Category Archives: Dale Sveum

Sveum’s approach with prospects

Dale Sveum told ESPNChicago.com that if Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters are called up, it’ll be so they can play everyday.

“Whenever you bring guys like (Jackson and Vitters) up to the big leagues, it’s gotta be to play every day,” said manager Dale Sveum, who admitted that he could use another outfielder on the roster with the departure of Johnson. “You don’t bring them here to mix and match or try to put them in against weaker starting pitchers. You bring them here and they have to play every day.”

This could just be Sveum tempering the expectations of a fan base whose sole source of excitement the rest of way will be the play of younger players, and not a progression up the standings. It certainly is a pseudo-excuse as to why Jackson and Vitters aren’t here right now. But, at least in Vitters case, it doesn’t make sense because with Luis Valbuena‘s average holding steady below the Mendoza line, nothing is standing in his way.

Taking Sveum at his word, however, that he’ll play Jackson and Vitters full-time once they are up, is encouraging. And it conflicts, in a good way, with how Lou Piniella/Jim Hendry dealt with Felix Pie

Pie was probably the Cubs most highly-touted position before Anthony Rizzo, and won the starting centerfield job in Spring Training 2008. He started regularly until May 12, but struggled at the plate (.222/.286/.286). Hendry signed Jim Edmonds and Pie was sent to Iowa and not heard from until September. The following offseason he was traded to Baltimore.

From a short-term perspective in 2008 the Edmonds for Pie swap was a good move. Edmonds hit well with the Cubs (.256/.369/.568, 19 HR), and gave the lineup a much needed left-handed power bat. But sticking with Pie and living with the loss of production at the plate (but better defense) might have been the better long-term decision.

Edmonds was a productive player, but that Cubs would have had a good chance of making the playoffs had they stuck with Pie. When Pie was sent down on May 12, the team was 23-15 and was in first with a one game lead. It is true Edmonds diversified a predominately right-handed lineup. But it was a lineup that featured career years from Mark DeRosaRyan Theriot and (sadly) Geovany Soto having career years, and steady production from Alfonso SorianoDerrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez.

It’s a crude statement, but by the estimation in my mind, the team would probably have still been able to hold off Milwaukee for the division crown with Pie and not Edmonds. In the long- term, sticking with Pie might have been better. Had he improved, we would have avoided the mess that was Kosuke Fukudome in center in 2009.

But Piniella/Hendry were not patient with Pie and that was that for him as a Cub. There is no guarantee had they let him work through his struggles at the plate that year he would have stuck. He did, however, improve incrementally at the plate in 2009 and 2010 in Baltimore. But, the counter-argument would be that he regressed in 2011 and is currently out of the majors.

My point is that hopefully Sveum stays true to his word, and lets Vitters and Jackson work through the struggles they’ll likely have with the bat. The Pie comparison is not ideal; he is just the last “big-time” position player prospect I can remember the Cubs bringing up before Rizzo. Obviously, having patience with young player over the last few months of a lost season is much different than having patience with a competitive team in May. Nonetheless, patience is the most important thing, because the Cubs desperately need to figure out what they have.

UPDATE: I wrote this post a few days ago and didn’t get around to putting it up. Clearly since then Jackson and Vitters have been called up, and as we speak Jackson has had a decent debut: (thus far in the 6th) 1-2 with a single and walk.

Mr. Clutch, also known as Luis Valbuena

Late in the Cardinals 12-run seventh inning last Saturday night (or inning from hell if you prefer), Dale Sveum took out Darwin Barney and moved Luis Valbuena over to second base. The conspiracy theorist in me (already active due to the Matt Garza injury-or-trade situation that evening) thought perhaps this was an audition should Barney be traded.

The Detroit Tigers were the only team I’d seen reported as being interested in Barney and  have since dealt for Omar Infante. So at this point it looks like Barney will be the Cubs second baseman for the foreseeable future. But has Valbuena played well enough to be in the Cubs’ plans past this season?

Valbuena has hit well with men on base. Image courtesy zimbio.com.

On a recent WGN pregame show (I can’t remember what day it was) Keith Moreland and Judd Sirott mentioned that Valbuena’s poor numbers (.204/.248/.354) are deceiving.

The crux of the conversation was that he hasn’t seen much to hit because he’s primarily hit eighth, and that when given a chance with men on base he has excelled.

To their credit, the stats back up (in part) what they said:

  • Bases empty (70 plate appearances): .171/.205/.271, 1 HR, 4 2B
  • Men on (48 plate appearances): .256/.313/.488, 2 HR, 4 2B
  • RISP (31 plate appearances): .346/.419/.692, 2 HR, 3 2B

Is Valbuena a sleeping giant buried at the bottom of the Cub lineup? His OPS is ridiculously higher with RISP (1.112) and men on (.801) than it is with the bases empty (.477). However, it’s probably safe to put talk of displacing Anthony Rizzo from the 3-spot on hold. That would be the sane thing to do considering his OPS over his career with both men on and RISP is under .680.

But these numbers, at least this season, suggest that Valbuena might be better than his numbers suggest. At 26 he is the same age as Barney, and has thus far looked good defensively at third. He’s spent the majority of his short career at second (173 games) and has some experience at short as well (32 games). So he has versatility to go along with that solid glove.

Valbuena is likely not long for third after this year because you want more power there. But I wouldn’t mind seeing him brought back to possibly compete with Barney for the second base job next Spring. Certainly he should be brought back to be a utility player off the bench. Third base will likely still be unsettled and it’d that much more valuable to have a guy who can play there as well as the middle infield positions effectively.

Should the Cubs find a decent bench player for the future out of Ian Stewart‘s wrist injury then that would be one of the few things Stewart contributed this season.

3/15 quick hitters, Cubs drop two in one day

Neither of the Cubs split squads could pick up a win yesterday, as the squad Rodrigo Lopez valiantly led into battle lost 7-5 t0 the Colorado Rockies, and the Ryan Dempster-led squad fell 12-2 to the Arizona Diamondbacks. As always, here’s what stood out:

  • Carlos Marmol had a steadier outing, possibly in part because of a conversation he had with apparent magic-worker Dale Sveum. Marmol struck out one, walked one and gave up one hit in one inning (that’s four “ones” if you are counting). Marmol seems from afar to be a “quietly emotional” player (as opposed to the “loudly emotional” Carlos Zambrano). Confidence has always seemed to be the key with him. A specific example I can remember is when he was struggling before the 2008 All-Star break, got an unexpected All-Star replacement selection and after the break went back to pitching well. Hopefully this is something Sveum realizes, and these little talks with Marmol will continue.
  • Junior Lake hit a 3-run home run, which was only his second hit in 12 at bats. We’ve seen everything we expected from the raw prospect this spring: power, speed (3 steals) and plate discipline that isn’t there yet (5 strikeouts). I’ve read that at his size (6’2” 215 lbs.) he isn’t destined to play shortstop. He seems a ways away from the big leagues but with the Cubs unsettled situation at third base, perhaps he has an eventual future there.
  • Catcher WatchGeovany Soto picked up his first two hits of the year. All three involved in the race to be his backup were in action because of the split squad day. Since I didn’t see the games I can’t comment on their defense (which is unfortunate because that’s probably more important). But at the plate Wellington Castillo had a walk and Steve Clevenger went hitless in one at bat. Michael Brenly did have a home run, which predictably made his father even happier than he is when Soto makes a fundamental block in the dirt:

 

Who is Lendy Castillo?

I’m fairly certain that if Rule 5 Draft pick Lendy Castillo makes the roster, the Cubs will be the first MLB team to ever have a Lendy and a Starlin on the same team. Though I’m pretty sure they’d be the only team to ever have a Lendy, period.

What else is there to know about the uniquely named, 22 year old right handed pitcher? One thing is that Dale Sveum specifically mentioned him today, and built up his chances of making the bullpen:

“That’s going to be an interesting decision for that long guy as well,” Sveum said, sidestepping the question. “Lendy Castillo, our Rule 5 kid, has been throwing great. He acts like he’s been out there before.”

Castillo has been solid so far this spring, allowing only one hit and one run in five innings pitched. He has struck out four and walked three in the process. The Cubs certainly took the converted outfielder from the Phillies system because of his upside. As this article points out, he’s a raw prospect with 94-96 mph velocity.

There seems to be evidence from his minor league stats that he is beginning to control that intriguing stuff. He had a 8.3% walk percentage last year, which would be solid for a reliever. And this went along with a 23.7% strikeout percentage.

I’m still thinking that Castillo is towards the bottom of the list of candidates for the bullpen, and that Sveum might just be trying to keep some intensity in the competition by name-dropping Castillo like he did. I have no idea what kind of motivational ploys Sveum likes, so that obviously just a guess. But this is a new era for the Cubs, and since the Sveum-Hoyer-Theo triumvirate is building from scratch, it certainly wouldn’t be a shock to see a raw prospect like Castillo make the roster with a strong spring.

3/14 quick hitters, Cubs fall to Brewers 6-5

After an inexcusable 5-day hiatus we are back (and back to stay). Let’s take a quick look at what stood out from the Cubs 10-3 drubbing at the hands of the Aramis Ramirez-led Brewers:

  • I haven’t written since he’s been back, so here goes the annual “Geovany Soto looks really slim” comment. I don’t think his weight has anything to do with performance, because the only season I remember his weight being an issue was in 2009, and he’s had good and bad seasons since then. But it can’t hurt to show up looking physically good. He has not, however, shown up at the plate yet going 0-2 today to drop to 0-7 during his brief time in Arizona. But, like anything with Spring Training, seven at bats isn’t anything to get worried about.
  • Trever Miller pitched a perfect inning and a third, and might be earning himself a spot in the bullpen. It’s been assumed that James Russell will take over as the go-to lefthander in the bullpen this year. But Miller has looked good in spring (1 hit given up in 4.2 IP) and has a LOOGY track record. Going with youth in a rebuilding year is probably the wise decision, but Dale Sveum wouldn’t be in the wrong to want a known quantity veteran specialist in the bullpen too. There is certainly room for both.
  • Travis Wood had a rough afternoon, lasting a third of an inning while giving up five earned runs on three hits and two walks. It wasn’t a good outing and the other rotation candidates (including Randy Wells in this game) are pitching well, but I don’t think the curtain is closing on Wood’s starting spot. I’d be nothing less than incensed if Rodrigo Lopez got in over him. I also think he has more upside than Wells. And if for no other reason, he was the return for one of the better players on the Cubs’ roster when Theo Epstein took over, so I’d like to see what he can do.

 

3/6 quick hitters, Cubs get first ST win

Dale Sveum got his first win as manager of the Chicago Cubs, as the Cubs beat the Rockies 11-4 on Tuesday afternoon.

  • Alfonso Soriano was about as locked in as a hitter can get, going 3-3 with two home runs and a double. He told the Tribune that he was surprised he felt that good this early, as it usually takes him 20 or 25 at bats to get going.
  • Jason Jaramillo is having “leg problems” that are preventing him from getting into games. This is clearly a giant obstacle for a guy trying to grab the backup catcher spot. Wellington Castillo may have compounded that problem for Jaramillo by going 2-3 with a double.
  • Tyler Colvin and DJ LeMahieu saw action today against their former teammates. Colvin had a nice day at the plate, going 2-3 with a triple and, gasp, no strikeouts. LeMahieu failed to reach base in one at bat.
  • Today’s completely useless piece of information: Milwaukee Brewers’ manager Ron Roenicke’s nephew Josh Roenicke pitched a scoreless inning for the Rockies. I saw the name and figured there was a good chance the two were related. It’s not exactly a “Smith” or a “Jones.”

Deja Vu

Dale Sveum said he’d do it…and he did it. It’s beginning to feel a lot like 2007 around here with Alfonso Soriano back in a familiar spot:

This post is a joke more than anything else; I’m well aware that Sveum putting Soriano there today doesn’t at all suggest that’s where he plans to be him the rest of the season. He could have a ton of reasons for doing it. Maybe he wants to get Soriano a couple quick at bats and then get him out.

It’s just funny to me that a hallmark of the Lou Piniella era has resurfaced in Sveum’s first Cubs’ lineup. But again, it’s indicative of nothing. I just hope Lou is smiling somewhere.