Starlin, Junior and the Cubs search for talent worldwide

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Starlin, Junior and the Cubs search for talent worldwide

SURPRISE, Ariz. Starlin Castro is a walking billboard at the academy in the Dominican Republic, where the Cubs think they can find the next big thing.

Castro and Alfonso Soriano train there during the offseason, and if they didnt work out hard, a team official once said, the Cubs wouldnt let them into the complex. The teenagers dont need to see big-leaguers coasting.

The little kids look at me like (Im at) the top, Castro said Wednesday. I hang out with everybody. I dont care that somebody says, Oh, why are you here? I (tell them): I passed through here. When I was a little kid, I was here, too.

The Cubs were probably slow to the game internationally that budget item fluctuated under Tribune Co. ownership and a new collective bargaining agreement will limit the amount they can spend in that market.

But going global has been a priority for chairman Tom Ricketts, whose family recently held a board meeting in the Dominican and unveiled plans for a new academy that will be part of a 50-acre development.

In assessing the organization from top to bottom, Theo Epstein found the technology to be lacking and had to bring in some of his own people. But the new president was pleasantly surprised by the pipeline that produced Castro.

We have one clear strength in our system overall our Latin American scouting and player development operation, Epstein said at the Cubs Convention. Its an outstanding operation. The players there are playing better fundamental baseball than any other Dominican academy Ive ever been in. It was really impressive. Its not a coincidence that weve developed a pretty nice game with Latin American prospects.

The next one to watch is opening eyes around Cubs camp.

The Cubs signed Castro and Junior Lake within almost three months of each other. Lakes bonus (110,000) was more than twice the amount Castro signed for. They played together on the same Dominican summer league team in 2007. The next year they were roommates in Arizona for rookie ball.

The first half of one season, Castro recalled, Lake played shortstop while Castro played second base. They switched positions for the second half.

Castro whos three days older and will turn 22 this month smashed all the timelines and rocketed through the system and emerged as an All-Star shortstop last season.

Lake split last season between Class-A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee and batted .279 with 80 runs scored, 12 homers, 51 RBI and 38 stolen bases. Lake then hit .296 in the Arizona Fall League and stole 18 bases in 28 games.

The same thing that happened to me, Castro said. Thats happening with him right now. I said, Good luck and keep going. I talk to him a lot. Hes got a chance to be a superstar, too. Hes got a lot of talent. Hes ready.

Lake was signed in part by Jose Serra, the same scout who closed on Castro and became Carlos Marmols godfather. Special assistant Louis Eljaua who once helped the Boston Red Sox build their academy in the Dominican will be overseeing the construction for the Cubs.

There are reasons why Ricketts gave vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita whos bilingual and has run international operations a new four-year contract after the chairman fired general manager Jim Hendry.

Around last Thanksgiving, Epstein led a group of Cubs officials to the Dominican, where they scouted several players, including Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes, who ultimately took a four-year, 36 million deal with the Oakland As.

The Cubs did a lot of background work on Cespedes, and theyve built up relationships and contacts throughout Latin America, which will matter whenever Jorge Soler, another Cuban defector, is declared a free agent. If Solers signed before July, it wont count against the cap imposed by the new labor deal, so expect the Cubs to be in a bidding war.

Looking toward the future, people around the Cubs say Lake has grown significantly taller in the last year or so. He appears to be around 6-foot-3, if not bigger, looking more like an NBA guard than a typical shortstop.

The guys a specimen with some kind of athletic body, manager Dale Sveum said. Hes got to just keep playing. He needs at-bats in games because thats a pretty good talent coming.

Though raw defensively, Lake is said to have a Shawon Dunston type of arm. Sveum has noticed Lakes offensive instincts, pointing out a delayed steal and a few good two-strike at-bats in the Cactus League. Could Lake play third base?

Sveum: Hes one of those athletes who could probably play anywhere on the field.

Could Lake be getting too big to play shortstop?

I dont think so, as long as youre athletic and you (can) move, Sveum said. Cal Ripken was pretty big. He did OK. (Troy) Tulowitzkis pretty big. He does just fine. So I dont think that has anything to do with it, especially (in this day and age) when you can have a two-way player possibly, somebody that hits home runs, catches the ball, steals bases, the whole package.

Two years ago, Ryan Theriot told Castro to come and get it. Less than three months later, the rookie took Theriots job. Castro considers Lake to be one of the first friends he made in the Cubs organization. In the future, this could be the left side of the infield.

Castros message is simple: I tell him: Be ready. You got a chance to play in the big leagues. Thats what you want, right?

Report: Cubs preparing to roll the dice with Brett Anderson

Report: Cubs preparing to roll the dice with Brett Anderson

The Cubs are preparing to roll the dice with Brett Anderson, hoping the talented, frequently injured pitcher can stay healthy and provide insurance for their rotation.

Anderson posted a telling message on his Twitter account on Monday night, hinting at what would be another offseason check mark for the defending World Series champs.

The physical for the agreement — first reported by Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports and MLB Network — won't just be a formality as Anderson underwent back surgery last March and appeared in only four games for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season.

But Anderson fits on paper as a left-hander who will turn only 29 on Feb. 1 and won't have to carry front-of-the-rotation responsibilities or feel Opening Day urgency on a team with five projected starters.

The Cubs had been willing to gamble around $6 million on Tyson Ross, who recently signed a similarly structured one-year deal with the Texas Rangers as he recovers from surgery to address thoracic outlet syndrome.

The calculus would essentially be the same with Anderson. The Cubs have to factor in last year's grueling playoff run into early November, this season's sky-high expectations, the organization's lack of high-end, upper-level pitching prospects and the uncertainty surrounding the 2018 rotation.

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Anderson finished sixth in the 2009 American League Rookie of the Year voting with the Oakland A's, but he's reached the 30-start mark only one other time and never accounted for 200 innings in a single season.

Anderson underwent Tommy John surgery in the middle of the 2011 season, and the injuries piled up from there, dealing with a strained right oblique, a stress fracture in his right foot and a broken left index finger.

Anderson had such a fragile reputation that he accepted the one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer from the Dodgers after a strong platform year in 2015 (10-9, 3.69 ERA). The Dodgers only got 11 1/3 innings out of Anderson, who didn't pitch during a playoff run that ended at Wrigley Field in the National League Championship Series.

The Cubs stayed exceptionally healthy while winning 200 games across the last two seasons and need to be prepared in case John Lackey sharply declines at the age of 38 or Mike Montgomery experiences growing pains while transitioning from the bullpen.

Whether or not Anderson is ultimately the answer, the Cubs will be looking to place a sixth starter into their plans.

"I don't know if a six-man rotation on a permanent basis is the wave of the future," team president Theo Epstein said earlier this winter. "But we certainly endorse it on a temporary basis as a nice way to pace guys for the whole season.

"We can get them some rest, whether you do it in April to preserve depth and ease guys into the season, especially after a deep October and November run. Or after the All-Star break in the summer to kind of get through the dog days and give guys a little bit of a breather as you ramp up for the stretch run.

"I think it would be tough to pull off all season long. But it's something that (could certainly work) in the right spot."

Report: Cubs have a deal with free-agent starting pitcher Brett Anderson

Report: Cubs have a deal with free-agent starting pitcher Brett Anderson

The Cubs are reportedly adding another pitcher to their 2017 mix.

According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, the Cubs have agreed to a deal with veteran left-hander Brett Anderson.

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Anderson started his career with a bang back in 2009, starting 30 games and striking out 150 batters for the Oakland A's and finishing in the top 10 in American League Rookie of the Year voting. But while he pitched well in some of the years that followed, staying healthy has been a consistent challenge.

After making those 30 starts in 2009, he started 19 games in 2010, then 13 in 2011, then a total of just 19 over the next three seasons, the third coming with the Colorado Rockies.

He burst back onto the scene with 31 starts (and a 3.69 ERA) with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015. But last season with the Dodgers, he appeared in only four games, making just three starts.

All in all, Anderson has a 3.86 career ERA in 685 2/3 innings over 127 appearances, 115 of which have been starts.

While the Cubs' rotation is packed at the top with Cy Young contenders Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks — and John Lackey has the No. 4 spot nailed down — the fifth spot is a bit more of an uncertainty. Mike Montgomery figures to be the favorite, but perhaps Anderson could get himself into the mix.

Regardless, he's en route to the Windy City.