The Long & Winding Road
Yesterday’s tease piece in the Sun-Times that envisioned a reunion in Chicago next year of Walt Jocketty, Tony LaRussa and Albert Pujols got me connecting some dots of my own.
Years ago, before Pujols was born in fact, Jocketty and LaRussa first teamed up as the GM and skipper, respectively, of the Iowa Oaks. The year was 1979 and before that season ended LaRussa, at the mere age of 34, replaced Don Kessinger as manager of the White Sox.
I was an adrift 25 year-old quaffing beer in the stands, usually from a vantage point right behind the home dugout, courtesy of a buddy whose widowed mother was then consorting with one of the Oaks’ owners.
Bobby Molinaro was the driveshaft of that team; the player we most approved of and had most occasion to cheer. The ascendant Harold Baines was also catching eyes. LaRussa cut his managerial teeth against the likes of Jack McKeon, Jim Leyland and Lee Elia that summer, each of whom also had clubs in the American Association at the time.
Marv Foley was on that team. Years later, in 1993, he managed the Iowa Cubs to a pennant and spent some (after) hours in my pub helping me pass the time between last call and the janitor’s arrival at dawn. I still have a sleek, black fungo bat he bestowed upon me in return for my hospitalities. A couple of times I rescued it from the clutches of my two boys when they drug it into service in neighborhood sandlot games despite that they stood hardly taller than the bat.
I’d forgotten that Bobby Douglass did a cameo turn with that ’79 team. According to the archives I consulted he completed seven innings of work without fanning anyone while walking 13. Apparently the left-handed fastballs he winged in the general direction of receivers while quarterbacking for the Bears were no more accurate when aimed at someone equipped with a bat.
The last beer I had was at the same ballpark where LaRussa and Jocketty first collaborated. That was in 1994. By then they had both moved on and Pujols was 14, probably just coming into the natural hormonal supply that would fuel his unparalleled career, the commencement of which was still seven years distant.
Everyone mentioned here, with one exception, either moved on from Principal Park, nee Sec Taylor Stadium, to work in major league sports or, in the unusual case of Douglass, already had when they arrived in Des Moines.
But I, too, have come a long way.
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.