Reed Johnson-"The Catch"

If you haven't seen it, watch it now. If you have seen it, watch it again. Do it now. It was that good.

In last night's 5-3 loss to the Washington Nationals, Cubs CF Reed Johnson made one of the most amazing catches, nah, one of the most amazing baseball plays, hell...one of the most amazing athletic plays in organized sports, that you will ever see. I really don't feel like I'm exaggerating at all in saying that. It was that good.

The play came in Bottom 5 with 2 outs. The Nats Felipe Lopez was hitting with a 3-1 count and blasted an oppo gapper to left center field. ReJo, playing a straight up center field, got on his pony at the crack of the bat, ran in an all out sprint to the gap, leaped just as he reached the warning track and in a full on extension made the catch with the tip of his glove. Johnson's momentum carried him head first into the OF wall (thankfully, a padded wall and not the bricks and ivy of Wrigley). Johnson pops right up and, because of the collision with the wall, the bill on his cap is flipped up like a cyclist's. An amazing, amazing play.

What makes this all the more amazing is that Johnson really isn't even a center fielder. In Johnson's 598 career games played at the MLB level, he's only played CF 79 times. That's about 7.5% of the time. And 15 of those CF appearances came this year with the Cubs. Johnson is really a LFer playing out of position. Typically, this would mean that a guy like Johnson doesn't have "the range" to play CF, but I think he disproved any questions that might remain there last night.

Think back not too long ago to just before the season began. The Cubs were looking all over for someone other than Pie that could play CF. Fuku was discussed as playing there vs. LHPs with 4th OFer Matt Murton playing RF. The Cubs looked outside the organization at Cereal Boy Crisp. And then suddenly, ReJo gets cut by the Jays and Jim Hendry deftly swoops in and picks up Johnson. When we signed Johnson, though, the line was basically that he could play CF in a pinch. That ability led to The Big Murt getting sent back to Iowa and to Murton making the club as the assumed 4th OFer. But today, 23 games into the season, Johnson has 15 games at CF to incumbent starter Felix Pie's 16, and the PT pendulum seems to keep tilting towards ReJo.

Bottom line: Reed Johnson has made this club significantly better already. Without Johnson, the Cubs either would have Matt Murton playing one of the corner OF spots and have had to move Fukudome to CF, or would have taken a huge salary hit and lost some young talent to acquire the vastly overrated Coco Crisp. Johnson has allowed this club to not only survive, but thrive, when the $136 Million Dollar Man went down and in the midst of Felix Pie's slow start. Considering only Johnson's postional flexibility, the Cubs are a much better team with him. Factor in his ability to hit leadoff and his .355 OBP in that spot over his 6 games there and ReJo's value soars.

Welcome aboard Reed Johnson. I think by the end of the year we'll find that you were an extremely important "missing piece" to the 2008 Cubs. Let's hope it ends with you and your teammates hoisting the World Series trophy.

UPDATE April 27th: Reed Johnson's amazing catch from yesterday continues to reverberate around the league. Here's an article on "The Catch" from Cubs.com. And one with some good quotes from The Trib.

A Trip Around the Minors...


News from the Cubs Minor League Affiliates:

Iowa
  • Jake Fox is hitting only .179 for Iowa. The one thing that is positive is that 9 of his 14 hits so far this year have gone for extra bases (bringing his OPS to .585)

  • Sam Fuld was hitting a mere .100. He is only played in 6 games, the last being on April 14th, but according to the I-Cubs website, isn't on the DL.

Tennessee

  • Matt Craig, the 3rd round pick of the Cubs in 2002, is hitting .360 for the Smokies with a .543 OBP. He has only played in 9 games, due to a trip to the DL, but the quick numbers are impressive.

  • Ryan Harvey, the Cubs 2003 1st round pick, is struggling at the plate. He is hitting a mere .204 and has 22 K's in 54 AB's.

  • Donnie Veal, who struggled early last year but is still considered the #6 prospect of the Cubs, is off to a 1-0 start with an ERA of 3.18 in 4 starts. The numbers are a bit deceiving, however, as he has walked 15 guys in just 17 innings.
Daytona
  • Jim Adduci is hitting .370 in 21 games with an OBP of an even .500. Basically, Matt Craig numbers with more PT.

  • Tony Thomas, the Cubs 3rd round pick (and ranked as the #9 prospect overall) is hitting a respectable .297 with 5 SB's.

  • Alex Maestri, the Italian born pitcher for Daytona, is 2-0 with a 1.31 ERA in 4 games with Daytona, 3 of them being starts.

Peoria

  • Josh Donaldson, the 2nd round pick from last year, is off to a cold start. After tearing it up in the short season with Boise last year, he is only hitting .157 with the Chiefs. Donaldson has been a difficult case for the Cubs, as they want to bring him along slowly, but some feel he would be better suited at Daytona playing for former catcher Jody Davis.

  • The Peoria 'Pen-Ryne Sandberg's entire bullpen has enjoyed the cold Midwest weather at the beginning of the season. A relative no-name bunch from the prospect/draft viewpoint, Audy Santana, Hung-Wen Chen, Craig Muschko, Dustin Sasser, Blake Parker, and Marcus Mateo all have ERA's below 2. Jordan Latham, the worst of the bunch, has an ERA of 2.14.

1600, Rahm Emanuel?

According to Paul Sullivan on his Tribune Blog, Congressman Rahm Emanuel needs to bone up on his "hometown Cubbies." When Emanuel initially issued a press release congratulating the Cubs on their 10,000th, he misspelled Sandberg as Sandburg, got the date the Cubs played their first game wrong, wasn't able to correctly count the number of years they had been in existence correctly, and stated that Wrigley was located in his district at 1600 W. Addison (not 1060).

First, I suggest he read toweldrills.blogspot.com a couple of times a day, as that would provide him the necessary knowledge to make such statements. Actually, he should make TD required reading for his interns, as I'm sure he wasn't the one who actually penned the statement. Maybe they were confused with Tee Ball on the White House lawn, given the number of runs the Cubs had been putting up.

Second, bravo to Paul Sullivan. I am not a huge Sullivan fan, but if he indeed was the first to report this, his work didn't go unnoticed. Check out the new release from Rep. Emanuel website. Everything seems to be corrected. I'm sure someone was fired, but someone else probably got promoted for making those corrections ASAP.

Finally, ignoring any political affiliation, why is Congress wasting it's time on stuff like this? Based on the number of errors contained in the statement, there wasn't a lot of time wasted on it, but nevertheless, the House of Representatives had to hear him congratulate the Cubs. I know Congressmen make these statements all the time on a range of topics, but I'd rather have him working on a way to make sure I don't have to pay $20 for rice than congratulating the Cubs on winning 10,000. When it is the World Series this fall, then he can make all the pronouncements he wants. Until then, I would rather him just click on who was his favorite backup second baseman of the 90's and move on.

New York Mets' Joe...Talkin' "Smith"


Here's some video from The Bleachers (I feel they deserve capital letters) of New York Mets' RP Joe Smith talkin' some smack to Cubs fans before the April 22 game. We won that one 8-1, so eat it Joe.

In some other Cubs-related shenanigans, Ryan Dempster was at it again. From Deadspin.com, check out how he signed this chick's baseball. You gotta love that guy.

Cubs Win in Extra Innings...Again


Last night's 10,000th Cubs win (to paraphrase the great Kenny Mayne: not all coming in one night...that'd be a record) brought the Cubs record to an NL Central best 15-6. The game was the Cubs 5th extra inning affair through the 21 games played this season. The major league record for extra innings games in one season is 31 by the 1943 Boston Red Sox (thank you Baseball-Almanac.com). At this clip, the Cubs are on pace to play 38 extra innings games and set a new MLB record. This, folks, is getting ridiculous.

10,000th Win!

Welcome to the 10,000 Win club. Like the Saturday Night Live "5 Timer's Club" Skit, the Cubs are joining a very exclusive club, as the Giants are the only franchise to be 10,000 Win Club members. More to come tomorrow!

Reds Fire Wayne Krivsky; Nuts & Bolts of Fukudomania

  • Not exactly Cubs news here, but MLB Trade Rumors has a nice piece on NL Central foe and ex-Cub scrap-heap Cincinnati Reds' firing of GM Wayne Krivsky and subsequent replacement by former St. Louis Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty. The piece has a solid run down of the moves Krivsky made in his short tenure with the Reds. Honestly, not a bad job by Krivsky. There are certainly some questionable moves in there (like not getting anything of value in return for Austin Kearns, the Mike Stanton deal from this year) but there's a lot of great acquisitions as well (Hamilton, Harang, Keppinger, Phillips). The writing has pretty much been on the wall here since Jocketty came on board, though. But the timing really is curious. I wonder what it was that made this go down now?

Sean Gallagher v. Brian Roberts


Which of the following two players would you want in your organization?

Player A is a 30 year old second baseman for a major league team. A career .280 hitter, he is currently sitting at .250. He has 8 steals in 10 attempts this year, after stealing 50 bags last year. While not injury-prone, he has averaged 147 games per season over the last three years. He has made two errors in the field. Makes 6.3M this year and 9M next year.

Player B is a 22 year old starting pitcher for a AAA team. He is rated as the #5 prospect in the system. He is currently 2-1 with a 1.93 ERA in 4 starts. He has a 5:1 strikeout to walk ratio and his WHIP is 0.90. He was 10-3 in the minors last year, 11-5 in the minors in '06.

If you haven't already figured it out by the looking at the picture (OK, so maybe the picture isn't all that revealing) or forgot to look at the title, Player A is Brian Roberts and Player B was the centerpiece of the supposed trade, Sean Gallagher.
Gallagher was dominant in last night's game. Roberts, on the other hand, is 3 for 24 in the past week.

Wrigleyfield Entertainers

Folks this YouTube video displays one of the great chicago acts that performs outside Wrigleyfield on game days. When I hear these buckets being banged from a block away...I get excited. By far this is my favorite entertainment act. However there a few close second and thirds...

Second Place: Metal Man (this guy can be painted up in copper or silver) who just stands there as if he is a statue...Amazing skill and patience. I once saw a guy throw a beer at one of these "statues" and guess what? he didnt move. That day he earned my 2 dollars

Third Place: Scalpers...This process is a show in it of itself. Watching dads from the suburbs hacking tickets while their kids watch and learn. The dad acting as if this ticket purchase may land him in jail...listen buddy...You aint buying drugs you dont have to fold your money and sneek it to the scalper. It is a business and treat it like one.

What are your favorite entertainers at wrigley?

Towel Drills Short Hop

  • No...he didn't hit another HR. Or go 5-5. But as of Bottom 8 in today's game, Felix Pie has followed up yesterday's breakout game by going 2-5 with 2 singles. Not convinced that this is important? Try this on: today is Pie's first multi-hit game since September 29, 2007. And his 2nd since last August 11th. And in Pie's 103 games played in the bigs-it's the 10th time he's ever had a multi-hit game. Let's keep it goin' Felix.

Ladies and Gentlemen...Felix Pie

(AP Photo/Brian Kersey)
Big Z had another great start. ARam hit a big time HR that could have been the decider. And Ronny C had a HUGE 2 run single in the bottom of the 8th with 2 outs and 2 strikes to stretch a precarious 1 run lead into a 3 runner. All of those were huge factors in determining the result of tonight's game. But what I want to talk about is what I think will end up having the biggest effect on the Cubs 2008 season. Felix "Be My Cherry" Pie's first ever home run at Wrigley Field. (video)

Freaking awesome. I simply could not be happier for this kid or more excited about that HR and his entire AB. Pie entered the game in Top 8 as a defensive replacement for the swift footed Daryle Ward. Pie came up in the bottom of the 8th in the 9 hole and was the first batter to face Jorge Sosa, who had come on to relieve Aaron Heilman who, despite having nearly worked out of a bases loaded with no out jam, had just given up the Cedeno single. Pie took 2 balls out of the zone for balls and then deposited the 3rd pitch into the right center bleachers.

Only 3 pitches, but I am jacked about this AB. Pie hasn't seen a full game's worth of ABs since April 15 when he went 0-4 vs. Cincy. Pie hasn't started a game since and has had only 3 ABs in that time. During that time the Cubs, including former hitting coach Lou Pinella, have been working intensely with Pie on his swing. Pie has been spending a ton of time in the cage working with Cubs coaches on refining his swing and building consistency. They're hitting. They're videotaping. Hell, who knows, maybe they're doing the voodoo thing like Pedro Cerrano with Jobu from "Major League". Today they even flew in Minor Hitting Coordinator Dave Keller specifically to work with Pie on his swing. And tonight, all that work paid off.

Yes, I realize it's only a single HR. But if you can, watch that AB. Pie's swing is so much more compact and controlled now. He started off the pitches with his bat on his shoulder, clearly a reminder to himself to stay compact. Pie's problem has always been a long, looping cut that left a lot of holes. What the Cubs are trying to get him to do is to shorten that cut and sort of slap at the ball-hopefully producing more line drives and base knocks and less swinging strikes and pop ups. By this one AB alone, you can tell that the kid "gets it." The swing that resulted in the HR was NOT at all a HR swing. He stayed within himself and put a nasty charge into the ball. It got over the wall, but that hit was simply a blasted line drive, not a towering HR ball. Great AB, great cut, great result.

It's so easy to compare Pie to Corey Patterson. Both are one time big time prospects. Both are leftys. Both play CF. Both should be great top of the order hitters but tend to take these looping hacks that result in a couple HRs now and again, but more frequently in strikeouts and pop ups. Patterson never "got it." He was as dumb as he was stubborn and refused to listen to, well, everyone, and to this day continues to swing for the fences every AB. Pie is different. Check out this quote from the Dave Keller article:
"He's happy, he's really happy," Keller said. "The best thing about Felix is he'll work. He'll try as hard as he can, and he listens. He knows how close he is, and he wants to compete here. Sometimes you run into guys who make excuses as to why they can't do it, and that's not Felix at all."
People...Felix "gets it." You saw the fruits of all his recent hard work tonight. And you're going to see more. The kid has a total of 205 big league ABs. He's 23 years old. He's still learning. Let's chill out on the "send Pie to the minors" and the "we need Coco Crisp" talk and let this kid develop into his tremendous potential.

Fukudomania may be here now. But you better get on board with the Felix Pie train now, because it's the future.

Fukudomania

"Fukudomania" is gripping Cubdom today. Have you caught it yet?

Carol Slezak seems to have set this Fukudomania craze in full force this morning with her article in the Sun-Times. (Let's set aside for a moment that I really wish my last name were "Slezak"). Per Bleed Cubbie Blue, the term appears to have been coined back in February by Bruce Miles in this article for the Daily Herald. But today is the day it caught hold.

Slezak compares Fukudomania to the "Kid K" phenomenon surrounding Kerry Wood in 1998. Only it seems that this may be bigger. Granted, Kid K was in 1998. But was there an equivalent to www.fukudomeismyhomie.com back in the day? Not that I recall...but there probably should have been.

The offshoot of this particular phenomenon is also a rash of pretty entertaining articles about how poorly Cubs fans, or probably more accurately-Google Translate, are at translating English to Japanese. Here's a wrap up from Deadspin.com. And one from some BS AOL website called "Fan House" (who uses these sort of sites for information anyway?)

Fuku is off to a tremendous start. Factor in that he's new to the country, is trying to adjust to a new league and a new style of play, is unfamiliar with the ballparks, and hasn't seen any of these pitchers before and his fast start is all the more impressive. The kid plays the game right. He hustles. He stays within his game and tries to get on base rather than jack every ball over the fence. He plays good D. He's got a hose in RF. He runs the bases well. In short, he's a "ballplayer" in every positive sense of the word. I'll admit it, I have a major man-crush on the guy.

Fukudomania is here. And he flat out deserves every bit of adulation he's receiving.

Cubs have a leader


As Cubs fans, we spent the entire winter hearing about the acquisition of Brian Roberts. As spring rolled around, we heard that the Cubs were going to acquire a backup centerfielder, be it Coco Crisp, Marlon Bryd, or Jay Payton. As spring training ended, the addition turned out to be free (well, trade-wise, it was free) in the person of Reed Johnson. Johnson seemed to fit all the Cubs needs...a left-hander, a guy who could play all three outfield positions, a guy with a little speed. But, his biggest addition may be something intangible. Leadership.

I noticed the other day Reed Johnson always seemed to be in camera whenever they panned the dugout. He was usually in the middle of whatever was going on. Tonight, he epitomized what a leader should be. First, the DeRo situation. I was watching the local broadcast, so I don't know how mush the ESPN cameras caught it, but after DeRo was rung up on a check swing that the home plate ump called without asking for help, he was pissed. He went back to the dugout fuming. He started bitching to the other guys. ARam, Hank White, and ReJo were teasing him about it. ARam was dying of laughter. It relaxed DeRo. At the end of it, ReJo went up and put a quick arm around DeRo, patting him on the back. Later, in that all-important ninth inning, ReJo was in the middle of it again. This time, he provided relaxation to the entire dugout. With the Cubs holding on to a one run lead, two on, nobody out, Fuku smashed a pitch that hit the top of the Cub's dugout fence and bounced into the stands. The entire team cleared out of the area, except for ReJo, who was laying across the dugout seats, laughing his ass off. The closest guy to him was Fontenot. I don't know what he said, but I'm pretty sure he made a crack about Fontenot not having to duck.

I love it. This is the kind of guy the Cubs need. He adds that leadership a team needs; a guy who can lift a player or the whole team, a guy who can break the ice when things are tense. Kenny Lofton added that in '03 and look where the Cubs ended up. Matt Stairs was the guy in '01...it didn't get the Cubs into the playoffs, but it took a 65 win from '00 into a 88 win team that was in contention for most of the year.

If they are tired, do they go to Cotts?




A lot is being made of the bullpen being tired. But, the articles so far only explain the problem, not provide solution. So here's a quick look at some of the options the Cubs have to rejuvenate the arms in the 'pen:
  • Neal Cotts-Cotts makes the most sense of the group. In 11.2 innings of AAA work this year, the lefty's only surrendered 2 runs (a 1.54 ERA). Left Handers are hitting .154 against him, he has a 13/3 strikeout to walk ratio, and his shortest outing of the year is an inning and a third, so the Cubs could use him in extended work.


  • Jose Ascanio-another reliever the Cubs traded for to add some bullpen depth, he's given up 3 runs in just over 9 innings. The closer for the I-Cubs, Ascanio has converted 4 of 5 saves opportunities. Like Cotts, he is averaging over a strikeout per inning. The Cubs could call him up, but assuming that Marshall would be the corresponding move, it would leave the 'pen with only one lefty.


  • J.R. Mathes-A little known lefty, Mathes was a 14th round pick who struggled for the better part of last year with an ERA over 5.50. But Mathes has started the season strong, with a ERA of 3.00 in 3 starts. He equally effective against lefties and righties, holding the former to a .200 BA and the latter to a .196 average. Mathes' bgigest hurdle may be the roster...at present time, he isn't on the Cubs 40 man roster, although they have two spots open.


  • Jeff ND-On almost the opposite end of the Mathes situation sits Jeff ND. Jeff ND enjoys rockstar status, being a former footballer and probably the best known 5th round draft pick at the time he was being drafted. He is already on the 40 man roster. He is 2-1 with a 2.35 ERA in 4 starts at Tennessee. But there is absolutely no way the Cubs bring him up. The only reason I am mentioning here is to explain to those who want to see him now why there is no way they are going to see him. For starters, he is a starter. So are Mathes and Marshall, but neither project as long term dominant starters like some scouts think Jeff ND will become. Second, he is right-handed, putting the Cubs in the same position they would be with Ascanio. Third, and most importantly for the Cubs, bringing him up would start the arbitration clock. The Cubs aren't overly worried about how much they will have to pay any of the guys above, but they don't want to have to start paying Jeff ND the big bucks before they have to. Nor do they want to see him go to free agency any earlier than they have to. The entire reason he is on the 40 man roster is because his agent required it, purely for arbitration/free agency purposes. So, we aren't going to see him unless the Cubs lose at least 3 starting pitchers, and even then, I don't know that he gets the call.

Gary Gaetti Joins the Winner's Circle


Congratulations to Gary Gaetti, the best backup to Mark Grace in the 90's. This was a closer vote, as Gaetti received 50% of the votes. All of the men garnered at least one vote. Gaetti joins Hector Villanueva in the Towel Drills Hall of Champion Backups. Some of you loyal Towel Drills fans may be saying to yourself, "Wait. I remember Hector Villanueva also played a little first. Why couldn't I vote for him?" Well, we here at Towel Drills want to recognize as many great former Cubs as we can, so once a backup has won, he is no longer elgible. That way, when the Hall of Champions is erected in the beautiful Towel Drills Corporate Headquarters, we will have an entire hall and not just a single photo of H.V. Don't forget to vote for your favorite 2-sack!