Amid moves, Riggins named pitching coach

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Amid moves, Riggins named pitching coach

Monday, Dec. 6, 2010
2:49 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. Mark Riggins traveled all across the country to watch these pitching prospects, leaving his home in Kentucky to spend around 125 nights each year in a hotel.

Riggins would visit Boise, Idaho, Daytona, Fla., Des Moines, Iowa, a week at each minor-league affiliate to see if they lived up to the hype.

Larry Rothschild didnt seek out the attention, but he cut a familiar figure, sitting next to one Cubs manager after another in the dugout, getting tangled up in the cautionary tales of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood.

Most fans wont recognize the new guy with the moustache. But in a move that reinforces their belief in the systems young arms, the Cubs promoted Riggins from minor-league coordinator to pitching coach on Monday to replace Rothschild.

On Day 1 of the winter meetings inside the Walt Disney World complex, that passed as a major announcement for a team with limited payroll flexibility.

The Cubs arent going to be major players in the free-agent market. They are scheduled to meet with agent Scott Boras soon Carlos Penas name will come up as a first-base option and will continue to look for a starting pitcher and a right-handed reliever.

Whichever way the first move may go, general manager Jim Hendry said, that might effect the way you do business for the other couple pieces.

Until dominos start to fall there were rumors linking the Cubs to Adrian Gonzalez and James Loney in unlikely trade talks they will have to look at solutions from within.

The Cubs have locked in Sean Marshall as their eighth-inning reliever, but internally theyre still debating whether Andrew Cashner should be moved to the rotation. It will depend on the other offseason moves.

Riggins spent the past three years as minor-league pitching coordinator, monitoring the impact players the Cubs are counting on for 2011 and beyond. Before that he lasted 29 seasons in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, serving as their pitching coach under Joe Torre in 1995.

Riggins has followed Cashner since he was selected 19th overall in the 2008 draft and helped him work on a changeup during the Arizona Fall League. Riggins believes Cashner has enough pitches to be a front-end major-league starter.

There will be plenty of other projects, especially if the available money is spent on a first baseman. Riggins will try to get through to Carlos Zambrano and salvage the 10 million investment the Cubs made in Jeff Samardzija.

On some level Riggins will have to be a psychologist.

Thats what the game is calling (for) now. These guys are a little different as far as their makeup, their confidence levels, Riggins said. They need to be patted on the back a little more from when I (first started). You have to treat each guy individually. He might have some problems at home, how he was brought up, his parents, his family.

You have to work a lot on the mental side with the guys to keep them going every day.

Communication skills helped Mike Quade earn his promotion. Though Riggins admitted that he hasnt spent much time with the new Cubs manager, he feels they come from the same place. Both will be 54 next year and spent too many seasons in the minors waiting for an opportunity like this.

Rothschild appeared ready to return for his 10th season as Cubs pitching coach he had already exercised his 2011 contractual option but was lured away by the New York Yankees and the chance to train near his family's home in Tampa, Fla.

Rothschild enjoys a good reputation throughout the industry, and there will be few financial limitations placed upon his new pitching staff. But it seems like the Cubs are not going for names, and instead trusting the people they already have in place.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Cubs: The Aroldis Chapman Show begins at Wrigley Field

Cubs: The Aroldis Chapman Show begins at Wrigley Field

Rage Against the Machine’s “Wake Up” blasted from the Wrigley Field sound system at 9:51 p.m. on Wednesday as Aroldis Chapman trotted toward the mound. Nothing would get lost in translation as the Cubs unleashed their new closer on the White Sox.

Chapman didn’t feel the full rush of adrenaline, because a revived offense scored five runs in the eighth inning, ending the save situation and any real suspense for the crowd of 41,166. The game within the game became looking up at the 3,990-square-foot LED video board in left field for the velocity reading after each pitch and listening to the oohs and aahs.

Chapman made it look easy against the middle of the White Sox lineup, with 13 of his 15 pitches clocked between 100 and 103 mph in the ninth inning of an 8-1 victory. That triple-digit default setting, fluid left-handed delivery and intimidating presence showed why the Cubs made a game-changing trade with the New York Yankees.

The first impressions from Tuesday’s press conference apparently bothered Chapman enough that he initially refused to speak to the reporters waiting around his locker after his debut. There had been questions about his 30-game suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy, the off-the-field expectations from chairman Tom Ricketts and where the wires got crossed with coach/translator Henry Blanco.

After taking a shower – and listening to a few associates inside the clubhouse – Chapman agreed to two minutes of questions with catcher Miguel Montero acting as his translator.

“It happened,” Chapman said when asked about his portrayal in the Chicago media. “Don’t want to go further with it.”

The controversy will begin to fade after Chapman struck out Jose Abreu swinging at a 91-mph slider that almost scraped the dirt, forced Todd Frazier into a routine groundball and struck out pinch-hitter Avisail Garcia looking at a 103-mph fastball.

“It’s just entertaining to watch the gun, beyond everything else,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s a different kind of a pitcher. You don’t see that every 100 years or so. He’s just that good. Everybody talks about the fastball. How good is the slider? The slider is devastating.

“He was very calm in the moment. He was able to get through the last couple days to go out there. It was almost good it wasn’t a save situation just to get his feet on the ground.”

Picture the drama and the excitement when Chapman isn’t throwing with a seven-run lead and has to get the final three outs in a playoff game at Wrigley Field.

“I’m not impressed – I thought we were getting a guy that threw 105,” winning pitcher Jason Hammel joked. “I’ve never seen anything like it.

“It’s jaw-dropping. To see that type of velocity and command, it’s almost unfair to have a slider and offspeed pitches after that, too.”

This is what the Cubs envisioned when they decided to weather the media storms and absorb the PR hits, how Maddon could reimagine the entire bullpen and the whole team would sense the game-over feeling when the ball is in Chapman’s left hand.

“That’s a confidence-booster for us and it’s a morale kick for anybody out there,” Hammel said. “For the other side, it’s got to be black clouds: ‘Oh man, we can’t let the bullpen get in there.’”

Cubs felt the inevitable sense of trading a big-time prospect like Gleyber Torres

Cubs felt the inevitable sense of trading a big-time prospect like Gleyber Torres

The New York Yankees directed blanket coverage of the Cubs in the weeks leading up to the Aroldis Chapman deal, looking closely at prospects throughout their farm system. Three names figured to be prominent if the Yankees decided to sell and the Cubs wanted to make a blockbuster trade: Gleyber Torres, Eloy Jimenez and Ian Happ.

The Yankees made Torres their headliner in that four-player return from the Cubs, getting the organization’s top prospect and a supremely talented defensive shortstop out of Venezuela. The Cubs invested $1.7 million in Torres during the summer of 2013, the signing formalized the same day as the Jake Arrieta trade with the Baltimore Orioles.

This has been years in the making for Theo Epstein’s front office, building the first-place team that drew 41,116 to Wrigley Field for Wednesday night’s 8-1 crosstown victory over the White Sox, watching Chapman throw 13 pitches in the ninth inning that hit triple digits on the huge video board, understanding that the Cubs had to sacrifice parts of their future for the now.

“That’s the right word – inevitable – just because of the timing of when we thought we were going to be good,” said Jason McLeod, the senior vice president of scouting and player development. “We all knew as we were doing this that there was going to come that time when you trade the player that you not only feel is an impact-type prospect, but the organization just loves the person.

“Gleyber certainly fits that. That was one of the tougher calls I’ve ever had where we’re trading a guy, just because of how much the kid meant to us personally, and just hearing him, too.

“He was – as you would expect (with) a 19-year-old – shaken up and saddened by it, just because in three short years he had dreamt of nothing but being a Cub and playing here at Wrigley. I just told him: ‘You’ll still be wearing pinstripes. They’ll just be a different (color).’”

The Cubs didn’t want to trade core guys off their major-league roster and have a middle-infield foundation with Addison Russell, Javier Baez and Ben Zobrist. So they gave up a high-floor player from Class-A Myrtle Beach while holding onto Jimenez and Happ and seeking out more possible deals before the Aug. 1 trade deadline.

“All of them would have been hard to swallow,” McLeod said. “But we know that’s part of why we try to stockpile as much talent as we can.”

The Cubs can market Happ as another polished college switch-hitter with first-round pedigree, second baseman/outfielder versatility and an early ETA (already at Double-A Tennessee during his first full season of professional baseball).

Jimenez – who got a $2.8 million bonus out of the Dominican Republic during the same signing class as Torres – enjoyed a breakout performance during the All-Star Futures Game in San Diego and almost has a .900 OPS at Class-A South Bend.

At the age of 19, with a 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame and a smooth right-handed swing, Jimenez reminds the Cubs a little bit of Kris Bryant during his freshman season at the University of San Diego, meaning the sky is the limit.

Tonight on CSN: Cubs-White Sox finale from Wrigley

Tonight on CSN: Cubs-White Sox finale from Wrigley

The Crosstown Classic concludes on Thursday at Wrigley Field as the White Sox square off against the Cubs on CSN Chicago. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 6 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Chris Sale (14-3, 3.18 ERA) vs. John Lackey (7-7, 3.79 ERA)

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