“Back in the ‘60s, the Cubs once had two guys named Moe on the team. That’s all you needed to know about how bad they were.” – my dad
I feel bad for my old man when it comes to the Cubs. The guy could probably rattle off every Cubs roster dating back to the late ’50s, including jersey numbers. He has lived through so many let downs, including the ’69 debacle. “Why are we constantly celebrating a team that choked at the end and didn’t even make the playoffs? It’s embarrassing.”
That team, led by Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Fergie Jenkins, and others, were in first place in mid-September. They then lost 17 of their last 25 games to finish second to the Miracle Mets. Every couple of years, they roll out what is left of that team and the crowd gives them a big standing ovation. Good job guys, thanks for almost getting it done.
It represents a culture of losing that became accepted in Chicago at some point. “The Lovable Losers” was a term of endearment for the organization. “Wait ’til next year” was our battle cry.
My old man is right, it is embarrassing. And last year, a man entered the picture with a plan to change a century of embarrassment. A rebuilding plan that could take up to five years to come to fruition. When hearing this, my dad half-joked, “Five years?! Hell, I don’t think I have that many left.”
The team is awful this year. At 51-86, they are the second-worst team in baseball ahead of the lowly Astros and threatening their all-time loss mark of 103 set back in 1962, which also happened to be one of the years they had the two Moes (Drabowsky and Morhardt). That team just sucked. This year’s team is awful partially by design. Theo Epstien decided to put the clamps on big-name free agent spending, opting for players like David DeJesus, Ian Stewart and Chris Volstad. Guys he could sign to short-term contracts for not a lot of money. Basically, fillers until the plan was complete. He then shed payroll by shipping off Carlos Zambrano and his fat paycheck to the Marlins. Ryan Dempster, Marlon Byrd and Paul Maholm followed, and a bunch of rookies were brought up to showcase their talents for future considerations.
It looks bad now Cub fans, but trust me, the future is looking good. And here are 10 reasons why:
10. The streak lives on
Even if the Cubs rip off a 25-game winning streak to end the season, a 76-86 record won’t get them into postseason play. That will make it 104 years and counting since the last championship. Why would this be on the list of positives for Cubs fans you ask? Well, there is a small percentage of fans out there who deep down don’t want the team to ever win. This bunch of idiots can rest easy knowing they can continue to bitch and moan about how bad the team is to make themselves feel better about their own misfortunes in life. Misery does love company, you know.
9. The Cubs will get the second-overall pick in the 2013 draft
The team is rebuilding from within, something that hasn’t happened in my lifetime. At least not successfully, that is. In fact, if you ask my dad, he could tell you stories of all the great players going back to the ’50s that he was told to keep an eye on and remember their names. He, of course, remembers all of theses names because he is still waiting for most of them to make their major league debuts. One of the names he brings up often is Rich Nye. The anger in which he talks about it still makes my brother and I laugh every time. The Cubs’ farm system ranking near the bottom has become another tradition not to be proud of.
For example, back in 2002, the team had four first-round draft picks. With a chance to load up for the future, they chose, in order: Bobby Brownlie (21), Luke Hagerty (32), Chadd Blasko (36) and Matthew Clanton (38). I would have included their positions, where they came from, pet peeves, but it doesn’t matter, they never made it to the major leagues. That is a huge 0-for-4 in a draft where Matt Cain went 25th, David Wright 40th, Joey Votto 44th, Brian McCann 64th and Curtis Granderson 80th. Granderson, by the way, is from Chicago and played his college ball at the University of Chicago. That is just some terrible scouting. That is also just one example, I could go on all day with the incompetence.
That is changing, however. The last two drafts are looking wildly successful to this point (more on that later). The Cubs are looking like a lock for selecting second in the 2013 draft, and while most are projecting 2013 to be weaker compared to recent drafts, there is plenty to like at the top. Here are five players on my wish list as of now:
Ryne Stanek, RHP, Arkansas: It’s no secret that the Cubs lack pitching – on any level. As good as their recent drafts have been, position players make up the bulk of the talent. Stanek is a guy who has four above-average pitches, including a fastball that touches 97 mph, a low 80s curveball and a mid 80s change-up with good deception. The 6’-4” right-hander went 7-4 with a 2.91 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and 80 K/33 BB over 86.2 innings as a sophomore last season and will be the Friday night starter for the Razorbacks this year. He projects to a front-line starter with still room for improvement. He also could be a quick riser to the show being 21 years of age.
Austin Meadows, OF, Grayson HS, (GA): The Braves always have one of the best farm systems in baseball, and because of that, always seem to field a contender. A big reason is they just snag players from their own backyard. Georgia is a hotbed for talent, and this year is no different as two of the best prep players in the country hail from the Peach State. Meadows is a 6’-4”, 200-pound left-hander with all five tools. He has played on the highest stages, including the 2011 U16 Team USA squad that won the gold medal in Mexico. All he did was knock in 28 runs over eight games, setting a Team USA record. He also hit .537 (22-for-41) with nine extra-base hits and six stolen bases.
Jeremy Martinez, C, Mater Dei HS, (CA): Martinez is as polished as they come when talking about high school players. His defense will allow him to stick at a premium position, and his offense should make him a middle-of-the-order run producer. The 5’-11”, 200-pound right-hander is an intelligent ballplayer who has also played on the highest of stages. He won a gold medal with the U18 team last year, and is currently in Seoul, South Korea, helping lead this year’s U18 team to another by hitting .400 (10-for-25) over the team’s first seven games with seven RBI and a .500 OBP.
Clint Frazier, OF, Loganville HS (GA): The “other” player from Georgia, Frazier has been rocketing up draft boards in the early going thanks to his blistering bat speed and ability to mash the ball to all fields. He hit .424 as a junior with 24 home runs and 14 stolen bases over 118 plate appearances. Oh, and he also runs a 6.4/60.
Mark Appel, RHP, Stanford: He turned down the Pirates to return to school after being selected eighth overall in the 2012 draft. As a junior, he went 10-2 with a 2.56 ERA and 130 K/30 BB over 123 innings, averaging 7.7 innings per start. The 6’-5″ right-hander has a mid-90s fastball, a swing-and-miss slider, a change-up with late fade and will also mix in a cutter. He has the size, repertoire and mound presence to be an ace of a staff.
8. The team’s payroll is next to nothing
As of right now, the team payroll for 2013 is roughly $41.8MM. That, of course, doesn’t factor in arbitration-eligible players like Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija, Ian Stewart and Chris Volstad. Samardzija is the only one I assume will be offered anything as Stewart was a no-show this year, Volstad is sporting a 6.23 ERA and Theo was desperately trying to trade Garza for the better part of the season. They will add to that total as they will have to fill holes to replace the forgotten, but it remains to be seen what kind of players the organization goes after.
7. There are some big names on the market if the team decides to splurge
Josh Hamilton will be a free agent at the end of this season. So will David Wright, B.J. Upton and Zack Greinke. All four of those guys will command big time money, but all four also produce big time. Alright, so maybe Upton isn’t a big-time player along the lines of the other guys, but he is still just 28 and entering his prime. He also must be realizing that he is in a contract year as he has nine doubles, nine home runs, 25 RBI and eight stolen bases over his last 33 games. Hamilton will be the prize and will likely command the most money, but at age 31, and a track record of being injury prone, he might not be worth a long-term contract. The Cubs are still about two to three years away from being any kind of contenders, assuming the prospects pan out, so next year might still be too early to be a major player on the free-agent market. Wright is an interesting option, however, as he is still just 29 and one of the best third basemen in the game. Over his nine-year career, he has a .302 batting average and a .382 OBP. He hits for average, hits home runs, knocks in runs, gets on base and seems like a nice guy. Greinke is 28 years old and one of the best strikeout/control pitchers in the game. Over his nine-year career, he is sporting a 3.81 ERA, 1.25 WHIP while averaging eight strikeouts and just 2.3 walks per nine innings. He is probably a nice guy, too. If Theo can convince either of those two guys, or both, to come to Chicago, I say go for it. Other than that, the market is thin on names.
Some players can hit a baseball very far. Daniel Vogelbach can hit a baseball farther than far. Like at the 2010 Perfect Game Power Showcase when he launched one 508 feet at Chase Field to set a record and win the event. Or last week, when he hit one completely out of the park and off a truck in the parking lot. The 6’-1”, 250-pound left-hander has stop-and-watch power. Even if you aren’t watching, the sound that resonates from his bat upon contact will draw your eyes away from whatever you are watching and into the night sky to track the ball’s whereabouts. Over 61 games this season, the 19-year-old hit .322 with 21 doubles, 17 home runs, 62 RBI and a slash line of .410/.641/1.051. His 35 walks to 48 strikeouts show the advanced approach at the plate he has. This isn’t your typical, run-of-the-mill big guy with power. He has a very high understanding of the strike zone and shows a patience at the plate Cubs fans aren’t used to.
5. Jorge Soler
Like Vogelbach, this kid has some tremendous power. The 21-year-old Cuban defector, whom the Cubs signed back in June for $30MM over nine years, was extremely impressive in his first taste of pro ball in the states. He hit .299 over 34 games with five home runs, 25 RBI, 12 stolen bases and an .832 OPS. He got better as the competition did, hitting .338 over 20 games at class-A Peoria with three home runs, 15 RBI and just six strikeouts. The 6’-3”, 205-pound right-hander has a right-field arm, a right-field bat, and the best part is, the Cubs have him locked up for a long time.
4. Rizzo and Samardzija can actually play
When was the last time a Cubs player was kept in a fantasy keeper league? Starlin Castro, maybe? Other than that, you might have to go back to Sammy Sosa, or Alfonso Soriano when he still had some speed. Not that anyone is going to hold on to Anthony Rizzo or Samardzija in their keeper leagues, but the Cubs certainly are. Rizzo proved this year that he is not just a quad-A player and can hang with the big boys, hitting .298 over 64 games with 12 home runs, 33 RBI and an .826 OPS to date. Samardzija, after four up-and-down years as both a starter and reliever, has been one of the few bright spots this season on the mound for the Cubs posting a 3.91 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 171 K/55 BB over 165.2 innings.
The Cubs have Rizzo under their control for another four years until he can file for free agency. Castro is locked up until 2019 with an option for 2020. Samardzija, as mentioned earlier, is arbitration-eligible after this year and most likely will get a contract extension. The core is small, but talented.
3. Javier Baez
Another player with huge offensive potential, Baez was the team’s first-round pick in 2011 out of Arlington Country Day HS in Florida after putting up some pretty silly numbers his senior season. Over 31 games, he hit .771 (64-for-83) with 20 2B, 6 3B, 22 HR, 52 RBI, 28 SB and had a slash line of .835/1.952/2.787. He also drew 32 walks to just three strikeouts. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t hit .771 in my back yard off a tee with no one in the field. The 6’-1”, 205-pound right-hander made quite an impression during his first full year of pro ball this season, hitting .294 over 80 games with 13 2B, 6 3B, 16 HR, 46 RBI, 24 SB and a slash line of .346/.543/.888. The 19-year-old is an extremely aggressive hitter with great bat speed, which allows him to drive the ball out to all fields. He also showed he can handle his current position, shortstop, well enough to remain there at the next level.
2. Kane County
The organization recently announced it will move its class-A affiliate from Peoria, Illinois, to Kane County, Illinois, starting next season. This means, instead of watching another terrible major league team, fans can drive about 40 miles to watch some of the team’s best prospects play. Also, the field is in pretty good shape, so fans won’t have to worry that a ton of cement held up by chicken wire will crash down on their skulls and ruin their bag of Vitner’s chips at any given second.
This is a genius move by the organization as fans can now get familiar with the future of the team and injured players can take a quick drive for rehab assignments instead of dealing with airplanes and long trips.
Fifth Third Bank Ballpark is located in the Philip B. Elfstrom Events Center, just south of the intersection of Roosevelt Rd. (Rt. 38) and Kirk Rd. on the East side of Geneva. The stadium was built in 1991 and holds 7,400 people. Tickets are usually about $10-$14 a piece.
Quick, who was the last homegrown player, or any player for that matter, that was a perennial All-Star and considered one of the top players in the game as a Cub? Sosa? Well, that didn’t end well. Other than that, you have to go back almost 30 years to Ryne Sandberg – yes, it’s been that long. That is going to change very soon, I promise.
The team’s first-round pick this year, Almora plays the game with a maturity unseen in players his age. He does everything well, including defense in the outfield that often drops the jaws of his fellow teammates. He has that Derek Jeter, Chipper Jones, Ken Griffey Jr. way about him in that he plays the game right, is a leader both on and off the field and has ridiculous talent.
He was a six-time member of Team USA baseball and was usually the best player on the field. This year, his first season as a pro, he hit .321 over 33 games with 12 doubles, two home runs, 19 RBI and five stolen bases. He only struck out 13 times, showing a great understanding of the strike zone. He got a promotion to short-season Boise just 18 games into his career and is currently helping the Hawks try and win the Northwest League title by hitting .417 (5-for-12) over three playoff games with a double, triple, two RBI and two stolen bases. Fans will be able to catch Almora at Kane County next season, but probably only for a little while as he seems destined to move through the system quickly and take over the center field spot in Wrigley for the foreseeable future.
Epstein has shown, in just one year as President of Operations, he is committed to his plan. Unlike years past, he isn’t simply going to do patchwork and hope for the best. He is trying to lay the groundwork from the bottom up to make the Cubs a contender year after year by stockpiling talent in the minors, moving them along with proper development and then mixing in the right veteran free agents to make the chemistry work. Let’s just hope for all of our miserable fathers’ sakes, it happens soon.