Javier Baez hit his first homer at Wrigley Field (and fourth total in his very young career) on Wednesday night off Milwaukee Brewers right-hander Kyle Lohse. And it landed on Waveland Avenue... as many of Javy's homers will in the future.

Here's video of the homer:

As impressive as that shot was, Javy can hit them much better than that, which is a scary thought. If someone hits one to a rooftop again Glenallen Hill style, it may be Mr. Baez. 

Oh, and Anthony Rizzo made it back-to-back home runs on the very next pitch, for his 27th homer on the season.

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Addison Russell, the super prospect (ranked No. 5 overall by Baseball America) that the Cubs acquired from the Oakland Athletics in the Jeff Samardzija/Jason Hammel trade, provided a nice example Thursday night of why many evaluators think he could be the Cubs' long-term answer at shortstop.

Check out this incredible play from the 20-year-old in the Tennessee Smokies' 4-2 victory over the Mississippi Braves:

That is Rey Ordonez-esque stuff (and Russell can actually hit too!).

I've rolled my eyes at much of the "STARLIN CASTRO MUST BE MOVED OFF SHORTSTOP" talk over the last few years, mainly because there hasn't been a clearly-better long-term option there for the Cubs. But Addison Russell looks like he may be that guy, eventually.

Oh, and Russell wasn't the only highly regarded Cubs prospect flashing the leather for the Smokies in that game. Check out the plays made by pitcher Pierce Johnson, center fielder Albert Almora (in his first game at Double-A), and third baseman Christian Villanueva in the Smokies' win:

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At The Blogfines

Cubs Midseason Review- Cooper (@TheCubsWord; make sure to follow him on Twitter) with an outstanding comprehensive look at the Cubs' season to this point, looking at key stats, the trade outlook, second half expectations, revealing a new top-10 Cubs prospects list, and much more. Make sure to check it out.

Around The Web

Obstructed View's Cubs Top 10 Prospects- Myles at Obstructed View with his updated top 10 Cubs prospects, and he supplies some ceiling/floor comps for those players. (Myles; Obstructed View)

Cubs Den's Top-6 Cubs Prospects- John Arguello writes about his top six Cubs prospects and includes their ETAs. (John Arguello; Cubs Den)

Cooper also shared his current top 10 Cubs prospects here on The Blogfines earlier today. As for my own? Man, it's so tough... I think there's seriously about 20 guys that you could argue belong in the top-20. That's how loaded the Cubs' farm system is right now. But, I'll take a quick crack at it.

My Top 10 (Well, 11) Prospects:

1. Kris Bryant, 3B
2. Javier Baez, SS
3. Arismendy Alcantara, MIF/CF
4. Jorge Soler, RF
5. Kyle Schwarber, C/LF
6. Albert Almora, CF
7. CJ Edwards, SP
8. Pierce Johnson, SP
9. Jen-Ho Tseng, SP
10A. Armando Rivero, RP
10B. Arodys Vizcaino, RP

And my summary on that:

I love Baez as much as anyone, but his K-rate is pretty alarming this season (as Myles goes into in his article), currently sitting at 32.8%. Baez's ceiling is still as high as anyone's in the minors, but he needs to strike out less and show more patience at the plate (to his credit, he's doing that much more of late; his current BB % is at a career-best 7.5%) or else he could turn into an all or nothing type in the majors. With the crazy video game numbers Bryant is putting up at every level, and with his advanced plate approach that gives him a high floor, it's hard not to have him ahead of Baez at the moment.

With Almora and Soler a part of the coined "Core Four" Cubs prospects, and with Schwarber doing his Bryant thing at Boise and Kane County after being the fourth overall pick earlier in the month, many people wouldn't have Alcantara (pictured above) ranked at No. 3 on the Cubs prospect list as I do (and as Cooper also does). But here's the thing to me: Alcantara is putting up big-time all-around numbers at Triple-A, as a switch-hitting middle infielder/center fielder, while Almora has been pretty awful (.624 OPS) at High-A Daytona, Soler has been on the shelf most all of the season due to multiple hamstring injuries, and Schwarber is just a few weeks into his minor league career at the lower levels (we also don't know what position Schwarber will play/handle). I think you could make arguments for any of these guys to be ranked third, but for me at the moment, it's Alcantara.

Then we get to the pitchers, and get to a similar argument... except I currently have the reasoning backwards. Edwards and Johnson have missed most of the season with injuries, yet I have them ranked ahead of Tseng who has been excellent at Kane County. But that's low-A Kane County, and we're only talking 10 minor league starts with him still. The fact he's even being talked about as a top-10 prospect in this system already speaks volumes about how well he's pitching, but I'd like to see it a little more before I put him ahead of the more proven Edwards and Johnson. Pitching injuries always leave you very concerned though, and especially when it comes to Edwards, as the main concern about him has always been durability and his string-bean body being able to hold up.

And for my 10th guy, I couldn't make up my mind between Rivero and Vizcaino so I made them the co-10th prospect. They are both lights out right-handed relievers that got called up to Iowa on the same day in the last couple weeks. Many wouldn't have Rivero this high as he's 26 and you don't hear all that much about him on the Cubs prospect landscape, but he is absolutely filthy. Rivero put up a 1.56 ERA in 34 2/3 innings at Double-A this season, and hasn't allowed a run in his 4 1/3 innings so far at Triple-A. Here's the most incredible thing: Rivero has struck out 61 batters in his 39 combined innings between Tennesee and Iowa, after striking out 45 batters in 30 1/3 innings last year at Kane County.

Cubs' Beeler: Baez, Bryant Look Like 'Future Hall Of Famers'- Welp, that's not going to do anything to lower the hype on Javy Baez and Kris Bryant. (Tony Andracki; CSN Chicago)

Scouts Galore At Wrigley As Samardzija Countdown Begins- Bruce Levine spoke with scouts during Jeff Samardzija's start on Saturday night at Wrigley Field, in regards to Samardzija and Jason Hammel, as the two pitchers are likely to be traded by the July 31st deadline.

One source told me that the Cubs are asking for a top three organization prospect in exchange for Hammel from his club. 

“As you look at pitchers before the trade deadline, you only consider guys you project who can pitch in the first three games of the playoffs,” said one of the games top scouts. “I look at the Cubs, Hammel could start the third game, Samardzija the first game for any contending club. You have to believe these guys are better than your 4th and 5th starters or you have no businessmaking a deal. You can find four’s and five’s in your own system.”

The talent level of a top-three prospect can of course vary greatly by organization (the seventh-best prospect for the Cubs may be better than the third best prospect in other organizations, for example), but it's nice to hear the Cubs' asking price for Hammel is high. And after all, it should be, right? On the season, Hammel has a 2.98 ERA, 3.11 FIP, 3.0 bWAR and 2.1 fWAR. He's been a top-25 starting pitcher in baseball this year. (Bruce Levine; 670 The Score)

Blue Jays Reportedly Also Interested In Darwin Barney And Carlos Villanueva- Please, Blue Jays... please take Darwin. (Brett Taylor; Bleacher Nation)

Manny Is No Longer Being Manny- Manny Ramirez, the Iowa Cubs' new "player-coach", is a different man than the guy from his MLB playing days:

‘‘I think a lot of people won’t believe that,’’ he explained. ‘‘But it’s true. I have changed.”

‘‘I think before acting now because I know that everything you do, any decision you make, has consequences,’’ he said. ‘‘When you’re young, you don’t think about it. I know I can help these young guys with my experience — what I’ve been through, what to do, what not to do.’’

The Cubs' top prospects are excited about having the 42-year-old Ramirez around, and are already trying to learn all they can from the 12-time MLB All-Star:

‘‘It feels great to have him here,’’ said (Javy) Baez, a power-hitting infielder with every physical tool in the box. ‘‘Even before he got here, everyone was so excited for him to be here. And finally he’s here. A lot of guys are already asking him questions.’’ (Steve Greenberg; Chicago Sun-Times)

Cubs Vs. Red Sox: Theo Had 'No Choice' With Rebuild- With the Cubs in Boston to begin a three-game series against the Red Sox at Fenway Park, the main storyline for the series is of course former Red Sox general manager and current Cubs President of Baseball Operations, Theo Epstein. (Patrick Mooney; CSN Chicago)

For Epstein, Connections With Boston Are Real- (Bruce Miles; Daily Herald)

Boston Success Informs, Fuels Epstein (Jesse Rogers; ESPN Chicago)

Facing Boston Red Sox Shows Cubs What Could Be (Evan Altman; Cubs Insider)

Theo Epstein Has Cubs Going In The Right Direction (Carlos Nazario; Da Windy City)

Arismendy Alcantara Named PCL Player Of The Week- Arismendy Alcantara is on fire. Iowa's middle infielder/center fielder racked up a ridiculous 15 hits and had a .517 average in the last week. And on Tuesday, it was announced his performance earned him Pacific Coast League Player of the Week honors.

It's only a matter of time before Alcantara gets an even bigger reward: A call-up to the big leagues. The 22-year-old switch-hitter is now batting .303, with 10 home runs, 42 extra-base hits, and has an .893 OPS. He's also 18-of-21 in stolen base attempts. Pretty awesome outstanding production from a guy that can play all three positions in the middle of the field. (@IowaCubs; Twitter)

Focus Remains On The Cubs' Minor League System (Neil; Chicago Cubs Online)

Daily Cubs Minors Recap: Brockmeyer Hits For The Cycle (John Arguello; Cubs Den)

Down On The Farm: Tsuyoshi Wada Leads Iowa Cubs To Win (Jacob R Misener; Cubbies Crib)

Cubs Have Scheduled Off Day In 82 Years- Were you wondering why the Cubs didn't play yesterday? The Cubs had their first scheduled Sunday off day in 82 freaking years, due to concerns over area traffic with the Pride Parade going on. The Cubs and Nationals of course made up for the Sunday off day by just playing a scheduled doubleheader on Saturday. (Fred Mitchell; Chicago Tribune)

Leaked: 10 Months Of The Houston Astros' Internal Trade Talks- This is awesome. (Barry Petchesky; Deadspin)

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The Chicago Cubs have played 80 games in 2014 and are approaching the midpoint of the season. In case you've missed anything, below is a comprehensive look back on the season so far, through the highs and the lows. 

Standings & Record

  • 34-46, .425 win pct, -14 run differential.
  • 15 games back and last in NL Central, 8.5 games back of Wild Card.
  • Would be drafting 3rd overall in 2015 if season ended today.
  • 7-13 in 1-run games, 3-6 in extra inning games.
  • Pythagorean 38-42 record, -4 Pythagorean Luck.
  • 2013 standings through 80 games: 35-45.

Team Statistics

Team Pitching

  • 3.54 team ERA (9th in MLB, 7th in NL).
  • .240 AVG against (7th in MLB, 3rd in NL).
  • .666 OPS against (5th in MLB, 3rd in NL).
  • 1.25 WHIP (10th in MLB, 8th in NL).
  • 8.36 K/9 (6th in MLB, 3rd in NL).
  • 10.5 fWAR (4th in MLB, 2nd in NL).
Team Batting

  • .232 AVG (29th in MLB, 14th in NL).
  • .293 OBP (29th in MLB, 14th in NL).
  • .370 SLG (25th in MLB, 11th in NL).
  • .663 OPS (29th in MLB, 14th in NL).
  • 4.3 fWAR (27th in MLB, 13th in NL).

Player Statistics

The Good

  • Anthony Rizzo: .282/.394/.512 .906 OPS, 13 2B, 17 HR, 14.3 BB%, 17.8 K%.
  • Starlin Castro: .283/.329/.469 .798 OPS, 24 2B, 11 HR, .186 ISO, .347 wOBA.
  • Luis Valbuena: .271/.361/.448 .809 OPS 20 2B, 5 HR, 12.3 BB%, 20.6 K%, .357 wOBA.
  • Jeff Samardzija: 2.83 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 3.07 FIP, 2.2 fWAR, 8.58 K/9.
  • Jason Hammel: 2.98 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 3.11 FIP, 2.1 fWAR, 1.84 BB/9.
  • Jake Arrieta: 2.05 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 2.10 FIP 2.0 fWAR, 10.11 K/9.
  • Neil Ramirez: 1.27 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 1.25 AVG, 3.75 K/BB.
The Bad

  • Junior Lake: .234/.280/.434 .675 OPS, 10 2B, 9 HR, 4.1 BB%, 33.2 K%.
  • Mike Olt: .142/.224/.346 .570 OPS, 2 3B, 10 HR, 8.7 BB%, 38.8 K%.
  • Nate Schierholtz: .200/.253/.298 .551 OPS, 9 2B, 3 3B, 3 HR, 5.6 BB%, 21.9 K%.
  • Jose Veras: 8.10 ERA, 13.1 IP, 12 ER, 11 BB (DFA'd by Cubs, now with Astros).

Trade Outlook

Good As Gone: Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel, Nate Schierholtz, Darwin Barney.

Obviously Samardzija and Hammel are the two most rumored trade pieces and I expect both to be gone, Hammel sooner than later. The Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays have been linked to both pitchers, but the latest news suggests the Blue Jays will focus on the rental Jason Hammel. The AL East has also shown interest in both pitchers.

Schierholtz could interest a team with an outfielder need like the Boston Red Sox and he is also an interesting option for a contender looking to platoon a current right-handed hitting outfielder. 

Barney has overstayed his visit but might interest a team like the Blue Jays who are looking to upgrade their middle infield defense. I don’t expect Schierholtz or Barney to warrant a notable return alone, but they could be part of a larger package.

Possible Departures: John Baker, Emilio Bonifacio, Justin Ruggiano, James Russell, Wesley Wright, Pedro Strop, Carlos Villanueva.

I could see Baker being moved with Hammel to a team who could use a backup catcher who displays leadership and can call a good game. Baker has been Hammel's personal catcher and while he isn't sexy, he's proven to be a pretty decent backup.

If Bonifacio can prove he’s healthy in July he could gain more serious consideration. He's a guy who can play MIF/CF and add speed, providing versatility teams seek at the deadline.

While Ruggiano hasn't gotten much credit, he's been a successful platoon hitter, posting an .848 OPS against left-handed pitching. If a team is looking to platoon a current outfielder or simply acquire a solid bench bat he could be moved.

Russell and Wright are nice lefty bullpen options although Wright has been utilized poorly on the Cubs; both these arms offer more value to a contender then to the Cubs. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim could be a team to watch here.

Strop has had control issues but is still a very intriguing arm. With the influx of arms approaching the bigs from Triple-A (namely Arodys Vizcaino and Armando Rivero), Strop could become expendable at 29 years old and would offer a contender late innings in addition to control through 2017.

Villanueva is a guy I would want if I were looking towards the playoffs because he can spot-start, work through trouble in the mid innings, and be a rescue guy in the bullpen. He has seen more playing time lately and has quietly been really impressive May-June in which his only tasks were from the bullpen. 

Unlikely To Be Traded: Luis Valbuena, Ryan Sweeney, Chris Coghlan, Edwin Jackson.

Valbuena has proven he can provide the future Cubs with solid on-base skills, the ability to work counts, and defensive versatility. I also don’t think he’d bring enough back in a deal that would force us to trade him. 

The front office likes Sweeney, Coghlan (and Ryan Kalish) and they seem to be their projects; I don’t see a contender taking a flier on any of them.  

Jackson could be a useful innings eater for a contender but his contract will be hard to move and he hasn’t been particularly great his year. He isn’t a guy you’d want starting in the playoffs even though he could help get you there. 

(My) Top 10 Prospects Update

1. Kris Bryant
2. Javier Baez
3. Arismendy Alcantara
4. Kyle Schwarber
5. Albert Almora
6. Jorge Soler
7. CJ Edwards
8. Dan Vogelbach
9. Jen-Ho Tseng
10. Arodys Vizcaino

Note: Almora's drop below Schwarber is a testament to Schwarber's fast start and advanced bat, not a result of Almora's struggles. I still remain very high on Almora despite the High-A learning curve.

Memorable Moments

  • Emilio Bonifacio 20 hits in first 10 games.
  • Chris Rusin no-hitter for Triple-A Iowa, May 7th.
  • Manny Ramirez announced as player-coach at Triple-A Iowa, May 25th.
  • Anthony Rizzo walk-off HR, June 6th.
  • Travis Wood pinch-hitting, game-winning double in the 13th inning, June 16th.
  • Kris Bryant’s wrath of AA Tennessee, promoted to AAA, June 18th.
  • Armando Rivero and Arodys Vizcaino promoted to AAA, June 18th.
  • Kyle Schwarber's torrid start, promoted to Kane County June 19th.
  • Jake Arrieta perfect game through 6 innings, June 24th.
  • Cael Brockmeyer Cycle For Single-A Kane County, June 29th.


Kris Bryant 2014 MiLB totals: 79 G .349/.449/.709 1.158 OPS 23 2B, 27 HR, 69 RBI.

Kyle Schwarber MiLB totals: 15 G .481/.554/1.056 1.609 OPS 5 2B, 3B, 8 HR, 8 BB, 9 K.

He’s only started 10 games, but Jake Arrieta’s 2.0 fWAR is better than Ian Kennedy, Mark Buehrle, Sonny Gray, Henderson Alvarez, Justin Verlander, Michael Wacha, Cliff Lee, Tim Hudson to name a few. Clayton Kershaw has been unbelievable in his 11 starts this year, but Arrieta matches and bests him in a number of categories. Sometimes it’s fun to look at small sample sizes.

Arismendy Alcantara is forcing the front office to make a move as he is hitting .305/.346/.547 .893 OPS, 22 2B, 10 3B, 10 HR, 18 SB this season. What is most intriguing to me is that he is showing big production from the right side of the plate (1.095 OPS), something he lacked last season.

Travis Wood can flat-out hit: 38 PA .250/.294/.500 .794 OPS 2 2B, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 0.7 fWAR

When Hammel and Samardzija are traded expect Tsuyoshi Wada, Dallas Beeler, Kyle Hendricks, and Chris Rusin all to be candidates to fill in the rotation (in order of likelihood). Also, if Carlos Villaneuva isn’t traded, he could certainly pick up starts every other week.

Second Half Expectations

The Cubs have had one of the best pitching staffs in baseball in the first half but after dismantling their rotation with the departures of Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija, we should expect the pitching production to fall considerably. Jake Arrieta will be one to watch in the second half and also any potential MLB-ready returns from future trades.

The offense has been miserable. This is mostly due to the lack of production from hitters other than Castro and Rizzo. Alcantara might get called up, but even then the offense won’t spark the team to many wins.

In 2015, the Cubs will likely draft in the top 1-3, meaning they will again finish among the MLB’s worst.

2014 will prove to be a very important year and a springboard to an exciting 2015 that will see the likes of some of the Cubs’ top prospects. Times won’t be pretty the rest of the year, but while you might occasionally pull your hair out, remember this:

“The pleasure of rooting for Goliath is that you can expect to win. The pleasure of rooting for David is that, while you don’t know what to expect, you stand at least a chance of being inspired.”
 –Michael Lewis

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24 year-old Anthony Rizzo is in the midst of a breakout year in what will be his second full season in the Majors. Rizzo has been in elite company this season in most categories, ranking among some of the top stars in the game today. Drawing comparisons isn't always easy in baseball, but the career path of Paul Goldschmidt is starting to look a lot like the route Rizzo is taking right now.

Goldschmidt, 26 years old, has entered the upper echelon of hitters in baseball putting up MVP numbers in 2013 (finished 2nd in NL MVP voting). His first full season was a success and he certainly toned aspects of his game from 2012-2013. Rizzo’s first full season was more of a disappointment to some, but overall was a solid foundation to build and learn from. While Rizzo struggled with his AVG, he displayed flashes of power and patience by finishing 5th in the NL in XBH and 6th in the NL in BB.

2012 Goldschmidt first full season: .286/.359/.490, .850 OPS, 43 2B, 20 HR, 10.2 BB%, 22.1 K%, .204 ISO.

2013 Rizzo first full season: .233/.323/.419, .742 OPS, 40 2B, 23 HR, 11.0 BB%, 18.4 K%, .186 ISO.

Goldschmidt’s first full season was quite similar to Rizzo’s. They both displayed XBH power and over 10% BB rates. Goldy’s AVG, SLG, and OPS were very impressive for a player in his first full season in the Bigs. Goldschmidt’s 2012 season was admittedly better than Rizzo’s 2013, but both players showed promise and had an offseason to build on their successes while patching their weakness.

After their first full years, both first basemen began their following year on an incredible start.

2013 Goldschmidt through 74 G: .306/.384/.572 .956 OPS, 17 2B, 19 HR, 36 BB, 66 K

2014 Rizzo through 74 G: .288/.404/.532, .936 OPS, 12 2B, 17 HR, 48 BB, 61 K

Goldschmidt’s follow-up season ended up in MVP-caliber fashion, but as you can see Rizzo isn’t far off from Goldschmidt’s 74 game production in 2013. Both of their successes have come with adjustments from the previous year. They both walked more, increased their ISO at impressive clips, cut down infield popups and turned their flyballs into far more home runs.

First full year +/- to second full year:

2013 Goldschmidt (160 G): BB% +3.7%, ISO +45, IFFB% -3.3%, HR/FB% +8.3%

2014 Rizzo (74 G): BB% +3.9%, ISO +57, IFFB% -8.5%, HR/FB% +10.7%

Rizzo’s .314 BABIP suggests it wouldn’t be surprising to see him sustain his current path. It also wouldn’t be surprising to see Rizzo finish the 2014 season just a few notches below Goldschmidt’s incredible 2013 season which ended with a .302/.401/.551 triple slash line, .952 OPS, 36 2B, 36 HR, 125 RBI, 13.9 BB%, 20.4 K%, and .249 ISO. In fact, Rizzo's current wOBA of .404 is exactly what Goldschmidt finished his 2013 season at.

It is apparent Anthony Rizzo is showing fantastic adjustments from his 2013 season and his 2014 production is no fluke. On top of their offensive success, both of these NL first basemen provide their teams with Gold Glove caliber defense and young leadership. Rizzo’s name is finally being mentioned in elite company and, like Goldschmidt, I expect it to stay there.

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Preventing the Pollution of Junior Lake

Posted by The Cubs Word | 6/14/2014 12:52:00 PM | , ,

Junior Lake is perhaps the most confusing young player we’ve seen in a long time. One day he looks like an All-Star, the next he looks like he barely belongs in the big leagues.

Lake made a name for himself when he debuted for the Cubs last year in mid-July, appearing in 64 games with a .284/.332/.428 slash line adding a .760 OPS, 16 2B, and 6 HR.

So far this year, Lake has been disappointing with a .242/.273/.434 line, .707 OPS, 10 2B, and 8 HR. The biggest problem with Lake is his overall inconsistency combined with his inability to avoid striking out. Lake is going to have his fair share of strikeouts (2013: SO 27%, 2014: SO 33%), but there are some changes he could make to cut these percentages down and get them closer to league average.

1. Pitch & Strike Zone Recognition

If you’ve watched even just a few Cubs games in the past, chances are you’ve seen Junior Lake swing and miss on an offspeed pitch. Typically these offspeed pitches are on the outer half of the plate and occasionally in the dirt.

This year, Lake’s O-Swing% (percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside the strike zone) is nearly 40% and his SwStr% (percentage of total pitches a batter swings and misses on) is 21.3%. Both of those rates are about 15% worse than the MLB average. Pitchers have made adjustments and are throwing him sliders on the lower outer half, resulting in a -6.4 wSL (slider runs above average) while last year his wSL was 2.8.

Above is Junior Lake's 2014 heat map by Pitch%. As you can see, pitchers are attacking the lower outside part of the plate vs Lake more often than not. His inability to adjust and drive the ball to right field (something I'll cover in a second) suggests pitchers will continue to pepper the outside half.

Lake also falls into a pitcher’s count far too often. He has gotten to two strikes in 260 of his 464 career plate appearances (56% of the time). By comparison, Starlin Castro struck out 126 times last year but still kept the percentage he got to two strikes under 50%. Lake needs to hit fastballs and the best way to see more fastballs is to stay in a hitter’s count.

2. Opposite Field Hitting

If you follow me on Twitter, you might’ve seen me rant about Lake and his unwillingness to shorten his swing and drive a ball to right field. He has 115 MLB hits, but only 18 of those hits have gone to the opposite field. In fact, of the 300 times he has put the ball in play in his career, only 48 of those have gone to the right side.

You might ask, “how does one improve his opposite field hitting?” This is a fair question and can be answered a few ways.

For Lake, he has a tendency to pull pitches to the left side and the majority of his contact comes from barreling up pitches out in front of the plate. Lake almost has an unwillingness to let the ball travel; you’ll notice that a lot of his outs on outside pitches come because he has hit the ball on the end of the bat i.e. trying to pull an outside pitch. If he can drive the knob of the bat towards the pitcher and stand strong in the box on outside pitches, he’ll deliver a lot more balls to the opposite side and even get lucky with bloop hits.

Furthermore, if he can turn some of those strikeouts on outside offspeed into any kind of contact he’ll decrease his K% and could even get lucky with his BABIP. But to do this, in my opinion, it will need to come with a change of mechanics.

3. Hitting Mechanics

Junior is a natural athlete, there’s no doubting that. He has incredibly strong wrists, impressive bat speed, and the ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark. What he does not have is fundamentally sound hitting mechanics. There are many holes in his swing and it will cause him to struggle with contact. The absolute first thing he needs to address is his base. Lake has a narrow, tall stance that gets him into trouble quite often. With a narrow stance, Lake is unable to properly utilize his legs and hips in his swing; this puts a large emphasis on his arms and wrists, which are so strong he can get away with it at times.

See the photo below. Lake's hands are just releasing, and his stance is narrow enough to restrict his hips from being fully used. With his straight up-and-down front leg angle, the leg is unable to stay sturdy and harness the energy that transfers from the back hip. This can often result in him being out in front of pitches and likely why we see him struggle to hit the ball to the right side.

Let’s compare it to a couple of my favorite hitters in the game right now.

Here’s Josh Donaldson of the Oakland A’s. Like Lake, his hands are just releasing. Again, notice his front leg. The slanted leg angle allows Donaldson to fire his back hip and is not restricting the transfer of any energy.

The same can be said for Giancarlo Stanton. Like the past two photos, this was taken just as the hands are releasing. He maintains a wide base and his front leg is out in front of his front hip on the proper angle, allowing the back hip to release and the hands to fire. Both Lake and Stanton are very tall hitters but Stanton succeeds is using his stature in his favor, where as Lake’s height becomes a disadvantage to him.

You may argue that Lake’s leg does take that sturdy angle once contact occurs. Sometimes this is true, although it is much harder to achieve when the front leg angle is straight up-and-down at the time of the release of his hands. Lake does make up for it at times but it can be very inconsistent.


Junior Lake is a very talented ballplayer, but it remains to be seen what his future role will be with the Cubs. I really hope he works with some hitting coaches in the offseason and seriously considers revamping his stance, beginning with a wide base, a more quiet/compact hand-to-ball path, and a Soriano-like bend of the knees. Lake may never learn to lay off bad pitches, sometimes those things can’t be taught or fixed. What he does need to learn is to put outside pitches in play and pick up an occasional cheap hit to the right side.

Realistically, if Lake doesn’t make a change he will be a fringe roster player once the prospects arrive and the Cubs start to compete.

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Kris Bryant had your typical Double-A day on Sunday. Crushing homers off the Jacksonville Suns' scoreboard and trending nationally on Twitter. NBD.

On Monday, Bryant continued his awesome ways, launching a bomb for the third straight day in Jacksonville:

Bryant now has 22 home runs, tying him with the Rangers prospect Joey Gallo for the most homers in the minors this season.

His numbers are just absurd: .357 AVG, 57 R, 22 HR, 55 RBI, 39 BB, .460 OBP, .722 SLG, 1.182 OPS. Get that sort of production on your fantasy baseball team and you're likely dominating your league (on that topic, if you're in a keeper league and he's available, get on that).

Bryant leads the Southern League in runs (18 more than anyone else), hits (10 more than anyone else), home runs (9 more than anyone else), RBI (8 more than anyone else), total bases (166; 36 more than anyone else), walks, OBP (48 points higher than anyone else), SLG (154 points higher than anyone else), AVG (28 points higher than anyone else), and OPS (228 points higher than anyone else lololololololol).

And the scary part is, Bryant's just gotten better as the year's gone along: .947 OPS in April; 1.298 OPS in May; 1.439 OPS so far in June. So, his numbers may just continue to get more unbelievable, at least as long as he stays in Double-A (and on that topic, be patient).

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As you know, Chicago Cubs superprospect Kris Bryant is having an absolutely insane season in Double-A for the Tennessee Smokies. He currently leads the Southern League in all of the Triple Crown categories (and pretty much any offensive statistic that really matters).

On Sunday, Bryant kept improving on those numbers, by going 2-for-4 at the plate, with one of those hits being this bomb that likely put a dent in the Jacksonville Suns' scoreboard, for his whopping 21st homer of the season (apologies for the crappy quality of my Vine):

Coming into Sunday, Cubs top prospect Javier Baez was having a rough time in his first week of Triple-A baseball with the Iowa Cubs.

Baez was 0-for-9 with six strikeouts, although the final strikeout was a very questionable one, as it appeared he held up his bat on a check swing (I actually happened to be watching on MiLB.TV). The first base umpire thought otherwise, and rung up Baez for strike three. It was the kind of call that would frustrate any batter, but especially Baez after the start to his season. So Baez didn't take too kindly to the call and was soon ejected from Saturday's game by the home plate umpire.

Iowa manager Marty Pevey kept Baez out of the lineup on Sunday. Not for disciplinary reasons or anything, but just to give the SuperProspect a mental rest. The Des Moines Register's Tommy Birch tweeted the following before the game:
And perhaps the veterans' words of wisdom/encouragement paid off for Baez already. In the seventh inning, Baez came to the plate as a pinch-hitter with Iowa trailing Memphis 2-1, and launched a breaking ball offering over the left-center field wall for a home run to tie the game:

(Thanks to @PhilKJames for the video)

Not a bad way for him to respond to yesterday and pick up his first Triple-A hit, right?

Then in the eighth inning, Baez got another at-bat and came up just a few feet short of a grand slam on a well-hit flyball to the center field warning track:

(Thanks to @jaketoobie for the Vine)

Iowa won the game 4-3, so Baez's solo shot obviously played a big part in the victory too.

Hopefully Javy can build off of what he was able to do Sunday at the dish and swing the bat like we all know he can for Iowa. If he can, we'll see him playing at Wrigley within a few months.

Related: Kris Bryant hits his first two two home runs for Double-A Tennessee

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While the Cubs are really struggling to produce offense at the big-league level in 2014, the good news is that they are loaded with exciting bats in the farm system.

One such example is of course Kris Bryant, the second overall pick in the 2013 MLB draft, and Baseball America's No. 8 overall prospect in 2014. The 6'5" Bryant is in his first season at Double-A, playing for the Tennessee Smokies.

And in Bryant's first double-A at-bat, he took Cincinnati Reds ace Mat Latos (making a rehab start) deep:

Then in Bryant's second game in double-A, he hit home run No. 2:


That guy was pretty excited, but so are we when it comes to Kris Bryant. Bryant's likely to have a pretty short stay in Double-A if he keeps mashing like this.

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Editor's Note: We are very excited to now have 'The Cubs Word' writing for us here at The Blogfines. Many of you are likely familiar with his terrific Cubs/baseball commentary on Twitter, and if you aren't, get on that now and give him a follow: @TheCubsWord.

The Cubs and Pirates just completed the first series of the 2014 season. The Pirates took the series 2 games to 1. 

The Good

Emilio Bonifacio  (pictured above) beginning 11 for 16, 2 2B, 4-4 SB attempts (although he did get picked off twice, almost three times – but let’s forget about that for now)
Cubs have a real steal on their hands with Bonifacio. He can play MIF, OF, switch-hit, steal bases and apparently get on base as well. He showing the type of talent he displayed in his 2011 breakout season and lets enjoy it while it lasts.

Justin Grimm, Brian Schlitter, Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, and James Russell all combined for 9 IP, 1 ER, 3 BB, 11K.
Most of these five were very good in the bullpen. I would’ve included Wesley Wright but he did walk a few and put us in a tough situation that he eventually got out of (and hey, Matt Clapp got a Wesley Wright jersey out of the deal!)

Luis Valbuena going 3 for 7, 1 RBI, 3 BB.
We all love Mike Olt but Valbuena had an exceptional series including a clutch hit on Wednesday. There’s no reason to root against him and he offers the Cubs versatility in the lineup as well as a nice bat off the bench assuming Olt gets the majority of 3B ABs going forward.

Cubs pitchers held Pirates to a team AVG of .175, .219 SLG and allowed only three XBH.

Despite having Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte, Pittsburgh didn’t steal a base in the three games.

The Cubs turned an MLB-leading (as of now) six double plays.

Cubs starting pitchers combined for two quality starts, 19 IP, 9 H, 2 ER, 13 K, 7 BB.

The Bad

Junior Lake: 6 K, 0 BB.
He does have four hits in 13 AB, but this means he’s gotten out nine times and six of those have been by strikeout. Lake is going to strikeout, but he needs to walk more for Ks to be somewhat acceptable. All in all, I didn’t have much of a problem with Lake and he’s even accounted for four saved runs (according to @fieldingbible)

Starlin Castro: 1 for 13.
I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt coming off an injury and not playing many games in Spring Training. He did drive a single to right today; exactly what I want to see more of from him this year. He was much more compact and short to the ball in 2010 and 2011, his wide-open stance and leg kick are worrisome.

Dropping the series 1-2.

The Ugly

Jose Veras and Carlos Villanueva
A couple of bad outings. Whatever. They’ll be better in time.

Neil Walker!

All in all it was a tough-fought series, including a 16-inning game that shaved a few years off of all our lives. Cubs take on the Philadelphia Phillies Friday at 1:20 PM CT for their home opener at Wrigley Field.

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On Thursday afternoon at Pittsburgh's PNC Park, Cubs outfielder Junior Lake wore the wrong Cubs jersey in the first inning of the team's game against the Pirates. Because, you know, #Cubes.

While the rest of the Cubs team was wearing the new road jersesy with 'C-U-B-S' on the front, Lake had on the 'C-H-I-C-A-G-O' one:

Cubs reliever Justin Grimm alerted Lake about the jersey from the bullpen, and Lake soon realized this, as he looked down at his jersey and then at teammate Emilio Bonifacio's jersey in center field. That realization was fantastic and can be seen at about the 50-second mark of the video above. When that half-inning ended, Lake returned to the Cubs' locker room to put on the correct jersey.

Lake explained after the game about when he realized he had on the wrong jersey:

The fact that Lake refers to Grimm as "bullpen guy" may be the best part of all of this. 

Oh, and somehow the Cubs actually won this game 3-2, for their first win of the season.

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With the Chicago Cubs beginning their 2014 season on Monday in Pittsburgh, Justin Agla (@CubsFella) and I decided to put together some "Over/Under" predictions in regards to statistics for some key Cubs players, the team's win total, etc.

Here they are...

Starlin Castro Batting Average: .285 (From Bovada)

Matt: UNDER. After last year's mess (.245/.284/.347 line), it's hard to say Starlin is going to be a .285+ hitter in 2014, although it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest. We just have to see it first. Ask me this question again in a month and I could easily say "over". The Cubs' front office and coaching staff are not going to be in Starlin's ear about plate discipline this year, even though it would be great if he'd take a few more walks and get into better hitter's counts. But they want Starlin going back to the "see the ball, hit the ball", "more reacting, less thinking" approach, and we know he's an incredibly talented hitter as he showed in his first three seasons. So consider me optimistic, but still not ready to say he's going to be a .285+ hitter in 2014.

Justin: OVER. Castro was a .295 hitter over his first 3 seasons and I like his chances to get back on track this year after a dreadful season last year.

Starlin Castro Home Runs: 10.5

Matt: OVER. At least 10 homers for Starlin in each of the last three seasons, and he had 14 homers as a 22-year-old in 2012. And assuming he's a much better hitter in 2014 than the guy he was in 2013, you'd expect the home run total to be higher (than in '13), right? I like 12-15 homers for Starlin this season.

Justin: OVER. Even at his worst he hit 10 and he has shown flashes of developing his raw power. I don't think he is to a point where he can get to 20 yet but I definitely think he hits more than 10 this year.

Starlin Castro OPS: .750

Matt: OVER. Even if his batting average and on-base percentage may not be quite what they were in his first three seasons, I think Starlin could have the best slugging percentage of his career thus far and should do enough overall at the plate to have a .750+ OPS.

Justin: OVER. If he is over on both the first two he almost has to be over on this one. He passed this in each of his first 3 seasons and if he does get back on track he should get over it again this year.

Anthony Rizzo Batting Average: .265

Matt: OVER. Rizzo probably isn't a .285 hitter like he was in 2012 over 368 plate appearances, but he's definitely not the .233 hitter he was in 2013 either. Rizzo suffered from an incredibly unlucky .258 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) in 2013, when the league average for BABIP is typically around .300. Additionally, Rizzo has greatly struggled vs left-handed pitching in his career (.194 batting average), but looked fantastic against southpaws in Spring Training (granted, a very small sample size) and may be on the verge of improving in that department.

Justin: UNDER. Rizzo still has some holes to fix, and while I do think he bounces back some this year I think batting average might be the last place he catches up.

Anthony Rizzo Home Runs: 25

Matt: OVER. Even in his rough 2013 season, Rizzo still managed to hit 23 home runs, and hit 15 bombs in just 368 2012 plate appearances. In his age-24 season in 2014, look for Rizzo's power numbers to climb closer to the 30-homer mark.

Justin: OVER. Probably not by much, but I like his chances to hit near 30 this year.

Anthony Rizzo OPS:  .800

Matt: OVER. As you can see by now, I'm expecting a very nice season out of Rizzo. I'll go with an .820 OPS for the Cubs' first baseman.

Justin: OVER. Again, not by much, but he is patient at the plate and with his power I think he gets just over .800.

Mike Olt Batting Average: .255

Matt: UNDER. Olt had a great Spring Training, hitting .276 with five homers and an .886 OPS in 63 plate appearances. But he's also coming off a disastrous 2013 season where he hit .201 with a .684 OPS in the minors. However, vision issues (it's assumed) were the main cause the awful numbers and with the vision issues now resolved, he looks like the guy that came into 2013 as Baseball America's No. 22 overall prospect while a member of the Texas Rangers organization. So it's possible Olt has a very nice season with the Cubs at the big-league level, but it's hard to predict him hitting for a high average just yet, anyway. He is a power-hitting, patient guy at the plate, but he also has a low contact rate and may never be a high average hitter (even if he's still highly productive).

Justin: UNDER. Even with perfect eyes Olt was a fairly low contact hitter and didn't have the best average. I think he probably hits in the .240-.250 range.

Mike Olt Home Runs: 15.5

Matt: OVER. His power is real, and when he makes contact, it's usually with authority. He was punishing the ball this spring all over the yard. If he ends up being the primary third baseman/getting 450+ at-bats (which you'd think as the front office wants him playing), you have to like his chances for 18-25 home runs.

Justin: OVER. This one is easy. If he plays enough he is gonna get his home runs.

Mike Olt OPS: .750

Matt: OVER. The average may not be there, but the power and walks should keep the OPS above .750.

Justin: OVER. But probably not by much. His average will probably stay low and he strikes out a lot, but he does take his walks and will get his homers.

Junior Lake Batting Average: .260

Matt: UNDER. No one knows what Junior Lake really is at the plate. We know he has power (as evidenced by the three homers he hit in three consecutive at-bats last week), good speed, a long athletic frame.. he has all the tools. But he has holes and the league began to find those holes as his rookie season went on in 2013. He's going to need to make adjustments and lay off "pitchers'" pitches. Honestly, he could hit anywhere from .200-.300 and I wouldn't be surprised. The skills are there, but they're raw and we don't know if/when the proper adjustments will be made. For now, I'll guess his average lands right in the middle of that .200-.300 range at .250.

Justin: UNDER. Lake has a lot of talent but still lacks a lot of polish. I'll say just under.

Junior Lake Home Runs: 12

Matt: OVER. Similar to what I said about Olt, Lake may not have the high average but he's going to get his fair share of homers if he gets the at-bats (which, again like Olt, he should). I'll guess 13-16 homers for Lake.

Justin: OVER. Lake has tremendous raw power, as we have seen in spring training and got glimpses of last year. If he plays most days I think he can get to 15 HR.

Junior Lake OPS: .735

Matt: UNDER. The slugging numbers may be there, but the on-base percentage probably won't.

Justin: UNDER. Lake doesn't walk a ton and I also expect his average to not be great, so I'll say he finishes under on this one.

Welington Castillo OPS: .750

Matt: OVER. The most underrated guy on the team in my opinion. Castillo now has a solid .748 OPS from the catcher position in over 652 plate appearances in the majors. He'll only be turning 27 in April, and there is much more potential in his bat. He showed a glimpse of that in the second half of 2013 when he had an outstanding .288/.388/.475 line in 165 plate appearances.

Justin: OVER. Castillo was great in the second half last year and has more power than he showed. I think this is the year he shows he can be a good offensive every day catcher.

Nate Schierholtz Home Runs: 19

Matt: UNDER. Schierholtz had 21 homers in 503 plate appearances in a really impressive 2013 season, after never hitting over nine homers in a season before that. Of course, he had never been a full-time starter in his previous seasons either. Still, it's probably more realistic to expect him to be in the 15-17 range than the 19-21 range this time around. Additionally, there's a good chance he's dealt to a contender before the trade deadline and he may end up in a strict platoon in such a situation, preventing him from getting the at-bats to reach this home run total.

Justin: UNDER. I know Nate hit over 20 last year but he had a huge career best year and I think its likely he slips back down a bit this year.

Emilio Bonifacio Stolen Bases: 29.5

Matt: OVER. Bonifacio had 40 steals in 152 2011 games, 30 steals in 64 2012 games, and 28 steals in 136 2013 games. He is likely to play just about everyday with his ability to play pretty much every position, and while batting leadoff frequently. Additionally, it sounds like Rick Renteria wants the team aggressive on the basepaths.

Justin: UNDER. I think he gets close but I'm not sure he is gonna play enough all season to get to 30.

Javier Baez Combined Home Runs Between MLB & Minors: 35.5

Matt: UNDER. I love Baez's power as much as anyone. He is special. And he hit 37 homers in just 130 minor league games in 2013. But 36+ homers is such a high total to predict (injuries happen too), especially given that he'll be playing at the Triple-A (and likely) MLB levels, where he's never played. He's susceptible to offspeed pitches and he'll see better quality of such pitches at the upper levels, as well as pitchers that can execute a plan better.

Justin: OVER. Baez has some of the best power in the entire minor leagues and I expect he will continue to mash while in AAA.

Javier Baez OPS At Triple-A Iowa: .930

Matt: UNDER. This goes back to what I was saying about his home run totals. Even though the Pacific Coast League is where talents like Baez usually put up video game numbers, he may have a few minor slumps/struggles as more advanced pitchers get him off balance with offspeed pitches. I still think he'll OPS over .900, though, in what should just be a couple of months in Iowa.

Justin: UNDER. He doesn't walk a lot so he has to put up a massive slugging number to get this high. He did it in AA last year in limited time but I think he probably sits around .900 in AAA.

Javier Baez OPS At MLB Level: .790

Matt: OVER. Javy is going to mash anyone's fastballs with his insane bat speed and until the league learns this (as well as that he currently has a tendency to chase breaking balls out of the zone) he may go off. He may have rookie struggles late in the year but I think he will  put up big numbers in his first month or two in the majors. And regardless, he's going to hit mistakes a mile too, so the slugging percentage is likely going to be high enough to carry an OPS over .790 even if his on-base percentage isn't great.

Justin: OVER. I think Baez is gonna have a very fast start out of the gate, until people realize that you shouldn't throw him fast balls. I also don't think he will be up til the 2nd half so he could put up some big numbers for a couple months.

Jeff Samardzija ERA: 3.80

Matt: PUSH. A 3.80 ERA (or a little better or worse) is pretty much right what I'd project for Shark. We know he has the potential to be much, much better than this but he hasn't shown enough consistency to predict it. Maybe this is the year he does so? And it may be in another uniform by July 31st as well.

Justin: OVER. Samardzija just hasn't proven he can be a consistent top-of-the-rotation arm. I think he will be solid but not great once again. Probably in the high 3s/low 4s area and is eventually traded this year.

Edwin Jackson ERA: 4.25

Matt: UNDER. Edwin can be maddening because he looks like a front-of-the-rotation guy at times and then looks like a back-of-the-rotation guy at others. But in general he's extremely better than the 4.98 ERA guy he was in 2013, at least, and I think he has a bounceback year of sorts. An ERA right around 4.00 would be my guess.

Justin: UNDER. Some of Jackson's peripherals show that he was probably a little unlucky last year. Most are down on him but I think he has a good chance to keep the ERA around 4.00.

Travis Wood ERA: 3.60

Matt: PUSH. I don't think Travis Wood's 2013 was the total fluke that some out there seem to think, but I also think he's closer to maybe a 3.55-3.75 ERA guy than the 3.11  ERA he put up in 2013. He pitches to both sides of the plate so well and changes speeds so well. He's a gamer and you feel good about your chances of winning every time he takes the hill.

Justin: UNDER. Wood is the guy I most trust right now on the Cubs' staff and I think he will continue to pitch well. He isn't an ace but he can be a very good number 3 on a good team.

Jason Hammel ERA: 4.50 

Matt: UNDER. I was a big fan of this signing and think Hammel can be this year's Scott Feldman, where he puts up a solid season and then the Cubs flip him for a nice prospect return at the trade deadline. The 6'6" right-hander had a 4.97 ERA for the Baltimore Orioles in 2013, but had a terrific 3.43 ERA for them the season before. I think he gets back on the right track and has a sub-4.50 ERA in 2014.

Justin: OVER. I'm not sold on Hammel turning in to this years Feldman, although I'll admit I wasnt sold on Feldman last year either. Still, his career numbers arent great and he isnt getting any younger. I expect an ERA closer to 5.

Jose Veras Saves: 25

Matt: UNDER. I don't see him reaching that total for a couple reasons. One, the Cubs likely aren't going to be winning enough games for Veras to get a ton of save opportunities. And also, I expect the Cubs to trade him to a contender over the next few months. As for whether he could still end up with 25 total saves in that scenario, he would likely be a setup man rather than a closer on a contending team.

Justin: UNDER. I don't think he lasts as a closer long enough to get to 25 because the Cubs will trade him the first time they get a good offer and contenders always want bullpen help.

Number Of Cubs (On Current 25-Man Roster) Traded By July 31st: 3.5

Matt: OVER. There are several candidates to be dealt for prospects, such as Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel, Jose Veras, Nate Schierholtz, James Russell, Carlos Villanueva, Darwin Barney, Luis Valbuena, Ryan Sweeney, etc. I think the Cubs trade at least four guys on the current 25-man roster as they want to keep using short-term assets to acquire long-term assets, and they could get some nice offers for the aforementioned players.

Justin: UNDER. I'll guess exactly 3.

Number Of Cubs Players With 15+ Home Runs: 4.5

Matt: UNDER. There are several players that are capable of hitting at least 15 homers, such as Anthony Rizzo, Mike Olt, Javier Baez, Starlin Castro, Nate Schierholtz, Justin Ruggiano, Junior Lake, and Luis Valbuena. But I can't comfortably predict that at least five guys will hit that many, though it's certainly possible. Obviously if we knew that Baez would be up fairly soon that would help the chances.

Justin: OVER. Power wasn't a problem for the Cubs last year, as they finished 2nd in the NL in HR, and I don't expect it to be a problem this year either. I think there are 7 or 8 guys with 15 HR potential, maybe more if prospects come up, they won't all get enough playing time or be here long enough to do it, but I'll say 5 guys get to 15.

Total Number Of Cubs Wins: 69.5  (From Bovada)

Matt: OVER. 72. I think they could hit 75 wins or more, if not for inevitable trades of quality players, and if Baez were to come up by May or June.

Justin: OVER. My personal prediction was 70 so I'll say just barely over.

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The Cubs blew a six-run lead to the Rangers in extra innings on Tuesday night in Surprise, Arizona, and lost the game 7-6. But it's Spring Training and we of course don't care about the final score, but rather individual performances and other things of note from the game. Specifically in this game, what Javier Baez and Mike Olt did, and what Josh Vitters didn't do.

In the third inning, the Cubs beat a very good pitcher in Alexi Ogando around for five runs, including back-to-back home runs, and hitting for the cycle over four consecutive batters.The back-to-back homers came from Olt and Baez, with both being extremely impressive opposite field shots:

The homers were the fourth of Spring Training for each player, and really showed off the rare power each player possesses. That's also the third opposite field homer Baez has hit on the spring which is really nice to see.

Baez also roped a double down the left field line, and in his final at-bat, worked a 3-1 count before smoking a line drive right at the shortstop. He struck out in his first at-bat, chasing a couple sliders out of the zone, something that he's done a bit too much of in the last few days. That's going to be the area of his offensive game he really needs to work on when he starts the year in Iowa (assuming this happens), as it's not going to take long for opposing teams to realize he can hit anyone's fastball with his All-World bat speed. He's going to see lots of breaking balls out of the zone at the big-league level and will need to learn to lay off those. Most professional hitters do make adjustments in that department, but we saw for years a guy that didn't make that adjustment in Alfonso Soriano (not that he still hasn't had a fantastic career).

As for Olt, it sure seems his vision issues have been resolved (as he and the team have been saying all spring). He looks very confident in the box right now and is squaring the ball up extremely well as you could see in the home run video. While the Cubs may want him to get some more time at Iowa after his disastrous 2013 season, it's going to be hard to keep him off the 25-man roster to open the year.

Keep in mind that what Olt shows the Cubs' brass over the next year could really effect the "plan" moving forward, in a good way. Olt's sort of became a forgotten guy on the Cubs' prospect radar with Baez, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Arismendy Alcantara, etc in the fold on the positional player front. But in 2012, Olt hit 28 homers and had a .977 OPS for the Rangers' double-A club before the vision issues came along. He's also a rock-solid third baseman defensively. So, you want to see what you have with Olt soon, and it could change the positional outlook for other Cubs prospects, along with giving the front office some more potential trade chips to work with if you have an overload of talent at specific positions and want to use one (or more) of those pieces to acquire a position of need (cough, starting pitching, cough) . It would be a great "problem" to have if Olt progresses as the guy everyone around baseball thought he would after 2012.

But while Baez and Olt provided some exciting highlights in the game, Vitters provided a lowlight that may stick in the minds of anyone that saw the game for a while. It was in the eighth inning, I believe, and a Rangers batter hit a lazy flyball in foul territory down the left field line with Vitters playing left field. Vitters (hardly) jogged towards the flyball, and stopped, while the ball landed maybe five feet in front of him. It was an embarrassing "effort" for a former first-round pick that should be trying to prove as hard as anyone that he deserves to make the Cubs' roster at some point in 2014 and still be considered a part of the prospect conversation.

Wayne Randazzo, the play-by-play announcer for the Kane County Cougars, put it well:

On to some other things we took away from the game...

  • Javier Baez got his second start of the spring at second base, and had a tailor-made double play ball go right through his legs. He simply came up a little too early with the glove and perhaps he already had his mind/eyes on the throw to second base before getting the ball. It happens.
  • Jason Hammel went five innings on the mound, allowing four earned runs, seven hits, two walks, and two strikeouts. He looked really sharp in the first couple innings and keep in mind these guys are working on different pitches and aren't used to going more than a few innings yet. 
  • Hard-throwing right-hander Alberto Cabrera looked really good in two scoreless innings of work. He has nasty stuff and may be best-suited for a bullpen role, where he was full-time a couple years ago. Obviously the Cubs are trying to develop starting pitchers and Cabrera's value would be higher in that role if he could prove to be major-league capable in it, but he may be better off being a mainly two-pitch pitcher in a bullpen role where he can really let it all go. 
  • Armando Rivero is another hard-throwing right-hander that hit 97 mph on the gun with his first pitch of the night. I've seen videos of him pitching and have read all the scouting reports, but this was my first time getting a live (on TV) look at him. He also showed off a dirty breaking ball. Unfortunately, he left a mistake pitch right over the heart of the plate and former Cubs prospect James Adduci hit it about 500 feet for a two-run homer. Still, I really liked what I saw of the 25-year-old Rivero and will definitely be following his development closer. 
  • We've seen the pictures floating around of Dan Vogelbach after he reportedly lost 30 pounds, but seeing him stand up in the batter's box for an at-bat in this game really showed how much he's slimmed down. You wouldn't think anything of his figure at all anymore; just looks like your usual baseball player.
  • Jeimer Candelario is one of my personal favorite prospects and my prime breakout candidate for 2014. At just 19 last season, the switch-hitting Candelario had a .256/.346/.396 line at low-A Kane County, hitting 35 doubles, 11 homers, and walking 66 times. He has a very advanced plate approach for his age and as he keeps developing/getting stronger, may start turning some of those doubles into home runs. Well, Candelario started at third base on Tuesday night, and went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts but worked the count nicely a couple times. Definitely keep an eye on him this season. 

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Chicago Cubs top prospect Javier Baez answered some questions from fans for ESPN Chicago on Monday, and one of the questions for Baez was in regards to what the longest home run he ever hit in a game was:

What's the farthest home run you've ever hit? -- Jimmy (Champaign, Ill.)
JB: In high school I hit one 446 feet. I think that was the furthest.
My immediate reaction was that Baez was greatly underestimating himself, as he hit at least a few homers between Spring Training and minor league ball in 2013 that seemed to travel at least 446 feet.

And later on Monday, Baez really made me feel that way on the very first pitch he saw in the Cubs' 4-2 Cactus League victory over the Milwaukee Brewers at Maryvale Baseball Park:

That one looks about 450 feet, to the opposite field. Silly power from the 21-year-old shortstop.

Baez finished the day 2-for-3 at the plate, going to the opposite field with the ball in every at-bat. Going the other way is something Baez has talked about working on as he matures as a hitter, and he hasn't taken long to show off that approach (and while maintaining his incredible power in the process).

Baez also showed off his ability defensively with a terrific running basket catch on a pop-up down the left field line:

Here are some more things to take away from the game and other happenings in the world of the Chicago Cubs on Monday:

  • Starlin Castro is expected to be out seven to 10 days after suffering a right hamstring strain on Sunday. Cubs manager Rick Renteria said, "It's seven to 10 days, and we're just being cautious with him. It shouldn't set him back for the regular season." While it may give Baez some more playing time to show off his skills, it sounds like the Cubs will use it more as a chance to see how Darwin Barney and Emilio Bonifacio can perform there, as they're shaping up to the backup shortstops on the Opening Day roster. 
  • Back to Baez and the ESPN Chicago article linked in the first sentence of this post. When asked what position he would be most comfortable playing if he had to move off of shortstop, Baez said, "I would say second base. You don't have to move as much as you do at shortstop. It's pretty much the same except for that. I think I can do it." 
  • Left-hander Eric Jokisch got the start on Monday, and was terrific. The 24-year-old (25 in July) threw three scoreless, hitless innings against a Brewers lineup containing players such as Ryan Braun, Carlos Gomez, and Jean Segura. He walked two and struck out one. Jokisch isn't really on the "prospect" radar due to his age and average stuff, but gave a pretty good idea on Monday of why he's posted sub-3.50 ERAs as a starter in each of the last three seasons in the minors (most recently Double-A Tennessee in 2013). Jokisch looked like your classic "crafty" lefty, changing speeds well and showing quality command of multiple pitches; he "knows how to pitch" as they say. The 6'2" Jokisch will likely begin the year at Triple-A Iowa, but if he keeps pitching anything like he did on Monday, don't be surprised if he makes a start or two with the big-league club at some point in 2014.
  • Luis Valbuena smoked an RBI double to right-center that would've left the yard if he got some more air under it. Valbuena only hit .218 in 2013, but suffered from an extremely unlucky .233 BABIP. Consider that and Valbuena's tremendous eye at the plate, and Valbuena may be able to have a .350+ OBP in 2014 (he still had a .331 OBP even with the .218 AVG in '13).
  • Baseball Prospectus' Jason Parks had nice things to say about Cubs third base prospect Christian Villanueva on Sunday, and Villanueva got two at-bats in Monday's game. At first, I thought Villanueva was actually Baez at the plate. They really have similar stances and leg kicks going now, with Baez's out-of-this-world bat speed being the obvious difference (as well as Baez's leg kick being a bit more dramatic). As Parks said, Villanueva "looks noticeably stronger" in 2014, and I wouldn't be surprised if the prospect really made a jump this season. Villanueva hit 41 doubles and 19 homers at Tennessee last season, and maybe some of those doubles will start turning into home runs. He's also a very good defensive third baseman. So, even with Baez, Mike Olt, Kris Bryant, etc... don't count out Villanueva when looking to the Cubs' future at third base. He also may be able to handle second base, first base, and left field if it came down to it. If nothing else, the 22-year-old Villanueva could turn into some quality trade bait for the Cubs.
  • Walter Ibarra was Baez's late-inning replacement at shortstop in the game, and hit a game-winning two-run single in his only at-bat. Ibarra is a 26-year-old utility infielder that spent his entire career in the New York Yankees' system before joining the Cubs' camp this spring. 
  • Arodys Vizcaino threw a scoreless inning for the Cubs, but all that we should really focus on with him is staying healthy (particularly that right arm, of course). So far, he feels good. Let's hope that's the case when he wakes up in the morning. His stuff is elite (fastball in high 90s and a nasty breaking ball) and he could be a dynamite late-inning reliever... as long as he stays healthy.
  • Right-handed pitcher Jason Hammel made his Cubs debut of sorts by pitching in the team's "B" game (making up for the rain-outs Saturday) against the San Francisco Giants on Monday morning at Cubs Park. According to Carrie Muskat, Hammel "gave up four hits, including three infield singles, and walked one, hit a batter and struck out three over two innings against the Giants."
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This is also our first post since July, and not much has changed since then: The Cubs are still quite awful. But, the farm system is quite fantastic. In fact, Baseball Prospectus recently ranked the Cubs' farm system as the second-best in baseball.

And a big reason the farm system is so highly regarded is because of third baseman (and possible future Cubs corner outfielder) Kris Bryant, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft.

Bryant is widely considered a top-10 prospect in baseball, mainly because of the prodigious power he possesses. And on Friday against the Angels in the Cubs' second Spring Training of the 2014 baseball year, the 22-year-old Bryant showed us that prodigious power in his first-ever Spring Training at-bat:

Boom. It's 420 feet to straight-away center at the Angels' Tempe Diablo Stadium, so that is one hell of a poke.

The Cubs were absolutely walloped by the score of 15-3, but seeing Bryant hit that bomb (and fellow super prospect Albert Almora smoking a double to the wall right before that) should leave fans feeling pretty good about the day overall.

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