Chicago's Most Wanted Makes Getaway
Be on the lookoput for a white Cadillac Escalade with Florida plates being driven by a young adult male with short hair who was last seen wearing dark, baggy gym shorts, a Miami Dolphins t-shirt and a wide grin.
Anthony Rizzo's last at-bat as an Iowa Cub was almost storybook. He flew deep to the warning track in right-center. I was standing directly above the player who made the catch, hoping the ball would travel a few more feet than it did so I could scamper down a flight of stairs, out a gate and retrieve it. There was no one else in the area with the same idea. Oh well. Instead I strolled around behind the Cub Club atop the leftfield wall and found the homer Josh (JV) Vitters had pounded minutes earlier hitting in front of Rizzo. When I returned from that scavenger hunt Rizzo had been lifted and the inevitable was a reality rippling through the stands.
I spent the rest of the game lying in wait outside the I-Cub clubhouse with a local TV crew and a few autograph hounds. A gopher emerged and drove off in Rizzo's car after loading it with gear. Was it a diversion? Was Rizzo being smuggled off the grounds disguised as a Zooperstar? The gopher returned about half an hour later having apparently washed the car and presumably gassed it up for the five-hour drive to the big leagues.
You'd figure the guy getting the call-up would be anxious to make his getaway. But when Rizzo finally emerged he was maybe the last of the I-Cubs to leave. By then I'd moved my car nose-to-nose with his and got to ask him something while he signed balls and caps as a Triple A'er for what we all hope is the last time. That final at-bat when he went not quite deep enough, did he know it was his last plate appearance as an I-Cub? He said no. "Honestly, I had no clue," he insisted and there's no reason to doubt him. Unless the scoreboard operator who told me Rizzo is usually all business during pregame BP and this morning he was uncharacteristically loosey-goosey, as though he knew a pleasant secret, deserves credence.
As for the game, Vitters drove in both runs in the I-Cubs' 2-1 triumph, their seventh consecutive game against Round Rock as the teams play a home-and-home of four-game series. Jay Jackson, groping for a niche as a middle reliever, fanned the side in the 8th and Rafael Dolis notched the save with a scoreless 9th.
While waiting for Rizzo and feeling like a paparazzo I watched Brett Jackson and Vitters oblige the autograph seekers. As I suspected, Jackson does not rise to his listed 6'2". His hair is as California moppy as Rizzo's is hip-hop close-cropped. Vitters seems slight up close. I've been skeptical of his potential but now that I have a piece of him, maybe I'll cut him some slack. We'll see how he does without Rizzo hitting behind him any longer. Defensively he made his 13th error today but also started a couple of DP's.
Rizzo too appears smaller in person than his prodigious numbers paint him in the mind's eye. But he's thick-legged and, one hopes, thick-skinned too. He'll need to be. Even an approximation of his deeds here won't salvage this moribund season in Chicago. But it would certainly go a long way toward making the next several more promising.
After saying all of his good-byes Rizzo climbed into his white Escalade and I got into my black Accord and followed him out of the parking lot. Our routes were the same for several blocks through downtown Des Moines. When he turned east and drove off into his much-anticipated future I turned west and headed home. Now I gotta go finish mowing the lawn. Rizzo should make Chicago by sundown. He's all yours.
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.