The Cubs Are a Pitcher Development Organization, Tucker Doesn't Have to Be Willy, Physical Transformations, and Other Cubs Bullets

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The Cubs Are a Pitcher Development Organization, Tucker Doesn’t Have to Be Willy, Physical Transformations, and Other Cubs Bullets

Chicago Cubs

Tax season. Ugh. I mean, I’m sure it’s worse for folks who actually do tax stuff for a living, but every year, in late February, I start figuring out all our tax stuff … and I hate it so very much. I should not have started my day off by trying to chip away. Seemed good in theory, but it just got me all grousy.

More fun to talk about baseball, though …

  • Tucker Barnhart understands that he’s filling the spot formerly occupied by Willson Contreras, but that doesn’t mean he’s trying to fill Contreras’s shoes: “I can’t say enough good things about Willson. I played against him for a long time and look forward to competing against him. I’m not Willson. I don’t want to be Willson. I have my own way of playing. I’m a defense-first guy. I love to play emotionally, but I’m going to play hard and try to help us win whichever way I possibly can.”
  • I actually think Barnhart (together with Yan Gomes) is set up pretty well to NOT have any Contreras-related expectations placed on him. Everyone knows why the Cubs moved on from Contreras, and it wasn’t because of his bat, which was great. Nobody is expecting Barnhart to even be a league-average bat, much less a contributor. Instead, what we all want to see is that Barnhart and Gomes play exceptional defense, help the pitchers between and during games, and maybe don’t become a TOTAL zero at the plate. Mostly, if the pitching staff is performing surprisingly well this year in any respect, it’s going to be hard not to give some of the credit to the catchers, even if there isn’t great data to “prove” it.

The way he looks this spring, with his velocity jumping back up to 96-mph and higher, he could turn out to be the free-agent pickup of the year for just $13 million.

“The Dodgers are the best at player development,’’ Syndergaard says, “and turn guys around. I know I have a lot left in the tank, and there’s a lot to unlock. Last year, I went out and competed (10-10, 3.94 ERA) by most standards, but it wasn’t up to my standard of performance. I want to dominate, not just get by. I want to thrive, not just survive.

“I feel completely different. Just being here, this aura, this vibe, this kind of swagger with the culture, it inspires all of us.’’

  • We’ll see if it actually plays out for the monstrous 30-year-old righty, who was some kinda fun to watch in his younger days, but simply hasn’t been the same since the onset of myriad injury issues, beginning in 2017. Syndergaard is not wrong, though, that if you are looking to finally come back and turn things around, there aren’t too many better orgs out there to help you do it than the Dodgers.
  • The hope is that the Cubs become seen as one of those same organizations in the years ahead, though I’d argue they’re already there for two groups of players: veteran relievers who either have never quite gotten over the hump or who are trying to bounce back; and fringy power bats with strikeout issues (that one is more about getting marginal big league contributions out of guys who otherwise seemed like Quad-A types, not so much getting star-level impact, mind you).
  • As for starting pitchers, the new-era Cubs certainly seemed to help guys last year like Justin Steele, Adrian Sampson, and Drew Smyly, the latter of whom was very eager to re-up with the Cubs after the season:
  • And Jameson Taillon talked about how the Cubs are seen as a strong development organization now, which factored into his interest in signing with them. So, combine that with the massive strides we’ve seen on the farm, and I think the Cubs are becoming more and more known as a high-quality pitcher development organization, for all roles and at all levels. That was obviously the goal of the last few years, including bringing Carter Hawkins over from Cleveland, and including the transition to run-prevention-first catchers like Yan Gomes and Tucker Barnhart. See? Brought that whole thing full-circle.
  • I will always reiterate that physical transformations in the offseason don’t always lead to improved performance on the field, but – all else equal – it’s generally better to be stronger, more fit, etc. So anyway, although Seiya Suzuki’s bulking up is getting the most “Best Shape of His Life” attention, I just wanted to point out that Christopher Morel looks exceptionally jacked. From the pictures and workout videos I’ve seen (hey, it’s my job … ), his physical improvement might actually be the most impressive on the team.
  • The Cubs’ long-time head doc has retired:
  • Guns and Roses are coming back to Wrigley Field:
  • Kinda fascinating how many parallels there are here over the full course of the franchises’ histories, even if it doesn’t feel that way year to year:
  • This is where I get my green stuff for St. Patrick’s Day:

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.