Cubs prospect Zych on the fast track to the big leagues

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Cubs prospect Zych on the fast track to the big leagues

During the From Draft Day to the Big Leagues panel at the 2013 Cubs Convention, a fan asked the foursome of prospects seated at the dais when it was that they realized they were different; that their abilities were such that they could play baseball professionally.

For most, it was a gradual process, but 2011 fourth-round pick Tony Zych had a specific moment where he was struck by the realization that he had a bit more in his right arm than most kids. Or it would be better to say that his father was struck, by a fastball from his still not even ten year-old son that ripped through his glove.

"We were out there playing catch like we were most of the time, and he got down and I started actually pitching to him, said Zych, He had his old softball mitt, a men's league softball mitt -- and I thought it was a fine glove, pretty normal -- I don't know what happened, but it literally went right through his glove and smoked him right in the face. He was all bloody, and he took his glove off and we had to go in.

As Zych recalls, his father was less than thrilled at the time.

These days, Zychs fastball which regularly clocked in around 95 mph during last months Arizona Fall League --gets a much warmer reception. Baseball Prospectus Jason Parks called it plus-plus, and its the one huge tool in his arsenal that allowed him to blow away minor league hitters (64 strikeouts in 61.1 innings across High-A and AA in 2012) and could push Zych to Wrigley Field as soon as 2013.

That might sound like a rush, but Zych feels like hed be ready even sooner if need be.

Tomorrow, said Zych swiftly when asked when hed be ready, I'm not shy to say that because that's what I believe. Arm-wise, I think there's definitely a chance, at any time, but that's not my decision."

While the confidence is already in strong supply, there are refinements to Zychs secondary pitches that are still needed, and lapses in his control (12 walks in 24.2 innings after his mid-season promotion to AA Tennessee) that need to be eliminated before he becomes a fixture in a major league bullpen.

To make those adjustments, he leans on his minor league pitching coach, former Cub Jeff Fassero.

Fassero has helped me a lot on knowing what I was seeing in the video room, said Zych, Or when I'm throwing a pitch and think it's somewhere when it really wasn't.

Under the watchful eye of Fassero, Zychs approach to locating his pitches has gotten more precise.

"One thing I'm doing right now is focusing smaller," he said. "Not just playing catch with my partner but focusing on a button, or something else small, because if you can hit a button, you can hit a glove.

"Sometimes I land on my toe a little bit, said Zych, as he began to mime positioning his foot on the pitching rubber in the middle of the Sheraton Hotel, So I try to make sure my foot is flat."

Zych certainly had a lot more to say about his work and preparation than the pressure he feels being with his hometown team after growing up in nearby Monee, Illinois. If anything, he sees the possibility of playing in the major leagues in the same city where he attended St. Rita high school as a chance to show his appreciation to everyone who helped him along the way.

Theres not pressure, said Zych, Obviously there are a lot of people that I would want to be at his major league debut because they helped to get me here. I just hope I get the opportunity.

He already made sure to take care of the little matter of his fathers mangled glove.

"He actually tied it together with a shoestring, he didn't even get a new glove. Now I always make sure he's got another one because I still love playing catch with him."

Koji Uehara would add another dimension to Cubs bullpen

Koji Uehara would add another dimension to Cubs bullpen

The Cubs are reportedly on the verge of adding another pitcher who’s notched the final out of a World Series as Theo Epstein’s front office builds out the bullpen for manager Joe Maddon.

The Cubs are nearing a one-year, $4.5 million deal with Koji Uehara, according to Nikkan Sports in Japan, which would open up even more possibilities for the defending champs in front of All-Star closer Wade Davis.

The Cubs made their biggest splash during this week’s winter meetings at National Harbor in Maryland by trading young outfielder Jorge Soler to the Kansas City Royals for Davis, who finished off Game 5 in the 2015 World Series.

Uehara closed out the 2013 World Series for the Boston Red Sox, the beginning of three straight seasons where he put up 20-plus saves. The Cubs have not confirmed an agreement is in place.

The Cubs needed another lefty presence with Mike Montgomery – the pitcher on the mound when the 108-year drought ended in November – moving to the rotation and Travis Wood likely leaving as a free agent.

Uehara throws right-handed, but he shuts down left-handed hitters (.183 batting average, .555 OPS across 800 at-bats) and has appeared in seven postseason series after a distinguished career in Japan.

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Uehara will turn 42 the day after Opening Day. But an array of relievers should help preserve Uehara, strengthen Carl Edwards Jr. (who’s generously listed at 170 pounds) and maybe prevent the late-season injuries that marginalized Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop during the playoffs.

“We’re going to try to build up a ton of depth,” Epstein said. “We’re going to try to build up a really talented, deep bullpen with a lot of different options that you can use in close games.

“Instead of three late-game options, it would be ideal if you had five or six. And you could always like who you’re turning to in the ‘pen and not feel the need to use a Rondon four out of five times.

“(We could) use them every other day and occasional back-to-backs. And that would help keep them fresh down the stretch – and help keep them strong in October.”

Cubs unveil championship Trophy Tour

Cubs unveil championship Trophy Tour

The Cubs announced their World Series championship victory lap Thursday afternoon.

The Cubs Trophy Tour presented by State Farm will take the World Series hardware around throughout the Midwest, beyond just the Chicagoland area.

“We’re excited to share our cherished trophy with fans this offseason as we celebrate such a historic World Series Championship,” Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said in a statement. “This year’s World Championship team is unparalleled, and so are our fans. We can’t wait for them to experience the joy of seeing this piece of history in person.”

The tour begins Friday, Dec. 9 at the official Cubs Team Store on Michigan Ave. from Noon to 3 p.m.

From there, the trophy gets the weekend off before surfacing again Thursday, Dec. 15 at Chicago City Hall from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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The Trophy Tour hits the road after that, with stops in central Illinois; the Quad Cities; South Bend and Indianapolis; Des Moines, Iowa and other Midwest locations.

Of course, the trophy will also be with the Cubs in spring training in Mesa, Ariz. and at Wrigley Field for the Cubs' home opener on April 10.

Check out Cubs.com/trophytour for more info, including a schedule, social media post and highlights from each stop along the way. 

Also be sure to follow @Cubs on Twitter and Instagram for more updates while CSN will document the Trophy Tour.