What's So Big About Z?
He said he would meet the press on Wednesday afternoon but word was he jetted back to Chicago instead. Then the plan was to talk with media types after a pitching cameo Thursday night. He pitched a little but didn't talk at all, using the Iowa Cubs media relations people the way bigshot execs use secretaries to dodge phone calls. The enabling continues.
To his credit, Carlos Zambrano took it upon himself to scribble a few marks of Zorro for unaccountably adoring fans before last night's game in Des Moines. The biggest crowd of the year, nearly 13,000, had assembled, but Zambrano wasn't the only attraction. It also happened to be Casey Blake bobblehead night and Casey Blake is big in these parts. He hails from Indianola, a village not too far south of town.
When the game began Zambrano was sequestered back in the team clubhouse behind the leftfield wall and beneath the Cub Club restaurant. He used the diversion of the weenie race to sneak unnoticed into the Iowa bullpen after the bottom of the 3rd, like a kid returning to class from the principal's office. I swear the breeze picked up and a fleet of threatening clouds spread over the ballpark upon his arrival on the field. What might happen?
He started warming up during the bottom of the 6th and was greeted by an immediate and fairly prolonged standing ovation when he made his way from the bullpen to the mound to pitch in the top of the 7th with the game tied at four. Don't ask me why. After a routine grounder to second retired the first hitter he faced, the second laced a single to left. Then Sam Fuld rescued him with a leaping catch as he banged off the wall in left-center. Carlos acknowledged the support with a gesture in Fuld's direction that was more cheerful than many he's directed at teammate fielders in his angry past. The next batter lined one to left that Ty Wright dived for and appeared to catch only to have it pop loose. The play was a test of the new Zambrano's forebearance but he left the brief argument for others to make on his behalf before going back to work and managing to wiggle out of his shift unscored upon.
He pitched no more in competition but did return to the bullpen and throw for a few more minutes during the top of the 8th. Then he took a seat on the bullpen bench until the side was retired, at which point he waved adieu and walked through the fence back to the sanctuary of the clubhouse.
If the fans turned out in droves to see the incredible shrinking 'Z' the press did not. I was one of just a half-dozen or so scribes who were kept waiting on the outfield side of the clubhouse door while Zambrano was supposedly being fetched for a chat. Then came the explanation that he had left the building, preferring to address his Chicago teammates, the last team he beat, before speaking for public consumption. Fair enough. Minutes later, after the disgruntled pack of writers had dispersed, guess who emerged from the clubhouse under police escort to a waiting car?
I hope the clubhouse messenger got a big tip. God and Tom Ricketts know, the pitcher formerly known as "Big Z" can afford it.
This might be old news but Hammel was on ESPN 1000 and said that he changed his diet and workout routine over the off season and tweaked his delivery so it'd be more repeatable so he'd have a better second half. So...some cause for optimism anyway.
CHILDERS: RHSP Dylan Cease and LHSP Bryan Hudson are probably the top two SP prospects in the organization right now.
LHSP Jose Paulino has electric stuff (91-94 MPH fastball with sinking action and a mid-80's slider), but he also has trouble commanding it.
RHP Jose Albertos (2015 IFA - Mexico - $1.5M bonus) just turned 17 in November, and his fastball already sits at 95-96. He also throws a curve and a change-up, and is fairly advanced for a kid his age.
AZBOBBOP: Most of 2016 draft picks will get assigned to either Eugene or AZL Cubs, but the Opening Day Eugune roster will probably be almost 100% from the Extended Spring Training squad roster (pending the arrival of draft picks).
I think I can probably tell you which pitchers and players at EXST are in contention for roster slots at Eugene and which are in contention for slots with the AZL Cubs - AS THINGS STAND RIGHT NOW - (listed alphabetically):
* bats or throws left
# bats both
Eloy Jimenez atop the leader board for minor-league home runs in the Cub system, with seven. Tied with Balaguert and Vogelbach, two 24-year-olds. Jimenez won't be 20 until late November. Leads the Midwest League in SLG and OPS. Maybe he'll get promoted to the Myrtle Beach squad that visits Woodbridge, VA, in June or Frederick, MD, in August.
Watched two Pelican games at Frederick the other week. Was most impressed by Stinnett and Happ. Happ may swing harder than Javier Baez, though more compactly. (Also got to see Brockmeyer hit a bomb.)
E-MAN: Jose Paniagua isn't a string-bean, but I wouldn't say he necessarily bulked-up during the 2015-16 off-season either, He led the DSL Cubs in HR and doubles in 2014, and he showed XBH power when he arrived in Mesa last year, leading the AZL Cubs in HR, doubles, and RBI in 2015. It's just that he has taken his HR power to a new level this year.
Paniagua displayed plus-HR power in Cactus League Minor League Spring Training games in March, and that got him a slot on the South Bend Opening Day roster. But he was sent to EXST after only six MWL games.
More on the Cub Way.
Martinez is one of my least favorite pitchers in baseball. I'd love to see a game like yesterday's against him.
Send Soler down!
Awesome thanks AZ
Great report, Phil! This organization has so many hitters to be excited about.
Ben Zobrist is very enjoyable to watch!!!!!!
given that he seems to only be throwing low 90s these days rather than the 93-96mph he used to throw, along with his wildness issues this year, he may end up passing through.
i dunno if something is wrong with him physically or his past shoulder issues has rendered him what he currently is, but he's been throwing a lot of sliders he can't control well and his fastball isn't as sharp. even when his slider wasn't working in a game he was still throwing a lot of them.
Any scuttlebutt on where Neil Ramirez gets traded?
He seems better than some of the relievers on competitive teams. He ought to bring more than the waiver fee.
My guess? Toronto.
PHIL: It seems as if Paniagua has always played 1B with the Cubs. At 6'2 and 180#, what is his frame like? String bean? Have you seen him bulk up? Where do you project him? Thanks.
Phil, what's your thoughts on which position players are going to Eugene and who is staying in AZL?
Ahhh...way to bring me down BB.
Still - a win tomorrow will be an acheivement regardless.
Don't mean to spoil your mood, but with tonight's win the are 3-5 on the trip with one to play.
While I'm bringing the room down -- Richard comes in to pitch the 9th with a 12-1 lead...and can't finish the game. Woof.