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christian villanueva smokiesI won’t pretend like I know a ton about the inner workings of the Bears’ management and ownership situation. But, after the GM and coach were fired yesterday – but the rest of management seemed undisturbed – there was a great deal of dissatisfaction among folks whose opinions I trust on this kind of thing. From the sound of things, there isn’t a lot of trust that ownership understands how to best put in place the right kind of people to run the organization, which is probably ownership’s most important job, right there with providing necessary financial resources. You have to know what you don’t know, and know how to find the right guys to do that job. Reading the reactions yesterday, I was reminded that the Ricketts Family probably doesn’t get enough credit for coming into a new situation with the Cubs, then taking a little time to get their bearings (rather than doing anything rash), then targeting the right front office personnel for the baseball side … and then leaving hands off.

  • Among the Cubs’ forgotten prospects, Christian Villanueva almost never gets discussed in the future infield mix, despite his breakout in 2013, his placement on the 40-man roster, and his glove at third base (regarded by many as the best in the Cubs’ system and possibly the best in all of the minors). He struggled in 2014 as he was promoted to AAA, eventually being sent back to AA. With the emergence of many other prospects, coupled with those struggles, it wasn’t hard to see why Villanueva fell off the radar a bit. It’s fair.
  • But he’s still a prospect. This offseason, Villanueva’s playing in Mexico, where he’s pretty much killing it. Although the line may not impress you (.241/.320/.441), you have to consider that it’s clearly being deflated by a super low BABIP (my quick, back-of-the-napkin has it at about .233), because his peripherals all look fantastic – he’s walked (19) nearly as many times as he’s struck out (27), and both are at excellent rates (around 10% for the walk rate, around 14% for the strikeout rate). He’s got 10 homers in just 170 at bats. Villanueva has also played a little outfield in the league, increasing his versatility. Odds are he’ll start the year at AAA Iowa, and might be playing a little bit in a variety of positions to see if he could emerge as a utility option for the Cubs down the road. He’s still just 23.
  • Obligatory: winter ball is just winter ball, and Villanueva had a great year in Mexico last year, too. Tomorrow, it’ll be one year to the day from that post. Must be something about New Year’s Eve that gets me thinking about Christian Villanueva.
  • Scott Lindholm at Beyond the Box Score takes a deep look at the Cubs’ transition to, in theory, a heavy pitch-framing team. It’s a great read, and demonstrates that the Cubs could pick up something like 200 additional strikes next year (which, if you buy the translations, could be something like three additional wins). Note that the improvement could actually be even more, given that only Welington Castillo was considered, and last year’s back-up John Baker, was basically a neutral framer (as opposed to next year’s presumptive back-up, David Ross – in other words, the Cubs should be getting “extra” strikes in games formerly started by Castillo and games formerly started by Baker).
  • I love following Vine Line’s countdown of the top Cubs moments from the 2014 season, and number three puts a big smile on my face (it was Jake Arrieta’s near no-hitter at Fenway Park, and the ovation he received from the fans there). I’m trying to figure out the top two without doing any kind of looking back, and I’m not sure. Jorge Soler’s debut homer could be one of them.
  • An interview with Chicago Tribune Cubs beat writer Mark Gonzales on a variety of Cubs topics.
  • Jeff Sullivan looks at each NL team’s current projections, and opines on the reasons it could be too high or too low. For the Cubs, nothing should surprise you: with this much youth and upside, the Cubs could explode … or they could struggle like most young teams do, and the rotation is no guarantee to succeed.
  • Jason Motte talks about signing with the Cubs.
  • Want a crazy deep look at an individual Jon Lester game from 2014? Here you go.

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