Cubs Extended Spring Training

LaStella Shows Desire to Play at Riverview Park

Jenner Emeterio doubled twice, scored two runs, and drove-in another, and Tyler Alamo belted a solo home run, leading the Cubs to a 5-2 victory over the Rockies on Field #5, and Luis Castro reached base three times (a single, a double, and an HBP), stole a base, and scored three runs, as the Rockies rallied for three runs in the 8th and two in the 9th to edge the Cubs 8-7 on Field #6, in Cactus League Extended Spring Training split-squad doubleheader action this morning at Mesa CubTown at Riverview Park.  

Terry McClure belted a solo HR in the Rockies loss on Field #5, and Roberto Caro smacked an RBI double, singled twice, stole a base, and scored two runs in a losing cause for the Cubs on Field #6.    

Tommy LaStella (on Cubs MLB 15-day DL - rib cage inflammation) returned to the field for the first time in almost five weeks and saw action in the game on Field #6, playing 3rd base for four innings and then 2nd base for two innings. He batted four times (once in each of the first four innings) and had quite a day, driving-in three runs with two doubles, an RBI single, and a sacrifice fly, while also scoring two runs, helping the Cubs take a 7-1 lead through three innings.   

19-year old RHP Dylan Cease (2014 TJS) made his first Cactus League EXST game appearance after pitching in several "sim" games over the past month, throwing 16 pitches in the top of the 1st inning in the game on Field #5. He retired two (a 1-3 comebacker and a strikeout looking) and hit one batter before being relieved (he was under a strict pitch count).

Cease was the Cubs 6th round draft pick out of Milton HS - Milton, Ga in 2014, and the Cubs selected him despite knowing that he would need a UCL elbow ligament transplant ("Tommy John surgery"). Considered one of the top high school arms in the 2014 draft class and a likely 1st round pick prior to his elbow issues, he received a $1.5M signing bonus (equivalent to "first round money") and then had the TJS last July 22nd. He has made a rapid recovery, and barring a setback, he will likely be a rotation starter for the AZL Cubs when the Arizona League season begins play next month. 

RHRP Daniel Bard and LHRP Daniel Schlereth each threw an inning in the game on Field #6. Schlereth had an easy eleven-pitch inning (K, 6-3, 1B, 6-4 FC), but Bard allowed two runs on two hits, an HBP, and a WP, plus a two-base throwing error on an attempted pick-off in his inning (20 pitches - only 10 strikes). Bard is now throwing mostly side-arm, and his one-time upper 90's velocity now sits at 91-92, occasionally touching 93.  

Speaking of throwing sidearm, RHRP Corbin Hoffner has gone to an extreme sidearm delivery (it's almost "submarine"), and while he has struggled to command his pitches in games with his new delivery, he had a 1-2-3 9th in the game on Field #5, picking up the save with two strikeouts and an F-7.   

Prior to the Cactus League doubleheader, Erling Moreno (2014 TJS), Trey Masek (2014 shoulder surgery), and Anthony Carter (on AAA Iowa 7-day DL) pitched in a three-inning "sim" game on Field #3. Moreno and Masek threw two innings each, and Carter threw one.

Here are the abridged box scores from the two Cactus League EXST games (Cubs players only): 

Angels Take Down Cubs in Diablo Park

Alex Abbott drilled a triple and a single and scored twice and Jose Antonio Rodriguez reached base three times (two singles and an HBP) and scored a run, helping the Angels to a 7-4 victory over the Cubs in Cactus League Extended Spring Training action this morning at Diablo Park Field #7 in Tempe. 

Eloy Jimenez belted a two-run triple, walked, and scored a run, Kevonte Mitchell singled twice, stole two bases, and scored a run, and Andrew Ely reached base three times (two singles and an HBP) for the Cubs in a losing cause.

Mitchell leads the EXST Cubs in stolen bases with eight (no CS) in 16 Cactus League EXST games, and E. Jimenez has been an "RBI machine," with 13 ribbies in just 15 Cactus League EXST games (leads team).

ELOY JIMENEZ in 15 Cactus League EXST games (55 PA):
265/309/511, with three doubles, three triples, and one HR, three walks, eight strikeouts, and one HBP, and two SB (no CS).  

NOTE: Through 23 Cactus League EXST games so far, the Cubs have hit only five home runs as a team... one each by Frandy de la Rosa, Eloy Jimenez, Ricardo Marcano, Yohan Matos, and Taylor Teagarden,  

19-year old lanky lefty Justin Steele (Cubs 2014 5th round draft pick - George County HS - Lucedale, MS) got the start for the Cubs and quickly and easily retired the first seven men he faced (6-3, 4-3, 3-U, 5-3, K, F-7, K) on just 20 pitches, before running into trouble with one out in the bottom of the third, when he allowed four consecutive batters to reach base (1B, 1B, BB, BB). The 2014 Mississippi High School Player of the Year, Steele was cruising along, working his two-seam fastball in the low 90's and getting a ton of ground balls with it, before he began to lose command in his third inning of work once he had to start pitching out of the stretch. 

JUSTIN STEELE in his four Cactus League EXST games : 
9.2 IP, 6 H, 4 R (3 ER), 4 BB, 9 K, 13/7 GO/FO, 63% strikes (4 games) 
2.79 ERA - 1.03 WHIP 

RHP Oscar de la Cruz "piggy-backed" with Steele, working 3.2 IP (65 pitches) and allowing two runs (one earned) on three hits (all singles), two walks, and an HBP. He struck out three (all swinging), with a 5/3 GO/FO. Along with RHRP Scott Frazier (whose fastball velocity has reached 99 MPH this spring) and Alexander Santana (mid-90's fastball that sits at 94 and touches 95), the 20-year old 6'6 de la Cruz is one of the hardest throwers among Cub pitchers at EXST, with a 94 MPH fastball that can touch 95. Like a lot of young pitchers, de la Cruz's fastball command and secondary stuff (breaking ball and change-up) need work, but he was the ace of the staff at DSL Cubs last season, and he is in the mix for one of the rotation starter jobs at Eugene this year. (Carson Sands, Justin Steele, and Austyn Willis are virtual locks to make the Eugene rotation, with de la Cruz, Santana, and Jose Paulino likely competing for the remaining two slots). 

Here is the abridged box score from today's game (Cubs players only): 

Cubs See High-Speed Black and Rally to Tie at Riverview Park

Jhonny Pereda drilled a game-tying two-out two-run single in the bottom of the 7th and then he tied the game again with an RBI double with two outs in the bottom of the 9th, as the Cubs rallied to tie the Giants in a Cactus League Extended Spring Training game played this morning on Field #6 at Mesa CubTown at Riverview Park.

The game was called after ten innings of play with the scored tied 4-4.

Kevin Encarnacion singled twice, walked, drove-in a run, and scored another for the Cubs, and Chuckie Jones drove-in two runs with an RBI single and a sacrifice fly and scored a run, Evan Potter reached base twice (HBP and a single), stole a base, and scored two runs, and LHSP Nik Turley hurled four innings of shutout ball for the Giants.

Veteran MLB RHP Felipe Paulino got his second EXST start for the Cubs, throwing two shutout innings (29 pitches - 20 strikes), allowing two singles and no walks, with four strikeouts and a 1/1 GO/FO.

Veteran MLB RHRP Daniel Bard saw his first Cactus League EXST game action (he pitched in an intrasquad game two days ago), and threw one inning (17 pitches - 10 strikes), allowing one run on two hits (both singles) and a HBP, with no walks or strikeouts, 

Veteran LHRP Daniel Schlereth threw in his second Cactus League EXST game for the Cubs, and he labored through his one inning of work (26 pitches - only 11 strikes), allowing a run on one hit (a single), three walks, and two WP (but also two strikeouts),   

The Cubs trailed 3-0 going into the bottom of the 7th, and then proceeded to tie the game with a three-spot off Giants fireballing RHRP Ray Black (Eloy Jimenez lead-off double off the LF fence, Kevin Encarnacion RBI single to right, and two walks to load the bases, and then the two-out two-run Jhonny Pereda line-drive RBI single once Black had left the game).

Despite blowing the lead, Black was getting his fastball velocity up to triple digits today, topping out at 101 MPH. (He was clocked at 102 last Saturday in a Cactus League EXST game versus the Angels in Tempe). The Cubs knew about him, so a couple dozen of the players who weren't in the game crowded around behind the screen watching the radar gun readings, shouting out each time he hit 100 or 101. It's not often you seen triple-digit fastballs at Extended Spring Training. 

Black is an interesting case, because he had TJS in high school and then after being drafted by the Giants in 2011 (7th round out of the U. of Pittsburgh), he missed the next two seasons with a torn labrum. He finally returned to the mound last season, and he racked up an incredible 71 strikeouts in only 35.1 IP (that's 18.1 K per 9 innings) and only 4.3 hits allowed per 9 innings (combined) at Augusta and San Jose, which got him a spot on the Giants MLB 40-man roster post-2014 despite having only one year of pro game experience and no experience above "A" ball.  

While the Cubs were playing the Giants in the Cactus League EXST game on Field #6, the rest of the Cubs EXST contigent was engaged in a seven-inning intrasquad game on Field #4.

LHP Carson Sands (Cubs 2014 4th round pick - North Florida Christian HS - Tallahassee, FL) was one of the starting pitchers in the intrasquad game, and he was outstanding, hurling 3.1 IP of hitless shutout ball (one walk and four strikeouts).

Conversely, RHP Jose Zapata was unable to retire a batter, allowing five runs on a single, a double, a triple, and two walks. Zapata is attempting to come back after suffering a cervical fracture in an off-season car crash in the Dominican Republic post-2013, the same crash that almost killed Kevin Encarnacion. 

Here is the abridged box score from today's Cactus Leagie EXST game (Cubs players only), followed by the box score from the intrasquad game: 

Gloomy Skies Produce Sunny Result for Cubs at Riverview Park

LHP Jose Paulino tossed three innings of no-run/no-hit ball, Ho-Young Son belted an RBI triple, an RBI double, and a single, Tim Saunders reached base three times (a walk, an RBI single, and a triple) and scored two runs, Ricardo Marcano hammered a solo home run and an RBI single and scored twice, and Andrew Ely stroked an RBI double and a single, stole a base, and scored a run, leading the Cubs to a 6-3 victory over the Angels in Cactus League Extended Spring Training action this morning on Field #6 at Mesa CubTown at Riverview Park.

In EXST Cubs roster news, Jordan Hankins has completed the Catcher Conversion Program course at the Under Armour Performance Center at Riverview Park and has been assigned to Hi-A Myrtle Beach. Hankins takes the place of C-1B Alberto Mineo, who moves down to Extended Spring Training from Myrtle Beach.

The left-handed swinging Hankins was drafted by the Cubs as an infielder in the 11th round of the 2013 MLB First-Year Player Draft (MLB Rule 4 Draft) out of Austin Peay University, and after playing 3B-2B with the AZL Cubs and Boise his first year of pro ball, he received initial catcher training at Instructs post-2013, and then again at Minor League Camp in 2014. But he was moved back to 3B once the 2014 minor league regular season started, and was good enough to be selected to the Midwest League All-Star game as a third-baseman while assigned to Kane County (he hit 322/361/461 in 50 MWL games). That earned Hankins a June promotion to Daytona (he and a struggling Jeimer Candelario changed places), but he was unable to find the same success at Daytona that he had found at KC (218/323/318 in 33 games at Daytona). He got a second opportunity to try catching at Instructs last fall, continuing the process into this season, first at Minor League Camp, and then at Extended Spring Training.

The 23-year old Hankins has been the best hitter on the 2015 EXST Cubs squad, putting up a 462/481/654 line (plus an eight-game hitting streak) with three doubles and a triple, four RBI, five runs scored, and only one strikeout in nine Cactus League EXST games (27 PA), while simultaneously learning the finer points of the receiving arts. (He also hit two home runs in EXST intrasquad games). Hankins likely projects as an "offense-first" left-handed hitting 3B-2B-1B-C bench guy at the higher levels (sort of a left-handed hitting version of Ben Carhart), but adding catcher to his "tool box" should make him more valuable as he moves up through the pipeline.

Also, 24-year old RHP Jose Rosario underwent an elbow UCL transplant ("Tommy John surgery") last month and will miss the 2015 season. Rosario is the second Cub minor leaguer to undergo TJS since the start of Spring Training (catcher Will Remillard was other one).  

Born in New York City, Rosario was signed by the Cubs as a 17-year old international free-agent out of the Dominican Republic in April 2008. He was eligible to be an MLB Rule 55 minor league free-agent (so-called "six-year minor league free-agent") after the 2014 World Series, but he signed a 2015 minor league successor contract with the Cubs before being declared a free-agent. In 115 career minor league games 2008-14, Rosario has compiled a rather ugly 5.06 ERA and 1.56 WHIP, while allowing 489 hits (including 32 HR) and 192 walks in 437.2 IP, with 378 strikeouts.

Although he has plus-stuff, Rosario has been unable to harness it and has battled command issues throughout his career, He failed to reach AA in seven minor league seasons, and yet the Cubs saw enough in him to offer him a 2015 contract rather than allowing him to walk away as a free-agent. But he continued to struggle with his control at Minor League Camp this season, before being shut-down with a sore elbow the last week of Spring Training. Rosario is eligible to be a minor league 6YFA again post-2015, but since the TJS rehab process takes at least a year, I would not be surprised if he signs another minor league successor contract for 2016 so that he can continue his rehab with the same training staff.  

It wasn't a Cactus League EXST game, but the Cubs did play an EXST intrasquad game on Field #5 yesterday (Thursday). 29-year old veteran MLB and ex-Red Sox RHRP Daniel Bard threw an inning in the game, and while he continues to have difficulty throwing strikes (24 pitches - only 9 strikes, with one walk and two WP in the one IP), he did manage to retire the side without allowing a hit or a run. Known as a hard-throwing late-inning reliever, Bard didn't show it yesterday. His fastball consistently sat at 91-92 MPH, and touched 93 only once.

Cubs Minor League Infield Coordinator Jose Flores is at Extended Spring Training this week, working with the young Cub infielders on the finer points of infield play. (He also throws a mean BP).    

Here is the abridged box score from today's Cactus League EXST game (Cubs players only), followed by the box score from yesterday's EXST Cubs intrasquad game.

Cubs Use Their Bats & Their Heads to Sweep D'backs

Adonis Paula ripped a two-run double and Tyler Alamo belted a two-out RBI double to highlight a three-run 1st, Oscar de la Cruz tossed three innings of shutout ball, and Tim Saunders drove-in the winning run by getting hit on the top of the helmet with a two-strike pitch with the bases loaded, the score tied, and two outs in the bottom of the 9th inning, as the Cubs edged the Diamondbacks 4-3 on Field #5, and Eloy Jimenez thumped a solo home run and an RBI triple, Yohan Matos belted a three-run inside-the-park HR, and Bryant Flete singled twice, walked, stole a base, and scored two runs, helping the Cubs defeat the D'backs 8-4 on Field #6, as the Cubs swept a Cactus League Extended Spring Training split-squad doubleheader this morning at Mesa CubTown at Riverview Park.  

Trevor Mitsui bashed a double and a two-run HR, Sergio Alcantara laced a single and a double and scored a run, Luis Veras singled, doubled, and scored two runs, and Didimo Bracho collected three singles for the Diamondbacks in a losing cause.   

LHP Patrick Corbin (on the Arizona Diamondbacks MLB 60-day DL - 2014 TJS) got the start for the D'backs on Field #6 and hurled three innings of shutout ball, allowing two singles and no walks, while striking out five (four swinging), and a 2/1 GO/FO.    

The EXST Cubs returned to action today after a weekend of rain wiped out two games. 

Prior to the Cactus League EXST game, RHPs Dylan Cease (2014 TJS), Erling Moreno (2014 TJS), Jose Zapata (post-2013 cervical fracture), and Trey Masek (2014 shoulder surgery) pitched in a five-inning "sim" game on Field #3. Cease and Moreno worked three innings (45 pitches each), Zapata pitched two innings (30 pitches), and Masek threw one inning (15 pitches).    

In roster news, 21-year old switch-hitting Dominican OF Robert Garcia has been added to the Cubs Extended Spring Training roster. Garcia signed with the Cubs in July 2013 and spent two seasons with the DSL Cubs, hitting 301/394/369 with 33 stolen bases (8 CS) in 77 games combined 2013-14.     

Here are the abridged box scores from today's games (Cubs players only):

Grimm Day for Cubs at Riverview Park

Nick Jones (ex-LHP) belted a two-run home run and Jordan Johnson and four relievers combined to toss a four-hitter, helping the Giants defeat the Cubs 4-1 on Field #6, and Bryant Flete doubled, singled, and scored a run, and five Cub relievers combined to hurl five innings of perfect baseball, as the Cubs and Giants played to a 2-2 tie on Field #5, in Cactus League Extended Spring Training split squad doubleheader action this morning at Mesa CubTown at Riverview Park.

The game on Field #5 was called after seven innings with the score tied, and the game on Field #6 was called after 7-1/2 innings.   

Kevonte Mitchell tripled, singled, stole a base, and scored the lone Cub run on Field #6.

18-year old 6'6 RHP Austyn Willis (Cubs 2014 18th round draft pick - Barstow HS - Barstow, CA) got the start on Field #6 and threw three innings of one-hit shutout ball with four strikeouts, retiring Travis Ishikawa (on the Giants MLB 15-day DL with a lower back strain) three times (4-3 GO, K-swinging, and F-8 fly out). Willis has started three Cactus League EXST games, allowing one run on four hits (including a solo HR) and a walk with nine strikeouts in seven innings of work. He will very likely be in the Eugene starting rotation when the Northwest League season commences next month.  

RHRP Justin Grimm (on the Cubs MLB 15-day DL with a forearm strain retroactive to April 2nd) worked the top of the 4th inning on Field #6 and was dominating, striking out the side on 12 pitches. He looks to be in mid-season form. 

The Giants are unusual because they have two ex-LHP at Extended Spring Training being converted to position players (usually it's the other way around). Besides 6'6 first-baseman Nick Jones (who belted a tape measure two-run HR over the RF fence that provided the winning margin for the Giants on Field #6 this morning), outfielder Steven Neff drilled three hits (a single, a double, and a triple) in a game against the Cubs earlier this week in Scottsdale. 

Here is the abridged box score from today's games (Cubs players only): 

Javy Baez Bats Eight Times in Cactus League Extended Spring Training Doubleheader

Justin Steele tossed three innings of one-hit shutout ball and Eloy Jimenez drove-in all three Cub runs with a two-run single and a sacrfice fly, as the Cubs and Giants played to a 3-3 tie on Field #1, and Dylan Davis belted a solo home run, a double, and an RBI single, and scored three runs, Steven Neff (ex-LHP) collected a single, a double, and a two-run triple, and Julio Pena slugged a solo home run, helping the Giants to an 8-4 victory over the Cubs on Field #2, in Cactus League Extended Spring Training split squad doubleheader action this morning at Indian School Park in Scottsdale, AZ.. 

The game on Field #1 was called in the 8th inning with the score tied, and the game on Field #2 was called after six innings of play. 

Danny Gutierrez drilled three hits (two singles and a double) in the game on Field #2, but he also committed two errors in LF, one by having a line-drive clank off his glove for a two-base error, and the other when he allowed a bouncing single to hop past him for a three-base error (the batter was able to circle the bases and score)  

Javy Baez played in the game on Field #1, batting eight times (once in each inning), and playing second-base for four innings before moving over to shortstop. He went 1-7 for the day... #1) roped a line drive single to left on a 1-0 pitch in the top of the first inning before scoring the Cubs first run of the day on a sacrifice fly; #2) grounded out sharply 5-3 on an 0-1 pitch in the top of the second inning; #3) struck out swinging on a 1-2 breaking ball in the third; #4) reached base after being hit by a pitch (upper left arm) on an 0-1 count and then scored a run in the fourth; #5) struck out swinging on a 2-2 breaking ball in the fifth; #6) lined out to right on a 1-1 pitch in the top of the sixth; #7) reached base on a throwing error by the Giants shortstop on a 2-2 pitch in the seventh, and #8) struck out looking on a 2-2 breaking ball in the top of the eighth. He handled four chances in the field flawlessly. 

In three Cactus League Extended Spring Training games (15 Plate Appearances) since returning from Bereavement Leave, Baez is 3-14 with two singles and a double, six strikeouts (five swinging), no walks, and one HBP. 

Here are the abridged box scores from today's games (Cubs players only): 

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