While there were were plenty of reasons why I enjoyed my trip out to Arizona for Spring Training, the biggest one was getting to see Cubs players I haven’t yet seen in person.
For example, I watched Dan Vogelbach take batting practice, Ryan Williams throw a bullpen session, and John Andreoli make a fantastic play in right field. In fact, that’s my favorite part of Spring Training, all together.
Just one year after the players in that situation were Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell, the Cubs can still roll out prospects like Willson Contreras, Pierce Johnson and Albert Almora for Cubs fans to get excited about. And, of course, throughout the Spring we get a slew of new reports, articles and comments to share and discuss.
And look, here they are!
- First, take a look at this article by Jonathan Mayo at Cubs.com. Here, Mayo discusses the pitching prospects of the Cubs organization (lurking behind the position players) with Cubs VP of Scouting and Player Development Jason McLeod. Guys like Pierce Johnson and Ryan Williams, who will start the year out at AAA Iowa, are expected to have a big year, and McLeod is also looking for Duane Underwood – starting out at AA Tennessee – to continue using his velocity to breakout into 2016. Naming many other pitches – including Oscar De La Cruz, Dylan Cease, Paul Blackburn and Bryan Hudson (who gets special recognition from McLeod) – McLeod describes the Cubs’ “volume” approach to drafting and developing Major League pitchers.
- Also at MLB.com, Mayo discusses five questions with Cubs’ Albert Almora. Among the many interesting bits, you’ll come to learn why Almora is so talented in center field. Other than his physical gifts, he takes defense very seriously, more seriously than his offense, in fact. When he misjudges a ball, or misplays a dive, he’ll go immediately to the video room to see what went wrong. He comes across as a very dedicated, hard working individual – something the front office has said many times. [Brett: Note that Carrie Muskat reports Almora came off the field during drills today with some kind of back injury, but there aren’t any details right now. We’ll write it up in more detail if it turns out to be something serious. UPDATE: Back spasms, says Muskat. They vary in severity, but usually they are not a long-term thing. Hopefully it’s not an issue going forward.]
- I’ve repeated it time and again, but don’t be discouraged by the amount of time Almora has spent in the minors. For one, his defense in center field has been ready for quite some time, but for another, consider his age. Having not yet turned 22, Almora is just a few months older than Kris Bryant was when he was drafted. For more on Almora, his confidence and what the players and managers think of him, you should definitely read Tony Andracki’s article at CSN Chicago. My favorite quote from Almora, himself: “I’d definitely rather rob a homer than hit one, that’s just the way I am.”
- At the Chicago Tribune, you can take in some thoughts on Cubs catching prospect Willson Contreras from Miguel Montero, Tennessee hitting coach Desi Wilson, and Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio. CSN Chicago has a bit more on Contreras from Cubs skipper Joe Maddon (who describes Contreras as “really dripping with some potential”). The top catching prospect in all of baseball to some, Contreras comes in for some very heavy praise, and will start the season out at AAA Iowa. Both he and Almora could see time in the Majors in 2016.
- Here’s more on Contreras:
- In January 2014, Jose Zapata was one of five Cubs minor leagues to get injured in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Although he attempted to make a comeback that October, lingering injuries have forced the end of his playing career. However, that will not be the end of his baseball career. This Spring, Zapata is working as a coach for the Cubs – working primarily with younger pitchers. I wish the best of luck to Zapata and hope that this is the start of a long, prosperous coaching career.
- The Cubs, and Joe Maddon, are hoping that Arismendy Alcantara can get his offense back on track, given his positional flexibility, speed and defense. If he is able to turn his hitting around, he can be an extraordinarily useful player for Maddon and the Cubs – who highly value versatility.
- Cubs 2015 Minor League Pitcher of the Year Ryan Williams continues his Spring Training diary for ESPN, with an entry about his first big league inning last weekend. It was a one-two-three outing for Williams, who credits Almora on his defense in center field, Miguel Montero for his advice and Kyle Schwarber’s catching/game-calling behind the plate.