The WBC Rosters

Posted by Lionel on February 28, 2009.

Most people know the MLBer's who'll suit up for the World Baseball Classic, but the Cubs have 8 guys in their system who made WBC rosters, playing for 7 different countries. Let's take a look at them:

Geo Soto (Puerto Rico): The Cubs starting backstop will probably split time with one of the Flying Molina Brother's (i.e. Yadier) as Puerto Rico's catcher. The still free agent Pudge Rodriguez is also on the team's roster, making catcher the deepest position for Puerto Rico by a landslide. Unless Bernie Williams is too old to play the field, you'd figure that one of the two catchers not behind the dish will DH for team Puerto Rico.

Ted Lilly (United States): Theodore, as Lou calls him, will fit the same role for the United States that he does for the Cubs. He is a back of the rotation starter who won't get the headlines that his teammates do. Lilly comes in behind Oswalt and Peavy, with Jeremy Guthrie rounding out the 4 man rotation. With a minimum of 3 games and a maximum of 8 games in the WBC, Lilly shoud get either 1 or 2 starts.

Kosuke Fukudome (Japan): If Team Japan didn't play it's first game at 3:30 AM Central Time, it would be a good time to check out Fuku and see if those core strength exercises he's been doing have paid off. The early results sound positive, as he hit a grand slam in a Team Japan tuneup game against the Yomiuri Giants. But, of course, Cub fans remember his big HR in Game 1 of the 2008 season was the high point of his year. While it's obviously difficult to guess what the Japanese team will look like, you'd have to figure that Ichiro and Fukudome are two of the starting OF's.

Carlos Zambrano (Venezuela): Wait, you say. I remember Z saying he wasn't playing. Well, he's not. Despite that, Team Venezuela still put him on their final roster, possibly thinking they could convince him otherwise. Z's primary reason for opting out is due to his eye infection and possible pending Lasik eye surgery. That, or he is just concerned about being upstaged by Chad Gaudin's 'stache.

Hung-Wen Chen (Taipei): Chen is a 23 year old who split his season between Peoria and Daytona in his second season in the Cubs system. 22 of his 29 appearances were starts, so he could serve either role for Team Taipei. He is joined by 5 other pitchers in minor league farm systems, but seems to be one of the better prospects in the group, so he should see some action for Taipei. For more on Chen, you might want to check TD's top 25 pitching prospects in the near future.

Alex Maestri (Italy): While about half of Team Italy plays in the U.S., Maestri is the only one who is Italian-born. The 23 year old spent the majority of his season at Daytona, where he compiled a 3.69 ERA in 15 appearances (14 starts). But he was called up to Tennessee at the end of the season and struggled, giving up 8 runs in 11 innings in 2 starts. Maestri is one of only two guys playing in the States who starts, so I'd expect him to be a starter for Team Italy. Italy and the U.S. are in the same pool, so we see a start against the U.S., really giving him the opportunity to show off his ability.

Corey Koskie (Canada): Koskie is so new to the Cubs that he was added to the list of "Cubs in the WBC" on the wesbite while I typed this blog. As mentioned in the Comments section of Jumbo's Amish Rifle post, Koskie is a 35 year old who hasn't played since a concussion in mid '06. He can play 3rd (the primary reason for the Cubs signing him to a minor league deal), 1st and the OF, and he joins a number of other utilitymen on the Team Canada roster. His best shot is probably as a 3-sack, where he'll compete for PT with Pete Orr and Chris Barnwell.

Vince Perkins (Canada): Who is Vince Perkins? That was what I wanted to know, because I had no clue. It turns out Perkins had his contract purchased this offseason by the Cubs from the Joilet JackHammers, an independent league team. Perkins is only 27 and spent three years on the Blue Jays 40 man roster until he had Tommy John surgery, so he has, or had, some talent. Perkins played in the winter ball in the Dominican Republic, where he was 4-2 with a 2.74 ERA in 10 starts. With Jesse Crain being the "big name" on Team Canada's pitching staff, it will be interesting to see if Perkins sees action.
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The Amish Rifle & Iron Micah

Posted by Jumbo on February 28, 2009.

How about a random collection of Cubs notes to start off the Saturday?...

The Amish Rifle's Beautiful Chin Music
I don't know whether in my entire life I've ever seen an uglier bit of facial hair than the disgusting bit of red shag carpeting hanging from Chad "The Amish Rifle" Gaudin's chin. This thing really puts the "Goat" in "Goateee". It makes Big Z's Cholo 'Stache look gooooood. Funny deal is that apparently Gaudin had a full beard until just before camp, which would mean dude's entire face looked like this a few weeks ago. If you have a pic of that-PLEASE share. On the upside, good thing Gaudin appears to be focusing solely on pitching this spring-he sure isn't spending any time thinking about getting laid.

The Next Great Nickname: "Iron" Micah Hoffpauir
Some good stuff by Gordon Wittenmeyer in his "Cubs Brief" this AM. While I'm talking Cubs pop culture instead of substance, let's get this bit in about The Hoff's new nickname. Iron Micah has a Catus League high 7 Ribs so far this spring-4 on "opening day's" Grand Slam, 3 yesterday on another moon shot. They've also had him playing in LF, DH, and 1B in the 3 games. I'm rooting for his guy this year. He's 29, yeah, and not really a prospect. But I think he has a chance to make a difference off the bench this year in a way that "professional pinch hitter" Daryl Ward never did. Not sure how he'll fare being used primarily as a pinch hitter/fill in player, but the guy has the ability to change the course of a game with one swing.

Encouraging Words on Cash
"He's got a very, very simple delivery, and he can duplicate his pitches,'' Piniella said. ''This kid's going to come very quick. He's not going to spend too much time in the minors.''

''Just from watching him pitch and throw you can't tell he's just a year out of college. I can't,'' Piniella said. ''He's right in that group that's been around baseball three, four years now, experience-wise, just looking at him -- the way he conducts himself. He's got good stuff, too. He's making a very good first impression.''

Great to hear these quotes on last year's 1st draft choice Andrew Cashner. If this kid can keep it up, he could make a difference come this fall. I know he's wanting to start, and the Cubs will work him as such, but these guys who were big time college relievers have the ability to progress quickly. If he can continue to impress, it'll be a huge boon to the Cubs 'pen later this year. Great to hear this.

The 3B Sitch
A couple developments to pass along as a follow up to last week's incredibly awesome Jumbo post about the backup 3B position-the Cubs, and 30 other teams, took a pass on suspect-prospect Andy Marte. Marte cleared waivers and will be seen roaming 3B for Triple A Columbus this year trying to figure out what the hell happened.

And the leader in the Cubs backup 3B race may prove to be a guy not even mentioned in the last post b/c I assumed he sucked so hard it wasn't even worth it. Apparently the 29 year old never-was NRI Luis Rivas, he of the career .257 BA, .780 OPS, and 1 game played at 3B, has been looking solid defensively at the hot corner in early spring action. Add 3 hits in 7 spring ABs and, ummmm boy, time to get excited. Or, not at all.

Enjoy the Sat.

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TD's Top 50 Prospects- #25 Pitcher

Posted by Lionel on February 27, 2009.

Casey Lambert

Rank: #25 Pitcher (TD), Unranked Prospect (BA)

Age: 23

Position(s): RP

Team(s): Daytona, Tennessee

'08 Key Composite Stats: 2.81 ERA, 12 Saves, 1.34 WHIP

Acquired: 6th Round, 2007

Breakdown: The lefthander appeared in 55 games in '08, finishing 40 of them. He was a relative workhorse for a minor league reliever, pitching over 67 innings. He had racked up 11 saves with Daytona until a mid-June promotion to Tennessee. He would only have 1 at Tennessee, but still finished in a second place tie in the organization with 12 saves. The only concerning aspect of Lambert's season was a 1.34 WHIP. But that number is high in large part to the just over 1 hit per inning he allowed. The good news is that he seems to challenge hitters, walking only 22 last year.
A quick note on Lambert's unranked prospect status according to BA. BA ranks each organization's top 30 prospects and then places another 25 or so pitchers and 15 or so batters in the organization's depth chart. As we proceed through TD's prospect list, you will see a number of these unranked prospects.

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TD's Top 50 Prospects-#51

Posted by Lionel on February 24, 2009.

With BA posting its annual top 100 prospect list today (which featured Josh Vitters at #51 and Jeff ND at #79), I felt it was time to fire up the 'ol TD Top 50 prospect list. OK, so it's not "ol," it's a brand-spanking new feature. Over the next weeks and months, we will reveal our version of the Top 25 pitchers and Top 25 batters in the Cubs farm system. But before we do that, it is disclaimer time. The TD staff has not seen or scouted any of these players in person. Instead, we took all available information at our disposal to formulate the list. You will find that it varies greatly from the "experts," because it is primarily based on how each player performed in 2008. The list does not attempt to project the player's ability or predict what will happen in the future, it simply gives the '08 stats and tells what makes the player special. We also removed any player we felt would break camp with the Cubs, because we figured you already knew enough about them. That removed Micah Hoffpauir and Jeff ND. Even if we hadn't removed Jeff ND, his minor league numbers wouldn't have stood up against the top 25 pitchers.

So that you could get accustomed to the format and information that we will provide, we'll start with the 51st prospect...

Josh Lansford

Rank: N/A

Age: 24

Position(s): 3B/P

Team(s): Daytona, Tennessee

'08 Key Composite Stats: .243 BA, 25 doubles, 23 errors, K's less than 16% of the time, Son of former MLBer and fantastic 'stache holder Carney Lansford

Acquired: 6th round draft pick, 2006

Breakdown: Lansford was lightly considered to make the top 25 batters list, but was left on the cutting room floor, thanks in large part to the .243 BA and the 23 errors. But what put the 24 year old in the unofficial #51 spot is that he has the chance to move from one list to the other. Lansford is scheduled to move from the 3-sack to the bump this spring. Whether that experiment will work or not is to be seen, but if he can throw, he should be one of the better hitting pitchers. Plus, with some other 3-sacks coming in on the list, he probably wasn't going to see his future playing the hot corner for the Chicago National League Ballclub.

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Lionel tests typing fingers, shows off his testy side

Posted by Lionel on February 24, 2009.

A few days ago, the Tribune's Paul Sullivan wrote an article questioning Z's shoulder and his head. When I initially read the article, it got under my skin. But, I decided it wasn't worthy of being commented on and so I let it pass. But, the more I've let it sink in, the more it has bothered me. This isn't news. This is someone trying to create a story in the clubhouse.

You know how I know it's not news? Look at the Sun Times Gordon Wittenmeyer's column from the same day. Same discussion of Z, no B.S. No mention of Z in the Daily Herald at all from that day. Two days later, the DH published an AP report that mentions that Z talked to reporters on Monday (two days later) and fails to mention any sort of blowup. If this was such a big issue, why did no one else mention it? Even if they weren't in the clubhouse at the time, they still would have plenty of people who witnessed it and could still write a story on it.

Moving past the newsworthiness of the story, does anyone care? We are 40 days from the start of the season. If Z's arm falls off, then I'm interested. If he had a bad day, I don't care. Should Z be getting all fired up 40 days out? Probably not. Does it have any effect on what will happen 40 day from now? No. So, what's the story here? Is Sullivan pissed because Z didn't give him the time of day? Is Sullivan using his "my employer doesn't own the Cubs anymore" card to do a 180 and see if he can create some tension in the clubhouse to try more interesting articles? Or was he just trying to stir up some controversy so TD would have something to write about? Probably the latter.

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TD in Focus: Spotlight on Aaron Heilman

Posted by Mav on February 22, 2009.

The Towel Drills staff welcomes long-time Cub fan and former college pitcher "Mav" to the TD Bullpen. Mav will be bringing us some great in-depth stuff throughout the season with the added perspective of actually having competed at a level higher than tee ball or beer league softball (though I can vouch for Mav's credentials in the latter as well). Today Mav kicks off his new "TD in Focus" series, spotlighting one of this year's new Cubs pitchers, Aaron Heilman. Enjoy.

Aaron Heilman graduated from Logansport High School in 1996, and made quite a name at Notre Dame as a hurler for the Irish. Heilman was 24 years old when he broke into the big leagues on June 26, 2003, with the New York Mets. Prior to joining the Cubs this offseason, Heilman’s value plummeted following a lackluster 2008 season, where he finished with a 5.21 ERA and a 1.59 WHIP, allowing 38% of inherited runners to score. (For a great discussion on this statistic, see this recent NY Times article.)However, one ugly season aside, Heilman has proven himself to be an effective reliever with the ability to spot a few starts. The former 1st-round pick is unquestionably talented, with a plus arm and stuff that jumps off the pages. This offseason, there was a lot of talk that Heilman was looking to find a team that would give him a shot to return to his roots as a starting pitcher (his stats at Notre Dame are pretty sick). The Mets did not see him as a starter because he pitches three-quarters with a “high-end elbow” delivery, making him an injury risk.

Enter 2009 with the Cubbies. As we all may recall, the Cubbies recently have found success moving a reliever back into the rotation (see Ryan Dempster). However, the Cubbies have also ruined fine arms by putting them into the rotation with a suboptimal delivery (see Kerry Wood). We shall see.

What you can expect from Heilman this year is a fastball, changeup, and a “10 to 4” slider that sweeps across the plate and down and away from right-handed hitters. Heilman's bread-and-butter has always been his fastball-changeup combo, and thus it has proven difficult to predict his slider (a pitch he rarely threw prior to 2008). Breaking down Heilman's repertoire a little further, we see there are some blemishes beneath the swing-and-miss allure. Last year, Heilman is consistently found himself outside of the strikezone. It's safe to say Heilman has the killer pitches, but his 2008 stats may be a reflection of hackers chasing them, rather than attacking within the zone.From 2005 to 2007, he ran a K/BB rate of between 2.61 and 3.15, showing good enough command of his fastball/change-up combination to throw strikes while missing a decent amount of bats. Last year, however, his walk rate went through the moon, jumping from 2.09 to 5.45, and his HR/FB rate spiked, causing him to be a bit home run prone. It could be random variation, where he just had a rough year finding the strike zone, but a quick look at his pitch selection reveals an interesting change - Heilman started throwing a lot more sliders last year, throwing them in 12% of his pitches versus just 0.4% a year prior. The change-up dropped from 37.9% to just 24%, as the slider made him more of a three pitch guy and less dependent on the change. Stats Provided by FanGraphs, The Baseball Cube, and The Hardball Times.

The trendy conclusion here is that the slider may have allowed Heilman to miss a lot more bats, but he got those gains in strikeout rate by throwing way too many pitches out of the strike zone, the end result being a jump in walk rate that was more detrimental than the jump in strikeout rate. The more logical conclusion, however, is that Heilman lost consistent control of his primary pitch – the fastball, and that he became more dependent on his slider to “fool” hitters as a result. He has never been a strikeout pitcher, per se, and it’s too far of a leap to suggest that Heilman was looking to increase his K’s at the expense of every other statistic in the books. If it is his fastball that was the initial problem (so think Mets apologists who insist that Heilman had a knee injury last year – a slider would be much easier on the knees because you generally shorten your stride when not throwing a fastball), we need to look for Heilman to regain command over this fastball/changeup now that he is assumedly healthy, and to decrease his reliance on the slider. This would allow for more effective command over the strike zone.

My conclusion is that Heilman will likely remain in the bullpen throughout the majority of the season. He must show that he has regained his ability to command the strike zone with this fastball before he can fool hitters with a swinging slider. In 2008, he fooled almost no one and had to become a human slingshot because he could not get his first-pitch fastball across the plate.

In either case, Heilman needs to remember the most important pitch in a pitcher’s repertoire: The first pitch. Let’s look for Heilman to get that first pitch fastball across, to work in the changeup low in the zone, and to relegate the slider back to its prior use – for practically nothing.

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