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Extended Spring Training (EXST) came to an end today, as the EXST Cubs (Boise/Mesa) played an intrasquad game at Mesa's Fitch Park Field #3 this morning.
Luis Aparicio. Dave Concepcion. Manny Trillo. Ozzie Guillen. Magglio Ordonez. Bobby Abreu. Omar Vizquel. Carlos Zambrano. Miguel Cabrera. Ramon Hernandez. Johan Santana. Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez. Victor Martinez. Melvin Mora. Felix Hernandez. Jose Lopez.   Just a few of the many past and present MLB stars from Venezuela. On Opening Day 2007, there were 51 players from Venezuela on MLB 25-man rosters, with many more Venezuelans playing in the minor leagues.  Since 1999, the number of Venezuelans playing in MLB has doubled.  Last July, the Cubs gave 16-year old Venezuelan RHP Larry Suarez (currently at EXST at Fitch Park) a reported $850K signing bonus (an amount equivalent to "2nd round money").
The EXST Cubs (Boise/Mesa) rallied with four runs in the bottom of the 8th to defeat the EXST Angels 6-4 at Mesa's Fitch Park Field #3 this morning, in a game that featured the second rehab start for RHP Juan Mateo. Mateo, who has been on the Cubs 15-day DL with a sore shoulder since ST, increased his innings to three and his pitch count to 40+, as he threw 41 pitches (29 strikes, 4/2 GB/FB), with his fastball topping out at 92 MPH. He allowed three hits (one HR) and one run, but no walks, with three strikeouts, in his three innings of work. As long as he does not having any significant negative physical symptoms in the aftermath of today's game, Mateo looks fit and ready to leave Mesa and continue his rehab (gradually increasing his pitch count) at Daytona or Tennessee, with a return to the Iowa starting rotation probably by no later than mid-June, possibly even earlier.
The EXST Giants defeated the EXST Cubs (Boise/Mesa) 6-1 this morning at Fitch Park Field #2 in Mesa, a game that featured the first game appearance for RHP Juan Mateo.
Many of us here at TCR have been trying to understand the rationale behind Lou Piniella's recent "brainstorm" where Ryan Dempster was (apparently) supposed to move from closer to the starting rotation, with Angel Guzman moving from #5 starter to closer.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article here about players selected by the Cubs in last June's Rule 4 draft who did not sign at the time, but who will be eligible to be signed up until ten days prior to the '07 June Draft, as long as their team is not involved in NCAA, NAIA, or NCJAA post-season play as of May 28th. These players can be signed under the "Draft+ Follow" rule, and this is the last year for the D+F. (Starting with the 2007 draft, any player not signed by August 15th cannot be signed and goes back into the draft the following June). Well, the Cubs have signed two "Draft+Follow" players they had selected in last June's draft, and they are two of my top four: 3B Jovan Rosa (Lake City CC) and RHP Jordan Latham (College of Southern Idaho).
David Price? Matt Wieters? Josh Vitters? Max Scherzer, maybe? The Rule 4 Draft (AKA "June Draft", or "First-Year Player Draft") is just about a month away (June 7-8), and the Cubs are preparing their list, and checking it twice. Thanks to their lousy 2006 season, the Cubs will have the 3rd overall pick in the draft, as well as the #48 overall pick as compensation for losing Type "B" FA Juan Pierre to the Dodgers. However, in addition to players selected in the draft, the Cubs will be able to sign more players...
Tonight's game between the Cubs and Cardinals has been canceled due to the tragic death of STL RHP Josh Hancock in a traffic accident in St. Louis early this morning. He just turned 29 a couple of weeks ago, and worked three innings in yesterday's 8-1 Cubs victory. Hancock was reportedly traveling westbound on I-64 west of Compton Avenue at about 12:30 AM when his Ford Explorer SUV plowed into a tow truck parked on the side of the road. Hancock was pronounced dead at the scene. The tow truck driver told police he was assisting a stranded motorist, and was seated in his parked truck in the far left lane of the highway with the wrecker's emergency lights activated. He said he saw the SUV coming up behind him, but it did not slow down before slamming into his vehicle. The tow truck driver was not injured. Hancock played college ball at Auburn, and was selected by the Boston Red Sox in the 5th round of the 1998 June draft, making his MLB debut with BOS in 2002. The Red Sox traded him to the Phillies for 3B Jeremy Giambi during the MLB Winter Meetings in December 2002, and then Josh was dealt to CIN in a trade deadline deal where RHP Todd Jones went from CIN to PHI on July 30, 2004. Hancock started nine games for the Reds over the last two months (August-September) of '04, but spent most of the 2005 season on the 60-day DL (groin). Hancock was released by the Reds in February 2006 when he reported to Spring Training overweight and out of shape, but was subsequently signed by the Cardinals as a FA, becoming an important cog in the Redbirds '06 World Series Champion bullpen (3-3 with a 4.09 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in 62 games). Our prayers are with Josh's family and friends.
With Angel Guzman scheduled to get the start next Tuesday at Pittsburgh, but with a 5th starter not needed again until May 12th at Philadelphia, here is what the Cubs should do to give themselves a little bit of an edge, although they probably won't:
Yesterday was the last Cubs EXST game for two visitors from another country, two aspiring baseball players who have been working out with the Cubs Extended Spring Training contingent at Fitch Park in Mesa the past couple of weeks. The National Baseball Team of the Peoples Republic of China arrived at Scottsdale Community College for Spring Training last month, led by head coach (and ex-Cub manager) Jim Lefebvre and pitching coach (and ex-MLB LHP) Bruce Hurst. They played games against various minor league ST squads and college teams in Arizona, before having their team split up and sent to various MLB EXST camps, with the team's players (and Chinese translators) assigned to the MLB clubs who expressed an interest in the program. The Cubs EXST contingent at Fitch Park was lucky enough to get two of China's better players, outfielder Qi Ze (pronounced "Chee") and catcher Hao Guo-chen (they call him "How").

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