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.

Saturday on CSN: Kyle Hendricks, Cubs face Reds

Saturday on CSN: Kyle Hendricks, Cubs face Reds

The Cubs face off against the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday, and you can catch all the cation on CSN. Coverage begins at 3:00 p.m.

Starting pitching matchup: Kyle Hendricks vs. Robert Stephenson

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Latest on the Cubs: All of the most recent news and notes

World Series thank-yous follow Kris Bryant to Las Vegas

World Series thank-yous follow Kris Bryant to Las Vegas

MESA, Ariz. – Kris Bryant didn’t need to pose for a Crate & Barrel billboard in Wrigleyville or walk a goat around a Bed Bath & Beyond commercial shoot. Cub fans just kept sending him free stuff.

The wedding gifts actually shipped to his parents’ house in Las Vegas, where he honed the swing that landed him on a new Sports Illustrated cover that asked: “How Perfect is Kris Bryant?”   

This happens when you mention your registries on a late-night show with another Vegas guy (Jimmy Kimmel) after leading an iconic franchise to its first World Series title in 108 years.        

So Bryant will be the center of attention in Sin City this weekend when the Cubs play two split-squad games against the Cincinnati Reds. But that spotlight will pretty much follow the National League’s reigning MVP wherever he goes. 

At least this gives Bryant a chance to chill at the pool and organize the house he moved into in January. 

“My mom just kept throwing stuff in my car: ‘Here, take it!’” Bryant said. “Opening all those boxes, I can’t believe how many presents we got from fans. It was unbelievable. Jess is going to have to write all the thank-you notes. I’m just signing my name on them. You have literally like 700 thank-you notes to write.

“I said: ‘You need to just go get the generic thank-you.’ She’s like: ‘No, they took the time out of their day to buy us a present.’ This is going to take her the whole year. So if there’s anybody out there that’s waiting for one…”    

The wait is finally over for generations of Cub fans. Spring training will always have a “Groundhog Day” element to it. But this camp – with no major injuries so far or real roster intrigue or truly wacky stunts – has felt different. As the players get ready for a new season – one without 1908 looming over everything – they can’t escape what they did. 

“Every day something reminds me of it,” said Kyle Hendricks, who will start Saturday in Las Vegas. “Even going to throw in these spring games, when they announce your name and the whole crowd erupts because of the World Series. That wasn’t happening last year. 

“Little things like that make me notice. Something every day is brought to my attention, so it’s still getting used to that part.”  

The Cubs insist there won’t be a hangover effect in 2017, believing that this young group is too talented and too focused to get derailed by distractions and overconfidence. But the Cubs could go 0-162 this season and Bryant would still probably be breaking down boxes for recycling.   

“It’s funny,” Bryant said. “We just put cameras on my house for security and I’ll just look at it sometimes. I’ll randomly see my mom just unloading boxes. I’m like: ‘Mom, what’s going on? Are we getting more stuff?’ She’s like: ‘Yeah, we keep getting more boxes.’”