Mooney: The year of the rookies

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Mooney: The year of the rookies

Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2010
3:21 PM
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Andrew Cashner had faced Buster Posey before in the Arizona Fall League, the training ground for elite prospects, though the San Francisco Giants rookie had no recollection.

The Cubs reliever also remembered seeing Posey in spring training but one at-bat will stick out -- especially if the Giants make a deep postseason run and the catcher is voted Rookie of the Year -- from Sept. 21 at Wrigley Field.

In the eighth inning of a scoreless game the Giants desperately needed, Posey smashed Cashner's 96 mph fastball and when it landed it ricocheted in and out of the basket in front of the batter's eye in center field.

After that 1-0 loss Cashner -- who's been accountable ever since his big-league debut on Memorial Day -- could be found at his locker.

Cashner said he simply got beat on that home run. And if the Cubs keep him on this path -- by Game 161 he hadn't heard anything about whether they want to use him as a starter or reliever next season -- there will be more nights like that.

From top to bottom, Cashner never felt like the organization lost faith in him, but he also viewed the final six weeks of this season as a chance to make next year-s team. From Aug. 23 on -- the day Mike Quade took over for Lou Piniella -- Cashner posted a 1.40 ERA in his last 18 games, limiting opponents to a .203 average.

"For somebody who throws so hard, (his) command is amazing," pitcher Ryan Dempster said. "I dream on my best day to throw the ball where I want it like that. And he does it at 100 mph and it's so easy. (His) delivery (is) smooth and he gets downhill.

"He's got (an) electric arm and he's got a chance to be really special. God gave him a pretty cool thing on the right side of his body."

Across the country, this has been the year of the rookie. Washington Nationals prodigy Stephen Strasburg made baseball relevant in the nation's capital -- until he needed elbow-reconstruction surgery.

Imported from Cuba at a cost of more than 30 million, Aroldis Chapman could be a game-changer for the Cincinnati Reds this postseason with velocity that reaches higher than 100 mph.

When the Atlanta Braves open their best-of-five series Thursday night at AT&T Park by the San Francisco Bay, you'll be able to watch the two National League rookies most likely to win the award.

While handling one of the best pitching staffs in the game, the 23-year-old Posey hit .305 with 18 home runs and 67 RBI in only 108 games.

On Opening Day Jason Heyward homered in his first major-league at-bat, a three-run bomb off Carlos Zambrano that sent the 53,081 fans at Turner Field into a tomahawk-chopping frenzy.

Heyward, who celebrated his 21st birthday this summer, kept producing, hitting .277 with 18 homers, 72 RBI and a .393 on-base percentage.

For months, that 16-5 loss to the Braves on April 5 seemed like all you needed to know about the 2010 Cubs. An erratic Zambrano got only four outs. An unreliable bullpen gave up eight more runs. A defense that would finish tied for last in the league in fielding percentage (.979) committed two errors.

The young players would be unpredictable. Tyler Colvin hit 20 home runs -- with 100 strikeouts -- in 358 at-bats before the shattered piece of a maple bat stabbed his chest.

Shortstop Starlin Castro committed 27 errors -- second-most in the majors -- but also became the first Cubs rookie to hit .300 since Bill Madlock in 1974. For the Cubs to get back to the playoffs, they will need to see growth.

"You got to be aware (that) next year is a tough year for them," hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo said. "That sophomore jinx, (whatever) you want to call it -- they can overcome it mentally, but it's part (of) baseball. It's been there all the time and we'll see how those kids react."

For a moment during his state-of-the-team address before the final home game at Wrigley Field, chairman Tom Ricketts sounded less like an investment banker and more like an advance scout who had spent too many nights on the road at Marriott hotels.

"Look at the guys that have contributed up here," Ricketts said in acknowledging an otherwise disappointing season. "The Castros, the Colvins, the Cashners."

Cashner, who turned 24 last month, spent the final weekend of the season in Houston, about 45 minutes from where he grew up. The Texan loves hunting and fishing, but still planned to return to Chicago for a few more days. The former first-round pick couldn't see paying all that money for his apartment and not staying there until the lease expired.

That is where Cashner finds himself this offseason, thinking he hasn't made it yet, but knowing that he belongs.

"(It's) just a lot of confidence," Cashner said the night Posey took him deep. "I'm going after guys. I don't care anymore -- here it is."

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

Report: Dexter Fowler closing in on deal with Cardinals

Report: Dexter Fowler closing in on deal with Cardinals

Dexter Fowler won't be making a surprise return to the Cubs next season.

Fowler is closing in on a deal to sign with the St. Louis Cardinals, according to USA Today's Bob Nightengale.

The Cubs signed outfielder Jon Jay last week to a one-year deal, pretty much sealing Fowler's future with the Cubs.

In two seasons in Chicago, Fowler batted .261/.367/.427 with 30 home runs and 94 RBI, and a World Series ring.

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.”