Influx of information a boon for Cubs prospects

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Influx of information a boon for Cubs prospects

When a team has a front office friendly to advanced statistics like the Cubs have, the benefits of such a perspective are expected to come in the form of savvy trade and free agent signings.

But as a pair of the team's pitching prospects discussed at a panel at the 2013 Cubs Convention, the data-reliant approach goes well beyond the GM chair.

For right-hander Dallas Beeler, a 2010 draft pick, the differences in the scouting information made available to him before and after Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer took the reigns of the organization were undeniable.

RELATED: Cubs prospect Beeler well versed in humility

"In 2011, I was in Peoria and Tennessee," began Beeler, "We would go into games and look at a guy's stats and say 'He's hitting this average, or he's hitting this average over the last 10 games, or this many home runs, or had this many stolen bases."

But when 2012 rolled around, Beeler and other Cubs hurlers found themselves with a lot more information to digest.

"This past year, we'd have a guy -- a video guy -- who would come and go over the opposing team's entire lineup, go through their last 10 games and would find their strengths, their weaknesses, where you should pitch them and in what counts, their stats, if they like steal early, etc. It was a lot more in-depth."

2011 fourth round pick and right-handed relief prospect Tony Zych hardly had any time to get used to the old Cubs way of doing things, but was still struck by the amount of scouting information available under the new regime.

RELATED: Cubs prospect Zych on the fast track to big leagues

"There's so much that goes into everything," said Zych, who claimed that he spent so much time reviewing video that he was eventually instructed to step back from it entirely for a while to regain his focus.

With that information in hand, the level of familiarity with opposing hitters that Cubs minor league arms enter into each at-bat with is a lot more extensive than it was prior to Epstein's arrival in Chicago.

"It helps me a lot because I can know what to throw in certain situations," said Beeler, "Last year it would be like 'I know this guy can hit, he's hitting .310, but I don't know what he does with this count. If I get in this count with him, what does he look for?' Now, we get all the pitch-tracking, so we get the percentages."

As Zych can testify to, the sheer volume of data, video and reports can be a bit much. But as these pitchers try to work their way toward realizing their major league dreams, the extra assistance is appreciated.

"I try to use everything they give to me," said Beeler, "If they give it to me, why not use it? It not going to hurt me."

New bullpen clicks as advertised in Cubs victory over White Sox

New bullpen clicks as advertised in Cubs victory over White Sox

The Cubs bullpen has gone from a problem area to a seemingly automatic endgame.

Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon and Aroldis Chapman preserved a tight lead as the Cubs beat the White Sox 3-1 Thursday night in front of 41,157 fans at Wrigley Field, evening up the season series between the two Chicago teams.

Manager Joe Maddon got to employ his best-case scenario as John Lackey accounted for six innings before Strop pitched the seventh, Rondon got two outs in the eighth and then Chapman came in for the final four outs.

Rondon got into a little trouble as Tyler Saladino led off the eighth with a double into the left-field corner, but the former Cubs closer struck out Adam Eaton and got Tim Anderson to ground out.

With Melky Cabrera — who has been swinging a hot bat — up next, Maddon came out to replace Rondon with the new 105 mph closer.

Chapman didn't even mess around with offspeed stuff, just blowing the ball right by Cabrera to end the threat.

The Cubs tacked on a run in the bottom of the eighth as Ben Zobrist led off with a double, advanced to third on Adam Eaton's error and then scored on Addison Russell's ground out.

Dexter Fowler was his classic "you go, we go" self, scoring the Cubs' first two runs against Sox ace Chris Sale — first on an RBI double from Kris Bryant on the Cubs' second batter of the game and then later on Zobrist's single up the middle in the third inning.

Lackey allowed only the one run and it came in the first inning when Tim Anderson reached on an infield single and then scored on Cabrera's double into the right-field corner.

Cubs preparing to hire new translator after Aroldis Chapman’s rocky start in Chicago

Cubs preparing to hire new translator after Aroldis Chapman’s rocky start in Chicago

The Cubs are in the process of hiring a new translator for Aroldis Chapman, sources said, trying to smooth things over after a rocky introduction to Chicago that left the superstar closer feeling frustrated by his portrayal in the media.

Chapman told Comcast SportsNet Chicago’s Siera Santos that he requested a new translator on Thursday, while a Cubs official said the team had made the offer earlier this week, responding to all the negative coverage from a press conference that made a bad first impression and national headlines for the wrong reasons.

The Cubs understood trading for Chapman – who began this season serving a 30-game suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy – would immediately spark controversy.

But the Cubs still didn’t seem completely prepared for the moment, or quite as thorough as advertised, watching Chapman look disengaged on Tuesday, not remembering anything specific about what chairman Tom Ricketts had told him over the phone about off-the-field conduct – a precondition that president of baseball operations Theo Epstein sold as an essential part of the deal with the New York Yankees.

With a large group of reporters gathered before a Cubs-White Sox game, Chapman sat in U.S. Cellular Field’s visiting dugout next to Henry Blanco, the quality-assurance coach and former big-league catcher who’s approved under the new joint program between MLB and the players’ union that requires every team to have a full-time, Spanish-speaking translator this year.

Blanco has built-in credibility and communication skills after playing for 11 different teams across 16 big-league seasons, but he found himself in a difficult position, given the sensitive nature of the questions and what’s at stake for a World Series favorite and an image-conscious organization.

Chapman later did a one-on-one interview in Spanish with ESPN’s Pedro Gomez. The team’s public-relations department circulated that transcript, with Epstein saying Chapman had been nervous and something got lost in translation.

But the damage had been done, with a visibly upset Chapman initially refusing to speak to the media on Wednesday night after making a spectacular debut in a Cubs uniform, unleashing 13 pitches from his left arm that registered at least 100 mph on the big Wrigley Field video board.

It became an awkward scene after what was supposed to be a feel-good 8-1 victory over the White Sox, creating a new tension in a laid-back clubhouse. Chapman showered, listened to his associates and ultimately agreed to two minutes of questions, with catcher Miguel Montero becoming his translator.

“What I’m trying to do right now is to really build a relationship with this guy so he starts trusting me,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I believe once that occurs, I’m really going to be able to understand exactly what he’s about and what he’s thinking.

“I know there’s been some reticence or pushback regarding him to this point. However, understand where he’s coming from right now. We don’t know him. He doesn’t know us. And he really doesn’t even know the language.”

Chapman – who grew up in Cuba and is now in his seventh season in the big leagues – should be motivated to acclimate given the possibility of a World Series ring and a big free-agent contract this winter.

“I’ve spoken to him only once, at length, just trying to get him to relax,” Maddon said, “(and) have him understand me and what we’re all about here.

“As we all develop better relationships with him, the conversation’s going to flow a lot more easily and you’re going to maybe get the kind of information you’re looking for. But to put myself in his shoes, coming into a new venue, a new city, new everything, it’s a pretty heavy moment to immediately be scrutinized that way. I can almost understand why it’s been difficult for him.”

With Aroldis Chapman in the fold, do Cubs now have a bullpen that rivals world champion Royals?

With Aroldis Chapman in the fold, do Cubs now have a bullpen that rivals world champion Royals?

Aroldis Chapman firing 103 mph fastballs past hitters is going to send the sellout crowds at Wrigley into a frenzy on a nightly basis in the season's final few months.

It also gives the Cubs bullpen a completely different look, something Joe Maddon has referenced several times since Theo Epstein's front office pulled off the blockbuster for the most dominant closer in the game.

With Chapman slamming the door in the ninth, Hector Rondon and his 1.89 ERA now move up to the eighth inning. Pedro Strop — who is having arguably the best season of his career with a 2.79 ERA, 0.82 WHIP and 11.4 K/9 — now slots in as a seventh-inning guy.

It has the look of a trio of relievers that could rival the dominant Kansas City Royals bullpen over the last two World Series runs.

Cubs second baseman/outfielder Ben Zobrist got a firsthand look at the back end of the Royals' bullpen last fall, watching Kelvin Herrera, Ryan Madson and Wade Davis combine for only one unearned run against the New York Mets in 12 World Series innings.

Zobrist isn't ready to crown the Cubs' bullpen in the same category, but he could see how the comparisons could be made.

"I don't know; it just started," Zobrist said before Thursday's Crosstown finale. "I'm not gonna say it's exactly like it. It's different. It's different guys, but it's the same type of makeup.

"You got really hard-throwing guys that know how to spot their pitches and they're really tough pitchers. That's the way it felt last year in Kansas City. 

"When you get a guy like Strop or a Kelvin Herrera or whatever that's coming in in like the seventh, you're going, 'This guy can be a closer on just about any other team and yet he's coming in this early in the game.'

"That spells doom for other teams. It's tough to overcome that later in the game."

[RELATED - The Aroldis Chapman Show comes to Wrigley]

With all the days off built into the posteseason, teams can roll with their best relievers on a nightly basis. 

Maddon likes to play matchups and ride the hot hand, but come October, he will have three very good options, as Chapman's presence has a domino effect on the rest of the relievers.

"That shortens the game," Zobrist said. "For the other team, when they're going up against that, they know that they only have so much time before the game is over in their minds mentally. 

"If we have a lead going into the sixth, seventh inning, they're in trouble because they're going to have to face some of the best relievers in the game the last few innings.

"What [Chapman] does to our bullpen is just takes it to that next level where the game is at least an inning shorter."

Cubs fans got to see that play out in front of them at Wrigley Field Wednesday night as Rondon came in to throw a perfect eighth before Chapman blew the Sox away in the ninth.

"They just know that it's hard to come back from a game when you're winning late in the game like that," Zobrist said. "Even if it's 3-1 like it was last night [before the Cubs tacked on five insurance runs], it seems like an insurmountable lead when you got a couple guys at the back end of the bullpen like that."