Samardzija, Teo: The spotlight comes with the territory

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Samardzija, Teo: The spotlight comes with the territory

Jeff Samardzija has lived through it already so he understands this as well as anyone: Dont believe the hype.

The media has gone from wondering if Samardzija would even make the 2011 team or if he had any minor-league options left to projecting that he will be a No. 1 starter for years to come.

Even if that All-American football background meant Samardzija needed extra time to learn about the art of pitching, it also undoubtedly helped prepare him for being a Cub.

Though talks about a possible long-term extension didnt gain much momentum, Samardzija is now viewed as a foundation piece for Theo Epsteins rebuilding project. The Cubs wrapped up their arbitration cases on Friday with Samardzija (2.64 million, his 2012 salary, plus 125,000 in performance bonuses) and reliever James Russell (1.075 million).

Samardzija hung out in South Florida with his buddies for the BCS title match, though he didnt actually go to the game and watch Alabama destroy Notre Dame. And, no, he didnt see Manti Teos girlfriend either. But he understands how the game is played.

Its Notre Dame, Samardzija said. You understand when you go to Notre Dame, you take on a different role of being under the spotlight. If things go great, its a great place to be at. You get tons of accolades for it. You get all the front-page articles. You get Sports Illustrated. You get ESPN.

But then if something doesnt go well, you pay for that, too. You need to understand if you go to that school, you have to be a responsible, mature adult.

Thats about as far as Samardzija whos probably the best interview in the Cubs clubhouse wanted to go with Teo, the Notre Dame linebacker drawn into a bizarre social media hoax.

You cant really have a comment on it, Samardzija said. Its not really your personal life and its not what Im doing. And on top of that, theres so much speculation. Some people want to believe them. Some people dont. To sit and listen to whats going on, its really arbitrary.

I dont really have an opinion on it until enough information comes out to where you can say who was right and who was wrong. You cant say too much about it (now). Obviously, thats what drives media and everything the speculation. But ultimately you got to understand (and) assume that he made a bad decision and you learn from it. You just hope its not the other side of the coin, thats all.

The perception has swung from Samardzija being a 10 million bust to the marketing department now making him a reason to buy tickets. A breakthrough 2012 season 9-13, 3.81 ERA, 180 strikeouts in 174.2 innings ended when he was shut down in September.

Looking back on it, was that the right call?

Absolutely not, Samardzija said. I want to pitch. Period. But, again, I dont make those decisions. Well answer that question in the future. At the end of this year (and) the year after that, if Im strong and healthy and ready to go, then obviously its going to be a great decision.

I dont ever think when youre healthy not playing is a good decision. I dont care what sport it is, anywhere youre at. You only get so many opportunities to play the sport youre playing. You need to take advantage of every chance you get. But I do understand why they did it and the reason for it. Because Im a reasonable man, I understand thats OK. The thing is we have common ground. We want to win.

As a whole, Im pretty stubborn. But if you get four guys in a room that say this is whats going to be best for our team in the future, then Im going to listen to it.

That attitude is why Samardzija is supposed to be a leader on the next contending Cubs team.

Cubs, White Sox react to tragic deaths of Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

Cubs, White Sox react to tragic deaths of Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

The sports world woke up to some tragic news on Sunday morning.

Former major leaguer Andy Marte and Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura were both killed in separate car accidents in the Dominican Republic within an hour of each other, according to multiple reports. A Royals representative confirmed the death of 25-year-old Ventura.

The Cubs and White Sox took to Twitter to give their condolences:

Ventura was a member of the Royals from 2013-16 and won a World Series title in 2015 with Ben Zobrist and Wade Davis, who the Cubs acquired this offseason for Jorge Soler. Ventura also played with White Sox pitcher James Shields in 2013-14.

Marte, 33, played a majority of his seven-year career with the Cleveland Indians. He was teammates with Todd Hollandsworth (Atlanta 2005), Kerry Wood (Cleveland 2009-10), and Miguel Montero (Arizona 2014).

Why Cubs are excited for pitching prospect Dylan Cease: He's 'throwing lightning bolts'

Why Cubs are excited for pitching prospect Dylan Cease: He's 'throwing lightning bolts'

Theo Epstein's front office is heading into Year 6 with the Cubs and they're finally talking about a pitcher as one of the organization's most exciting prospects.

That's how senior vice president of scouting and player development Jason McLeod framed his Dylan Cease report to fans at the Cubs Convention at the Sheraton Grand Chicago last weekend.

It was a tongue-in-cheek summation from McLeod after he spent the previous few minutes fawning over Cease, the Cubs' sixth round pick in 2014.

Of course, McLeod and the Cubs can poke fun at the lack of impact pitching the farm system has developed when the homegrown position players like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber just helped lead the franchise to its first World Series championship in over a century.

Cease, however, has been one of the more intriguing Cubs prospects for years — a right-handed pitcher capable of touching 101 mph on the radar gun.

"This guy is throwing lightning bolts out of his arm," McLeod said. "It's really exciting. But we also understaned he's only in Low-A this year, so he's far away."

The Cubs expect Cease to pitch for Class-A South Bend in 2017 after spending last season pitching for short-season Eugene and the 2015 campaign working in the rookie league in Arizona.

Cease — who just turned 21 in late December — put up some impressive numbers at both stops in the Cubs system, posting a 2.36 ERA and 1.165 WHIP to go along with a whopping 91 strikeouts in 68.2 innings. He also only surrendered one homer and walked more batters (41) than reached via a basehit (39).

Control is obviously an issue for Cease, but the upside is evident.

"He's so far away," McLeod said. "He's gonna go into 2017 as a starter. As with a lot of young guys, it's gonna come down to command and depend on that third pitch and the ability to land them for strikes.

"It's a special arm. He can pitch 95-100 mph with a big power curveball. He's unlike anyone else we have in our system since we've been here in terms of pure stuff."

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One fan compared Cease to Carl Edwards Jr. in terms of their lanky build and high velocity, setting McLeod up for a layup joke.

"Well, Dylan is much stronger physically than CJ is...as is everybody in this room," McLeod said as the ballroom filled with laugher. "Don't tell [CJ] I said that. 

"They have different body types, obviously. Carl is long and lanky and Dylan has probably put on 20 pounds since we drafted him, so he's more like 6-foot-2, 190."

By comparison, Edwards — who goes by "The String Bean Slinger" for his slight build — is listed at 6-foot-3, 170 pounds.

Edwards was drafted in the 48th round in 2011 and spent his whole minor-league career as a starting pitcher until the Cubs converted him to a reliever in 2015.

Cease may eventually go down the same path, but the Cubs are going to give him every opportunity to make it as a starter first.

Cease was one of the top pitchers available in the 2014 draft, but his stock took a hit when he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow while at Milton High School in Georgia.

That scared off a lot of teams — as did the potential signability issues with college offers looming — but the Cubs took a chance and have now watched Cease soar to a top prospect in the system (No. 4 by Baseball America; No. 7 by FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus) despite the cautious approach and lack of innings in professional ball.

"We have to thank Kyle Schwarber, actually, as one of the main reasons we got to sign Dylan Cease," McLeod said. "Because we took Kyle fourth overall, we were able to save money on the selection with him, which gave us the resources to go get Dylan Cease.

"He was a Top 10 pick in the draft — a high school arm that got hurt, fell down to the fifth round and he had a commitment to Vanderbilt, I think it was, and we were able to use the money we saved from Kyle.

"Just another reason to love Kyle Schwarber."