“It’s time for Mendy to play.”
Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer delivered the money sound bite on Tuesday at Wrigley Field, talking up hot prospect Arismendy Alcantara and explaining why Gold Glove second baseman Darwin Barney got designated for assignment.
Maybe this 6-0 victory over the San Diego Padres will be a preview of the future. Kyle Hendricks, the Dartmouth College graduate, threw seven strong innings and got a beer shower after his first big-league win, calling it “definitely the best day of my life.”
Alcantara — who’s generously listed at 5-foot-10, 170 pounds — absolutely crushed a ball that kept soaring past the right-field bleachers in the seventh inning, traveling 420 feet onto Sheffield Avenue. Four pitches later, Anthony Rizzo destroyed another 93 mph fastball from Padres reliever Blaine Boyer, his second home run that night landing in the left-field basket. This is the spark a 41-57 team needed.
“I can play more relaxed in the field,” Alcantara said, “and enjoy the game more and keep having fun.”
[MORE CUBS: Cubs send Mike Olt down to Triple-A Iowa]
The switch-hitting Alcantara will play second base and center field, but the where isn’t as important as the when: The Cubs expect him to be in the lineup every day, approaching what they hope will be a turning point in the rebuild.
“One of the things that we feel strongly about is when we do bring these guys up, they’re here to play,” Hoyer said. “We’re not going to bring up these guys that are part of our future to have them share time or sit on the bench.”
The Cubs had been phasing out Barney for months, with the understanding that Alcantara and Javier Baez would be coming for his job. Emilio Bonifacio — who just got activated from the disabled list after straining his oblique muscle in mid-June — and Luis Valbuena also diminished his role.
Yes, Barney struggled offensively (.625 career OPS), but the over-the-top reactions burying the guy on Twitter didn’t make sense. Rizzo called Barney the best teammate he ever played with.
“It’s a business, (and) we’re pawn pieces,” Rizzo said. “We have no say, but we all wish Darwin the best. Hopefully, this is really good for his career. Hopefully, he goes to a better team, a winning team, and contends.”
[MORE CUBS: Cubs promoting Jorge Soler and Albert Almora]
This was a homegrown player who had helped Oregon State University win two College World Series titles. He moved off shortstop when Starlin Castro made his leap into the big leagues, learning a new position with the help of Ryne Sandberg, the Triple-A Iowa manager at the time.
Barney became a steadying influence for Castro while tying a major-league single-season record with 141 straight games without an error at second base in 2012. That attention-grabber helped Barney beat out Cincinnati Reds second baseman/entertainer Brandon Phillips for the Gold Glove.
“He’s a guy we have so much respect for as a person,” Hoyer said. “He’s a winning player, as he showed in college. I think he can do a lot of things on the field to help a winning team. He got in a position here where playing time started to be scarce.
“I’m certainly hopeful that through this process we can get him to a place where he can hopefully help a contender and get a feel for a pennant race.”
Barney was hitting .385 in July, raising his season average to .230, and maybe a stronger lineup could cover up some of his offensive flaws. His intangibles would play well in October.
[MORE CUBS: Jack White rocks Cubs shirt at Wrigley Field]
Barney took a two-game paternity leave before the All-Star break, and Alcantara took advantage of the promotion from Iowa, almost hitting for the cycle and showing the power, speed and versatility that put him at No. 33 on Baseball America’s midseason prospect rankings.
Alcantara gave the team a jolt of energy, going 9-for-23 with five RBIs in his first five games. He came back down to earth over the weekend (1-for-12) against the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Cubs want to know if he can make the adjustments.
“We knew we were going to call him up at some point, it was a matter of when,” Hoyer said. “We just realized it was time for this guy to play and to go through his ups and downs. We don’t expect him to come up here and set the world on fire.
“He’ll have some great series (and) he’ll have some struggles, (but) that’s part of this process. And I think it’s going to be that process with every one of these young guys we bring up, as Starlin and Rizzo can attest. But certainly with Mendy, it’s time to see that.”