Eyes on Ben Lively, Ryan Wright, and Matt Anderson, along with the Cubs' high-profile international signings from last summer.
Ben Lively, RHP, Reds (High-A Bakersfield)
Broad shoulders, thick legs, muscular build; 6-foot-4, about 210; body to log innings; repeatable delivery; gets downhill well; hides the ball behind his torso and snaps it on the hitter with a quick arm; plenty of deception; three-quarters; fastball 88-92; runs it and cuts it; true ghostball; explodes on the hitter; if I didn’t have gun readings I’d guess 95-plus based on the swings; hitters weren’t comfortable all night; third time through the lineup was still pumping the fastball and jamming guys; gets 92 with runners on; amped up after striking out a batter to escape a jam; good control with it, pounded the zone for the most part (got squeezed) but the command was hit or miss; up the zone and challenged guys often; he won most battles, but going forward he needs the get the ball down.
Curveball 71-76; lacked bite early; loopy and hangs over the plate; tightened it up and it flashed late; much better around 74-76 mph, and had some two-plane break; dropped it in for some first-pitch strikes; scout said he had a hammer his last appearance, but didn’t see an above-average CB on this night ; SL 82-84 mph; sweepy break; not much bite; lengthened it with two strikes; used it vs. lefties and righties; commanded it well; better against righties; pounded the outside corner and just off the plate; CH around 85; some dive and tumble; thrown only a handful of times; used it right after his FB to keep the hitters off balance.
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Raving about Eddie Butler, hesitating on Javier Baez, and updates on Henry Owens, Franchy Cordero, Kohl Stewart and others.
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Good days at the plate are pretty easy to identify. If you’re looking for the best game any hitter had in April, you can look at total bases (as in Ryan Braun’s three-homer game) or at hits (as in Charlie Blackmon’s 6-for-6 game) or at win probability added (as when Kyle Seager hit two homers, including a walk-off, for a one-game .906 WPA); or, simply RE24, which would lead you back to Blackmon, who produced more than five runs all by himself. Similarly, for pitchers, pretty easy: Andrew Cashner’s 9/1/0/0/2/11 was the month’s best game score, though you might opt for Jose Fernandez’s 8/3/0/0/0/14 for dominance or Julio Teheran’s 1-0 shutout for value.
Brandon Nimmo, CF, Mets (St. Lucie)
Well built for 21, yet has a frame that will support more weight. Classic left-handed stance, quiet hands with a slight knee bend; swing is short and quick with a slight uppercut; generates natural backspin on the ball, which helps project above-average future power. He doesn't know how to drive the ball yet, but when he does the power will come and the doubles will turn into home runs. Extremely patient approach at the plate; absolutely will not expand the strike zone, even in RBI situations. Plus runner underway but not an explosive first step. Should be able to stay in center field for the foreseeable future.
Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Addison Russell or Javier Baez? We polled front office types and our prospect staff.
The rise of the superstar shortstop prospect prompts preferential inquiries, as my email inbox, Twitter feed, and chat queues are continually maxed out with questions about Bogaerts, Baez, Correa, Lindor, and Russell, and if forced to choose, which one would I choose? The five chiseled heads on the modern Mount Rushmore of shortstop prospects (six if you go high on Mondesi) present a daily challenge of preference, a subjective exercise of forced selection tied to the realities of the present and the fantasies of the future, a tug-of-war we play with ropes made of tangible data, scouting memories of on-the-field motions, and the conceptual ideas of value and who will be most likely to achieve it.
Eyes on Albert Almora, Javier Baez, Ronald Guzman, and others.
OF Albert Almora: Mixed production at the plate; squared a 95 fastball up in the zone for an opposite-field RBI single late in the game; fast hands and aggressive; loved the way he attacked the ball; earlier in the game, was sawed off by a fastball inside and hit an infield squib; clocked a 4.4 time to 1B. I like the setup and swing, with an open stance and very good balance through his load and stroke. Swing is more linear without a lot of lift at present, but he can make hard contact with the ball, especially against quality fastballs; in the field, looks the part of a plus center fielder; glides naturally to the ball; effortless ability to make quality reads.
Example: On a high sky, sun field, tracked a high fly ball that was tailing toward the right field side. It would be common to see young center fielders make a poor opening read and struggle to adjust to the ball because of the sky and tail on the ball. My eyes focused on Almora upon contact, and he glided to the spot on his initial read and made a catch at his left hip, which looked as effortless (and cool) as his route to the ball. For most outfielders, the appropriate response to the flair of this particular catch on a backfield would be, “Nice catch Hayes, don’t ever do it again.” But for Almora, its just natural baseball. –Jason Parks
The future Cub has an unusual swing. He should generate unusually lofty power totals.
Javier Baez has left jaws on the floor and baseballs in critical condition thanks to an electric swing that is as powerful as it is unique. The identifying feature of his swing is a whip of the bat forward during his stride. That inspires many comparisons to fellow bat-waggler Gary Sheffield. On the surface the comparison makes sense as both have a pronounced trigger leading up to elite bat speed. Reality paints a different picture.
You may think I have a bounce in my step because spring is on the way, but every sense available to me during this winter without end says you’re wrong. You could argue it’s because baseball is being played again in Arizona and Florida, but I'm not there to witness it, and even the densest cluster of pixels can't impersonate a warm breeze. No, it was Kris Bryant's first spring training at-bat that made me so giddy, the one that ended after nine pitches when the young third baseman blasted a towering drive to straight-away center. Before Bryant launched that ball into the mesosphere, I was the same skeptical Cubs fan I had always been, longing for but never truly expecting greatness. By the time it landed on the berm past the center field fence, however, I started to feel something I hadn't experienced in so long I nearly didn't recognize it: belief.
Forget Pineda/Montero. A more interesting swap of young talent that offseason has provided both clubs with something to hope for this year.
As easy as it is to forget, the Jesus Montero-Michael Pineda deal was not the only trade made during that month in which a young pitcher was moved for a young hitter. A week earlier, the Cubs and Padres exchanged Andrew Cashner for Anthony Rizzo as part of a four-player swap. Though not a challenge trade by the strictest definition—the two players did not man the same position—it nonetheless felt like one, in large part because of the executives who were involved.