Theo’s Dream Taking Shape In Des Moines – Golden Era of Baseball at Principal Park

photo via http://www.dylanheuer.com/

Hope.

It’s a word familiar to the faithful fans in the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field.  It’s also about all they have to show for their years of dedication.

Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and the Ricketts family have promised to change the culture of the Cubs.  They’ve promised success. But said it would take a rebuild, from the ground up.  Starting in the minors.

Several high draft picks, a few international players, and veterans off the scrapheap were signed.  Guys that had no business playing for one team became regulars for the Cubs and the best ones became trade pieces.  Most recently, Emilio Bonafacio.  Cut by the Royals who then tried to trade for him before the deadline.

Now as the Cubs fans in Windy City are growing restless. And losing patience on the rebuilding of their team and their stadium, the hope is near.  The Iowa Cubs are loaded with prospects.

Back in 1998, the Kerry Wood and Sammy Sosa days, the Chicago Cubs came and played the Iowa Cubs.  This was right at the time the Cubs were no longer the loveable losers and began to give their fans some taste of success.

It did give us the greatest call in the history of baseball when Brant Brown dropped an easy pop fly that ended up punching Ron Santo in his soul.

The Cubs would be forced to play a one game playoff because of that play.  But it’s the near misses like this that has ushered in an era of hope and frustration.  Those hoping to see the future need to mosey on down to Principal Park along the Des Moines river and see, for a few bucks, what will cost a few hundred to see in Chicago very soon.

photo via http://www.dylanheuer.com/

Javier Baez.  Javy Baez.  Baez Bombs.

Whatever you want to call him – he was the first big name to make it to Iowa.

He had absolutely destroyed pitching every stop along the way.  Then he got to Iowa and looked very Mike Olt-ish.  He couldn’t buy a base hit let alone home run.  His plate discipline was brutal and he looked very Carlos Zambrano like getting tossed out of a game.  He disagreed with a call and was tossed by the First Base Ump.  And rightly so.  He went to the dugout and got physical with veteran catcher and former San Francisco Giant, Eli Whiteside.  “Uh oh, not another one,” we thought in Des Moines.

So many “can’t miss” prospects were complete and utter busts; Felix Pie, Luis Montanez, Ronny Cedeno, Jake Fox, etc.

Javy swung out of his shoes and got nothing but air.  Then the weather warmed up, and so did Javy.  He  hit .172 with 22 strikeouts and 3 home runs in April. .250 with 41 K’s and 4 home runs in May. .275 with 34 K’s and 4 home runs in June and .300 with 29 K’s and 10 home runs in July.  Even moving to second base and looking like a natural along the way. Baez now leads the team with home runs (23), RBI (80), and total bases (198).  He’s swiped 16 bags out of 24 tries.

His “Baez Bombs” are what we thought they were.

They had to move his batting practice in Spring Training to a different stadium because too many home runs ended up on a free way.  That power is in full effect in Des Moines.  On July 24th, he hit a ball so far over the Cubs Club in left field.  Not a single fielder even moved.  Nobody did. They turned their head and watched.  Tommy Birch of the Des Moines Register estimated it was probably 400 some feet.  I’ve been to Iowa Cubs games for 25 years and the only bomb that came close to that one was hit by Prince Fielder.

According to the one of the photographers for the Cubs, the scouts say Baez has the fastest bat speed.  Ever. Bonds, Dawson, Griffey and Pujols included.

He looks ready to make the big step to the majors but more time in AAA would only help.  Why waste his talent on the last place team in the NL Central?  Sorry Chicago Fans, you’ll have to come to Iowa to see him.  UPDATE: On second thought, he got called up today.  Enjoy it CUBS FANS!  I am not convinced he is ready for the bigs yet, but here he comes.  I think finishing out the season would have done him some good but the Cubs brass knows better than I do.  Well, except that whole Edwin Jackson thing.

 

From IowaCubs.com

Kris Bryant.  There are guys that just LOOK like a ball player and Kris is one of them.  The looks that make the women swoon (outside of Lars Anderson’s glorious hair) and men jealous.

Bryant looks like the first home grown 3rd baseman since Ron Santo.  The franchise that went through 45 third basemen from Santo in 1973, to Aramis Ramirez in 2003.

Bryant came to Iowa and quickly made a name for himself when all of his first hits were home runs.  He cooled off a bit and kept the ball in the yard. But he still leads the team in slugging (.654!) and OPS (1.060).

His glove isn’t bad either. Committing only 5 errors in 44 games.  The only thing that may make people nervous is the .196 average with runners in scoring position in 51 tries.  That was a huge knock on Aramis Ramirez.  Well that and being “lazy” in the field.  Bryant is an all effort guy and still has a very high ceiling.  Bryant leads the team (at least 50 AB’s) with a .308 average, second in HR (14), and has only struck out 50 times in a 156 plate appearances.  Bryant hit .333 in June, .300 in July, and a humanesque .273 in August.   His slugging in  June was .800.  So he’s cooled of a bit but his OBP hasn’t taken much of a hit so he’s still finding his way on base.

 

From iowacubs.com

Arismendy Alcantara was an afterthought going into season.  He was one of the “better prospects,” but didn’t have the fanfare of Baez, Bryant, or Soler.

All he did was become the best player on the field.

He was a natural 2nd baseman but the Cubs infield is quickly becoming clogged up. He quickly learned some centerfield, where he plays now in Chicago.  He hit .307 on the season including .342 in June and July before getting called up RIGHT before the All-Star break. Meanwhile Darwin Barney was out on paternity leave.  He up and stole Darwin’s job and will be in Chicago the rest of the season, and hopefully for many more.

Alcantara looks like the lead-off hitter of the future. Or a great #2 hitter at worst in a line-up.

He kills lefties with a .347 average ad OPS of 1.085.  He’s got some pop with 10 home runs and he led the I-Cubs with 25 doubles, 11 triples. And he stole 21 bases in 24 attempts.  He can play, and will play, anywhere on the field.  He is a Emilio Bonafacio/Mark De Rosa type player.  Successful teams always have a guy like that and hopefully he’ll be with the Cubs for a number of years.

via http://ivyenvy.com/soler-promoted-iowa-almora-promoted-tennessee/ (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

Jorge Soler has recently arrived in AAA Iowa and has only played in 12 games.  There were a number of double headers and off days that really don’t exist in the minors. Soler has had more days off than a lot of the other players.  He’s had injuries before and the Cubs want to be careful with him.  They really don’t want another Corey Patterson experience.

Soler is still very raw, but it looks like his ceiling can be just as high as Javier Baez’s and Kris Bryant’s.

He hasn’t even attempted a stolen base yet.  Like ever.  Seems a bit odd.  He had a great July in only 9 games in Iowa hitting .304 with a pair of homers and only 3 stike outs.  His average actually goes UP with runners on base and in scoring position.  He hits .133 with the bags empty, .368 with runners on, and .375 runners in scoring position.  Considering he’ll probably be a #5 or #6 hitter for the Chicago Cubs, those numbers are outstanding.

All four hitters are 21-22 years old and still have a lot of baseball left to play.  Better to learn and make mistakes in AAA Iowa where the fans are far more forgiving than they are in Chicago.  As much fun as the games are, losing an Iowa Cubs game isn’t the end of the world.  But the team is in first place and has been there for almost the entire season. Despite having all of their pitchers called up. Tsuyoshi Wada, Kyle Hendricks, Blake Parker, Dallas Beeler and Chris Rusin have all been passengers on the Des Moines to Chicago shuttle. I-Cubs manager Marty Pevey has had his share of roster changes as all minor league managers do.

Manny Ramirez joined the Iowa Cubs (eventually) as a player / coach.

Fans had been waiting weeks and even had to wait a couple extra hours to see him make his Iowa Cub debut after a rain delay.  Manny went Manny and went yard that night.  Since then, he’s struggled on the field with only 6 hits in 34 at-bats.

Yet, he was brought in by Theo and company to mentor the young guys.  He was one of the best hitters in his generation and despite the suspensions and allegations, knew how to hit a baseball.  His colorful personality is still there as he wears bright neon-yellow shoes, American flag socks, and has a pretty sweet mohawk.

He seems to be enjoying himself in Des Moines.  Compared to Los Angeles and Boston. I imagine the cost of living and media scrutiny is light years in difference.  He’s currently on the “disabled list” after the Cubs sent down Mike Olt to get his head right.  Manny seems sincere in his vows that he’s a new man and trying to make amends.   Oh, and Baez’s numbers have gone up since Manny’s arrival.  So the plan is working.

Manny will never make it back to the majors, but Baez, Bryant, and Soler will join Alcantara soon.

Doubt they will make it this year, even in September.

Soler is the only one on the 40 man roster.  In the free agency era, MLB teams want to control their prospects as long as possible.  Baez and Bryant are the crown jewels of the Epstein Hoyer era and look to be in Chicago for many years to come.  They learned from their mistakes with Starlin Castro being brought up too soon and have been fiercely loyal to Anthony Rizzo who has had his aches and pains but now leads the National League in homers.

Baez and Bryant may be the starters next year in Chicago, but for now, they are staying in Des Moines.

Bryant is staying in Des Moines.

Why start the clock on their contracts any sooner than you have to?

If they end up being what we HOPE they can be, they will have quite the career in Chicago and have plenty of time to make a ton of money and memories in the friendly confines.  As for now, enjoy them at Principal Park and realize you are seeing the nucleus of hopefully the first World Series Championship on the North Side of Chicago in almost 110 years.

Since then we have limited President two 2 terms in office, Coca-cola took cocaine out of their product,  Cleveland turned their water into fire (because water into wine is overrated in Ohio) with the Cuyahoga River, TV, radio, and internet were all invented, and 5 states have been added to the Union.

But for now, kick back with a Des Moines IPA from Confluence Brewing and try to catch a hotdog as you watch kids race in the B-Bops Burger Race. Hopefully they will run from 1st to 3rd instead of 1st to straight away left.  Oh, and there’s a bathroom out there.  So if nature calls, Manny can be Manny in the middle of the inning.

Ben Jacobson joined TwitterManny Ramirez is in Des Moines.  And the Cubs might win the World Series, soon.  (Now if this author gets married, we’re all in deep deep trouble and need to repent).  Anything and everything is possible.

Oh, and Javy Baez got called up as I was writing this……