7 million last year and will have to hustle in the second half to earn that this season. He is a sunk cost. It isn’t going to get better. Why not admit that and get rid of the guy. Plenty of teams could use a DH in the American League if the Cubs were paying the tab. Perhaps some of those teams would even give a marginal prospect or two. The Cubs aren’t going anywhere anyway. Get rid of him.

Aramis Ramirez is getting paid anywhere from $14.6 million to $16 million this year. He might be an eight or nine million dollar player this season. There is a club option for him next year. There is no way the club will pick that up. From many accounts, the guy doesn’t try very hard. There are too many whispers about him to not think there is something behind those whispers. Ramirez has a $1 million clause in his contract if he is traded. That complicates the Cubs’ prospects of making a deal this year. If there are no takers. Then release him. He’s a sunk cost anyway.

Carlos Zambrano is a sunk cost. He’s getting $18 million or thereabouts this year and will make the same next year. He’s really worth closer to $10 million. He’s only 30 years old and probably has the highest trade value of the three players we’ve talked about. It’s possible that a team would take a chance on him and give up some value to get him. That should be encouraged as much as possible. It’s time for his era to end in Chicago.

The pain involved with getting rid of three anchors of your team is finding people to take their place. But if you are fallen and can’t get up, that pain can’t be lessened by keeping players who make too much money and may be a drag to your team in the clubhouse and on the field. Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney are a step in the right direction and show what can happen by getting younger. The drawback is that those two players lack some skills needed to improve the Cubs (like getting on base by being patient at the plate). The bottom line is that the people they have can’t or won’t get the job done.

The Cubs need to concentrate on pitching and defense. Matt Garza has been a disappointment. But at least he was a step in the right way of thinking. He has a big time arm and that’s what the Cubs need to start stockpiling. They also need to fix their defense. The Cubs are dead last in the majors in fielding efficiency and fielding percentage. That’s a deadly double-whammy. Ridding yourself of Soriano and Ramirez will not hurt there either.

The one constant through all these long-term signings and through the way too many years of stuttering is the general manager. He’s been the constant in this picture since July 5, 2002. He certainly is a love him or hate him kind of guy. And it’s hard to argue with the Cubs winning three division titles under Hendry. But since 2008, the team has foundered without any break in the gloom except for their second half run last year. Perhaps there needs to be a change in direction. Perhaps it is time to say that Hendry has had his chance and it hasn’t worked out. That’s business and that’s life. These Cubs…these misfits with big wallets are his. If this writer was Mr. Ricketts, the mandate would be to get rid of the high priced and low productivity and get as much as you can for them. How well that assignment goes would be the win/loss variables for job security.

We hear a lot about the Cub fans. We hear about their loyalty and about the diehard nature of their yearly existence. They deserve at least some indication that the problems are understood and that a plan is in place to undo the mistakes of the past. Those fans know that the bottom line is that this club is bloated and beached like a whale and even if Quade was Captain Ahab, it’s going to be impossible to get that whale back off the beach.

-William J. Tasker, a/k/a The Flagrant Fan, a knowledgeable and passionate baseball fan that can be followed on twitter and found writing daily at his blog

Strange Occurances in Early Numbers

 

We are 10% of the way through the 2011 season and there have been some amazing numbers so far, both pretty and ugly. It is early but who doesn’t enjoy a nice dose of numbers for your brain to chew on? Well, I’m providing the numbers so go ahead and give your brain an appetizer.

*Walk Rates*

Vladimir Guerrero and Brent Morel are the only two players with at least 50 plate appearances and no walks. Morel has 52 PAs and Vlad has 62 PAs. Adrian Beltre and Michael Young, the Rangers new and old thirdbasemen, have two combined walks in 133 PAs.

-The Rockies know how to walk. Chris Iannetta ranks 2nd with a BB-rate of 23.1%, Jonathan Herrera is 4th at 21.6%, and Troy Tulowitzki is 9th at 19.2%. They have 37 combined walks, more than the entire Twins team, the same as the entire Orioles team, and one less than the entire Astros team. Three up-the-middle players have as many or more walks than two American League teams. Unbelievable.

**Strikeout Rates**

-Apparently Chicago is a good place for contact. A.J. Pierzynski only has one strikeout in 53 PAs for a 2.1% K-rate, tops in the Majors. Aramis Ramirez, who had a career K% of 15.5% and a 19.4% in 2010 only has three strikeouts in 68 PAs this year for a 5.0% K-rate, the 2nd best K% in the league. Starlin Castro has the 3rd best rate at 5.6% and Darwin Barney is 6th best at 6.7%.

-Detroit outfielders are exempt from making contact. Ryan Raburn leads the Majors with a 41.5% K-rate and Austin Jackson is 10th at 32.8%. They have a combined 42 strikeouts in 128 PAs. Only two others have reached the 20 strikeout mark so far this season. By comparison, teammate Justin Verlander, a good strikeout pitcher, has faced the 2nd most batters this season (116) and has 27 strikeouts.

***Extra-Base Hits***

Jason Barltett is the only player with at least 50 PAs that does not have an extra-base hit. Another former Ray, Carlos Pena, only has one extra-base hit (a double) in 53 PA.

-Tulowitzki, Alex Rodriguez, and Jonny Gomes rank 1-3 in ISO with each at or above .400. Sick early power! More on Tulowitzki: With a Major League leading 7 homers he has more homers than the Twins (5) and as many as the A’s.

****Fielding****

-These are very early numbers but the Mariners, who have long been known for good defensive metrics, are dead last in UZR with -16.1 and have the 3rd and 4th worst players according to UZR. Ichiro Suzuki apparently has a -4.6 UZR and Milton Bradley has a -4.5 UZR. Early UZR numbers are hard to take as gospel especially when you see Carl Crawford with a -4.2 UZR.

-The Indians are amazing on defense with a Major League leading +10.3 UZR lead by Jack Hannahan who leads all players at +4.2 UZR. Shin-Soo Choo is tied for 10th with a +3.2 UZR.

*****Biggest Team Stat Surprise*****

-If you thought the Astros were a horrible offensive club you were correct. They have a wRC+ of 91 (100 is league average) and are hitting .262/.315/.381 which is bad by itself but actually may be higher than their norm. That poor triple-slash line is carried by a .326 BABIP (3rd best in the league) which means that once the BABIP evens itself out you might see a decrease in production from an already poor offense.

******Biggest Player Surprise******

-There really is no bigger surprise this season than Sam Fuld, is there? Fuld was a career minor-leaguer who was the last piece, a throw-in, of a trade. He made the Rays out of spring training as their 5th outfielder and found himself in the starting lineup shortly after. He is currently hitting .396/.431/.604 with a .449 wOBA, wRC+ of 197, and AL leading 7 stolen bases. He also has a +2.4 UZR and has been worth 1.0 fWAR. He is a human highlight reel and has become a Legend in the Tampa Bay area and beyond.

Hidden Gems: Darwin Barney

There has been a lot of talk of Sam Fuld around the internet, and this very site being that spark plug to give some energy to his team. I’ve followed Fuld since he was up and down as a Cubs, who was a “throw in” player in the Matt Garza deal. I’m very happy to see him getting success at the big league level.

There was a pretty significant development in the Chicago Cubs roster at the end of spring training that is paying off with large dividends for the inconsistent North Siders. It was widely expected that Blake DeWitt would win the 2nd base position outright, leaving Jeff Baker the LHP hitting specialist on the team and fill in at 1st, 2nd and 3rd. Darwin Barney was expected to backup at 2nd and SS; however, with a strong spring by Barney, and DeWitt having a weak spring, Barney won the starting job opening day.

Starlin Castro was the obviously more highly regarded shortstop in the Cubs organization, but Barney is no slouch either. He was a two time NCAA national champion for the Oregon State Beavers in 2006 and 2007. In 2007 he was named to the all tournament team. He was also a part of the 2006 Team USA gold medal team at the World University Games.

He was a late season call-up last season and did decently well. He’s not going to win games with his bat, only ten home runs in 1546 ABs in the Minor Leagues spanning over four seasons. What he will do for you is play the game extremely hard, run the base paths well and play the field above average. He’s settled in as a full time 2nd basemen when a large majority of his innings were at short in the minors. He’s looking more like a natural 2B on a daily basis.

While he is no Castro on the field in regards to the highlight reel plays he’ll make throughout this season, he will also not be like Castro and not make near as many as errors either. He’s a solid, consistent defender. His stats in the minors might not indicate that, but playing at 2nd, a position he’s better suited for, will show off how good of a defensive player he’s going to be.

Against the Rockies this weekend, he and Casey Coleman teamed up to make a great play where Barney made a diving stop and tossed to Coleman who was heading over to cover the bag. [mlb.com video]

As I mentioned earlier, he’s not going to carry a team with his bat, but he’s a good contact hitter, who almost walks as much as he strikes out. Prior to Tuesday’s game he’s walked 4 times and struck out only 3 times. Since the time that Castro and Barney have batted 1-2 in the lineup, they’ve been getting on base on a pretty consistent basis. Castro is battling well over .500 since being moved to lead off, and Barney is still batting .311 currently and has an OBP of .360. That’s giving the hitters behind the duo plenty of chances to drive them in.

There were two very specific instances where his hustle got him more than what the regular player would have. First, Saturday night’s game, late in the game, he hit a bloop into “no man’s land” in left-centerfield and was running hard out of the box. When Dexter Fowler couldn’t corral the ball as he came up to it, Barney scooted into 2nd after rounding first base hard. The following day, he scored on a potential double play ball after an errant throw clipped off the top of Todd Helton’s glove [mlb.com video].

I’m pretty sure there’s a little bit of Marlon Byrd’s hustle instilled in Barney. I was watching a video earlier in the spring where they were talking to Marlon Byrd about Brett Jackson, and how teaching him to play the game the right way. He wants Jackson to stay with the big league team after he is first called up. He said he expects Jackson to take over at CF, moving himself to RF. I see a lot of “Johnny Hustle” similarities in Barney. I think he’s established himself being a core part of the young Cubs movement heading into the coming seasons along with Castro, Tyler Colvin and Andrew Cashner.

I also remember seeing a video before spring training started, where a reporter was interviewing Barney about the MLB academy he went to in the off season to prepare himself as a MLB ball player both in the regards as a player and as person. He also was a member of “Camp Colvin” this winter. A rigorous, alternative offseason strength program ran by Colvin for players to get in shape for the season where Barney put 19 lbs onto his small frame. Barney is well on his way to becoming a fan favorite, much like former Cub, Ryan Theriot, but he’s a much better ball player.