Prospect Russell rakes in Fall League victory

Shortstop knocks in three runs, including a two-run homer, helping Mesa earn win

Prospect Russell rakes in Fall League victory

SURPRISE, ARIZ. -- The 2014 season provided its fair share of hurdles for Addison Russell to overcome.

Not only did the No. 5 overall prospect, according to MLBpipeline.com, miss several weeks with a hamstring injury, but he also had to adjust to playing on multiple teams in multiple leagues.

More

Box score

Russell began the season in Class A Advanced Stockton, was promoted to Double-A Midland and then was involved in a blockbuster midseason trade from the Oakland Athletics to the Chicago Cubs and finished his season at Double-A Tennessee.

After a season filled with adjusting to new teams, it should be no surprise that the 20-year-old Russell is contributing to his newest team, the Mesa Solar Sox, whom he led to an 11-6 victory in the Arizona Fall League on Tuesday.

"It was kind of a crazy year and also I was out for nine weeks as well, so I'm trying to get those at-bats," Russell said.

Russell, the Cubs' No. 2 prospect and the 11th overall pick in the 2012 Draft, went 2-for-5 with three RBIs and a home run.

Russell did strike out three times in the game, but after a string of nine hitless at-bats over the past two games, the multi-hit effort was certainly welcomed.

"It felt good," Russell said. "I thought I saw the ball pretty well today. A lot of swings and misses, I definitely want to cut down on those, but overall I thought I saw the ball good today."

Russell's offensive production went a long way toward Mesa's fifth victory in its past six games, but he was hardly the only player to have a good day at the plate.

Mesa and Surprise combined for 17 runs on 27 hits -- six of which went for extra bases.

In addition to Russell, Mesa's Daniel Robertson (A's), Cal Towey (Angels), Boog Powell (A's) and Jacob Hannemann (Cubs) all had multi-hit games.

For Surprise, Deven Marrero (Red Sox), Patrick Kivlehan (Mariners) and D.J. Peterson (Mariners) turned in multi-hit efforts.

"It was awesome," Russell said. "It was a good effort on both sides, good baseball. It was an exciting game, we were going back and forth scoring runs. It was exciting."

In Tuesday's game Russell served as the designated hitter, but the shortstop has also used his time in the Fall League to work at second base.

While he has had limited reps at second base thus far, Russell reported no challenges in the transition.

"Everything's going good," Russell said. "I missed nine weeks so not only the AB's, I need to get some reps at short and possibly at second, so that's what I'm working on right now."

After a slow start to the Fall League, Russell entered play Tuesday hitting .161 in the first eight games, Tuesday's outbreak may be a sign that Russell is starting to get into rhythm and it's likely no coincidence that his Mesa team is doing just the same as they've now won five of their last six contests.

"We're just relaxing and having fun," Russell said. "We're seeing a lot more pitchers and more pitching so our eyes are getting adjusted a little bit and I think that's what's going on right now."

William Boor is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @wboor. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

Tip for making the bigs: Room with Giansanti

Cubs Minor League outfielder has seen seven former roommates called to the Majors

Tip for making the bigs: Room with Giansanti

CHICAGO -- Want to get to the big leagues? You need to room with Cubs prospect Anthony Giansanti.

Think we're kidding? Javier Baez, Eric Jokisch, Matt Szczur and Rafael Lopez all made their Major League debuts this season with the Cubs, and all are former Giansanti roomies. Logan Watkins, Mike Olt and the Marlins' Justin Bour also were in the big leagues, and also once shared living space with Giansanti.

More

On Sept. 18, the Minor League outfielder posted on Twitter: "Now I dont mean to brag, but I have seven ex-roomies in the show right now. Wanna make it to the big leagues? Live with me ... #GoodLuckCharm"

It's not Giansanti's home-cooked meals that help players get to the big leagues.

"He doesn't cook," Lopez said. "Does he even clean? No, he doesn't clean. He stays up all hours of the night. He's good for some quality laughs."

Giansanti, 26, isn't very demanding. He's willing to sleep on the sofa if necessary.

"He usually gets the couch," Lopez said. "So someone says, 'Hey G, we know you want to save some money -- do you want the couch?' He's the extra guy."

Giansanti also has had the prime sleeping space. In Rookie ball in 2010, two of his roommates were called up to short-season Boise, and for 12 days, he had the room to himself. One night, he returned to find someone sleeping in one of the beds.

"I opened the door and there's this shirtless monster laying in bed," Giansanti said. "It was Matt Szczur in football shape. I froze for a second, thinking I was in the wrong room, and thinking I was about to get killed."

Instead, Szczur, a football star at Villanova before committing to baseball, woke up and introduced himself.

Giansanti was selected in the 49th round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft by the Athletics, but he didn't sign. After another year at Siena College, he agreed to a deal with the Cubs as an undrafted free agent in '10. Baez was the Cubs' first-round pick in '11, and the two were paired together at Class A Peoria.

"We weren't just roommates, we were roommates -- we shared a bedroom," Giansanti said of Baez. "That's as close as you can get."

You'd think Baez would get the prime space, right?

"He had the big bed, and I had a bed on the ground," said Baez, who preferred a mattress on the floor because it was easier on his back.

In his first season with Peoria in 2010, Giansanti accidentally found another roommate in Jokisch.

"That was the best mistake ever," Giansanti said. "[Jokisch] said, 'Hey, I need someone to room with,' and I said, 'I need someone to room with.' We were the only two guys to stay for the whole year."

At least 15 other players passed through their apartment that season -- Giansanti said it may have been more -- but the two stayed. Every morning, Jokisch would play the same John Mayer song to wake Giansanti up.

When will it be Giansanti's turn in the big leagues? He has a career .260 Minor League average, 21 stolen bases, 18 home runs, 61 doubles, and he has played every position, including six appearances as a pitcher. The Cubs tried to convert him to catcher in 2012, but he only played two games there with Peoria.

"He was a very valuable player for us at Double-A," Tennessee hitting coach Desi Wilson said. "I don't look at his numbers, I look at the quality at-bats he had throughout the season, and the big at-bats and the defensive plays he made in the outfield. That stuff is valuable.

"I look at the intangibles. What does he bring to the team? We lost a lot of guys, guys got hurt, and we had Giansanti, who could play multiple positions and swing the bat as well."

Giansanti also has a perfect approach to the game.

"I turn everything into a positive vibration," Giansanti said. "I try to do that for all the guys. I don't let them get too down on themselves, I don't let them focus on things that are out of their control. I try to keep their eye on the prize. Baseball is fun -- have some fun."

If Giansanti can't get to the big leagues, he would consider acting, doing stunt work. He told Jokisch his dream job was to be the Phoenix Suns Gorilla mascot.

"I'm an extreme trampolinist and I have years and years of experience in stunt work and high falls," Giansanti said. "I like to think I'm pretty funny sometimes. [The Suns] were hiring, and my dad called me and said I'd be perfect at it. I decided to focus on my baseball career."

Giansanti can do impersonations, and he entertained the Minor League players and staff every day in Spring Training with his version of one of the Cubs coaches.

Watkins already has dibs on Giansanti to be his roomie in Spring Training 2015.

"He's the kind of person you like being around," Watkins said. "The game is hard and stressful, and when you have some personality like that around you every day, it makes it easier."

And that makes Giansanti a perfect roommate.

"You feel good, you play good -- maybe I just get guys feeling good and keep them loose and get their minds in the right direction and maybe it translates into their play. Who knows?" Giansanti said. "All I know is I like to treat everyone with respect and make sure they have a good laugh when I'm around."

By the way, guys, he has learned how to cook. He can cook Minute Rice in 58 seconds.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

Crews begin bleacher, infrastructure improvements

First phase of Wrigley renovations set for completion by Opening Day

Crews begin bleacher, infrastructure improvements

CHICAGO -- If you walk by Wrigley Field, you'll notice a large gap in the left-field wall. And soon there will be one in right field as well. Crews are taking down the left- and right-field bleachers as part of the four-year, $575 million Wrigley Field renovation project.

The first phase of the privately funded project, to be completed this offseason, is infrastructure work. The ballpark's structural steel and foundation will be strengthened and much of the concrete in the bleachers will be replaced. The first phase also includes the expansion and improvement of the bleachers, which were updated after the 2005 season.

More

The usable bricks from the outfield walls will be stored until construction of the new outer wall begins.

The changes are needed to support the new 3,990-square-foot video board in left field and the 2,225-square-foot video board in right field, which are set to be ready by Opening Day 2015.

Crews are also digging in the parking lot west of Wrigley Field, which will be part of the new home clubhouse. That will not be ready until the 2016 season.

Fans who purchased commemorative brick pavers that were installed outside the Clark and Addison street entrance should note that those pavers will be preserved.

The Cubs have established a website,  www.wrigleyfield.com, for fans to follow the renovation work, called the 1060 Project. That number is Wrigley Field's address.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

Cubs prospect Vogelbach heating up in Arizona

Mesa collects second straight win; Berti, Kieboom go deep in eighth

Cubs prospect Vogelbach heating up in Arizona

After winning just one game in the first week of the Arizona Fall League, Mesa broke out of its slump Wednesday with a victory at Peoria. The Solar Sox built on that success Thursday night, defeating the Javelinas, 6-2, for their second win in a row.

First baseman Dan Vogelbach, the Cubs' No. 10 prospect, has mirrored Mesa's season. He went 1-for-11 with three walks and seven strikeouts in his first four games of the AFL, before collecting two hits and his first RBI on Thursday.

More

Box score »

Vogelbach said he was pressing at the start of the AFL but was able to slow down and take better at-bats. He hit an RBI double in the fourth inning to open the scoring and added a single in the eighth. He finished the night 2-for-4 and scored two runs.

"Early on, I was trying to do too much and not swinging at good pitches," he said. "A combination of that and pitchers here being as good as they are, it's not going to work."

In Mesa's star-studded lineup Thursday, Vogelbach hit behind shortstop Addison Russell, the Cubs' No. 2 prospect. Russell went 1-for-4 and scored twice, perhaps giving the Cubs a glimpse of the future.

Vogelbach and Russell played together on a travel team in high school in Florida. Vogelbach said he is enjoying the opportunity to play with Russell again.

"He's fun to watch and it's even better when you're on his team," Vogelbach said. "He has the 'it' factor that they talk about. He takes good at-bats all the time. When he hits the ball, it's loud. I'm not a pitcher, but think I can speak for them that he's a guy you want at shortstop or second base."

Right-hander Ivan Pineyro threw three scoreless innings to start the game for Mesa and left-hander Chris O'Grady and right-hander Zach Cates kept Peoria off the scoreboard through seven innings. The Javelinas threatened a few times but couldn't come up with a clutch hit to break through.

Vogelbach said the Solar Sox pitching staff showed its moxie.

"When the pitchers get into jams and are able to get out, it shows the competitors in them," he said. "Those are the pitchers you want on your side."

Peoria cut Mesa's lead to 2-1 with a run in the eighth and had the chance to do more damage with runners on second and third, but Mark Sappington got Patrick Leonard to ground out to end the threat. In the bottom of the inning, the Solar Sox scored four runs on home runs from Jon Berti and Spencer Kieboom to put the game away.

The Javelinas' offense was led by right fielder Edward Salcedo and second baseman Jacob Wilson, who both went 3-for-4 with a double.

Peoria's comeback attempt was too late, however, as Mesa's offense found its stroke.

Vogelbach also started slowly during the regular season at Class A Advanced Daytona before turning his season around and helping the Cubs advance to the Florida State League championship series for the second year in a row.

"I didn't start off the way I wanted to," Vogelbach said. "I think I matured as a person and that helped me deal with failure. It taught me how to keep fighting and how to take it day by day, pitch by pitch."

Vogelbach hit .268/.357/.429 with 16 home runs in 132 games with Daytona this year. He said he hopes to build on his second-half success this fall.

"To continue to become better at first base and continue to grow as a person on and off the field," Vogelbach said. "Take what the pitcher gives me and not try to do more in one at-bat than I'm capable of."

Teddy Cahill is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @tedcahill. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

Highly touted Russell makes appearance at second in AFL

Cubs want shortstop, No. 2 prospect to be versatile

Highly touted Russell makes appearance at second in AFL

MESA, Ariz. -- The scouts noticed, as did the 400-plus fans at Scottsdale Stadium and any diligent Cubs aficionados who checked the box score. Highly regarded shortstop Addison Russell started at second base this week.

Russell moved to the other side of the infield for the Mesa Solar Sox on Monday in Arizona Fall League play, and he caught two popups and handled three groundouts. No errors, no hoopla. The 20-year-old infielder also had a hit in that game, one of three he's recorded so far in 15 at-bats over four AFL games.

More

Being able to switch positions is part of the Cubs' big plan for Russell, who is playing in the AFL for the second straight year.

"It's something I don't mind, it's something I'm really interested in learning," Russell said last week. "I'll be able to put that on my resume. It'll be better for me in the long run -- I'll be more versatile and have more experience on both sides of second base."

Versatility is something the Cubs plan on emphasizing with their young players. They have an overload of talented shortstops on the depth chart in Starlin Castro, Javier Baez and Russell, but the front office has repeated that it's a good problem to have. Baez started at second base when he was promoted to the big leagues, but he moved to short when Castro was injured. Next year, Baez is projected as the Cubs' Opening Day second baseman.

Acquired from the Athletics in the July 4 trade that sent Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland, Russell had only played shortstop in the Minor Leagues, starting there for 217 of his total 221 games. He was the designated hitter in the other four games.

"I've always played short, ever since I was little," Russell said. "I think it comes natural to me. I like to stick to what I know and get better at that."

But he also isn't opposed to moving around.

"I want to be a sponge and soak up everything and try to learn everything," Russell said.

Ranked No. 2 on MLB.com's list of the Cubs' Top 20 prospects behind Kris Bryant, Russell isn't afraid of hard work. At Pace High School in Pensacola, Fla., he weighed 225 pounds his junior season, and he was playing short and third base.

"I was talking to my dad, and he said losing the weight would benefit me in the long run," Russell said. "He was right."

After an offseason of running, diet and some adjustments to his weight training program, Russell dropped to 195 pounds. The Athletics tabbed him in the first round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft.

Russell admits he'll have to stick to his training program as he gets older.

"I really don't think I'm going to get any taller," said Russell, who is 6-feet tall. "My shoulders will get broader and then I'll get heavier. [My weight] is something I have to be cautious about -- and be cautious of my workouts and make sure I get my work in.

"I thought I had more athletic ability to be at third and at short as well. Once I was that big, people moved me over to third, and I really didn't like that. So I took it upon myself to lose that weight."

This is Russell's second stint in the AFL, and even though he's still learning his way around the Cubs' complex here, he's at ease because he's reunited with some of his Oakland teammates who also play for the Solar Sox.

"I've been with those guys ever since we were drafted," Russell said. "I see how they play the game and go about the game. We like to compete with each other and have that friendly competition. It's something that pushes us harder and makes us better."

Russell has connected with the Cubs' AFL contingent that includes Dan Vogelbach, Bijan Rademacher, Jacob Hannemann and C.J. Edwards, among others. The Cubs wanted Russell to play in the AFL again after missing time this season because of a right hamstring injury. In 68 games, mainly at the Double-A level, he batted .295 with 13 home runs and 14 doubles.

"That's the main reason I'm here [to make up for missed games], and also to face some of the best arms in the Minor Leagues and play with some of the best guys in the Minor Leagues," Russell said. "It's an absolute honor for me."

And he's also in the AFL to learn second base.

"I always like to have little challenges for me throughout the day," Russell said. "I like how the A's challenged me, and how the Cubs are challenging me as well. I'm a competitive person, that's my nature."

However, if he had his say, Russell would be a fixture at shortstop.

"I'd love to stay at short," Russell said. "I think I could play a lot of years there. I think I have good athletic ability, a strong arm, a good mentality at that position. I'd love to stay there."

Just check the box scores to see where Russell plays next.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

Ceremony begins Wrigley restoration, expansion

Ceremony begins Wrigley restoration, expansion

CHICAGO -- The Cubs hosted Commissioner Bud Selig, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and 350 distinguished guests on Saturday for the official groundbreaking ceremony of the renovations to 100-year-old Wrigley Field.

Selig, whose tenure began in 1992 and will end on January 25, called Wrigley one of the game's great cathedrals. He also praised the Cubs for their efforts to restore the century-old stadium.

More

"When you think of a baseball park that embodies its city, its communities and its fans, there is simply no more powerful example in baseball than that of Wrigley Field," Selig said.

"Make no mistake, the new ballparks around the country are wonderful. They're integral parts of their communities, and they're building traditions of their own. Most ballparks are aspiring to attain what Wrigley has achieved for decades upon decades."

Selig also recalled his first trip to Wrigley in May 1944 -- just prior to his 10th birthday -- during the roughly one-hour ceremony.

"Wrigley Field took hold of a special place in my heart right then and there," said Selig. "And frankly, it has held that spot for the past 70 years." Project 1060, named in recognition of Wrigley's address on Addison St., is a four-year, $575 million refurbishing of baseball's second oldest ballpark (behind Boston's Fenway Park) -- and its largest makeover since adding lights in 1988.

The project includes a vast structural overhaul, beginning this offseason with an expansion of the main concourse and Budweiser Bleachers to accommodate new outfield signs -- including a 3,990 square-foot video board in left field.

The subsequent three phases -- one scheduled each offseason until Opening Day 2018 -- will revamp concessions, restrooms, seats, luxury suites, retail and entertainment space, the press box and player facilities.

The bullpens will be moved under the bleachers from the base lines, and batting tunnels will be added to the clubhouses -- which will also be expanded. The Cubs will have the second-largest clubhouse in baseball (behind the Yankees) when work is completed by Opening Day 2016, according to Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts.

Fans can follow the renovations at wrigleyfield.com, which was revamped this weekend to coincide with Saturday's ceremony.

"In terms of what this means for winning, I mean you guys know the clubhouse well, the weight room, the training room -- all of that is just embarrassing," Ricketts said after the ceremony. "We're going to have other facilities that other teams give to their players. Hopefully, that will translate to better performance on the field."

Separately, the Ricketts family plans to construct a hotel, a fitness club, an open-air plaza and retail space adjacent to the ballpark as part of an effort to be "good neighbors" to the Lakeview community. Ricketts noted an ice rink, farmers market and free concerts are also on the agenda.

"We're going to try to make it something that is more of a town square for the North Side, so that people can come here on any day and get a valuable experience," Ricketts said.

The entire project is expected to create more than 2,000 jobs and generate more than a billion dollars in revenue for the local economy over the next 30 years, the Cubs said. A labor agreement with the Chicago and Cook County Building & Construction Trades Council will relegate these jobs to local residents, with 15 percent of the total billed man hours to be filled by qualified economically disadvantaged and/or dislocated workers, according to a Cubs statement.

The Ricketts family is privately financing the project, which Selig and Emanuel both praised as incredibly rare in today's sports marketplace.

The Wrigley renovations begin amid a pending lawsuit by the rooftops owners against the City of Chicago, claiming a legally protected interest in the views of Wrigley Field, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Ricketts was brief and blunt when asked about the matter, saying: "I'm extremely confident on all the legal hurdles."

The Cubs also face an aggressive schedule that will battle rigorous Chicago winters.

"Obviously, the building season that we have is not ideal," Ricketts said. "Hopefully, there [won't] be any complications ... over the course of the winter. But it's a tight timeline. There's going to be some stressful winters for our guys."

The Cubs are working closely throughout the renovations with the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, which had four representatives on hand for Saturday's ceremony. Wrigley Field was designated a landmark in 2004.

The construction companies hired for the 1060 Project include Pepper Construction, which worked on large-scale Chicago projects such as the Merchandise Mart and Shedd Aquarium; and D'Agostino Izzo Quirk Architects, which helped restore Fenway Park, Dodger Stadium and the Rose Bowl.

Preliminary renovations began on Aug. 27, when City of Chicago crews relocated underground water, sewer and gas lines. A day after the Cubs' final 2014 home game, Sheffield and Waveland Avenues were closed to vehicle traffic. The Ernie Banks and Harry Caray statues, which were located in the construction zones, were removed on Oct. 1.

Daniel Kramer is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

Theo says Cubs' goal is to win division in '15

State of the club is discussed at presentation with season-ticket holders

Theo says Cubs' goal is to win division in '15

CHICAGO -- During end-of-the-season reviews with players, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein noticed there was a different tone. Nearly every player was excited about the 2015 season, and eager to get started.

Maybe that's because the Cubs are at a transition point in their rebuilding process, Epstein said. Now, with the influx of talented young players, they're ready to compete.

More

"Our goal in 2015 is to win the National League Central," said Epstein, who was greeted by applause from the packed Oriental Theater on Friday. "It felt good to say that."

Epstein discussed the 2014 season and looked ahead during a presentation with the Cubs' season-ticket holders, who got an update on both the baseball team and business operations.

Crane Kenney, president of business operations, said the team is in "extra innings," in terms of its television contract negotiations -- adding that a number of potential partnerships have emerged. The Cubs' agreement with WGN-TV concluded at the completion of the 2014 season, which ended a relationship dating to 1948. The move now allows the team to get its broadcast and cable rights in sync. The Cubs have a contract with Comcast SportsNet Chicago that runs through 2019.

A television deal is a significant revenue source. The Dodgers, for example, launched their own cable network this year, and are set to earn $8.35 billion over 25 years.

"We know what's at stake here, and we're not going to short-arm negotiations," Kenney said.

The $575 million Wrigley Field renovations are underway, with the official groundbreaking scheduled for Saturday. The first phase involves the bleachers and extending the outer walls of the ballpark to the curb of the current sidewalk along Waveland and Sheffield avenues. This will create 300 additional seats in left field, 300 in right, and 300 standing-room seats in the bleacher deck.

Kenney said the changes will allow the team to install a 4,000-square-foot video scoreboard in left and a 2,400-square-foot video scoreboard in right field, as well as five other advertising signs.

"We're not planning any 'Kiss Cams' or wild dance contests," Kenney said of the video scoreboards -- which will show real-time statistics, replays and historical highlights in response to fan surveys.

During a question-and-answer session, queries ranged from a young fan asking about whether Clark the mascot will get a female friend named "Addison" next year (Answer: No) to how Epstein decides the 40-man roster (Epstein: "We have to make some tough decisions"). A fan wondered if the Cubs could buy all of the buildings around Wrigley Field to eliminate any conflicts with rooftop owners, and Kenney said it's not feasible. Rooftop owners make $25 million a year from their businesses and "they don't pay for the talent," he said.

The only boos from the crowd came whenever pitcher Edwin Jackson's name was mentioned, and Epstein admitted it was "tough to watch" the right-hander struggle for a second consecutive season. Jackson will "have to make dramatic improvements to have a role on the team" next year according to Epstein, and knows that.

Another fan was upset by the way the Cubs' players wear their uniforms, and said they need to show more socks. Epstein pointed out the players do wear jackets on the road.

Back to baseball. The Cubs' farm system is deep with position players -- including Kris Bryant, the 2014 Minor League Player of the Year, whom Epstein said is in a position "to impact our 2015 season." Epstein said they have done "five to six years of work in three seasons" in restocking the farm system through the First-Year Player Draft, international signings and trades. He cautioned that the young talent still needs time to develop and there will be hiccups. But the players have taken a big step.

"I think it's clear we have enough talent to compete," Epstein said. "Do we have enough talent to win? That's the beauty of baseball. You don't know until you try. This is the first time we've had enough talent to compete. I believe when you're competing, you have to set your sights high."

The Cubs do plan to add impact starting pitching over the next 15 months, Epstein said, which means it could be this offseason, at the 2015 Trade Deadline or after next season. Is he wary watching top talent like Jon Lester and Max Scherzer, both free agents, who did not fare well in the postseason?

"This time of year is dangerous, because we always take the small sample size events and create majestic narratives about what it means to build a winning team and a landscape, in general," Epstein said. "We're not going to go out and lead the league in stolen bases next year because of the Royals. ... We know that buying top-of-the-rotation starters in free agency, those haven't been the signings that bring the best return in investment."

Meeting with reporters after the fan session, Epstein joked they can go ahead and write columns criticizing the Cubs for missing out on some big-name free agents this offseason.

"To be the organization that we want to be -- to be a world-class organization -- you can't be afraid of perception," said Epstein. "You have to put yourself out there and look stupid at times. We're going to miss on players by not signing them, we're going to sign players who don't work out. But we're also going to sign players who make a real impact and win those extra three, four games for us and put us in the postseason and put us in the World Series."

• Epstein said he was happy with the way the coaching staff worked out following the hiring of John Mallee as hitting coach and former Cub Doug Dascenzo as first-base/outfield coach. The Cubs hired Mallee in 2013 to be the Minor League hitting coordinator, but he quit four days later to join Bo Porter's Major League staff with the Astros.

Manager Rick Renteria knows Dascenzo well, and they have the same baserunning philosophy, Epstein said.

"[Dascenzo is] a worker and not afraid of teaching big league players -- and not afraid of saying what needs to be said," Epstein said. "To our benefit, he's a guy who is sought after and I think he's a nice add for us."

Eric Hinske moves from first-base/outfield coach to assistant hitting coach.

"I think he's in a more appropriate role," Epstein said. "He's really a hitter at heart, and loves to teach hitting and loves to talk about approach and connect with hitters. He had to learn the outfield stuff and learn the baserunning stuff, and it's hard to teach it while you learn it."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

Cubs' prospect Edwards solid in Fall League action

Mesa gets back on track in Fall League action behind long ball, solid mound effort

Cubs' prospect Edwards solid in Fall League action

SURPRISE -- After dropping each of their past two Arizona Fall League games, the Mesa Solar Sox are back in the win column following a 5-2 victory over the Peoria Javelinas on Wednesday.

The Solar Sox, who have won both matchups against the Javelinas this season, powered their way to victory with four extra-base hits.

More

Mesa center fielder Boog Powell, the No. 20 prospect in the Oakland Athletics system according to MLBpipeline.com, highlighted the offense with a three-run homer in the top of the seventh off Brandon Cunniff.

"It was a 2-2 count and I was just trying to go the other way," Powell said. "He was throwing pretty hard. I got a fastball up and in, extended my hands and it worked well for me."

Powell was selected in the 20th round of the 2012 Draft and hit .343 in 83 games between Class A Beloit and Class A Advanced Stockton.

During the 2014 season, Powell also had an on-base percentage of .451, so it's no surprise to see him atop the Mesa lineup and getting on base. Powell is hitting .353 with a .421 OBP through five games in the AFL.

The homer was Powell's second in three days, which was a bit of a shock as Powell hit just three homers all season.

"It's amazing," Powell said. "I'm not trying to hit home runs. I never try to hit home runs. I just try to get on-base for the 2-3-4 guys and I've just ran into both of them."

Powell's homer provided the Solar Sox with three crucial runs, but Angels prospect Cal Towey and Cubs prospect Addison Russell also contributed with back-to-back RBI doubles in the second.

While the Solar Sox were hitting for extra bases, Cubs pitching prospect C.J. Edwards was shutting down the Javelinas -- who have now lost four straight, although their game on Monday was suspended after 11 innings.

"It was pretty good," Edwards, the No. 53 prospect on MLBpipeline.com, said about his start. "I went in today just focused on throwing strikes, trying to get ahead and stay ahead."

Edwards allowed one hit in three shutout innings against a Peoria team that began the game without having scored in 19 consecutive innings.

Peoria ultimately scratched across a run in the fifth, ending their scoreless drought at 23 innings.

As in all AFL games this season, new pace of play rules are being monitored.

There was no pitch clock in Surprise on Wednesday, but the other time-saving rules were in place and the game was officially completed in two hours and 36 minutes.

While the pace of play has impacted some, Edwards has been unfazed.

"I'm always working fast," Edwards said. "I try to get in, get out and get my team in to hit. I try to keep my defense on their toes, not on their heels.

William Boor is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @wboor. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

Chicago native Mallee realizes dream with Cubs

Hitting coach was instrumental in helping young Astros players improve

Chicago native Mallee realizes dream with Cubs

HOUSTON -- When John Mallee was a young hitting coach in Class A in 1996, he was driving past Wrigley Field in his native Chicago and told his father he would one day coach on that field while wearing a Cubs uniform. The dream has come true.

Mallee, who spent the previous two years as Houston's hitting coach and helped Jose Altuve win a batting title this year, accepted the position to be the Cubs' hitting coach Thursday, giving him the opportunity to live near his home. Mallee is a Chicago native and his family lives in nearby northern Indiana in the offseason.

More

"My dream was to stand there on that field, and I just called him now and told him," Mallee said of his father, John. "I said, 'We're going to live our dream.'"

Mallee could have returned to the Astros under new manager A.J. Hinch, but he couldn't pass up the chance to return close to where his wife and two sons, age 15 and 9, live year-round.

"To have them know that on an off-day I could have a normal family life and not be away is huge," he said. "I've been away from home the entire time I've been playing or coaching and had a part-time family for 20 years, and to be able to coach a team like the Cubs and see my wife and kids, I couldn't have asked for anything more."

This year, Mallee boosted the Astros offensively across the board, helping Altuve win the first batting title in club history. Under Mallee's guidance, Chris Carter blossomed into one of the most dangerous power threats in baseball in the second half.

"I'm very proud of the two years we worked and the time we put in with the players," Mallee said. "When I came in, we put in a new offensive program throughout the Minor Leagues and big leagues and got to know these players by watching them grow -- Altuve, Carter and George [Springer].

"Leaving the Houston Astros is the toughest decision I've ever had to make. Amazing owner, general manager, front office and beyond-talented players. I wish my Houston family the best of luck and their future successes and hope they can understand and respect that I had to make the best decision for my family."

Mallee actually spent three days as the Cubs' hitting coordinator before being hired by the Astros prior to the 2013 season. With the Astros, he worked with assistant hitting coach Ralph Dickenson and Minor League hitting coordinator Jeff Albert to revamp the club's hitting philosophy.

Mallee said he was buoyed by the information he'd receive regularly from the Astros analytics department, praising director of decision sciences Sig Mejdal, baseball development analyst Mike Fast and analytics developer Ryan Hallahan.

"They helped me develop my players and they're a big part of the success we had on the field," Mallee said.

Hinch, who was hired last week to replace Bo Porter, is in the process of interviewing candidates to become his bench coach, and he's said he'd like a former Major League manager. Pitching coach Brent Strom is returning for '15, and it's unclear if third-base coach Pat Listach or first-base coach Tarrik Brock will return.

When Mallee told Altuve during Spring Training he needed to improve his strike-zone discipline, the second baseman was skeptical at first.

"I had three years in the big leagues and had a little success, and why change at this point?" Altuve said last month. "But I changed it, and it's a big difference. I give [Mallee] credit. I hope to keep working with him for a long time."

Besides the hiring of Mallee, the Cubs announced Eric Hinske will switch to assistant hitting coach, and they have hired Doug Dascenzo as first-base and outfield coach. Hinske, a former Cubs Draft pick and 12-year Major Leaguer, joined the Cubs' staff last year as the first-base and outfield coach.

Dascenzo, 50, returns to the organization that drafted him in 1985 and for whom he played five seasons (1988-92). He served as the Braves' third-base coach last year, his first season as a big league coach.

The addition of Mallee should be smooth as far as teaching the "Cubs Way" in hitting. He is close friends with Minor League hitting coordinator Anthony Iapoce, and the two were together in the Marlins organization.

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

Here's the skinny: Edwards eager to learn, progress

Cubs prospect gaining innings in AFL with eye on jump to bigs in 2015

Here's the skinny: Edwards eager to learn, progress

MESA, Ariz. -- Let's get the weight issue out of the way: C.J. Edwards does not weigh 155 pounds. The skinny Cubs pitching prospect is now 170 pounds and a few ounces. He hasn't exactly bulked up, but the right-hander is working on it.

"If it comes, it comes," he says. "If it doesn't, it doesn't."

More

Edwards, who is tired of being told to eat and weary of talking about it, has been pretty effective without any extra pounds.

In three Minor League seasons, he has a composite 14-7 record and 1.86 ERA in 50 games (49 starts), striking out 294 over 237 innings. Acquired from the Rangers in the Matt Garza trade in July 2013, Edwards spent last season at Double-A Tennessee, but was limited to 10 starts because of shoulder issues.

He felt discomfort in his right shoulder in April and was immediately brought to Chicago to be examined. The good news: It was a minor strain and some fatigue, and he didn't need surgery.

After rehabbing for nearly four months at the Cubs' complex in Mesa, Edwards, 23, eventually rejoined Tennessee to finish the season, and he is trying to make up for lost innings in the Arizona Fall League. He was scheduled to make his first start Friday at Cubs Park when the Mesa Solar Sox play host to the Surprise Saguaros, and he was expected to go three innings.

"That's what I think is the main reason I'm here -- they always say each time, go out there and learn something," Edwards said after batting practice Wednesday. "It's a good place to throw and work on pitches and command and stuff."

Edwards is fifth on MLB.com's list of top 20 Cubs prospects, and is joined on the Solar Sox roster by second-ranked Addison Russell, 10th-ranked Dan Vogelbach, outfielders Bijan Rademacher, Jacob Hannemann, and pitchers Zach Cates, Gerardo Concepcion and Ivan Pineryo. Edwards is eager to see the talent in the AFL.

"I'm just excited to be here around this bunch of guys," Edwards said. "Not bashing the other guys who didn't make it, but it feels great to be here with guys who developed pretty much the same way I did. The talent level goes from good to great. Anybody could've been here. Out of everybody, they chose us. I'm excited to see those guys."

The Solar Sox are made up of players from the Cubs, Nationals, Angels, Athletics and Blue Jays. The affable Edwards was already looking forward to getting to know his new teammates, and possibly making friends for life.

He made the most of his rehab time in Arizona, talking to veteran pitchers James McDonald and Jonathan Sanchez, who also were in Cubs camp.

"[McDonald] talked to me about baseball [and said], 'Don't get there and try to change things. Do the same thing that got you there,'" Edwards said. "'Once you get there, if everything is still working that you did in the Minor Leagues, it'll work in the big leagues. The only difference is you'll have veteran hitters and you have to command more and throw more strikes and don't fall behind in counts.'"

Edwards wanted to know all the details about Sanchez's no-hitter with the Giants in July 2009 against the Padres.

"[Sanchez's] exact words were, 'When I threw my no-hitter, my slider was good, so I felt I could throw my slider at any time,'" Edwards said. "He told me to keep throwing and have confidence in all your pitches."

At first, Edwards needed time to feel confident to pitch again. He admits to being nervous when he first returned from the disabled list.

"I'd been down for four months, so I was trying to find everything and put it together," he said. "Once I found it, I felt good and felt all my pitches were there."

Edwards isn't lacking confidence. In January, he predicted he would be in the big leagues by 2015. That was before his setback with the shoulder injury.

"I have faith I can be there in 2015," Edwards said Wednesday. "I can be there, and I have faith I can be there in 2015, and I'm ready to be there.

"My biggest thing is to keep that faith," he said. "My mom said, 'Power in the tongue.' I'm going to keep talking like I'm going to be there in 2015. If I'm not, it's not bashing anybody. They're going to wait and see when I'm ready; it's not when I want to go there. I trust the guys upstairs [in the front office] 100 percent. I can't wait to get there, but it's not my call."

Hopefully, the media guides will update his weight and height by then. Everyone in his family is tall and slim, so his body type is normal, Edwards said.

"I let it go in one ear and out the other," he said of all the talk about his slender frame. "I know for a fact how much I weigh. I got on a scale this morning. I know I weigh 170.2 and I'm 6-foot-3."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

Cubs announce 2015 Spring Training schedule

Chicago's Cactus League slate to open with split-squad action vs. A's, Giants

MESA, Ariz. -- The Cubs will open Cactus League play on March 5 with split-squad games against the Athletics at Cubs Park and against the Giants in Scottsdale, beginning their second Spring Training at their new facility.

The club's 29-game Cactus League schedule includes 15 games at Cubs Park and 14 road games. The team may add additional games in the future.

More

The Cubs and White Sox will meet twice with a game March 20 in Glendale and another game March 27 in Mesa. The Cubs conclude Cactus League play on April 1 against the Brewers at Cubs Park.

Individual game tickets for Cubs home spring games will go on sale Jan. 10 at 11 a.m. CT at the Cubs Park ticket office, on www.cubs.com or by calling 1-800-THE-CUBS. For season-ticket and group-ticket information, go to www.cubs.com/mesa or call 1-800-THE-CUBS.

Date, Opponent, Site

March 5 (ss) vs. A's at Cubs Park; vs. Giants in Scottsdale

March 6 vs. Reds at Cubs Park

March 7 vs. Rockies in Scottsdale

March 8 vs. Rangers at Cubs Park

March 9 vs. Padres at Cubs Park

March 10 vs. Indians in Goodyear

March 11 vs. Dodgers at Cubs Park

March 12 vs. Angels in Tempe

March 13 vs. Indians at Cubs Park

March 14 vs. Brewers in Maryvale

March 15 vs. Reds at Cubs Park

March 16 vs. Padres in Peoria

March 17 vs. Royals at Cubs Park

March 18 vs. Dodgers in Glendale

March 19 vs. Diamondbacks in Scottsdale

March 20 vs. White Sox in Glendale

March 21 vs. Mariners at Cubs Park

March 22 vs. Padres at Cubs Park

March 23: Off day

March 24 vs. Athletics in Mesa

March 25 vs. Mariners in Peoria

March 26 vs. Angels at Cubs Park

March 27 vs. White Sox at Cubs Park

March 28 (ss) vs. Rockies at Cubs Park; vs. Reds in Goodyear

March 29 vs. Royals in Surprise

March 30 vs. Giants at Cubs Park

March 31 vs. Rangers in Surprise

April 1 vs. Brewers at Cubs Park

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

Cubs hitting coach Mueller steps down

Former batting champ helped Rizzo, Castro bounce back this year

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Cubs are looking for a hitting coach with Major League experience at that job to replace Bill Mueller, who has resigned after one year with the team.

Mueller, a former batting champion who helped Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro get back on track last season, kept the Cubs up to date on his intentions, and the team already has started its search for a replacement, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Tuesday.

More

"I want to thank Bill for all his hard work this year and contributions," Epstein said in Glendale, where he was watching an Arizona Fall League game. "I respect his decision and how he went about it. He gave us a heads up so we weren't caught by surprise and were able to plan for it a little bit.

"I have nothing but respect for [Mueller]," Epstein said. "That relationship is still good. He chose not to come back, and we respect that and appreciate his contributions and we're moving on."

Mueller told MLB.com that his departure was related to the team's decision to not retain assistant hitting coach Mike Brumley, who was also in his first season on the Cubs' coaching staff.

Because Mueller kept the Cubs posted, they already have asked for permission to interview a couple of candidates, Epstein said.

"We should be able to move pretty quickly," he said.

Epstein said the Cubs were not likely to promote one of their Minor League hitting coaches.

"I think we're going to end up with an experienced Major League coach, someone who has done the job as Major League hitting coach before," Epstein said. "We feel great about our hitting coaches in the organization but right now with [Anthony Iapoce] as the coordinator and the hitting coaches at each level, we like the setup that we have. For this opening, we'll look for someone who has done this job before and with young players."

Mueller, 43, joined new manager Rick Renteria's staff after spending 11 years in the Major Leagues from 1996-2006, winning the batting title in 2003 when he hit .326 for the Red Sox. He also was the Dodgers' interim hitting coach in the second half of 2007.

The Cubs finished the season 12th in the National League in runs (595) and average (.239) and ninth in OPS (.684), but both Rizzo and Castro bounced back under Mueller's guidance. Mueller had emphasized gaining a player's trust as being key.

"It's just us understanding the guy, knowing where he's at and then implementing the plan and improving and dissecting his weaknesses as well as his strengths and improving all those things," Mueller said earlier this season.

On Sept. 30, Epstein announced Brumley would not return, although there was the possibility that he could stay in the organization as a scout. That prompted questions as to whether Manny Ramirez would be considered as an assistant hitting coach after his brief stint at Triple-A Iowa as a player/coach.

"Manny has not decided to retire as of yet," Epstein said last week. "He did an outstanding job with the organization and we'll continue to stay in touch."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

Cubs claim lefty reliever Ortiz from Rangers

Cubs claim lefty reliever Ortiz from Rangers

MESA, Ariz. -- The Cubs continued to add pitching to the organization, claiming left-hander Joseph Ortiz off waivers from the Rangers on Monday. With the move, the Cubs' 40-man roster is now full.

Ortiz, 24, went 2-2 with a 4.23 ERA in 32 relief appearances for the Rangers in 2013 before being limited to 15 Minor League appearances last season because of a fractured left foot. He was injured when he was hit by a motorcycle while walking on the street in Venezuela.

More

He began 2014 on the 60-day disabled list and made two rehab appearances with the Rangers' Rookie League team in Arizona in July before joining Double-A Frisco, where he posted a 4.50 ERA in 13 relief outings.

A native of Venezuela, Ortiz originally signed with the Rangers as a non-drafted free agent on Aug. 28, 2006. In 217 relief appearances over eight Minor League seasons, he is 18-15 with 31 saves and a 2.44 ERA.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

Stars of tomorrow ready to shine as '14 AFL season begins

Stars of tomorrow ready to shine as '14 AFL season begins

Over its 23-year history, the Arizona Fall League has developed a reputation as a finishing school for baseball's top prospects. This year, once again, many of the game's best young players will gather in the desert, hoping to prove themselves in the same league that helped catapult Derek Jeter, Dustin Pedroia and Mike Trout to stardom.

When the AFL opens play Tuesday, the concentration of talent will again be readily apparent. Two of the three Opening Day games feature premium pitching matchups, and the third game is highlighted by two of the best shortstops in the Minor Leagues.

More

The action begins at 3:35 p.m. ET when Peoria and right-hander Kyle Zimmer, the Royals' No. 2 prospect, visits Surprise and right-hander Taijuan Walker, whose last start was a complete game for the Mariners in the midst of their pennant race.

At the same time Tuesday afternoon, Glendale and shortstop Corey Seager, the Dodgers' No. 1 prospect, will host Mesa and shortstop Addison Russell, the Cubs' No. 2 prospect. The day ends with another pitchers' duel, as right-hander Tyler Glasnow, the Pirates' No. 1 prospect, will take the mound for Scottsdale at 9:35 p.m. ET at Salt River, facing right-hander Archie Bradley, the D-backs' No. 1 prospect.

Games with that level of talent are commonplace in the AFL, where 23 players ranked on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list will play this season.

For the second year in a row, Byron Buxton, baseball's top ranked prospect, is among the top prospects playing in the desert this fall. Last year, the Twins' No. 1 prospect hit .212/.288/.404 in 12 games as a 19-year-old for Glendale. This year, he will be playing for Salt River as he tries to make up for lost time after missing most of the regular season due to injuries.

Buxton played in just 31 games during the regular season. A wrist injury he suffered during Spring Training delayed his start to the season and continued to hamper him throughout the first half with Class A Advanced Fort Myers. Then, in his first game after being promoted to Double-A New Britain in August, he suffered a concussion in a harrowing outfield collision and was sidelined for the final three weeks of the season.

Now healthy again, Buxton will be one of the most-watched players in the AFL. But his is far from the only storyline to watch over the next six weeks.

Making up for lost time
Like Buxton, several other players are headed to Arizona to make up for time they lost to injury during the regular season. Others who are taking advantage of the extra developmental time include outfielder Jesse Winker, the Reds' No. 2 prospect, and shortstop Tim Anderson, the White Sox's No. 2 prospect.

Many of the starting pitchers in the AFL are there because injuries prevented them from reaching their innings caps during the regular season. Bradley, Glasnow, Zimmer and Walker all spent part of this season on the disabled list, as did right-handers C.J. Edwards, the Cubs' No. 5 prospect, and Roberto Osuna, the Blue Jays' No. 5 prospect.

Recent Draft picks
Last year, just four months after he was selected second overall in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft, the Cubs sent third baseman Kris Bryant to the AFL. He hit .364/.457/.727 with six home runs in 20 games. He was named MVP and helped Mesa to the league championship game. That performance helped serve as a springboard for his historic '14 season, when he hit 43 home runs and reached Triple-A.

It is unlikely any player will be able to repeat Bryant's spectacular performance this season. But three members of the '14 Draft class will play in the AFL, led by shortstop Trea Turner, the Padres' No. 5 prospect. He was selected 13th overall in June and hit .323/.406/.448 with five home runs and 23 stolen bases in 69 games between short-season Eugene and Class A Fort Wayne.

In addition to the small group of '14 draftees, several members of the '13 Draft class will play in the AFL. Right-hander Mark Appel, the first overall pick last year, headlines the group. The Astros' No. 2 prospect had a rocky start to his first full professional season, but pitched much better after his promotion to Double-A Corpus Christi in July. He will try to build on that progress while pitching with Salt River this fall, where he joins Bradley and Buxton to form one of the most star-studded rosters in the league.

Pace of play
Major League Baseball announced last week a set of experimental rules designed to speed up the pace of play would be used in the AFL this year.

• A hitter must keep one foot inside the batter's box throughout his plate appearance, unless one of a few exceptions, such as a foul ball, occurs.

• Intentional walks will be called for by the manager and the batter will automatically take first base.

• There will be a maximum break of two minutes, five seconds between innings, with hitters required to be in the batter's box by the one-minute, 45-second mark. If either team doesn't comply, a ball or strike will be assessed accordingly.

• There will be a maximum of two minutes, 30 seconds allowed for pitching changes, including those that occur during an inning break. A ball will be called if a team takes too long.

• Each team will be permitted three "timeout" conferences covering any meeting involving pitchers and catchers, managers, coaches and batters. Timeouts during pitching changes and those that result from an injury or other emergency will not be counted toward the limit. Additionally, at Salt River home games, a 20-second pitch clock will be used. Those games will also include instant replay, as MLB continues to study potential modifications to the review system.

The experimental pace of play initiatives continue the AFL's tradition of being a testing lab for MLB's potential rule changes. Last year, the instant replay system was debuted in the AFL.

Defensive moves
Position changes often happen in a less-competitive environment than the AFL, but the league gives players who are moving around the diamond another chance to get experience.

This year, Josh Bell, the Pirates' No. 3 prospect, will be the most prominent player learning a new position. He has exclusively played the outfield in the Minor Leagues, but the Pirates already have a star-studded trio of young outfielders in the big leagues. So, this fall, Bell will try out first base, where he began taking ground balls during the regular season.

Although Peter O'Brien, the D-backs' No. 7 prospect, won't be changing positions when he catches for Salt River this fall, his progress defensively will be closely watched by evaluators. The 24-year old was a catcher in college, but has played four positions since the Yankees drafted him in the second round in '12.

The D-backs acquired O'Brien at the non-waiver Trade Deadline in exchange for Martin Prado, but injuries limited him to four games with his new club. The D-backs are sending him to the AFL as a catcher, and how he performs behind the plate over the next six weeks could inform his ultimate defensive home.

No matter where O'Brien ends up defensively, his offensive prowess gives him a chance to reach the Major Leagues. He hit 34 home runs in 106 games this season, ranking fifth among Minor Leaguers.

MLB.com's Top Prospects in AFL
1. Byron Buxton, OF, Twins
4. Francisco Lindor, SS, Indians
5. Addison Russell, SS, Cubs
9. Archie Bradley, RHP, D-backs
13. Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers
16. Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Pirates
29. Josh Bell, 1B, Pirates
38. Raul Mondesi, SS, Royals
40. Jesse Winker, OF, Reds
41. Mark Appel, RHP, Astros
47. Kyle Zimmer, RHP, Royals
49. D.J. Peterson, 3B, Mariners
53. C.J. Edwards, RHP, Cubs
60. Brandon Nimmo, OF, Mets
71. Hunter Renfroe, OF, Padres
82. Tim Anderson, SS, White Sox
84. Nick Williams, OF, Rangers
85. Daniel Robertson, SS, A's
86. Hunter Dozier, 3B, Royals
87. Miguel Almonte, RHP, Royals
88. Dalton Pompey, OF, Blue Jays
96. Trea Turner, SS, Padres
98. Matt Olson, 1B, A's

Teddy Cahill is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @tedcahill. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

Zapata, Encarnacion thankful for second chance

Dominican prospects injured car crash are on track to return to the field

Zapata, Encarnacion thankful for second chance

MESA, Ariz. -- Doctors told pitcher Jose Zapata he might not walk again, after he suffered a broken neck in a horrific car accident in the Dominican Republic in January. Outfielder Kevin Encarnacion, injured in the same crash, was told he might not be able to use his right arm.

Zapata was on the mound at the Cubs complex on Saturday, nervously facing batters for the first time since the accident. After he threw his 15 pitches, the players and coaches applauded. Encarnacion gave his friend and teammate a hug.

More

Encarnacion was slated to play in an instructional league intrasquad game on Monday, in what would be his first live action. The Cubs did everything they could so neither player had to give up his dream of playing in the big leagues.

All you have to do is look at the photo of one of the cars to know how serious the accident was. Five Cubs prospects were in two vehicles, including highly touted shortstop Frandy De La Rosa. Encarnacion was in De La Rosa's car.

The players were headed to the Cubs' new Dominican complex from the capital city of Santo Domingo, driving on Avenida Las Americas. A car struck De La Rosa's car, and it flipped seven times. Zapata, 21, was in a car driven by pitcher Jefferson Mejia, and they swerved to avoid a collision and also ended up rolling several times.

All of the players got out except for Encarnacion, 22, who was trapped by his seat belt. The car was already on fire. A fisherman got to the car and used his knife to cut Encarnacion free. As he pulled, the burned skin came off Encarnacion's right arm.

Thirty seconds after Encarnacion was safely out, the car exploded.

The same fisherman had pulled Zapata out of the back seat of the other car, although he had to break a window to get to the pitcher. Zapata could hear people talking, hear the sirens of ambulances, but couldn't respond. And he couldn't move.

The fisherman rode with Zapata in the ambulance to the hospital, trying to get a phone number so he could contact his family. But Zapata drifted in and out of consciousness, and passed out when he saw blood on his right arm -- his throwing arm.

Dominican doctors originally thought Zapata had suffered whiplash. But after more tests and exchanging information with the Cubs' medical staff, it was diagnosed as a more serious cervical fracture. Zapata said his biggest fear wasn't that he may never walk, but that he may never play baseball.

And then he heard a voice. It said, "You're going to be OK, you're going to come back." He relaxed. Was it a nurse? A family member?

"It was an angel," Zapata said.

While Encarnacion was in the hospital, he overheard a doctor tell his family the medical staff would do everything possible so he could have a normal life. He had third-degree burns on nearly 50 percent of his body. Doctors weren't sure Encarnacion would have full use of his right arm, his throwing arm.

Encarnacion has not had an easy life. His mother was killed a little more than a year ago. He had signed with the Cubs when he was 18. The oldest of four children, baseball meant everything -- including a better way of life. In 2013, he led the Northwest League with a .355 batting average and .566 slugging percentage. He was motivated.

"Everything happens for a reason," Encarnacion said.

About one week after the accident, he was flown from the Dominican to the Arizona Burn Center at Maricopa Medical Center, and spent more than one month there, needing six skin-graft surgeries. Encarnacion didn't want to eat, and was worried. He had a really good throwing arm, but now it was swollen and wrapped in bandages.

When Zapata was finally stable enough to be moved, he was flown to Chicago. He was scheduled to undergo neck surgery when he got there. But Zapata heard the angel again, saying he wouldn't need surgery. He was instantly at ease. Tranquilo.

After more X-rays and tests, doctors said Zapata didn't need surgery. Instead, he began extensive rehab, first in Chicago, then in Arizona. He was encouraged -- because ever since he regained consciousness, he had some feeling in his left big toe.

"They told me I wouldn't be able to walk," Zapata said. "But if I wasn't going to walk, I wouldn't be able to move my big toe."

His teammates visited him in the hospital in Arizona, encouraging him to try to move. He insisted nurses allow him to get up so he could do more. The first time he sat up, Zapata was dizzy. But it didn't deter him. If you saw a player at Cubs extended spring training in a neck brace, it was Zapata.

What scared him was that his right arm was weak. Zapata, who signed when he was 19, had an encouraging first season in the Dominican in 2013, posting a 1.93 ERA in 13 games. He struck out 49 over 56 innings.

"That was my biggest fear -- the one thing I've dreamed of is to play in the big leagues," Zapata said.

The Cubs' medical staff, led by Mark O'Neal, director of medical administration, and team physician Dr. Stephen Adams, coordinated the care, and the team spared no expense. There were phone calls at all hours of the day and night. But the effort paid off.

Both are fortunate to be alive. They were cautioned they might never play baseball again. Now, Encarnacion can do all of the drills with the rest of the Cubs' prospects. Zapata took a big step with Saturday's outing. If they make it to the big leagues -- and it's going to be tough to stop them now -- it will be an amazing comeback.

"I want to thank God and the [Cubs]," Zapata said, speaking for both players. "If they did not spend that time with me, I would not be back."

And that heroic fisherman? Encarnacion returned to the Dominican this summer and found him to thank him for saving their lives.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

Winds of change beginning to blow at Wrigley

Winds of change beginning to blow at Wrigley

CHICAGO -- The biggest change for the 2015 Cubs won't be the lineup, but Wrigley Field.

The team's $575 million renovation of the 100-year-old ballpark begins this offseason, and next year will feature a new video scoreboard in left field, among other things.

More

The changes are projected over four years. That seems to be true of the team, which will enter Year 4 under Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein in 2015. The past season provided a peek at some of the young prospects, such as Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Arismendy Alcantara and Kyle Hendricks, who got a taste of big league pitching. There is a good supply of highly regarded young talent to complement the cornerstones, Starlin Castro, 24, and Anthony Rizzo, 25. The next step is, who's going to mentor the kids?

Besides bolstering the pitching, general manager Jed Hoyer also will be on the lookout for veterans to mix with the young players.

"I think both of those guys want to be leaders, and they're in the process of learning how to do it," Hoyer said of Castro and Rizzo. "They have all the attributes to do it. They probably need to have some guys around them to teach them exactly what the right things to do are.

"I've talked to both of them individually about that and they want to do it, but I don't think they have enough experience or have been around enough guys who are clubhouse leaders who have taught them the ropes, and I think we need to provide that for them," Hoyer said.

Being a good mentor isn't the only requisite. The Cubs want to improve their on-base percentage, continue to have good approaches at the plate, deliver clutch hits.

"One of the hardest things to do in the National League, and what we want to do, is have a good lineup one through eight," Hoyer said. "When you do that, it's hard on the pitchers over here. The more we can eliminate the easier outs and the lack of depth lower in the lineup, I think the better our offense will be."

The last three years, the Cubs have added pitchers in the offseason, only to flip them at the Trade Deadline. They're in the market for something else this winter.

"We're prioritizing building a group of talented young players and letting them grow up together and form a core," Epstein said. "I think we're inching into a different phase now and looking at the roster as a whole, and will add veteran players who complement what we have."

The 2015 lineup will be young. There will be hiccups. And Epstein knows that all the top prospects won't make it.

"Not all of [the prospects] work out, but we like these players quite a bit and they have a chance to play together for a long time at Wrigley Field," Epstein said. "When you put that together with a couple of 24-year-old All-Star caliber performers like Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, you can't be but excited about our future."

2015 Outlook

Arbitration eligible: LHP Travis Wood, 3B Luis Valbuena, OF Justin Ruggiano, LHP Wesley Wright, RHP Pedro Strop, C John Baker, OF Chris Coghlan, LHP Felix Doubront, RHP Jake Arrieta, C Welington Castillo.

Free agents: RHP Carlos Villanueva, RHP Kyuji Fujikawa (club option).

Rotation: The Cubs will be linked early and often to the high-profile free-agent pitchers on the market such as Jon Lester, Max Scherzer and James Shields as they look for someone to complement Jake Arrieta, Travis Wood, Edwin Jackson and Kyle Hendricks. Arrieta took over the club's ace role after Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel were traded on July 4. Prospects such as Dallas Beeler, Chris Rusin and Eric Jokisch will get a look in Spring Training.

Bullpen: This is the first season in a few years that the Cubs don't have any question about who their closer is. Hector Rondon quietly took over the role, replacing Jose Veras, who stumbled at the start of the season, was hurt, then released. The Cubs carried an extra arm most of the season in the 'pen, and would like to avoid that in 2015. They may have a tough time picking seven. Neil Ramirez, Justin Grimm and Strop had solid seasons, and the Cubs hope Arodys Vizcaino emerges as another option.

Catcher: On the plus side, Castillo improved his game calling and blocking pitches. But he wasn't able to pick up where he left off in the second half of the 2013 season when he batted .288, and also missed time because of injury. Said Hoyer: "I believe there's a really good full season in there. Hopefully, he can get to that place where he can be consistent all year. He's worked hard at it." John Baker was a perfect mentor and backup, and even got to pitch one inning in relief.

First base: This is Rizzo's job, and he put up the numbers to secure it. The power hitter set a career high in home runs (32), and is the fifth Cubs left-handed hitter to reach 31 home runs in a season. He earned his first trip to the All-Star Game, winning the National League Final Vote campaign, and also was named winner of the 2014 Branch Rickey award for his foundation's efforts to help families fight cancer. If there were any concern, it was that Rizzo ended the year with a mild low back strain, and will need to focus on strengthening his core in the offseason.

Second base: If the Cubs want Baez's powerful bat in the lineup, this may be the spot. The Cubs' first-round pick in 2011, Baez was called up Aug. 5 after batting .260 and hitting 23 home runs at Triple-A Iowa, and delivered a game-winning homer in the 12th inning of his Major League. But he finished the year with a sub-.200 batting average and a ton of strikeouts.

"The kid's a freak of nature, and I have all the confidence in the world in him," said prospect Kris Bryant of Baez, who has always struggled at the start of each level. Said Hoyer: "My hope is he shows some adjustments over the course of the season, but really the adjustments come this winter when he thinks about his approach and in Spring Training, working on his approach."

Shortstop: Castro was determined to return to the All-Star Game, and did so. That, and playing in 162 games, will be his goal again for 2015. He finished the year injured after suffering a high ankle sprain, and Castro can expect another visit in the Dominican Republic this offseason from strength coach Tim Buss to work on his conditioning. The other good news for the Cubs is that 2014 was the first season in the last four years that Castro did not lead NL shortstops in errors.

Third base: Cubs fans will say this is Bryant's job, but the front office won't name their 2013 first-round pick as the Opening Day starter until they see him in Spring Training. Bryant was named the Minor League Player of the Year by many after hitting 43 home runs, driving in 110 runs, and batting .325 at Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa. The team's other options include Mike Olt, who led all NL rookies with 12 home runs at the All-Star break, but couldn't hit his weight, and Valbuena, who set personal highs in home runs, doubles and RBIs.

Outfield: All Soler had to do was hit a home run in his first big league at-bat Aug. 27 to make Cubs fans giddy about seeing him in right field for a full season. Soler collected at least one RBI or extra-base hit in his first eight games and showed an impressive level of patience at the plate. And, he's got an arm that is Andre Dawson like in terms of accuracy. As for the rest of the outfield, that's still to be determined. Coghlan finished strong, and looked more like the player who won the NL Rookie of the Year in 2009. Alcantara had the toughest assignment of learning how to play center field at the big league level after spending most of his pro career in the infield.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

MLB.com Columnist

Jonathan Mayo

Pipeline Perspectives: Mayo eager to see Edwards in Fall League

White Sox shortstop, Cubs hurler have lots to prove as teams move forward

Pipeline Perspectives: Mayo eager to see Edwards in Fall League

There's a good amount of subjectivity regarding baseball prospects. With the evaluation of talent being in the eye of the beholder, finding consensus is often difficult. Even Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo of MLBPipeline.com don't always see eye to eye. They discuss their viewpoints regularly in a feature called Pipeline Perspectives. Submit a topic for them to debate.

It is just one week before the start of another exciting Arizona Fall League season. I can't wait to get out there to see some of the best prospects in the game compete in the AFL, known as Major League Baseball's finishing school.

More

I know this is something Jim Callis and I actually agree on. I know that's rare, but both of us do love the Fall League and the chance to see all that talent in one area at one time. But, as always, there is a divergence as we dig deeper. This week's Perspectives isn't a debate so much as a matter of choice. The question at hand: Which hitting and pitching prospect are we most looking forward to seeing play in the AFL this year?

Jim is going with perhaps the most obvious choice in Pipeline Perspectives history: Byron Buxton. He tries to make up for it by taking lesser-known White Sox right-hander Francellis Montas as his pitching choice, but I'm not sure that's enough of a smoke screen. Picking the No. 1 prospect in baseball as the player you're most excited to see is kind of like saying you're in favor of sunsets. Who isn't looking forward to seeing a healthy Buxton on the field again? But that's fine. There is no right or wrong this week, right?

I wanted to pick a hitter and a pitcher I've never seen play before. Given the sheer quantity of talent, there's no shortage of possibilities. On the offensive side of things, I'm going with 2013 first-round pick Tim Anderson of the White Sox. The No. 2 prospect in the organization is also No. 82 overall. Taken No. 17 overall out of the junior college ranks, Anderson is the kind of athletic and toolsy player the White Sox covet.

He's capable of doing it all on the field when he's healthy. He's already shown an ability to hit for average with some pop. And he can really run, with a 70 for speed on the 20-80 scouting scale. In 151 professional games, the shortstop has hit .291, slugged .430 and stolen 34 bases. His 2014 season was interrupted by a month and a half with a fractured wrist.

Typically, a guy comes back from that kind of injury and it takes him a while to get going. Not so for Anderson. Not only did he hit .364 and slug .500 in his 10 games after returning from the injury (and a five-game rehab in the rookie-level Arizona League), he did it in Double-A, up a level from where he had started the season.

The White Sox have moved him aggressively and he's responded to every challenge. He went right to full-season ball after the Draft and hit .277 with 24 steals, not looking overwhelmed one bit. A move to the Class A Advanced Carolina League to start the 2014 season, at age 20? No biggie. Anderson hit .297 and slugged .472, with 31 extra-base hits in 286 at-bats. After a slow-ish start, he hit .322 and slugged .444 in May, then followed that up with a .317 average and .529 SLG in June. The most amazing thing about that performance? He evidently was playing with the broken wrist for over a week.

I'm not just interested to see Anderson swing the bat and run in Arizona. I'm curious to watch him play shortstop. At the time of the 2013 Draft, many felt Anderson would be better suited for center field, where his athleticism and speed would play well. But the White Sox had no plans to move him off of short. He did make 34 errors in 81 games this season, though Minor League defensive numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. I want to see, in a small sample size, how he does at the premium position for myself.

On the mound, I'm staying in Chicago, though heading across town. All the talk about the Cubs centers on the hitting prospects, for good reasons: Baez, Soler, Alcantara, Bryant, Almora, Schwarber, all were or still are Top 100 prospects. But someone is going to have to pitch and the Cubs don't have nearly as much in the pipeline coming up on the mound.

The big exception is C.J. Edwards, the right-hander Chicago got from the Rangers as part of the Matt Garza deal last season. And no, I don't want to see the No. 53 overall prospect solely to encourage him to eat (he's listed at 6-foot-2, 155 pounds; it's enough to make a Jewish parent like myself worry himself sick.).

Edwards' stuff is reportedly electric, with a fastball that can touch 97 mph, an above-average curveball and a vastly improved changeup. A year ago, between his two organizations, Edwards struck out 12 per nine innings, walked 3.2, had a 1.86 ERA and gave up just one home run in 116 1/3 IP. He gave up just one more in 2014, albeit in a season shortened to 53 2/3 IP due to shoulder inflammation. In 237 professional innings, he's given up only two home runs. He has a career .169 batting average against and, like Anderson, he reached Double-A this past season.

Also like Anderson, it will be interesting to watch Edwards make up for the time he lost during the season. He made it back in August and had a 2.30 ERA in six closely-monitored starts. To me, watching how his stuff, and his penchant for not giving up the long ball, plays in the extremely hitting and power-friendly AFL, is one of the most intriguing subplots of this year's Fall League.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayoB3 on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

Statues removed as part of Wrigley Field renovation

Banks, Caray sculptures to be refurbished during offseason

Statues removed as part of Wrigley Field renovation

CHICAGO -- Renovations to 100-year-old Wrigley Field continued Wednesday as the statue of Ernie Banks on Clark Street was temporarily removed for restoration.

The statue will be taken to the Alchemist Sculpture Foundry in Kalamzoo, Mich., where it will be sandblasted, have the patina reapplied and a new sealer installed, according to Lou Cella of Rotblatt-Amrany, the Chicago-based art studio that sculpted the monument.

More

From there, Banks' statue will be transported to the Patten Monument Co. in Grand Rapids, Mich., where it will receive a new base along with Harry Caray's statue, which was also expected to be transported on Wednesday.

Both are planned to be reinstalled for display by Opening Day next year.

Cella said the statues didn't necessarily need a refurbishing, but the Cubs chose to do so given the timing of the renovations to Wrigley Field, a four-year, $575 million project that began last week. Both statues are firmly in construction zones of the bleachers and main concourse.

"They look pretty good to me, but since we have the chance, we'll do it," Cella said.

"The sculptures around Wrigley Field probably take a harder piece of abuse environmentally than anything else we do. Around here, when snowplows are throwing up ice melt and salt and just the exhaust and everything else -- just Mother Nature in general -- they take a pounding."

The overhaul is Wrigley Field's largest since adding lights in 1988, becoming the final big league ballpark to do so.

Sheffield and Waveland Avenues, which surround the outfield exterior, were closed last Friday -- a day after the Cubs' final home game -- to begin alterations to the bleachers. City of Chicago crews began preparing the area on Aug. 27 by relocating water, sewer and gas lines.

The bleachers are being expanded to accommodate five new outfield signs and two videoboards. The Cubs have said since winning their Landmark Commission approval on July 10 that the reconditioned bleachers would be ready by Opening Day 2015, but they didn't ensure that on Wednesday.

Cubs vice president of communications and community affairs Julian Green noted the team could be battling another frigid Chicago winter and hurdles through the city's Landmark Commission in the 26 weeks between now and Opening Day.

"Our hope is to get this done in time for the 2015 season," Green said. "But in a city like Chicago with sub-zero temperatures and 100 inches of snow from last winter, it's a difficult project. Keep in mind, this is probably one of the most unique projects in all of sports.

"Certainly we have some concerns, but we're confident that we have the best design bill project team on this project to help us get it done."

Green also noted the wide range of unknown hiccups that could surface in dealing with a 100-year-old complex.

"You crack open some basements and cabinets and storage facilities, who knows what you might find," Green said. "When you're dealing with a project like this, anything can happen, and so we're trying to plan for unknowns. It's not a new facility. This is not just building from scratch."

It takes roughly two weeks to get the ballpark ready for the structural work on the bleachers and main concourse, Green said, which will see 50 million pounds of new concrete installed with refurbished steel support by 2018.

Wrigley Field was designated a landmark by the city of Chicago in 2004, and as such, must go through extensive protocol when making alterations to the facility. Green said he believes the Landmarks Commission grasps the urgency of completing Phase 1 within its intended timeframe.

"We've been talking with them, walking them through the process, so we believe they understand it," Green said. It's a big project, but again, it's 26 weeks. They are definitely critical to making sure that we can get this done on time and that we can accept fans."

The signage approval, ruled unanimously by the Commission three months ago, was granted over a year of friction with 44th Ward alderman Tom Tunney and various neighbors -- particularly the rooftop owners, who have a pending lawsuit with the city.

The Cubs are not the defendant in the suit, and they largely refrained from commenting on its proceedings. They still plan to host a formal groundbreaking ceremony within two weeks, pending the mayor's and commission's schedules.

"There are a number of agencies, firms and individuals for that matter, who've had something to do with trying to get us where we are today. And so with a lot of coordination, we plan to hopefully do a really big celebratory event because we know the fans and Wrigley Field deserves it," Green said. "So we want to have a good showing once we put shovels in the ground."

Fans can follow the renovations at wrigleyfield.com, where video updates will be posted from time to time.

Daniel Kramer is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

Epstein expects Cubs to contend for NL Central in 2015

President of baseball ops sees 'a day coming' soon when all pieces fit together

Epstein expects Cubs to contend for NL Central in 2015

CHICAGO -- The emphasis in the first three seasons under Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein has been to restock the Minor League system and build a foundation of impact players. In 2015, Epstein feels the Cubs will take a major step and not just develop players, but be competitive.

"I think we've proved we can be very competitive in this division, and when you have a chance to compete, you should set your sights high, and that means our goal is the [National League] Central title next year," Epstein said.

More

Epstein addressed the 2014 season and looked ahead to next year during a 40-minute session at Wrigley Field, which is beginning its makeover as well. The business side -- a $575 million renovation plan of the 100-year-old ballpark -- and the baseball side are both moving full-speed ahead.

While players are eager to see what new music will be linked to the video scoreboard going up in left field, Epstein is focused on the progress made under manager Rick Renteria, who completed his first season at 73-89.

All-Stars Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo rebounded from tough 2013 seasons, Jake Arrieta emerged as a potential No. 1 starter and young arms in the bullpen such as Neil Ramirez, Justin Grimm and closer Hector Rondon performed well this year. They'll be looking for additions.

The Cubs will be looking for impact talent via free agency, Epstein said, but he cautioned that any deal has to make sense and they will not "sell out just for 2015." Among the needs are another starting pitcher, a left-handed reliever, and outfield help.

"There's a day coming when all of our young talent will be here, and it will have all matured," Epstein said. "There's a day coming when we'll have that impact talent from outside the organization, significant investments made possible in part by the presence of those many good young players. There's a day coming when we'll fully have learned how to win. There's a day coming when we'll be playing in a newly restored Wrigley Field. There's a day coming when we'll have an elite payroll thanks to a new TV deal.

"That day is probably not 2015 -- we're not going to accomplish all those things in 2015. But do we have a chance to take a significant step forward and do we have the talent to compete for an NL Central title if things go our way and we continue to work hard? Absolutely."

The next 15 months will be key in terms of player acquisitions, Epstein said. That time frame includes this coming offseason, the next Trade Deadline and next offseason.

They're also aware of how some of the young talent still needs time, such as Javier Baez, who batted .169 with 95 strikeouts in 52 games after he was called up Aug. 5. Baez is expected to be the Cubs' Opening Day second baseman, Epstein said.

"Javy is extraordinarily talented and also very raw at the same time," Epstein said. "He came up as a 21-year-old and learned an awful lot this year about, on one hand, how talented he is, and how some of those things translate right away to the big league level."

Baez also learned how good Major League pitching is and that he needs to make quite a few adjustments. And he's a perfect example of the theme Epstein projected for 2015.

"We're being open about the fact that we're here to compete and our goal is to win the [division] title, but at the same time we're not going to bail on our young players, we're not going to abandon our vision," Epstein said. "We just have to make the tough decisions and strike that balance the right way."

Epstein admitted Renteria had some limitations with the roster, such as relievers who were restricted because of past injuries and youngsters without much experience. But the manager did fulfill many of the criteria laid out for him, such as developing a positive attitude, setting a good tone for the players and getting them to play hard.

"He established an environment where our young players could continue to grow and feel support, and where they could learn how to be big leaguers, and where they could learn how to win," Epstein said.

Baseball executives, players and scouts have told Epstein that they recognize the high level of talent on the Cubs roster, and he hopes fans can continue to be patient. They'll be rewarded soon.

"By and large, I feel more fans have really put their trust in us to get this thing right and bought into the vision we have," Epstein said. "It's exciting to be at a point where we can turn the page and reward them with winning baseball."

• The Cubs' coaching staff will return for 2015 with the exception of assistant hitting coach Mike Brumley, who could switch to a scouting role with the team, but is considering other options, Epstein said. This was Brumley's first season on the Cubs coaching staff.

Manny Ramirez was a player/coach at Triple-A Iowa and helped some of the young players there. Would he be considered for the assistant hitting coach job on the Cubs?

"Manny has not decided to retire as of yet," Epstein said. "We have a really nice relationship with Manny. He did an outstanding job with the organization and we'll continue to stay in touch."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

Bleachers first stage of Wrigley Field makeover

Bleachers first stage of Wrigley Field makeover

CHICAGO -- While Cubs players picked up their gear bags Monday and stadium staffers cleaned out their work spaces, crews continued to prep Wrigley Field for the renovation project, which will begin with the bleachers.

There has been no formal groundbreaking yet for Wrigley Field's $575-million makeover, which will be done over at least four years. City of Chicago crews have been preparing the area since Aug. 27, relocating water, sewer and gas lines, and on Monday, both Sheffield and Waveland avenues were closed around the ballpark. The street closures were expected to remain in effect until construction on the bleachers concludes prior to Opening Day 2015.

More

The bleachers need to be altered to accomodate the new signs, which include a 3,990 square-foot video scoreboard to be installed in left field. The plan also includes five LED signs of up to 650 square feet, and one additional videoboard in right field.

The center-field area of the bleachers, which includes the manually operated scoreboard, will be updated, but it will not be part of the first phase of the renovation.

Construction work also will begin this offseason on the home clubhouse, but that will not be finished until Opening Day 2016. Cubs staff were told they will not have access to the ballpark, and Monday was busy as the clubhouse was cleaned out and players headed home for the offseason.

Fans can follow the renovations at wrigleyfield.com. There will not be a "construction cam" providing a live look-in at the work, but there will be video updates posted from time to time.

The Cubs closed the '14 season on Sunday with a 5-2 win over the Brewers at Miller Park, ending 73-89, below .500 for the fifth straight season.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

Young talent brightened Cubs' tough campaign

Young talent brightened Cubs' tough campaign

CHICAGO -- The Cubs closed 2014 with their fifth straight losing season, but it was the most intriguing of the five as fans finally got a glimpse of the promising future.

The kids are coming, and this year was the first chance to see Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Arismendy Alcantara and Kyle Hendricks at Wrigley Field.

More

"For me, I'm still a prospect, but watching these guys in the big leagues, I think it's an exciting time to be a Cubs fan," said Kris Bryant, the Cubs 2014 Minor League Player of the Year, who hopes to join them on the big league roster next season.

Before we get to previewing 2015, let's look back at manager Rick Renteria's first year. The Cubs got off to a slow start with a 9-17 first month, but rallied to finish with more wins than the 66 they amassed in 2013. And they did so despite dealing two of their starting pitchers (Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel) before the Trade Deadline for the third straight year.

The roster went through another overhaul because of trades for prospects or the need to make room for prospects. Remember the Opening Day lineup? It was Emilio Bonifacio, Junior Lake, Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Mike Olt, Welington Castillo, Nate Schierholtz, Darwin Barney and Samardzija -- with Jose Veras as the closer. By Sept. 1, Bonifacio and Samardzija had been traded, Schierholtz, Barney and Veras were released and playing for other teams, and Lake and Olt had returned after some time in the Minor Leagues.

The Cubs got a head start on the makeover with the July 4 blockbuster deal that sent Samardzija and Hammel to the Athletics, which resulted in the addition of highly touted prospects Addison Russell and Billy McKinney.

"We certainly hope this is the last year we'll be obvious sellers at the Trade Deadline," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said at the time. "Nothing would make us happier than being in the position Oakland is in, which is to aggressively add to the big league team and enhance the team's chances of making the postseason and winning the World Series."

Things can change, though. When they made the deal, the Athletics had the best record in baseball and a 3 1/2-game lead in the American League West. By season's end, they were battling for a Wild Card berth.

Travis Wood, an All-Star in 2013, wasn't in 2014. The good news for the Cubs is that the two who did go to the All-Star Game, Castro and Rizzo, are considered cornerstones. And both rebounded from disappointing seasons, thriving under Renteria's positive attitude and with new hitting coach Bill Mueller's approach.

There were other highs, including a sweep of the defending-champion Red Sox from June 30-July 2 at Fenway Park, and another over the AL East leaders, the Orioles, on Aug. 22-24 at Wrigley Field. But the Cubs continued to struggle against NL Central opponents, which is something that will have to change.

The only surprise in Renteria's first season as a big league manager was all the rain in Chicago and the Midwest. Remember, he spent the previous six seasons in San Diego.

He knew about the talent in the Cubs' organization before he took the job, having studied the Minor League rosters before his interview. Sure, Baez struck out a lot, and Alcantara made a few errors. They're young.

"I think there are a lot of good things in place here," Renteria said. "I think the organization is moving in the right direction. I sincerely believe that; I sincerely believed that when I first interviewed for this job. It's legitimate."

Record: 73-89, last in National League Central

Defining moment: It was actually a three-day stretch after the Cubs blockbuster July 4 trade that sent Samardzija and Hammel to the Athletics. On July 8, Tsuyoshi Wada made his Major League debut against the Reds and threw five shutout innings. The next day, Alcantara was called up to cover for Darwin Barney, who was on paternity leave, and the rookie went 8-for-23 in his first five games, including a home run. On July 10, pitcher Hendricks was promoted. Although Wada and Hendricks were one-day callups at that time, they both returned to the rotation to stay and gave the Cubs more able fill-ins than the two previous seasons. Alcantara did so well at second that Barney was designated for assignment on July 22.

What went right: Baez and Soler made Cubs player development people look smart when they both homered in their respective big league debuts. ... Dartmouth grad Hendricks didn't overpower but was dazzling, going 4-0 with a 1.69 ERA in six August starts to win NL Rookie of the Month honors. ... Castro and Rizzo both rebounded from disappointing 2013 seasons and were named to the NL All-Star team. ... Young arms Neil Ramirez and Justin Grimm showed promise as key pieces in the bullpen. ... Hector Rondon emerged as the closer. ... Chris Coghlan looked like the player who won NL Rookie of the Year in 2009 with the Marlins.

What went wrong: Edwin Jackson's struggles continued. ... Schierholtz couldn't follow up a career season, batted .192, and was released. ... Veras struggled as closer, was injured, then released. ... Injuries to Rizzo and Castro in September left big gaps in the lineup. ... Junior Lake batted .114 in July, and had to be sent back to Minor Leagues. ... Wood had 24 quality starts in 2013; 13 this year. ... Olt led NL rookies in home runs at the All-Star break with 12, but was batting .144 at that point, and sent to the Minors.

Biggest surprise: When the Cubs acquired Jake Arrieta in July 2013, he had 7.23 ERA in five starts with the Orioles and had made more Minor League starts that year than big league starts. Fast forward to this season when the right-hander emerged as the Cubs ace. He took a no-hitter into the seventh inning three times, has thrived at Wrigley Field and become a leader in the clubhouse.

Hitter of the Year: Rizzo's 2013 season wasn't awful -- he did hit 23 home runs and drove in 80 -- but he batted .233 and struggled with runners in scoring position. This season, the first baseman ranked among the NL leaders in home runs and became just the fifth left-handed Cubs batter to reach 31 homers in a season (he finished with 32). And he was clutch, delivering two walk-off home runs.

Pitcher of the Year: Arrieta was the Orioles' Opening Day starter in 2012, but went 3-9 that season. The next year, he was traded to the Cubs, and they may have found an ace. The right-hander did miss the first month of the season because of tightness in his shoulder but finished strong. See Biggest Surprise above.

Rookie of the Year: Hendricks did his homework at Dartmouth to complete his degree in finance, and prepared just as well for his big league starts. Of course, the right-hander said it was much easier watching video of baseball games than reading text books. He has prompted comparisons to Greg Maddux, because he doesn't overpower batters but baffles them with good location. Reds manager Bryan Price was impressed, saying Hendricks "is a very talented young guy who understands how to pitch."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

Cubs top Crew in finale for strong finish to season

Alcantara hits go-ahead double in sixth; Rizzo hits 32nd home run

Cubs top Crew in finale for strong finish to season

MILWAUKEE -- The Cubs closed the 2014 season with a win and lots of momentum, and Anthony Rizzo made it clear what the goal is for next year.

"To be the [National League] Central champs," Rizzo said after hitting a two-run homer in the Cubs' 5-2 win over the Brewers on Sunday in the season finale in front of 33,837 at Miller Park. "[We want] to win the division, and obviously that's the playoffs, and we want to go deep.

More

"It takes a lot of work and we have a very tough division and teams aren't going anywhere in it, it's only getting better," Rizzo said. "That's our expectation, that's the message we want to send."

Rizzo collected three hits to finish with a career-high 150, and he scored on Arismendy Alcantara's tie-breaking two-run double in the sixth.

Under new manager Rick Renteria, the Cubs closed at 73-89, below .500 for the fifth straight season, but they did top last year's 66-win total and head into 2015 encouraged by the play of some of their top prospects, including Alcantara and Jorge Soler. It's the first time the Cubs have won 73 games since a 75-87 season in 2010.

"All those guys know we want to step it up, and we need to go into Spring Training prepared to be a better club with the expectations of us improving and making ourselves hopefully a topic of conversation throughout the season," Renteria said.

The Brewers, on the other hand, have to be wondering what happened after leading the division for 150 days only to miss the playoffs.

Jacob Turner picked up the win, starting in place of Kyle Hendricks, who was scratched after the Cubs decided the rookie right-hander had reached his innings limit. Turner improved to 3-1 in six career games (five starts) against the Brewers, which included a win at Wrigley Field on Sept. 1.

"It's definitely a good way to finish," Turner said.

Chris Coghlan walked to lead off the game against Brewers starter Mike Fiers, stole second and one out later, tallied on Rizzo's home run. Rizzo is the first Cubs left-handed batter to hit 32 homers in a single season since Rick Monday did so in 1976.

There were other positives. Hector Rondon notched his 29th save, converting his last 15 opportunities. Neil Ramirez closed with a 1.44 ERA. The Cubs nearly posted their third winning month, ending September 12-13.

Rizzo finished with a .286 average, an encouraging sign after struggling to hit .233 last year.

"When he left the season last year, he spoke to a lot of guys who were here and they went over some of the things he needed to work on, and he took it upon himself and he worked diligently to see what he needed to improve upon," Renteria said of the first baseman, who showed better strike-zone awareness.

"He's got it in him to continue to improve and get better," Renteria said. "What he did is no surprise to a lot of us who believed he could be this type of player, and I'm sure he'll want to do better."

There were most likely some who didn't think Rizzo could turn it around after batting .141 in 49 games with the Padres in 2011. And there are likely some who don't think top prospect Javier Baez (.169, 95 strikeouts) can bounce back. Rizzo's message: Just wait.

"It'll be nice for them to be able to see what happened," Rizzo said of the young players on the Cubs. "It's not always easy to make midseason -- especially getting called up to the big leagues, things move a little fast here -- adjustments. When they can finally get that weight off their shoulders, and see what happened, it'll be nice."

Rizzo even brought up how he did Opening Day when he struck out three times against the Pirates. He's motivated.

"Me, personally, I'm going into the offseason with a lot more fire under my belt," he said. "There's always optimism, and you can see it everywhere. We just have to keep developing as individuals and developing as a team."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

First-year manager Renteria already looking ahead

First-year manager Renteria already looking ahead

MILWAUKEE -- A year ago, Rick Renteria was a bench coach with the Padres, finishing up his sixth season on their big league coaching staff. All he knew of his plans for the offseason was that he was going to have hip replacement surgery five days after the last game.

But he got a call from Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer while Renteria was still in the hospital recuperating from the procedure, asking if he'd be interested in managing. On Sunday, Renteria ended his first year as Cubs manager, and he was eagerly looking ahead to 2015. By the way, his hip is fine.

More

"I obviously have a bird's-eye view of these guys in terms of how I feel about them, in terms of what I think they need to improve upon, in terms of how I view us in putting a club together next year in order to understand how we're going to attack the season," Renteria said Sunday before the season finale.

"It was an important year in that regard. I don't have to deal with the surgery, I don't have to deal with the interview process, and preparing to get to know everybody from a distance. This [offseason] will be more geared to just trying to prepare for the coming season."

Renteria, 52, will head home to California on Monday, and although the Cubs finished with their fifth straight season under .500, there were encouraging signs. They went 41-40 at home, posted two winning months (June and August) for the first time in a season since 2009, topped their 2013 win total, and got a good look at some of their top prospects.

Renteria had to overcome losing two of his starting pitchers in early July when Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel were dealt, but he said the Cubs "stabilized" over the last few months.

"They should go into the offseason preparing again -- that's the message for them," Renteria said of his players.

He plans on watching video of the games to compile teaching points. Besides all the rain in the Midwest, the only other surprise in his first year on the job was the amount of time Renteria had to budget for media briefings.

Renteria had high expectations this season, and he will have high expectations next year.

"Why wouldn't anybody want or have goals to have success in the coming year? I do," he said. "I'm laying extremely high expectations. I laid them before everybody this year. A lot of people fear laying them out there because if you don't obtain them, there's a consequence of not obtaining them.

"I don't worry about anything other than just doing my job," he said. "Part of it is laying expectations."

Cubs players end the season understanding each other and believing in themselves, Renteria said.

"In the end, it's about performance, and in the end, it's about winning -- that's the bottom line," he said. "That's what the goal is."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

Injury makes for frustrating end to Castro's season

Cubs shortstop tried to get back for at least one game, but ankle didn't cooperate

Injury makes for frustrating end to Castro's season

MILWAUKEE -- It's been a frustrating final month of the season for Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro, who will head home to the Dominican Republic after Sunday but plans to continue his rehab at the team's facility in Mesa, Ariz.

Castro, who injured his left ankle on Sept. 2 when he slid awkwardly into home plate, was examined Saturday by team orthopedic specialist Dr. Stephen Gryzlo at Miller Park. All the shortstop has been able to do is rehab and watch from the bench.

More

"It's big-time frustrating," Castro said Saturday. "It's tough for me because I worked really hard to come back for one game or two. It's not going to happen, but I'm not going to get frustrated. It's a really important season next year and I'm going to be healthy."

If there was some way he could get on the field for one more play, he would, but Castro is still wearing a supportive boot on his left foot.

The 2014 season was Castro's fifth in the big leagues, and he finished as the top hitting shortstop in the National League (.290) ahead of the Dodgers' Hanley Ramirez. This is the first time in the last four seasons that Castro will not lead the NL in errors. He made 15 in 133 games for a .973 fielding percentage, the highest in his young career.

"I think he's grown up," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "I think he took a lot upon himself. As the season progressed, he was more accountable to himself and to his teammates. I think he worked very, very hard to overcome a lot of real and/or perceived deficits in this game. He also became, as far as I could tell, a much better teammate. I think everybody started to gravitate to him. I think it's been a positive season for him."

Castro will spend time this offseason with Cubs strength coach Tim Buss to prepare for the season.

"I'll just try to be healthy," Castro said. "That's a really important goal for me. I'll try to do my full Spring Training without injuries. I'm prepared for that. When that happens, it'll be better season."

He sees a bright future for the Cubs. Castro has had plenty of time to watch young players like Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Arismendy Alcantara.

"We see a lot of good things here," Castro said. "Those kids, those young guys, we have good communication. We'll show next year that we can fight, we can fight with whatever. We can play baseball to win. I think we're pretty close."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

Hendricks ready for textbook-free offseason

Hendricks ready for textbook-free offseason

MILWAUKEE -- For the first time in what seems like forever, Kyle Hendricks won't have to open a textbook this offseason. The Cubs pitcher, who completed his finance degree last year at Dartmouth, found out Saturday he would not start in the season finale. Now he can focus on next year.

"There's really no reason to go out there for five more innings in the last game," Hendricks said of Sunday's game No. 162 against the Brewers. "I wouldn't say it was a surprise. I was still throwing, getting ready, but I wouldn't say I was surprised when it happened."

More

The rookie finished 7-2 with a 2.46 ERA in 13 starts with the Cubs, and he didn't get too much feedback in his exit interview with manager Rick Renteria and pitching coach Chris Bosio.

"They said, 'You did a great job this year, and more than we expected,'" Hendricks said. "They said, 'Work hard in the offseason, you know what you need to work on and come to Spring Training ready to go.'"

This offseason will feature golf, visits with his family and friends and baseball. No books.

"It's the first one I'll be able to relax, play golf and take it all in," Hendricks said.

Won't he miss studying?

"I do enough studying here with baseball," Hendricks said. "I'm not going to miss it."

• Hendricks, Dallas Beeler, Eric Jokisch and Tsuyoshi Wada combined for 14 quality starts, the most by a Cubs rookie class since Randy Wells totaled 18 in 2009. On Friday, Jokisch became the 13th starting pitcher utilized by the Cubs this season, the most since 2006 when 15 starters took the hill for Chicago.

• The Rockies claimed left-hander Chris Rusin off waivers from the Cubs. In 24 big league games (20 starts) over three seasons, Rusin has gone 4-9 with a 4.97 ERA. A fourth-round pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, Rusin went 8-13 with a 4.31 ERA in 23 starts for Triple-A Iowa this year, including a no-hitter in May against New Orleans. He has a 38-41 record and a 3.84 ERA in six Minor League seasons.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

Wada solid in final start, but Cubs fall to Crew

Rookie left-hander allows two runs; Rizzo hits RBI double

Wada solid in final start, but Cubs fall to Crew

MILWAUKEE -- For Tsuyoshi Wada, Saturday was a chance to make one last pitch for the Cubs to bring him back in 2015. For Edwin Jackson, it was one last inning of the year to show he could still pitch effectively.

The Cubs were overwhelmed by Wily Peralta, who struck out a career-high 13 batters, in a 2-1 loss to the Brewers on Saturday. Carlos Gomez hit a solo homer and scored the tie-breaking run on Jonathan Lucroy's record-setting double to spark Milwaukee in front of 41,440 at Miller Park.

More

Peralta topped his previous strikeout high of nine set Aug. 7 against the Giants. The Cubs struck out 16 times in the game, the sixth time this year they've totaled 16 or more. Chicago began the day leading the National League in strikeouts.

"[Peralta] was determined, he competed his butt off, and I tell you what, that guy, he's going to throw a couple of no-hitters before his career is over with, for sure, if not a perfect game. Because he's got the best nasty stuff around," Lucroy said. "If he continues to get better as he has, year to year, man, he's going to be really, really, really good. We're fortunate to have him."

"His fastball was explosive, his secondary pitches had some bite," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said of Peralta. "He used them to get out of some innings. He had good stuff. ... We weren't able to string together a whole lot of offense today. Tip your cap to Peralta. He did a nice job."

Wada, 33, took the loss in his last start, giving up two runs over five-plus innings. The lefty thought his season was over after his outing on Sept. 18 against the Dodgers, but the Cubs opted to have Wada start and moved Jackson to the bullpen.

Jackson did enter in the seventh, his first regular-season relief appearance since Sept. 27, 2011, when he pitched the ninth for the Cardinals. He also appeared in one game in relief in the NL Division Series in 2012.

On Saturday, the right-hander faced four batters and escaped without any damage.

"He looked very good," Renteria said of Jackson, who was 6-15 with a 6.38 ERA in 27 starts. "His fastball had good life. It seemed like he got it in there on a couple guys. It's a good inning to have and reflect on. I think, obviously, we put him in that situation here as of late, but it was a perfect situation and I thought he did a nice job."

Jackson tried to downplay the outing.

"There's still a lot to take from this year," the right-hander said. "[Saturday's outing] doesn't necessarily erase what happened this year. It'll be a busy offseason and I'll go work on what I need to work on. I'll definitely come in and be ready to bounce back and be the pitcher I know I can be and get back in form to where I was before I joined the Cubs."

Jackson has struggled in two seasons with the Cubs, losing a NL-leading 18 games in 2013. He will prepare this offseason to be a starter next year.

"After that, we'll take whatever happens in stride and go from there," he said.

Wada, who signed a Minor League contract with the Cubs last December, bounced back after a tough spring, and the Cubs have to decide whether to pick up his option for 2015. Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Friday they told Wada they'd like to have him back.

"Since he's joined us, every outing, he's gone and given us a chance and kept us in the ballgame," Renteria said of the lefty. "Today we weren't able to respond for him."

The Cubs tallied in the third on Anthony Rizzo's RBI double. But Gomez tied the game with a leadoff home run in the Milwaukee half of the inning, his 23rd homer of the season.

Gomez then doubled to open the fifth, advanced on Ryan Braun's fly ball to center, and scored on Lucroy's double, his 53rd overall and 46th as a catcher, which set a single-season mark for backstops.

Arismendy Alcantara tripled with one out in the Cubs seventh, but Peralta struck out the next two batters to end the threat.

Renteria said he talked with his coaching staff about what they need to do next season to try to have a more effective offense.

"I think all of our situational hitting, all of our two-strike approaches, we've gathered enough information now with the time we've had with these young men to know we're going to attack a lot of different aspects of the offensive game to help us improve," Renteria said, emphasizing the need to do the little things, have productive outs.

"I think the focus will be on the broader picture and the totality of what we have to do as an offense as a team," he said.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

Cubs expected Baez to have offensive issues

Epstein: 'Javy's extraordinarily talented but very raw offensively'

Cubs expected Baez to have offensive issues

MILWAUKEE -- Javier Baez went 4-for-41 with 20 strikeouts on the Cubs' final homestand, and he leads the Major Leagues in strikeouts in September (42). And Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein isn't too surprised.

"It's gone very much as expected," Epstein said Friday of Baez's first two months in the big leagues.

More

On Friday, Baez looked more comfortable at the plate, collecting three hits, including a pair of RBI singles, in the Cubs' 6-4 win over the Brewers. But he's batting .172 overall.

The infielder was promoted Aug. 5, and he has had a tough time at the plate. The good news for the Cubs is that Baez hasn't carried those struggles onto the field.

"He's played incredible shortstop," Epstein said. "Beyond the tools that he has and the plays that he's made, he's shown a great baseball head on his shoulders and really good instincts, really good focus. He's won the respect of a lot of veterans here with the way he plays the game on the field. That's big, and not to be taken for granted from a 21-year-old.

"Offensively, it's gone as expected," Epstein said. "Javy's extraordinarily talented but very raw offensively. He hasn't quite learned a consistent approach and swings at the pitches he wants to swing at, and he's letting the pitcher dictate the course of the at-bat by not being selective enough. When you do that in the big leagues, it can get ugly in a hurry."

Baez has struggled at the start of every level he's been at professionally, so the Cubs are not surprised. That's part of the reason they wanted to promote him this year. He is expected to be the Cubs' starting second baseman in 2015. Baez has been filling in for injured Starlin Castro at shortstop in September.

"His confidence is high," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said of Baez. "Just like everyone, he understands he needs to make adjustments and knows he needs to do better."

Renteria is quick to remind everyone that Baez is just 21 years old. Epstein said Baez is aware of what he needs to do, adding that sometimes it just takes an offseason to make those adjustments. Anthony Rizzo and Castro both did that after struggling in 2013; they had All-Star seasons this year.

What's encouraging, Epstein said, is that Baez is open to making adjustments.

"It's like getting comfortable in the big leagues -- you can't just tell someone, 'Get comfortable,'" Epstein said. "He readily admits he'll be more comfortable in the big leagues than he is now.

"Sometimes you have to just experience it for yourself and the light goes on with one swing or one video session or one offseason when you can take a deep breath and come back differently."

Extra bases
• Epstein said Renteria "absolutely" would return next season to manage, but he will announce the status of the entire coaching staff on Tuesday.

"By and large, the coaching staff did a great job this year," Epstein said.

Epstein is completing the third year of his five-year contract with the Cubs, but said he's not thinking about his status, adding "it's really not a concern for me." He did expect to talk to chairman Tom Ricketts over the winter about long-term plans for personnel.

Jacob Turner will start Sunday in place of rookie right-hander Kyle Hendricks, who is being shut down after reaching 183 innings. Hendricks totaled 102 2/3 innings in 17 starts at Triple-A Iowa, and 80 1/3 innings in 13 starts with the Cubs.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

MLB.com Columnist

Jonathan Mayo

Cubs' Bryant on MLB Pipeline All-Prospect Team

Sluggers Bryant and Gallo make the cut, as do pairs of Dodgers, Nationals and Red Sox

Cubs' Bryant on MLB Pipeline All-Prospect Team

Last week, MLBPipeline.com handed out year-end awards for top hitting and pitching prospects. As much as Kris Bryant and Tyler Glasnow were deserving recipients, it was clear there were many other fantastic performances in 2014 that deserved some attention.

With that in mind, MLBPipeline.com announced its 2014 All-Prospect Team on Friday. There's a prospect for each position, including three outfielders, a DH, a right-handed and left-handed starting pitcher and one reliever. The only requirements were that a player appeared at some point on a team's Top 20 list on Prospect Watch and spent the majority of the year in the Minor Leagues.

More

1B: Matt Olson, Oakland A's
Perhaps lost in the shadow of the power displays of Bryant and Joey Gallo, Olson finished third in all of the Minors with 37 home runs. The A's No. 2 prospect also walked 117 times to lead the Minor Leagues, allowing him to finish with a robust .404 OBP and .947 OPS.

2B: Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox
Betts has more than held his own in the big leagues, playing center field and second base. He began the year as the No. 62 prospect on the Top 100, then moved up to No. 14 on the re-ranked list this summer. The jump was thanks to a huge season at Double and Triple-A. Betts hit .346/.431/.529 with 33 steals in 99 games before getting called up to Boston.

SS: Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers
The fact that Seager hit in the California League surprised no one. Neither did the fact he kept on raking when he reached Double-A. The Dodgers' top prospect hit a combined .349/.402/.602 to win the Minor League batting title, and his .602 slugging percentage was also good for fourth in the Minors. All coming from the shortstop position, while reaching the upper levels of the system at age 20.

3B: Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs
He was the Hitting Prospect of the Year, after all. The Cubs' top prospect led the Minors in home runs, slugging percentage and OPS. He was second in OBP, third in RBIs, and he even stole 15 bases while reaching Triple-A in his first full season.

C: Blake Swihart, Red Sox
Ranked as the No. 2 catcher, Swihart began the year in Double-A and finished it with the International League champion Pawtucket Red Sox in Triple-A. Combined, the switch-hitting 2011 first-round pick hit .293/.341/.469. He also threw out 46 percent of would-be basestealers and improved his defense behind the plate.

OF: Joc Pederson, Los Angeles Dodgers
Quick quiz: How many professional baseball players went 30-30 in 2014? One: Pederson. At No. 16 on the Top 100 and No. 3 on the Dodgers' list, Pederson was the only player at any level to accomplish the feat. The outfielder did it in just 121 games and 448 at-bats with Triple-A Albuquerque before receiving a September callup. Pederson not only had 33 homers and 30 steals, he also had a 1.017 OPS, good for fourth in the Minors. Sure, he struck out 149 times, but he also drew 100 walks en route to a .435 OBP, third among Minor Leaguers.

OF: Michael Taylor, Washington Nationals
A raw, toolsy shortstop-turned-outfielder, Taylor had a breakout year, largely in Double-A, in 2014. The Nationals' No. 3 prospect had a 20-30 season (23 home runs, 37 steals), went to the Futures Game and earned his first big league callup. His strikeout rate is still quite high, but his walk rate and OBP improved this year, signs he's moving in a very good direction.

OF: Steven Souza Jr., Washington Nationals
Souza may not have the same marquee value compared to others on this list -- he's one of only two players not on the Top 100 -- but it's impossible to look past the year he had before joining the Nationals. Souza started the year No. 14 on the Nationals' Top 20 and moved to fifth after hitting .345/.427/.577 over 100 Minor League games. His 1.004 OPS was sixth-best among all Minor League hitters, and he stole 28 bases to boot.

DH: Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers
Gallo certainly belongs on this list, but he was blocked at his normal position by Bryant. The Rangers' top prospect finished just one homer behind Bryant, narrowly missing out on his second straight Minor League home run crown. More impressive than his power output -- though his Futures Game display will be remembered for a long time -- are the adjustments he made to earn a promotion to Double-A. His approach at the plate matured, and as a result he drew more walks and made more contact, giving him more chances to tap into his plus power.

RHP: Tyler Glasnow, Pittsburgh Pirates
The MLBPipeline.com Pitching Prospect of the Year, Glasnow shook off an early back issue to absolutely dominate the Florida State League. He finished the year with the lowest opponents' batting average among Minor Leaguers and the third lowest ERA. He struck out 11.4 batters per nine innings, which actually lowered his K/9 rate to 12.0 for his career. He also lowered his BB/9 rate by nearly a walk per nine from last season to this one.

LHP: Daniel Norris, Toronto Blue Jays
There were several quality lefty prospects to consider -- four received votes for Pitching Prospect of the Year, and five are among the top 30 overall prospects -- but Norris' season truly does stand out. The 2011 second-round pick began the year in the Florida State League and ended it in the big leagues, putting up eye-popping numbers along the way. The Blue Jays' No. 1 prospect finished fifth in the Minors with 163 strikeouts, held hitters to a .212 batting average and finished with a 2.53 ERA. His 11.8 K/9 rate was coupled with a 3.1 BB/9 mark.

RP: R.J. Alvarez, San Diego Padres
Alvarez began the year as the Angels' No. 7 prospect, but was dealt to the Padres in the Huston Street deal. He's not on the Padres Top 20 currently, but he's pitched as though he belongs. Between the two organizations, Alvarez posted a 1.25 ERA in 38 relief appearances, striking out 12.7 per nine while walking 2.7. Hitters managed just a .192 batting average against him in the Minors, and he's been just as stingy during his big league debut this September.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayoB3 on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less

Cubs expect more out of Jackson in 2015

Righty, who has struggled in two years with club, has been moved to 'pen

Cubs expect more out of Jackson in 2015

MILWAUKEE -- Edwin Jackson has accepted the late-season switch to the bullpen, but Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Friday the right-hander needs to come into next year ready to show he can produce positive results.

Jackson (6-15, 6.38 ERA) was on the disabled list from Aug. 20 until Sept. 19, and in his first start back, he gave up five runs on four hits and one walk in two-thirds of an inning against the Dodgers. After that, Jackson was assigned to the bullpen, but he has yet to make an appearance.

More

"Whatever's going to happen, is going to happen," Jackson said Friday. "I'm not going to be the sour apple walking around all [ticked] off or holding my head down because of the move. If my name is called out of the 'pen, I'll be ready to go."

This year is the second year of Jackson's four-year, $52 million deal, and it hasn't gone well. He led the National League in losses last season with 18, and he is third this year.

"I think Edwin's aware that he needs to turn his Cubs career around and work hard and show better form that he's someone who can be counted on," Epstein said Friday. "I think the default position is that given the competition we're going to have, guys will need to pitch well to have a spot."

Moving Jackson to the bullpen was a "collective idea," Epstein said.

"It's been at the stage where it's appropriate to try some creative things to try to build some momentum to turn this thing around," Epstein said. "He's bought into it."

The right-hander, who has made 30 relief appearances in his career, said he plans on doing his same routine this offseason.

"I know I have my work cut out for me, but I still believe my best years are ahead of me, and it's up to me to go out and prove it," Jackson said.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less