October 2012

10/13 AFL update

Cubs prospect Matt Szczur was 2-for-5 with one RBI in the Mesa Solar Sox’s 12-5 win Friday over Surprise in Arizona Fall League action. The Solar Sox play host to Phoenix on Saturday at HoHoKam Park, starting at 12:35 p.m. MT.

Go to www.mlbfallball.com for more AFL action.

— Carrie Muskat

10/12 Cubs mailbag

Got a question about the Cubs? Send it to the Cubs Inbox at CubsInbox@gmail.com, and please include your full name and hometown, and we’ll post it on Cubs.com. Thanks.

— Carrie Muskat

10/12 AZ Fall League update

The Mesa Solar Sox edged Surprise, 6-5, on Thursday in Arizona Fall League play. Javier Baez, the Cubs’ top prospect who started at shortstop, hit a RBI double and now is 4-for-13 (.308) in three games. Dae-Eun Rhee gave up two runs on six hits and struck out two over two innings. Matt Szczur also started for Mesa, and was 1-for-4 with one RBI and scored a run. He’s 2-for-10 with one RBIs in three games. Tony Zych picked up the win in relief. He’s thrown 1 1/3 hitless innings in two games in relief, striking out two.

Go to www.mlbfallball.com for updates.

— Carrie Muskat

10/12 A letter from Mr. Ricketts

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts wrote a letter to Cubs season ticket holders. Here’s his message:

Dear Season Ticket Holder,

With the 2012 season having drawn to a close, it’s time for all of us at the Chicago Cubs to thank you for your support and provide an update on the progress we’ve made toward building a championship-caliber organization. You are a vital stakeholder to this franchise and an important partner in our transformation.

Despite this year’s results in the standings, we are confident the Chicago Cubs are heading in the right direction. Our players, coaches, management and front office have approached their jobs with professionalism, effort and unity, which has created a winning atmosphere inside the organization. It’s our responsibility to turn that effort into additional wins on the field. Our number one goal is to reward loyal generations of Cubs fans with a World Series and we’re reinvesting every dollar spent by our fans into the franchise to achieve that goal.

To achieve our goal, it was clear the team needed a long-term strategy. Over the past year, we recruited new baseball leadership to create and execute a plan for building a consistently competitive ballclub. We now have a long-term strategy in place and a baseball organization focused on delivering a championship to Wrigley Field. That team is communicating openly and honestly about implementing a proven model for sustained success.

As part of that strategy, we are developing a core of young players at the major league level. This season provided an opportunity for homegrown and acquired players to gain valuable experience and establish themselves as potential long-term contributors to the club.

Our minor league system improved in 2012, as the Cubs acquired, drafted or signed a significant wave of new talent into the organization. We welcomed a strong 2012 first-year player draft class into the system, building on a franchise-record investment in draft signings in 2011. Many of these players made immediate positive contributions. In fact, five Cubs prospects were included in MLB’s recently released Top 100 Prospects list; a total topped by only three other teams in the league. A number of our newly acquired players excelled in both the minor and major leagues and look to contribute further in 2013 and beyond.

We’ve welcomed new talent in the front office as well. Perhaps no operation bears more responsibility for advancing our organizational plan than scouting and player development. After a season of evaluation, our scouting and development teams have been reorganized to procure and develop the best amateur, professional and international talent available. Our scouts and coaches have been equipped with state-of-the-art analysis tools and equipment to enhance the club’s analytical capabilities.

In addition to personnel investments, we’ve made significant upgrades to our facilities. We are currently building a new baseball academy to serve our Latin American players in the Dominican Republic. The facility, open year-round, will span 50 acres with baseball fields, training facilities, player housing and an education center, making it the largest academy in the country. Additionally, we broke ground this season on a new Spring Training facility in Mesa, Ariz., that will be one of the premier training facilities in baseball, as well as a more enjoyable venue for watching a Spring Training game. We continue to make improvements to Wrigley Field’s facilities for our players and fans, with larger scale investments coming down the road. All of these improvements will enhance your fan experience and bolster the club’s ability to attract and develop elite players throughout the world.

Lastly, we continue to invest in the Chicago community to help deserving children and families. The Cubs and Chicago Cubs Charities will support a team-record $4.5 million of donations to worthwhile nonprofits and programs across Chicagoland this year. We’re honored to support the people and organizations that make our city a great place to work, live and play baseball.

In the end, we are fans and our goal is to win. We’re committed to building an organization you can be proud of and we’re committed to building a champion the right way. This franchise has embarked on a path that will present challenges along the way, but the destination is promising.

We deeply and sincerely appreciate your ongoing support.

Tom Ricketts Chairman, Chicago Cubs

10/11 Kerry Wood Cubs Field

Chicago Public League student athletes will soon be playing baseball and hosting state baseball playoffs at a new stadium, Kerry Wood Cubs Field. Groundbreaking was on Thursday at the site at Clark Park near Lane Tech High School on Addison Street about one mile from Wrigley Field. The Cubs, Chicago Cubs Charities, Wood Family Foundation, City of Chicago, Chicago Park District, Chicago Public Schools and Turner Construction all contributed to make the $5 million stadium project possible.

Once completed, Kerry Wood Cubs Field will be owned and operated by the Chicago Park District. The field, which will include seating for 1,100 spectators and fans, is expected to be used by Chicago public high schools citywide throughout the high school baseball season during and after school hours. The Park District also expects to use the field for recreational leagues and use by the general public.

Wood retired during the 2012 season. He and his wife Sarah formed the Wood Family Foundation in 2011 and now focus on the community and its children.

“It is an honor to be a part of this project that will help keep public school baseball teams local during playoff season,” Wood said. “We want this field to benefit student athletes in many ways for years to come.”

The project is a potential field of dreams for young baseball players. Cubs legend Phil Cavarretta played at Lane Tech before making his Wrigley Field debut September 25, 1934. The first baseman and outfielder was the National League’s Most Valuable Player and led the Cubs to their last World Series appearance in 1945.


10/10 Keep an eye on Baez

At 19, Javier Baez is the second youngest player in the Arizona Fall League, and making a huge jump, competing against players who have been in Double-A or Triple-A.

“He’s a guy who, mentally, we felt was ready for the Fall League, ready to be pushed like that, ready to be challenged like that,” said Jason McLeod, head of scouting and player development for the Cubs.

On Tuesday night, Baez looked ready. The Cubs’ top prospect went 2-for-3 for the Mesa Solar Sox, hitting a solo home run in the second inning into the upper tiers of the batter’s eye in straightaway center at Salt River Fields, and added a tie-breaking two-run double in the sixth. The homer was impressive, even in the dry Arizona air.

Told that he’s one of the youngest in the AFL — only the Rangers’ Luis Sardinas is younger — Baez just shrugs.

“I’ve heard that,” Baez said. “If you do good here, you have to keep working hard. They just tell me to do my job every time, play hard, do everything right.”

He flashed some of his defensive skills as well with a diving stop of a ball, and nearly threw the runner out. Replay might have backed up Baez. What’s impressed McLeod and others are the shortstop’s instincts for the game.

“When you watch him play defense and watch him on the bases, he plays like a veteran who has been in the Major Leagues for a long time and at a very young age,” McLeod said. “That was the most pleasant surprise for me and it’s really fun to watch him on defense. It’s like he sees things before it happens.”

It wasn’t a perfect night. Baez did strike out twice. But he was perfectly positioned on defense, backing up on plays in the infield.

“He’s got tons of talent and it’s not just hitting, it’s his overall game,” said Tom Beyers, Cubs Minor League hitting coordinator. “One of his biggest strengths is aptitude. I was very impressed with how he took instruction and applied it right away in a ballgame. Some guys, that process takes longer than others. His is pretty quick, and the knowledge he has of how the game is played, he always seems to be a step ahead.”

— Carrie Muskat

10/9 Baez has good start

Cubs prospect Javier Baez is the second youngest player in the Arizona Fall League, and he showed he’s ready Tuesday night, hitting a solo home run to straight away center in the second inning of the Mesa Solar Sox’s game against the Salt River Rafters. It was an impressive shot into the upper tier of the batter’s eye. Baez, 19, hit 16 home runs this past season at Class A Peoria and Class A Daytona combined. His homer Tuesday was the first in the AFL, which kicked off its 20th season. Baez showed he’s human in his second at-bat in the fourth when he struck out on three pitches. He then hit a tie-breaking two-run double with one out in the sixth.

— Carrie Muskat 

10/9 AFL, Instructs, Hodges & more

Arizona Fall League

* The Arizona Fall League opens its 20th season Tuesday with three games, including the Mesa Solar Sox’s contest against the Salt River Rafters in Scottsdale at Talking Stick. The Cubs have seven players on the Solar Sox roster: Javier Baez, Rubi Silva, Kevin Rhoderick, Matt Szczur, Tony Zych, Dae-Eun Rhee, and Nick Struck, who was named the Cubs’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year. The majority of the rosters are composed of players who competed at Double-A levels last season. Baez, who turns 20 on Dec. 1, is the youngest player in the AFL. He spent most of the season at Class A Peoria, where he batted .333 in 57 games, and also played 23 games with Class A Daytona.

AFL games run from Tuesday until Nov. 15, with the championship on Nov. 17. The Solar Sox will play at HoHoKam Park on Wednesday at 12:35 p.m. MST against the Rafters.

Instructional League

* There’s definitely a different sound to the Cubs’ instructional league workouts this year at Fitch Park. Tim Cossins, 42, the Cubs new Minor League field coordinator, asked players and coaches to each submit a song, and the music is played during batting practice at Fitch Park. It does help get the energy level going during workouts in the 90-plus degree heat. Cossins replaces Brandon Hyde, who was promoted to director of player development. A former catcher, Cossins played eight seasons in the Minor Leagues, and managed five seasons in the Marlins’ Minor League system, including three at the Rookie League level and two years, 2005-06, at Class A Jupiter.

On Tuesday, Trevor Gretzky made an impressive catch in left field during one of the drills. Cubs outfield instructor Lee Tinsley says Gretzky is one of the most improved players in camp. It also was a good way for Gretzky to show off in front of his parents, Wayne Gretzky and Janet Jones, who were at Fitch Park.

Instructional league games finish this week, with the last game on Saturday. However, players will compete Thursday in their own “American Idol” type competition.

Good timing

* Congrats to Jesse Hodges (@TCHodgy), who hit his first professional home run, a two-run shot, in Monday’s instructional league game against the Athletics. The Cubs signed Hodges after seeing him play in the World Junior Tournament in South Korea. A Canadian, he had a full scholarship at Grayson College, a junior college in Texas. His home run was well-timed as he connected in front of Cubs international scout Steve Wilson, who signed the infielder, as well as Hodges’ grandfather, who was at the game, and most of the Cubs brass, including Theo Epstein. I’ll have more on Hodges.

Scouting report

* Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer are in Arizona this week with the Cubs scouting staff for the end of the year meetings, and a chance to see some of the young players such as Albert Almora and Jorge Soler.

— Carrie Muskat

10/4 Wrigley changes approved

The Commission on Chicago Landmarks permit review committee voted 5-1 today in favor of the Cubs’ plan to move the brick wall behind home plate forward three feet to create 56 new seats. According to Crain’s Chicago Business, the team also received permission to reconfigure a nearly 12-foot long section of the wall along the third base line so it would become movable. By doing so, Wrigley Field could be better fitted for college football games. In November 2010, Illinois and Northwestern played at Wrigley, and were forced to use only one end zone because the NCAA determined there wasn’t a safe distance between the back end of the east end zone and the brick outfield wall. Michael Lufrano, vice president of community affairs and general counsel for the Cubs, said alterations to the wall will be done in the offseason.


10/4 Coaching changes

Dale Sveum may add two new coaches to his staff in 2013. Third base coach Pat Listach was dismissed on Wednesday and interim hitting coach James Rowson’s status is uncertain. He could be back with the big league team or he may resume his duties as the Minor League hitting coordinator.

Theo Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations, addressed Listach’s dismissal on Thursday.

“I think Pat is a really good coach and will have a lot of success elsewhere,” Epstein said. “When a new manager comes in, sometimes he has a certain way he likes these jobs done, and occasionally there can be differences in the approach to the job. It doesn’t mean he’s doing a bad job, it’s just quite not the way the manager conceives it. I think it was one of those situations where it was subtle stylistic differences and nothing major substantive.”

Listach has been in the Cubs’ organization for a long time.

“There are a lot of things he can do in this game and I think he can go very far in this game and maybe a change of scenery is best,” Epstein said.

— Carrie Muskat