The Rundown: Shelby Shoving, Cubs Consider Contreras ‘Elite,’ Bryant Discloses 2020 Wrist Fracture, Minor Leagues Face Serious Debt Issues

The Cubs were off yesterday and sit at 7-5 on the Cactus League season heading into their game with the Padres today. Wins and losses during the exhibition season are not as important as getting players prepared for the season, however, and no player has shown he is more deserving of a roster spot than Shelby Miller.

Miller tossed two scoreless innings in Monday’s game against the White Sox, striking out three and lowering his spring ERA to 1.29 with eight strikeouts in seven innings. Again, spring stats are generally meaningless, but the 30-year-old righty has been the Cubs’ best pitcher this spring. Jake Arrieta, once a reclamation project himself, has certainly noticed.

“I love what I’ve seen out of Shelby,” Arrieta said.

Pedro Strop has been equally impressed.

“I saw Shelby Miller today throwing a bullpen — he was nasty,” the reliever said last week.

One thing that has been overlooked a little with a Cubs staff piecemealed together with mostly unwanted free agents, reclamation projects, and rookies is who is managing them. David Ross had as much to do with Arrieta’s success in his first stint with the Cubs as anybody. The 2015 Cy Young winner posted a 1.43 ERA with Ross behind the plate, the lowest by any of the 19 catchers who have caught Arrieta during his 11-year career. With the two of them mentoring Miller this season, might the Cubs catch lightning in a bottle for a second time?

Pitching coach Tommy Hottovy has been a big help too, even as he is faced with getting to know a number of hurlers new to the team.

Once a power pitcher armed with a big fastball, the former first round pick by the Cardinals (19th overall in 2009) was one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball. Over the last year, he has added a slider to a repertoire that includes a four-seamer, cutter, curve, and changeup. Miller believes he can get more life back on his mid-90s fastball, but he envisions the slider as a more effective weapon.

“The slider depth was real, some real swing-and-misses on the [pitch],” Ross said after a recent outing by Miller.

Because the Cubs still don’t know if Adbert Alzolay will have any options left, Miller is a longshot to make the rotation out of camp. There are probably six starters ahead of Miller, including Alzolay, Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, Zach Davies, Trevor Williams, Alec Mills. Heck, Miller is still legitimately fighting for a roster spot, though Ross is going to have to find a spot for him if he continues to shove this spring.

“Whatever I can do to help the team,” he said. “I’ve always been a guy who’s willing to adapt and try anything.

“Obviously I’d love a roster spot and to be a part of the organization for a while. These guys that are here have been amazing. Whatever happens, happens. We’ll see.”

Cubs News & Notes

  • Thanks to big improvements in pitch framing, the Cubs now see Willson Contreras as one of the game’s elite catchers.
  • Kris Bryant admitted to Gordon Wittenmyer on the Cubs Talk podcast that the third baseman’s wrist injury last season was far worse than reported, and included an impact fracture.
  • No matter what happens after this season, Bryant believes he and his teammates will be remembered as legends in Chicago for breaking the team’s 108-year-old World Series drought in 2016.
  • An Illinois appellate court ruled Tuesday a Laiah Zuniga, who was struck by a foul ball at Wrigley Field in 2018, can move ahead with a lawsuit she filed against Major League Baseball.
  • Pitching prospect Max Bain was a guest on yesterday’s edition of CI’s The Rant Live (links above).
  • The Cubs announced their tentative 2021 concert lineup for Wrigley Field if shows are allowed to take place. Because of performance fees, the Cubs would probably need a guarantee of near capacity to stage the events. Lady Gaga, Gun N’ Roses, and Chris Stapleton are among the acts that were announced, and others may be coming, including Dead & Co. and the Zac Brown Band.

Odds & Sods

Forgot to mention this in yesterday’s article, but Babe Ruth may have been a launch angle pioneer. He certainly was the game’s first swing-from-the-heels batter in an era of mostly slap hitters.

Spring Training News & Notes

Minor league teams lost an average of $5 million each last season and many are turning to distressed lenders (read: high interest rates) to keep those franchises running. The terms of the loans from $1 million to $10 million are pretty onerous: 2-5 years at interest rates of 8-12%. This is not good for baseball, by the way.

A new baseball trend that is as fan-unfriendly as it gets is teams shielding their star players from divisional opponents in spring training games. The Mets are considering keeping Jacob deGrom on the sidelines when they play the Nationals this week.

Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani has been mashing at the plate all spring.

Starlin Castro is having a strong camp with the Nationals. Though the 30-year-old infielder is likely to be a role player for the first time in his career, he is slashing .348/.400/1.009 through nine games.

Washington starter Jon Lester will make his Grapefruit League debut tomorrow.

The White Sox signed veteran outfielder Billy Hamilton to a minor-league deal Tuesday, hoping to add speed to the bench.

Former Rookie of the Year pitcher Michael Fulmer has been struggling for the Tigers this spring as he attempts to earn a spot on the team’s Opening Day roster.

Meanwhile, Derek Holland has been one of Detroit’s best relievers so far.

Francisco Lindor said yesterday that his agent has begun extension talks with the Mets, though player and agency have placed an Opening Day deadline on negotiations.

Extra Innings

This still of Frank Robinson as he begins his swing is mesmerizing. There is so much beauty in baseball.

They Said It

  • “I think [my slider] is going to be a huge pitch for me this year. I’ve never really had an out pitch that’s been off-speed. I used to have a little loopy curveball that no one really swung at — it was more an 0-0 pitch I still throw — but I never had something that was kind of nasty that people swung over the top of. I used to always just be a fastball pitcher, but to have that pitch is going to help me a ton.” – Shelby Miller
  • “My impression of him has been awesome. Shelby’s one of those guys — he just looks the part. He’s athletic, he’s got all the pitches and he has the track record of doing it in the past. He’s been great to work with. You could talk about him being in the middle of two guys in a series, you could talk about him coming in after a starter and throwing 3 innings. There’s a lot of things you could do with a guy like that.” – Tommy Hottovy

Wednesday Walk Up Song

I’ve Never Loved a Man by The Commitments. One of the rare instances with a female lead from Alan Parker’s wonderful movie about a fictional cover band from Dublin. It’s a smoldering version of the Aretha Franklin classic. Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone.

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