Cubs Firm Up Minor-League Staffs

Cubs Firm Up Minor-League Staffs

Thursday Dec. 16, 2010
Posted: 1 p.m.

Tennessee AA
The Smokies announced that former major leaguer Brian Harper will be the teams manager for the 2011 season. Joining Harper on next years staff will be pitching coach Marty Mason, hitting coach Mariano Duncan and athletic trainer Nick Frangella.

Harper arrives to the Smokies after leading the San Francisco Giants Class A San Jose Giants to the 2010 California League Championship. He also spent two years in the Giants organization as its roving minor league catching instructor (2008-09). Prior to this time with the Giants, he was in the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheims minor league system, managing its rookie league team in the Arizona League (2001-05) and the Class AAA Salt Lake Bees (2006-07).

Harpers major league career spanned from 1979-95 and included a World Series appearance with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1985 and World Series championship with Minnesota Twins in 1991. He hit .295 in 1,001 big league games and caught behind the plate for a total of seven teams.

Mason comes over from the Cardinals, where hes spent the last 25 years coaching. Prior to his most recent stint as the teams major league bullpen coach (2000-10), Mason coached in the Cardinals minor league system at Advanced-A St. Petersburg (1986-87, 1989), A-Savannah (1988), AA-Arkansas (1990-96), AAA-Louisville (1997) and AAA-Memphis (1998-99). He played in both the New York Yankees and Cardinals minor league systems from 1980-86.

Duncan has been in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization the past eight years, most recently as the teams first base coach since 2006. He also coached at AAA-Las Vegas (2005), AA-Jacksonville (2004) and for the teams rookie league team in the Gulf Coast League in 2003. Duncan is a 12-year major league veteran infielder (1985-97) and was a member of two World Series championship teams, the 1990 Cincinnati Reds and 1996 New York Yankees.

Athletic trainer Nick Frangella will return for a fourth season with the Smokies in 2011, his sixth overall in the Cubs' minor league system.

All three members of the Smokies 2010 staff will remain within the Cubs organization. Manager Bill Dancy will manage the Triple-A Iowa Cubs, while coaches Dennis Lewallyn and Tom Beyers have been promoted to minor league pitching coordinator and hitting coordinator, respectively.

Peoria A
The Peoria Chiefs announced the 2011 Chiefs field staff, which includes a pair of familiar faces. Manager Casey Kopitzke returns for a second season after leading the Chiefs to a 71-66 record in 2010. He will be joined by pitching coach Jeff Fassero, a Springfield, IL native and a former Cubs reliever, hitting coach Ricardo Medina who was with the Chiefs in 2005 and athletic trainer A.J. Larson.

We are excited to have Casey return to the Chiefs staff for 2011, said Chiefs President Rocky Vonachen. He did an outstanding job with a very young Chiefs team in 2010 and we are happy to welcome him and his family back to Central Illinois for another season. Its also exciting to have a Central Illinois native and former Cub hurler on our staff in Jeff Fassero and Ricardo Medina was a great Chiefs player in the early 1990s and was on our first staff back with the Cubs in 2005. Overall this is a great staff and we are looking forward to the start of the 2011 season.

Kopitzke, 32, has spent 12 seasons in the Cubs organization as a player, coach and manager. He led the Chiefs to a 71-66 overall record in 2010 with a third place finish in the first half. Under Kopitzkes leadership the Chiefs had the third best batting average in the Midwest League last season with a .266 mark.

This off-season he managed the Mesa Solar Sox in the prestigious Arizona Fall League. Before joining the Chiefs, Kopitzke made his managerial debut in 2009 going 34-42 with the Boise Hawks of the Short Season-A Northwest League. Before managing the Hawks in 2009, Kopitzke served as the Cubs roving catching coordinator from 2007-2008 and made numerous stops in Peoria and other venues around the Midwest League to work with Chiefs catchers and hitters.

Born in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Kopitzke was drafted by the Cubs in the 27th round in 1999 out of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. A graduate of East DePere High School in Wisconsin, Kopitzke earned a bachelors degree in criminal justice from UW-Oshkosh in 2001. He and his wife Erin currently live in DePere, Wisconsin with a newborn son. He began his pro career as a catcher with Eugene in the Northwest League in 1999.

Kopitzke spent the 2000 season in the Midwest League with the Lansing Lugnuts hitting .224 with 22 RBI in 68 games. The following year he moved up to the Florida State League and hit .240 for Daytona. Kopitzke spent the 2002 and 2003 seasons with Double-A West Tennessee in the Southern League. In 2002 he hit .221 and in 2003 batted a career-best .261. He caught for the Triple-A Iowa Cubs in 2004 hitting .215 with a homer and 17 RBI before going back to West Tennessee for the 2005 season. Kopitzke retired after the 2006 campaign in which he hit .239 in 30 games for Iowa.

Overall Kopitzke played in 495 Minor League games hitting .230 with two homers, 44 doubles, 122 RBI. He was known as a defensive catcher committing just 11 errors in 2,057 chances between 2002 and 2006.

Pitching coach Jeff Fassero is very familiar with Central Illinois having grown up in Springfield where he played high school and college baseball before embarking on a 16-year Major League career as a left-handed pitcher. The 37-year old is a 1981 graduate of Griffin High School in Springfield and he pitched two seasons at Lincoln Land Community College before transferring to the University of Mississippi. A 22nd round draft pick in the 1984 draft by the St. Louis Cardinals, Fassero pitched in the Midwest League with his hometown Springfield Cardinals in 1985 with a 4-8 record in 29 games. After reaching Triple-A with the Cardinals, Fassero was signed by the Montreal Expos as a free agent and he made his MLB debut in 1991. Fassero pitched six seasons with Montreal, mostly as a starter going 58-48. He was traded to Seattle after the 1996 season and went 33-35 in three years as a starter for the Mariners.

After making 23 starts for Boston in 2000, Fassero signed with the Cubs for the 2001 season and made 82 bullpen appearances, a franchise record for a left-handed pitcher. He was 4-4 with a 3.42 ERA, 12 saves and 25 holds. The following season Fassero was 5-6 with a 6.18 ERA in 57 outings before he was traded in August to the St. Louis Cardinals for two players to be named later. Both players ended up being former Chiefs in Jason Karnuth and Jared Blasdell. Fassero went 1-7 in 62 outings for the Cardinals in 2003 before making 12 starts in 40 games for the Colorado Rockies in 2004. Fassero finished his 16-year career with the San Francisco Giants making 48 appearances in 2005 and 10 more in 2006.

Overall he was 121-124 with a 4.11 ERA in 720 career outings for nine different teams. Fassero made 242 starts with 17 complete games and 25 saves. In 1996 he finished ninth in the National League Cy Young Award voting after going 15-11 with a 3.30 ERA in 34 starts for the Montreal Expos. He pitched in the playoffs with Seattle in 1997, Texas in 1999 and St. Louis in 2002 with a career 1.46 ERA in the post-season. Of his six post-season appearances, one was a start, a dominating win over Baltimore in the 1997 ALDS in which he allowed just one run on three hits over eight innings. He picked up two relief wins in the 2002 NLDS against Arizona without allowing an earned run. The 2011 season makes the second as a coach for Fassero in the Cubs organization as he worked on the Boise Hawks staff last season with a team ERA of 4.43.

Ricardo Medina returns to the Chiefs for the second time as a hitting coach, having served in the same position on Julio Garcias staff in 2005. In that return to the Cubs organization in 2005, Medina worked with future Major Leaguers Sam Fuld, Eric Patterson and Lou Montanez while also helping Ryan Harvey to a 24 home-run season. A 39-year-old native of Panama, Medina signed with the Cubs in 1989 and played in Peoria as a first and third baseman from 1991 to 1993. He finished his playing career with Advanced-A Daytona in 1994 and worked as a scout for the Boston Red Sox. As a player with the Chiefs, Medina hit .302 in 1991, .263 in 1992 and .254 in 1993. He had a career .991 fielding percentage at first base and collected 27 doubles in the 1992 season with 120 hits and 67 RBI in 125 games.

Medina is in the top 20 on the Chiefs career lists in RBI, at-bats, games played, plate appearances, hits, doubles, extra-base hits, total bases and walks. For the Cubs he has worked as a hitting coach with Mesa from 1999-2003, in Boise in 2004, 2006 and 2009 and he managed the Mesa team to a 27-29 record in 2007. Medina has also worked as a coach with the Panama National Team in numerous international tournaments including Olympic qualifiers, the World Cup and the World Baseball Classic.

Iowa AAA
The Cubs announced Bill Dancy has been named manager of the Iowa Cubs for the 2011 season. Dancy ranks fourth among active Minor League Managers in wins with 1,604 total victories.

Dancy, 59, spent last season managing the Double-A Tennessee Smokies. He led Tennessee to Division titles in both the first and second half. The Smokies posted an 86-53 (.619) record, the best in the Southern League. The Florida native was also named the Double-A Southern League Manager of the Year.

Dancys managerial career began in 1979 with the Philadelphia Phillies organization at Class-A Spartanburg. He then managed at Peninsula (A, 1980-82), Reading (AA, 1983-84, 1988, 1994-95), Portland (AAA, 1985-86), Maine (AAA, 1987), ScrantonWilkes-Barre (AAA, 1989-91) and Clearwater (A, 1992-93, 1998-99). Dancy left the Phillies organization for two years to manage the Class AAA Richmond Braves (1996-97). He led Peninsula, Clearwater and Reading to league championships in 1980, 1983 and 1995 respectively, and has a 22-year minor league managerial career record of 1,604-1,467 (.522).

Dancy will be Iowas 17th manager since their affiliation with the Cubs began in 1981. He replaces Ryne Sandberg, now with the Philadelphia Phillies organization.

In 2000 Dancy left managing to become an infield coordinator for the Phillies, and then served as the teams field coordinator from 2001-2004. After two years as the Phillies third base coach (2005-06), he was the teams field coordinator in 2007 and 2008. He spent 2009 in the Kansas City Royals organization.

Joining Dancy with Iowa are returning members Pitching Coach Mike Mason, Hitting Coach Von Joshua and Athletic Trainer Matt Johnson.

Mason begins his fourth season as pitching coach of the Iowa Cubs. It is his fourth year in the Cubs organization as he served as the Kansas City Royals minor league pitching coordinator in 2007 and as their Minor League Pitching Instructor for three seasons before that.

Joshua will return to the Iowa Cubs for his sixth year as hitting coach and his ninth year with the organization. Joshua is in his 28th season as a hitting coach in professional baseball. Joshua was named the Chicago Cubs hitting coach on June 14, 2009, replacing Gerald Perry.

The new Cubs are out to write their own history

The new Cubs are out to write their own history

The Cubs felt so nervous just before a 7:09 first pitch on Saturday night that Javier Baez found the camera looking into the home dugout, waved with a big smile and started pumping his fist, hamming it up for the video board as Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” blasted through the Wrigley Field sound system.

The Cubs then ran out onto the field and systematically destroyed the Los Angeles Dodgers, ending this National League Championship Series in six games with a 5-0 win that featured almost no tension or suspense, obliterating for now the narrative around this franchise.

The old stadium still kept shaking, from Kris Bryant’s RBI single in the first inning to the clapping to Anthony Rizzo’s “Intoxicated” walk-up music to a standing ovation for Kyle Hendricks, who outpitched the supposed best pitcher on the planet in Clayton Kershaw.

“We don’t care about history,” Bryant said. “This is a completely different team, different people all around. It doesn’t matter. This is a new Chicago Cubs team. And we are certainly a very confident group.”

Sure, 1908 will hover over the entire World Series, which begins Tuesday night against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. But this is the new normal for Bryant, who within two years has won 200 games, four playoff rounds, a Rookie of the Year award and probably MVP hardware.

This team isn’t going away, either. With a chance to win the pennant for the first time since the Truman administration, the Cubs started two rookies who began this season at Triple-A Iowa – catcher Willson Contreras and outfielder Albert Almora Jr. – in a lineup that featured Bryant (24), Rizzo (27), Baez (23), Addison Russell (22) and Hendricks (26).

Contreras caught a shutout and posed for a moment at home plate watching his line-drive homer off Kershaw fly into the left-field bleachers in the fourth inning. Rizzo – who had looked overmatched earlier in the playoffs – became the first left-handed hitter to homer off Kershaw during this calendar year.

And when Rizzo tried to wave off Baez for the ball Josh Reddick popped up to the right side of the infield in the fifth inning, Baez cut right in front of Rizzo to catch it, continuing a long-running gag among the Cubs infielders.

“I don’t think they’re oblivious, because that’s sort of insulting in some ways,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “They know the history. I just don’t think they care. They think they’re a good team and they love to play. And we have some guys that definitely shine on the big stage.”

Baez – a September call-up last year who couldn’t get an everyday spot during the regular season – showed off his bat speed and unbelievable defensive instincts and emerged as the NLCS co-MVP along with big-game pitcher Jon Lester. Sold on the idea of all this young talent someday coming together, Lester joined a last-place team after the 2014 season, taking a leap of faith, even at $155 million.

“I don’t feel like there’s pressure at all in our clubhouse,” said Almora, the first player Theo Epstein’s front office drafted here in 2012. “There’s just hunger and excitement and desire to win.

“None of us were around in 1945…so we just got to write our own history.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

This is what the Cubs have been talking about since the New York Mets swept them out of last year’s NLCS, since the Ricketts family invested almost $290 million more in free agents, since unconventional manager Joe Maddon made “Embrace The Target” the theme of spring training.

Whatever your preconceived notions of the old Cubs are, know that this group has an amazing sense of balance. They are youthful and experienced. They play as a team and with individual flair. They have style and get dirty. They are analytical and sort of oblivious. They are loose and intense. And the ending hasn’t been written yet.

“We still got a long ways to go,” Lester said. “We’ll enjoy tonight – don’t get me wrong – we’ll have a celebration. We’ll have a good time. We’ll smile, we’ll hug each other, probably get drunk a little bit…but we got some work to do.”

Kyle Hendricks outduels Clayton Kershaw and delivers legendary performance that puts Cubs in World Series

Kyle Hendricks outduels Clayton Kershaw and delivers legendary performance that puts Cubs in World Series

John Hendricks sent a text message to his son at 11:24 a.m. on Saturday: “Good luck tonight!! Remember, great mechanics and preparation will prevail. Just let it go!!” It ended with three emoji: a smiley face with sunglasses, the thumbs-up sign and a flexed biceps.

The Cubs have bonded fathers and sons for generations, and Hendricks immediately understood what it meant for his boy when the Cubs traded Ryan Dempster to the Texas Rangers minutes before the deadline on July 31, 2012, telling Kyle: “You win in this city, you will be a legend. There is no doubt about it. This is the greatest sports town in the United States.”

This is the intoxicating lure of the Cubs. It didn’t matter that Kyle had been an eighth-round pick out of Dartmouth College, and hadn’t yet finished his first full season in professional baseball, and would be joining an organization enduring a 101-loss season, the third of five straight fifth-place finishes.

Kyle’s low-key personality will never get him confused with an ’85 Bear, but he delivered a legendary performance in Game 6, outpitching Clayton Kershaw at the end of this National League Championship Series and leading the Cubs to the World Series for the first time in 71 years.

Five outs away from the pennant, a raucous crowd of 42,386 at Wrigley Field actually booed star manager Joe Maddon when he walked out to the mound to take the ball from Kyle and bring in closer Aroldis Chapman. Kyle, the silent assassin, did briefly raise his hand to acknowledge the standing ovation before descending the dugout steps. 

After a 5-0 win, Kyle stood in roughly the same spot with Nike goggles on his head and finally looked a little rattled, his body shivering and teeth chattering in the cold, his Cubs gear soaked from the champagne-and-beer celebration.

“It’s always been an uphill climb for me, honestly,” Kyle said. “But that really has nothing to do with getting guys out. My focus from Day 1 – even when I was young, high school, college, all the way up until now – all it’s been is trying to make good pitches. 

“And as we moved up, you just saw that good pitches get good hitters out.” 

At a time when the game is obsessed with velocity and showing off for the radar gun, Kyle knows how to pitch, putting the ball where he wants when he wants, avoiding the hot zones that lead to trouble, mixing his changeups, fastballs and curveball in an unpredictable way that takes advantage of the team’s intricate scouting system and keeps hitters completely off-balance.

“Kyle didn’t even give them any air or any hope,” general manager Jed Hoyer said.

Amid the celebration, scouting/player-development chief Jason McLeod spotted Kyle’s dad and yelled at John: “You f------ called it!” John – who once worked in the Angels ticket office and as a golf pro in Southern California – had moved to Chicago two years ago to work for his good friend’s limo company and watch his son pitch at Wrigley Field. John had told McLeod that Kyle would one day help the Cubs win a championship.

“That was one of the best pitching performances I’ve ever seen,” McLeod said. “Ever.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities] 

The media framed Kyle as The Other Pitcher, even though he won the ERA title this season, with all the pregame buzz surrounding Kershaw, the three-time Cy Young Award winner and 2014 NL MVP. Except Kershaw gave up five runs and got knocked out after five innings, while Kyle only gave up two singles to the 23 batters he faced, finishing with six strikeouts against zero walks and looking like he had even more left in the tank at 88 pitches.

“It was incredible,” Ben Zobrist said. “That was the easiest postseason game we’ve had yet and it was the clincher to go to the World Series. 

“He’s just so good, so mature for his age. He just has a knack to put the ball where he needs to. He’s smart and he’s clutch. He deserves to win the Cy Young this year.”

Where Kershaw’s presence loomed over the entire playoffs, Kyle has always been underestimated, coming into this season as a fourth or fifth starter with something to prove, and even he didn’t see all this coming. But big-game pitchers can come in all shapes and sizes and don’t have to throw 97 mph. 

“He wants the ball,” John said. “Every big game – I don’t care if it was Little League or wherever – he wants the ball. Plain and simple, (he’ll) get the job done.”