Mooney: Plotting the future for Castro, Colvin

Mooney: Plotting the future for Castro, Colvin

Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2010
9:48 PM
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Within a span of about 72 hours and less than a year removed from Class-A Daytona Starlin Castro learned all you need to know about playing in Chicago.

Castro showed up in Cincinnati on May 7 and looked like the spark an underachieving team needed. He homered in his first at-bat and set a major-league record with six RBI in his debut.

Three nights later, he was booed during his first game at Wrigley Field. He committed three errors and didnt run after a ball, nearly becoming a billboard for lack of hustle.

Between those highs and lows, the 20-year-old shortstop has found a medium. With five plate appearances Monday night, he qualified for the leader board and entered Tuesday fifth in the National League with a .313 batting average.

Yes, Ian Desmond (29) is the only player in the majors who has committed more errors than Castro (20) this season, and the Washington Nationals shortstop has been on this level for about a month longer in 2010.

But Castro is a willing student, and hes shown that he cares, slamming his helmet to the ground several times in frustration after making an out. Hes made the adjustments, hitting .227 in June, .361 in July and .331 this month.

Adrenalines a wonderful thing, manager Mike Quade said. But then he had a little down period and recovered really quickly to do what hes doing now. (If) you finish strong after everybody has a look at you (around the league), that says a lot about your talent.

Cubs vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita who oversees the minor-league system and international scouting operations expects Castro to train at the teams academy in the Dominican Republic during the offseason.

By late November, Fleita would also like to see Castro playing winter ball. There is a relationship with Leones del Escogido, where general manager Moises Alou put together a team that won last years Caribbean World Series.

Now its easy to envision Castro as the Cubs shortstop for the next decade. Less clear is where exactly Tyler Colvin fits into those plans.

Colvin, who will turn 25 next week, continues to work out at first base before games. Quade likes to plan several days in advance and does not see Colvin starting there this weekend against the New York Mets.

On Monday the outfielder fired a bullet from right to throw out a runner and it made Quade think of Andre Dawson, the eight-time Gold Glove winner who was honored that night at Wrigley Field.

Thats why we dont want to get carried away with it, Quade said. He does an excellent job in the outfield (and) his work at first will not hurt him at all defensively out there. His diligence to both positions will take care of that. Its just something to fool around with, but its not imminent at all.

If Colvin proves he can handle playing first base, it would give the Cubs options heading into 2011. But they also dont want to mess with a player whos had a nice rookie season but is struggling in August with a .227 average and a .284 on-base percentage. He has to reach a certain comfort level.

You got to find out about the kids one way or the other, Quade said. Given the situation were in, you wouldnt do it against a contender, for sure, but its not out of the question. Theres (29) games left and wed still like to do that.

Those are the decisions being played out all across the organization. The minor-league clubs woke up Tuesday morning with a 356-299 cumulative record and Triple-A Iowa and Double-A Tennessee looking to win championships.

The Cubs have assigned seven players to the Arizona Fall League. Outfielder Brett Jackson, a 2009 first-round pick, will be there alongside infielder Josh Vitters. The third overall pick in 2007 draft, Vitters broke his finger last month but is expected to begin taking groundballs and hitting within the next several days.

Pitchers Kyle Smit, who was acquired in the Ted Lilly deal, and David Cales, a Mount Carmel High School graduate, will also head to Arizona. Pitchers Chris Carpenter and Jake Muyco and infielder Ryan Flaherty will be joining them in Mesa.

Considering that Castro played in the Arizona Fall League last year, and that an organization stressing player development has already used 16 rookies this season, the desert doesnt seem that far away from Lake Michigan.

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 next steps for Kyle Schwarber

Cubs: The next steps for Kyle Schwarber

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – Kyle Schwarber might have been the most dangerous hitter in a World Series lineup that featured the National League MVP plus four more All-Stars. After spending more than six months recovering from major knee surgery. Against Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber and a dominant Cleveland Indians bullpen.

“He’s not going to play winter ball,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said with a perfect deadpan delivery. “We felt like he proved he can hit major-league pitching.”

The Cubs spent Monday at the winter meetings inside the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, continuing their search for pitching on the outskirts of Washington, D.C. The Cubs are so stacked with hitters that manager Joe Maddon could write out a 2017 Opening Day lineup tomorrow and Theo Epstein’s front office would still have Jorge Soler left over as trade bait.

Schwarber could hit second for the defending World Series champs, and his presence would mean more than any player the Cubs could sign as a free agent. The Cubs expect him to be at full strength by spring training, though it’s unclear how much work, if any, he’ll get as a catcher.

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“That’s the hurdle we haven’t really gone over yet,” Hoyer said. “Can he do it? There’s no question he’s going to want to do it. I think he can do it. I think that we have to have discussions about how heavy a workload we put on him in that regard.

“One of the things we talked about even last year before he got hurt was (how) he’s doing full catching drills, running around the outfield, doing stuff hitting. That’s a lot to put on a guy, sort of like playing two ways in football.”

Schwarber, an all-Ohio linebacker in high school, has a run-through-a-brick-wall mentality and doesn’t like to hear about what he can’t do. He wrecked his left knee in an outfield collision in early April and needed a procedure that reconstructed his ACL and repaired his LCL.

It took only two warm-up games in the Arizona Fall League before Schwarber made his dramatic return as the designated hitter at Progressive Field, batting .412 (7-for-17) with a .971 OPS during the World Series. 

The Cubs appear to be set with Willson Contreras and Miguel Montero behind the plate, but Schwarber is the type of baseball gym rat who enjoys breaking down video, giving input for scouting reports and being involved in every pitch.  

“We have to talk through all that stuff,” Hoyer said. “We know what his position’s going to be, so we have to figure out what our position’s going to be. I know he’s going to want to catch.

“But he knows he’s coming in as a left fielder next year. And we have to decide how much of the catching drills (he does).”

Kenley Jansen? Wade Davis? Cubs keeping an open mind for the ninth inning

Kenley Jansen? Wade Davis? Cubs keeping an open mind for the ninth inning

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – The San Francisco Giants had been three outs away from forcing an elimination game that Johnny Cueto would have started at Wrigley Field – and five different relievers couldn’t protect a three-run lead against a Cubs team that made a stunning comeback.

That October crash reverberated throughout the winter meetings as a $10 billion industry gathered outside Washington, D.C. The Giants bought peace of mind for the ninth inning on Monday and finalized a four-year, $62 million deal with Mark Melancon. For the moment, that will be the biggest contract ever for a closer, at least until Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman shatter that record.

The Cubs have been in contact with Jansen’s camp, sources said, monitoring his market to see if there might be a match as the World Series champs try to upgrade the bullpen this week at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center.

Theo Epstein’s front office doesn’t necessarily have a singular focus – believe the reports linking the Cubs to Kansas City Royals closer Wade Davis – or the appetite to win a Jansen bidding war that will include the Los Angeles Dodgers and Miami Marlins and perhaps the New York Yankees and Washington Nationals.

But after telling everyone that they did two offseasons in one last winter – and spending almost $290 million on free agents – this is where the Cubs could make a splash.

“It’s safe to say we’re kicking the tires on any pitching that’s available,” general manager Jed Hoyer said during his briefing with the Chicago media. “We’re not spending a lot of time on bats. We’re spending a lot of times on arms. Anyone that’s available, we’re going to sort of be in on and talking about.”

Cubs manager Joe Maddon watched Jansen’s cutter up close and gave this endorsement during the National League Championship Series: “He’s like a 100-pound heavier version of Mariano Rivera.”

Jansen, a homegrown Dodger, converted from catcher and developed into an elite closer, saving 189 games while putting up a 2.20 career ERA and 13.9 strikeouts per nine innings.

Jansen just turned 29 and already showed a willingness to pitch outside the ninth inning and go for more than three outs, something that didn’t come easily for Chapman in an October where former Yankee teammate Andrew Miller became an American League Championship Series MVP for the Cleveland Indians.

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“The postseason was reliever-centric,” Hoyer said. “Bullpens have always been really valuable, but I think the way they were used and talked about – really, not even this postseason, but the last two or three postseasons – people are definitely putting a lot of financial importance on having a good bullpen.”

Kansas City’s blueprint for winning back-to-back pennants and the 2015 World Series featured Davis, who posted a 0.94 ERA during that championship season. But Davis dealt with a strained right forearm this year and will make $10 million in his final season before free agency, at a time when the Royals can begin to see their window to contend closing.

The Cubs haven’t made Chapman a priority – and Epstein’s group has been philosophically opposed to the idea of investing big money in a closer – but they also know they probably don’t get that parade down Lake Shore Drive and Michigan Avenue without that blockbuster deal with the Yankees.

“We see the value of it,” Hoyer said. “Look, we traded a great young prospect in Gleyber Torres to get Chapman, because we felt like that was an area that we were a little bit short. We felt like in order to win the World Series, we had to have that kind of guy at the end of the game. It proved to be right.

“In order to get those really difficult final outs in the postseason, having an elite guy is certainly a huge advantage.”

So if the White Sox become the Chicago team that makes most of the headlines here – and in-house options like Hector Rondon, Carl Edwards Jr. and Pedro Strop disappoint – the Cubs can always reassess at the trade deadline.

“We’ll bolster our bullpen,” Hoyer said. “Whether you do that by adding just a number of good relievers – or whether we do it by adding a guy that’s sort of a known closer – I’m not sure. But we’ll definitely add to our bullpen.”