January 2013

1/16 Sveum: “.500 is not acceptable”

Dale Sveum says he feels more comfortable heading into his second season as the Cubs manager. Coming off a 101 loss season, he’s got high expectations.

“The one thing you hate doing is saying, ‘[finishin] .500 will be good,’ because it’s not good,” Sveum said Wednesday. “It’s not 101 losses, but .500 isn’t getting you to the playoffs. Just getting in the playoffs is satisfactory. … In a perfect world, if [Matt] Garza and [Scott] Baker are ready to go Opening Day, its not a bad staff to have [Jeff] Samardzija, Garza and [Edwin] Jackson at the top and the other guys in the four, five spots. Fujikawa would come in the eight inning, Marmol in the ninth, there’s so many things that are so much better going into this season than last year. [Finishing] .500 is, like I said, still not acceptable.”

Garza and Baker will both be ready to go in Spring Training but Sveum said the team may take a cautious approach with them to ease them into the regular season. Garza is coming off an elbow injury and Baker is coming back from Tommy John surgery.

The Cubs in the playoffs in 2013? That might be hard for some fans to consider but Sveum thinks they have enough firepower if Ian Stewart is healthy, and Nate Schierholtz produces.

“You can’t fall victim to, ‘Yeah, we are obviously in a transition in the organization, and we’re trying to get healthy and do all this,’ but don’t fall into the category that we can’t win right now,” Sveum said. “Baseball is a funny thing. Just last year, we close out some games in April and the start of the season is a lot different and you never know what happens after that. You might not have the exact same bullets as the guy actross the street, but all you need are guys to play up to their capabilities and have a starting staff and close out games, and you win a lot of games.”

— Carrie Muskat

1/15 Cubs caravan info

On Wednesday and Thursday, Cubs players and staff will visit schools and hospitals as part of the annual caravan. Wednesday’s itinerary includes a stop to serve lunch for the 2nd Battalion, 24th Marines in Chicago. One tour will include Michael Bowden, David DeJesus, Jed Hoyer, Len Kasper, Andrew Lane, Dave McKay, Jason McLeod, Keith Moreland, Jamie Quirk, Anthony Rizzo, James Rowson, and Lester Strode, while the other tour will include David Bell, Mike Borzello, Tony Campana, Steve Clevenger, Rob Deer, Jim Deshaies, Theo Epstein, Shiraz Rehman, Dave Sappelt, and Dale Sveum. The events are not open to the public.

Also on Wednesday, the Cubs Caravan will stop in Peoria, Ill., at Exposition Gardens with Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, WGN Radio broadcaster Keith Moreland, hitting coach James Rowson and assistant GM Randy Bush. That event will begin at 3:30 p.m. CT with photo and autograph opportunities. A program will follow.

— Carrie Muskat

1/14 Kaepernick set on football

Tim Wilken was the Cubs scouting director in 2009, and talked to three NFL teams about their projections for Colin Kaepernick, who was a talented pitcher in high school but playing quarterback at that time for Nevada.

“[The NFL teams] didn’t think he was going to be much more than a [Canadian Football League] guy at the time,” Wilken said Monday. “The way it was described to me was that his arm action was somewhat suspect — kind of a slingy arm action with the football — and they were leary of that. They thought he was going to be more of a CFL guy than an NFL guy, and that was his sophomore year [in college]. As we all know, things have a tendency to change.”

Yes, they do. Kaepernick is now the San Francisco 49ers quarterback, and will lead his team into the NFC Championship game. However, he could have been prepping for the Cubs’ 2013 season. Chicago selected Kaepernick in the 43rd round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, hoping to convince him that baseball was better than the CFL.

“We were serious about this,” said Wilken, now a special assistant to the president/general manager on the Cubs. “We’ve had a little success in higher profile settings with [Jeff] Samardzija and [Matt] Szczur. We followed up on it, and after we got the reports from the NFL teams, we were saying, ‘Maybe he wouldn’t be too fond of playing in the CFL,’ so we were going to try to sell ourselves.”

Samardzija and Szczur, obviously, both chose baseball over football. Kaepernick’s high school baseball coach Mick Tate knew which way his pitcher was leaning. A three-sport start at John H. Pitman High School in Turlock, Calif., Kaepernick was nominated for all-state in football, basketball and baseball his senior year. That year, he was 11-2 with a 1.27 ERA in 13 starts with 10 complete games, 97 strikeouts and 39 walks. Plus, he threw two no-hitters. Scouts followed Kaepernick and the Pitman team, yet Tate, 61, knew baseball was just temporary for his star pitcher. Kaepernick received several scholarship offers from colleges to play baseball but only one school wanted him to play football, and that was Nevada. That’s where Kaepernick went.

“There was never a chance he was going to sign a baseball contract from what I know,” Tate said Monday.

The Cubs wanted Kaepernick to sign, play Minor League baseball in July, rejoin the football program at Nevada, and then commit to baseball after he graduated. In a 2011 interview, Kaepernick said: “What kind of leader would my teammates think I am if I left for a month to play baseball?” Instead, he would lead Nevada to victory in the Fight Hunger Bowl, and was the 36th pick overall in the 2011 NFL Draft.

“Colin was pretty set on his goals,” Tate said. “He wanted to be a professional quarterback. He’s done exactly what he’s wanted to do. You’ve got to give the kid credit.”

— Carrie Muskat

1/14 Monday morning QB

Here’s some trivia to dazzle your friends next weekend during the NFC and AFC championship games. There has been a lot of talk about Colin Kaepernick being drafted by the Cubs, and you probably know that Seattle QB Russell Wilson also was drafted by the Rockies and played some Minor League baseball.

Did you know that the Patriots’ Tom Brady was a catcher and an 18th-round pick in 1995 by the Expos. Plus, Ravens QB Joe Flacco played baseball in high school and his brother Michael is now in the Orioles’ system.

Tim Wilken, now a special assistant to Cubs president and GM, scouted Brady while he played baseball at Michigan. Does Wilken think Brady, who now has three Super Bowl rings, make the right career move?

“I think all four of them made the right moves,” Wilken said of Kaepernick, Wilson, Brady and Flacco.

— Carrie Muskat

1/14 Cubs Convention attendees

The Cubs have released the list of players scheduled to attend this week’s Cubs Convention, which begins Friday at the Sheraton Hotel in Chicago.

Current players:
Scott Baker, Darwin Barney, Michael Bowden, Shawn Camp, Tony Campana, Welington Castillo, Starlin Castro, Steve Clevenger, David DeJesus, Scott Feldman, Matt Garza, Brett Jackson, Edwin Jackson, Carlos Marmol, Dioner Navarro, Brooks Raley, Anthony Rizzo, Chris Rusin, James Russell, Jeff Samardzija, Dave Sappelt, Nate Schierholtz, Alfonso Soriano, Ian Stewart, Josh Vitters and Travis Wood.

Minor League players:
Javier Baez, Dallas Beeler, Jae-Hoon Ha, Marcus Hatley, Barret Loux, Trey McNutt, Hector Rondon, Zach Rosscup, Nick Struck, Matt Szczur, Logan Watkins, Robert Whitenack, Tony Zych.

Cubs alum:
Ernie Banks, Glenn Beckert, Jose Cardenal, Jody Davis, Bobby Dernier, Jeff Fassero, Randy Hundley, Fergie Jenkins, Jay Johnstone, Jon Lieber, Gary Matthews, Keith Moreland, Dave Otto, Milt Pappas, Scott Sanderson, Lee Smith, Tim Stoddard, Rick Sutcliffe, Steve Trout, Todd Walker, Billy Williams and Kerry Wood.

— Carrie Muskat

1/14 Rizzo to play for Italy

Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo will play for Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic. The Classic rosters will be officially released on Thursday but Rizzo confirmed on Monday that he will join the Italian team.

Italy will open the Classic March 7 against Mexico, playing in Scottsdale, Ariz., and be in the same bracket as Team Canada and the U.S. squad.

Shortstop Starlin Castro reportedly told media in the Dominican Republic that he was going to play for that team in the Classic, but the Cubs have not confirmed that.

The Cubs have had players participate in the World Baseball Classic in the past. In 2006, Michael Barrett and Derrek Lee played for Team USA, and Henry Blanco and Carlos Zambrano played for Venezuela. In 2009, Kosuke Fukudome played for the Japanese team, Ted Lilly pitched for Team USA, Alex Maestri pitched for the Italian squad, Carlos Marmol played for the Dominican team, Vince Perkins pitched for Team Canada, and Geovany Soto played for Puerto Rico.

— Carrie Muskat

1/11 Cubs Convention schedule

The 28th annual Cubs Convention will be held next weekend, Jan. 18-20, at a new location, the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers. Opening ceremonies will be at 5 p.m. CT on Jan. 18 when players and alum are introduced on a red carpet runway that will provide special VIP access to children 16 and under.

The schedule for Jan. 19 includes “Cubs Jeopardy,” which will pit pitchers Milt Pappas, Scott Sanderson, Lee Smith and Rick Sutcliffe against position players Jose Cardenal, Jody Davis, Randy Hundley and Todd Walker. “Cubs Family Feud” will make its convention debut with former players Bobby Dernier, Jon Lieber, Gary Matthews and Billy Williams taking on current Cubs Michael Bowden, Shawn Camp, Brett Jackson and Ian Stewart.

Fans will have a chance to say hello to the team’s offseason acquisitions at a “Meet the New Cubs” session featuring pitchers Scott Baker, Scott Feldman, Edwin Jackson, catcher Dioner Navarro and outfielder Nate Schierholtz, hosted by television play-by-play broadcaster Len Kasper and his new partner, Jim Deshaies.

Other Jan. 19 sessions include:

* “Ricketts Family Forum:” Tom, Laura, Pete and Todd Ricketts will talk about their experience as the Cubs owners over the last three years and take questions from fans.

* “Meet Cubs Baseball Management:” Theo Epstein, president of baseball operations, will be joined by general manager Jed Hoyer, assistant general managers Randy Bush and Shiraz Rehman, and manager Dale Sveum to talk about the team’s recent moves and what lies ahead.

* “From Draft Day to the Big Leagues:” Minor League prospects Dallas Beeler, Matt Szczur, Robert Whitenack and Tony Zych will discuss what it’s like to get drafted by the Cubs and advance through the system.

* “Dale Sveum and the coaching staff:” Sveum and his staff will talk about the team and answer questions.

* “For Kids Only Press Conference, presented by Advocate Health Care:” Kids will get to play reporter and ask players questions. The panel will feature Darwin Barney, David DeJesus, Brooks Raley, Anthony Rizzo and Chris Rusin.

* “Renew Wrigley Field:” Cubs executives will discuss ideas to preserve and renew Wrigley Field based on input from Cubs fans, season ticket holders and the community.

* “Not for Women Only:” Baker, Feldman, Matt Garza, James Russell and Travis Wood will discuss their personal lives off the field.

The Jan. 20 program will include a “Down on the Farm” session in which player development/scouting director Jason McLeod, pro scouting director Joe Bohringer, and director of player development Brandon Hyde will talk about the Minor League system. They will be joined by prospects Chris Rusin and Josh Vitters.

Limited individual weekend passes are available for $60 per pass plus convenience fees. A percentage of the proceeds from the Cubs Convention benefits Chicago Cubs Charities. To date, Cubs Convention has raised approximately $4 million for Chicago Cubs Charities.

The Cubs have not released a complete list of the players who will attend the convention.

— Carrie Muskat

1/10 Bogusevic, Lillibridge headline NRI list

The Cubs announced some of their non-roster invitees, including Brian Bogusevic, Brent Lillibridge and Darnell McDonald. The players received an invite to the big league Spring Training camp. The list includes Bogusevic, 28, an Oak Lawn native, who attended De La Salle Institute in Chicago. A left-handed hitter, he batted .203 with seven home runs, nine doubles and 28 RBIs in 146 games last season with the Astros.

McDonald, 34, is a former first-round pick, who has played for the Orioles, Twins, Reds, Red Sox and Yankees since 2004. A right-handed hitter, he batted .205 combined for the Red Sox and Yankees last season. Another outfielder invited include Johermyn Chavez, 23, who has not played above the Double-A level. He batted .232 in 75 games with the Mariners’ Jackson team last season.

Lillibridge, 29, has played for the Braves, White Sox, Red Sox and Indians, and posted a .213 average over five seasons. Last season, the infielder was dealt twice. He opened the season with the White Sox, and was traded to the Red Sox in the Kevin Youkilis deal, then dealt one month later to the Indians for Jose De La Torre. In four seasons with the White Sox, Lillibridge batted .217. He is a versatile player, and has played all positions except catcher.

The Cubs also invited infielder Alberto Gonzalez, 29, who has played for the Yankees, Nationals, Padres and Rangers. Last season, he batted .241 in 24 games with Texas.

Edwin Maysonet, 31, who batted .250 in 30 games with the Brewers last season, also received an invite, as did first baseman/outfielder Brad Nelson, 30, who has not played in the big leagues since 2009 with the Brewers. A fourth-round pick by the Brewers in 2001, he spent all of 2012 at the Rangers’ Triple-A Round Rock team, batting .279 with 24 home runs and 81 RBIs in 132 games.

Catcher J.C. Boscan, 33, who has spent 16 seasons in the Minor Leagues, also will be in Mesa. Last season, he batted .189 for the Braves’ Triple-A Gwinnett team.

The Cubs also invited eight pitchers, including right-handers Andrew Carpenter, Jaye Chapman, Dayan Diaz, Jensen Lewis, Blake Parker, Zack Putnam and Cory Wade, and lefty Hisanori Takahashi. Carpenter, 27, has appeared in 23 Major League games over five seasons with the Phillies, Padres and Blue Jays. The Cubs acquired Chapman, 25, from the Braves last July in the Paul Maholm deal, and he appeared in 14 games. Parker, 27, was selected by the Cubs’ in the 16th round of the 2006 Draft, and opened last year at Triple-A Iowa. He was promoted to the big league team in mid May, but appeared in seven games before he was shutdown with a right elbow injury. Putnam, 25, has compiled a 3.90 ERA over 171 games in five Minor League seasons with the Indians and Rockies, while Lewis, 28, has a 3.32 ERA in 196 games over eight seasons in the Indians’ Minor League system. Takahashi, 37, has a 14-12 record, 3.97 ERA in 165 games (12 starts) for the Mets, Angels and Pirates. He pitched for the Yomiuri Giants before coming to the U.S. Major Leagues in 2010.

The Cubs did sign Dontrelle Willis, but he received a Minor League deal, and will be in the team’s Minor League camp. Willis, who turns 31 on Saturday, has pitched for the Marlins, Tigers, Diamondbacks, and Reds, compiling a 72-69 record and 4.17 ERA over nine seasons. He was on the World Series champion Marlins team in 2003, and won National League Rookie of the Year honors that year, posting a 14-6 record and 3.30. He finished second in the Cy Young balloting in 2005 when he won 22 games.

— Carrie Muskat

1/10 Cubs sign Valbuena

The Cubs signed infielder Luis Valbuena to a one-year, $930,000 contract on Thursday, thus avoiding arbitration. Valbuena, 27, batted .219 in 90 games with the Cubs, who claimed the infielder off waivers from the Blue Jays on April 4. He played 82 games at third base, taking over for Ian Stewart, who was sidelined with a wrist injury that needed surgery. The Cubs have three players remaining who are arbitration eligible: Matt Garza, James Russell and Jeff Samardzija.

— Carrie Muskat

1/10 Future Cubs

In its latest issue, Baseball America presented its list of top 10 Cubs prospects and also peeked into the future:

2016 Projected Cubs Lineup (not batting order)

C Welington Castillo
1B Anthony Rizzo
2B Starlin Castro
3B Jeimer Candelario
SS Javier Baez
LF Brett Jackson
CF Albert Almora
RF Jorge Soler
Rotation: Jeff Samardzija, Matt Garza, Arodys Vizcaino, Edwin Jackson, Pierce Johnson
Closer: Juan Paniagua

Notes: I’ve heard good things about Candelario, who batted .281 at Boise last year with six home runs and 14 doubles. He’s only 19, he’s a switch-hitter, and still raw, but is someone to watch progress in the Minors. Can’t wait to see Almora and Soler at Wrigley (am guessing it will be before 2016).

Baseball America’s top 10 Cubs Prospects:

1. SS Javier Baez
2. OF Albert Almora
3. OF Jorge Soler
4. RHP Arodys Vizcaino
5. OF Brett Jackson
6. RHP Pierce Johnson
7. 1B Dan Vogelbach
8. 3B Jeimer Candelario
9. RHP Kyuji Fujikawa
10. SS Arismendy Alcantara

Notes: I’m surprised Fujikawa was included on the list since he’s projected for the big league team’s bullpen. A pitcher to keep an eye on is Dillon Maples in 2013, who is coming back from an elbow injury.

— Carrie Muskat