Cubs Trip(le) Up Angels at Riverview

Kevin Zamudio tripled, doubled, and scored a run, Delvin Zinn tripled, singled, and scored a run, Fernando Kelli belted a two-run triple, and four pitchers combined to hurl one-hit ball with eleven strikeouts over the first 6-2/3 innings, as the Cubs withstood a late rally and edged the Angels 5-4 in Cactus League Extended Spring Training game action Tuesday morning on Field #6 on John Arguello Way at the Riverview Baseball Complex in Mesa, AZ. 

The game was called after eight innings of play. 

RHP Eury Ramos got the start for the Cubs and was outstanding, retiring the first six Angels hitters in a row (1-3, K, K, F-7, 3-U, K - all three strikeouts swinging, including Dustin Ackley on a 3-2 pitch) while mixing a high-octane 95-97 MPH FB with a plus-CV and a swing & miss CH. The Cubs still have six weeks left to decide, but it is pretty clear that Ramos has joined Brailyn Marquez, Jeremiah Estrada, Faustino Carrera, and Danis Correa as the front-runners for the five Eugene Opening Week SP slots. The 6'3 Ramos is starting to fill-out (he weighed only 150 pounds when he signed with the Cubs in 2014) and that could be at least one of the reasons behind his rather sudden and startling uptick in FB velo. 

RHP Ryan McNeil (elbow, back, hip) followed Ramos to the mound and continued his EXST rehab with two perfect innings, striking out the last four men he faced (all four swinging - including Dustin Ackley again). Although he has been used as a reliever over the four seasons since 2013 TJS, McNeil still has a four-pitch SP-type repertoire that includes a 90-92 MPH FB, a mid-80's hard-slider, a CV, and a plus-CH. The 3rd round draft pick of the Cubs in 2012 out of Nipomo HS (Nipomo, CA), McNeil is eligible to be an MLB Rule 55 minor league 6YFA post-2018, so the Cubs will need to decide sometime over the next few months whether to add McNeil to the MLB 40-man roster post-World Series, or offer him a 2019 Minor League Successsor Contract and hope that he accepts it (in which case he would be eligible for selection in next December's Rule 5 Draft), or let him walk away as a minor league FA.

Prior to the game, LHP Danny Hultzen (2016 shoulder surgery) threw "live" BP (one inning - 15 pitches) on Field #4. This was the first time the 28-year old Hultzen has faced "live" hitters in more than two years. Hultzen was the second overall pick (by the Seattle Mariners) in the 2011 MLB First-Year Player Draft ($6.35M signing bonus and a major league contract) out of UVA, but his career was derailed by shoulder woes and he retired after the 2016 season. But then he decided to give it one more try, signing a minor league contract with the Cubs this past February. He has been in the Rehab Throwing Program at the UAPC in Mesa for the last two months. Once he has completed the "live" BP phase and if all is proceeding according to plan, he will likely throw in an EXST intrasquad game and then perhaps in a Cactus League EXST game.    
 
In EXST Cubs roster news, C-1B-3B Cam Balego and OF Chris Carrier have been sent to EXST from South Bend, and RHSP Carlos Paula has been sent back to the Cubs Dominican Academy in Boca Chica, so he will almost certainly begin the 2018 season back in the DSL. Paula did not pitch in any Cactus League or intrasquad games while at EXST. 

Also, RHRP Aneuris Rosario was placed on the Disqualified List last week. I don't know why the Cubs did this, but the move had to be approved by the MLB Commissioner. (The Disqualified List is used when a player violates the terms of his contract, such as using a false identity, submitting fraudulent documents, circumventing a drug test, or signing with another professional baseball club before being released). Because A. Rosario has spent four seasons in the DSL he is ineligible to return there in 2018, and so he would have had to make the Opening Day roster of Eugene or one of the Cubs two AZL teams.  

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

CUBS LINEUP:
1a. Luis Ayala, CF: 0-2 (L-3, BB, K, R)
1b. Jose Alonso Gaitan, LF: 0-1 (L-5)
2. Fernando Kelli, LF-CF: 1-4 (K, 3B, 4-3, 5-4 FC, 2 RBI)
3. Jonathan Sierra, RF: 0-3 (BB, 3-1, K, F-9)
4a. Kevin Zamudio, C: 2-3 (K, 3B, 2B, R, PO)
4b. Raymond Pena, C: 1-1 (1B)
5. Luis Vazquez, SS: 1-3 (K, F-8 SF, 1B, K, R, RBI) 
6. Yovanny Cuevas, DH #1: 1-4 (4-3, K, 2B, F-9, R)
7. Yonathan Perlaza, DH #2: 1-2 (L-9, BB, 1B, RBI)
8. Luis Hidalgo, 1B: 0-2 (L-7, L-5, F-7 SF, RBI)
9. Fidel Mejia, 3B: 0-1 (2-3, BB, BB)
10. Delvin Zinn, 2B: 2-3 (3B, 5-4-3 DP, 1B, R)

CUBS PITCHERS
1. Eury Ramos: 2.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 3 K, 2/1 GO/AO, 24 pitches (15 strikes)
2. Ryan McNeil: 2.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 4 K, 1/1 GO/AO, 31 pitches (25 strikes) 
3. Manuel Rondon: 0.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 2 K, 25 pitches (15 strikes)
4. Eugenio Palma: 2.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 K, 3/1 GO/AO, 25 pitches (16 strikes)
5. Yan de la Cruz: 1.1 IP, 5 H, 4 R (4 ER), 1 BB, 0 K, 2 HBP, 1 GIDP, 3/0 GO/AO, 34 pitches (21 strikes) 

CUBS ERRORS
SS Luis Vazquez: E-6 (throwing error allowed batter to reach base safely) 

CUBS CATCHERS DEFENSE
Raymond Pena: 0-1 CS 

ATTENDANCE: 14 

WEATHER: Mostly cloudy with temperatures in the 70's 

Arizona 
Scoring
Service 

"Just because it isn't official doesn't mean it didn't happen" 

Comments

31 pitches 25 strikes for McNeil. That sounds encouraging.

PHIL: Is Ramos one of the Intl Mexi signings? Also, regarding a player getting sent from the pipeline minor league squad to EXST, is this typically injury rehab-related, or tweaking mechanics?

Sorry - repeat - repeat

E-MAN: Eury Ramos was signed as a 16-year old out of the Dominican Republic in 2014, and he has not exactly "rocketed" through the system (this is his 4th pro season and he is still at Extended Spring Training).

As far as why players are sent to Extended Spring Training from a full-season affiliate (or left behind at EXST after the conclusion of Minor League Camp), it could be to rehab an injury or illness, or sometimes the player just needs playing time or a pitcher needs innings or needs to elevate his "pitch count," or sometimes a player or a pitcher needs some kind of a remedial mechanical "tweak" that could best be done in bullpen side-sessions, "live" BP, in a "sim" game, and/or in an intrasquad game. 

But the vast majority of players at EXST are not ready to play or pitch in a full-season league, and so they are playing against players and pitchers from other organizations who are in a similar situation. 

I would say the best way to think of EXST is that it is the short-season Eugene affiliate with an expanded roster (kind of like the Cubs during Cactus League Spring Training) playing games because the Northwest League hasn't started yet (the NWL doesn't start until mid-June), and so (other than players and pitchers rehabbing from injuries or guys like Kyle Ryan who were left behind to get work) the position-players and the pitchers at EXST are competing to make the Eugene Opening Day roster. Same would be true for Athletics players and pitchers at EXST (they are competing to make the Vermont Opening Daty roster), the Angels players and pitchers (they are competing to make the Orem Opening Day roster), etc.

And just as with Cubs MLB Spring Training, there are a few players at EXST who are virtual locks to make the Eugene Opening Day roster, a few others who are "on the bubble," and some who are just trying to make a good impression and at least get a slot with one of the Cubs two AZL teams (and not get released or get sent back to the DSL). 

And despite what you might read elsewhere, there is no difference (for the players) between playing Cactus League games at Extended Spring Training versus playing games at South Bend or Myrtle Beach or Tennessee or Iowa. An EXST Cactus League game is - NOT-  some kind of "company softball game" where the players are having a good time and joking around and there's a beer keg at 3rd base for players who get that far. For the players, an EXST Cactus League game is serious business, a real game with real-world consequences. There are rules variances at EXST that help the managers and pitching coaches achieve their goals, but then there are rules variances in the "official" minor leagues, too (like placing a runner at 2nd base at the start of an extra inning, or allowing MLB players or pitchers who are rehabbing from an injury to play in minor league games -- including minor league playoff games!).

Bottom line is, the outcome of a minor league game (whether it be "official" or "not official") matters a lot to the players, but maybe not so much to the minor league team's manager or coaches or the Player Development Dept. A minor league manager or pitching coach is NOT going to get fired if his team finishes with the worst record in the league. It's all about player development and getting players and pitchers ready for the next level (and hopefully eventually MLB). Sometimes that takes time and there are temporary setbacks (progress is not always linear) and it often involves an organization finding a way to unlock a position player's or a pitcher's talent so that it can be used in games and so that the player or pitcher can maximize his talent. But the Player Development Department can only do so much. The rest is up to the player. 

It's also good to remember that clubs do not easily "write-off" a minor league player or pitcher who are having difficulties. They understand that there will be ups & downs and each player is unique and players develop in their own individual way and at their own pace. Willson Contreras and Dillon Maples are a couple of good examples of an organization being patient and allowing a player or a pitcher they could have just written-off to overcome difficulties and develop in his own way and at his own pace. 

Not everybody can be Kris Bryant.  

Hi Arizona Phil,

The Ramos report sounds fantastic! You’ve mentioned Correa, Estrada and Marquez quite a bit too (and in positive terms) but can you talk about Faustino Carrera a little? I don’t know much about him outside of his stats the last few years. 

Thanks!

RAISIN: Like a lot Mexican pitchers who have been signed by the Cubs over the past three or four years, Faustino Carrera came to pro ball with a fully-developed change-up. It appears that Mexican kids are taught the CH but not a breaking ball so much while growing up, and so Carrera arrived with a good CH and a fastball he can command. His breaking ball does show promise, but (kind of like Jose Quintana) the CH-FB combo works just fine right now.

PHIL: What recognizable former minor-leaguer did you catch at his 2nd job post-season, or between things? 

Like, AZ PHIL checking out at Home Depot, Denny's, Target, etc., and you saw Koyie Hill working in Lumber?

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