The Rundown: Steele, Thompson, Hoerner Forming New Cubs Core, Reyes Loves Chicago, Braves Open Swanson Extension Talks
“From Meccano to Legoland, here they come with a brick in their hand. Men with heads filled up with sand. Let’s build.” – The Housemartins, Build
I’m starting to think that David Ross thrives when given a mélange of underwhelming players. For the second straight season, Chicago is playing at a breakneck pace in post-deadline games. Last night’s 3-2 win over the Orioles represents the sixth win in eight games for Chicago’s Northside Baseballers and Rossy’s charges are playing .600 baseball since August 2.
Last year, Frank Schwindel, Rafael Ortega, and Patrick Wisdom were the keys to Chicago’s midseason surge. This year it’s homegrown talent in the form of Justin Steele, Keegan Thompson, and Nico Hoerner.
“I feel like I say this every one of his starts,” Ross said of Steele. “He just keeps getting better, right? There are learning moments — things he’s worked through. We talked through one inning that he threw up a zero, but I think there was some growth in there that we talked about and some areas that he can continue to improve on.”
The lefty is better than league average at K/9, HR/9, GB%, and ERA. If Steele has a flaw, it’s that he still walks a tad too many batters. One big positive is that his BABIP is higher than expected and likely ready for some positive regression, which should result in a lower ERA. Steele’s 3.63 ERA is higher than his 3.55 xFIP, and that consistency suggests that better things are on the horizon. The second-year starter and former fifth-round draft choice could sneak into baseball’s top 75 starters next season.
Believe it or not, the Cubs were able to sign Steele because Kyle Schwarber took an under-slot bonus as Chicago’s top draft pick in 2014. That’s the same year they drafted Dylan Cease in Round 6.
Thompson started the season in the bullpen and looked to be on a path to becoming a dominant, high-leverage reliever for the Cubs. He struggled as a starter last year and has hit a few roadblocks this season as well, but Thompson makes adjustments quickly and could be a mid-rotation piece going forward. He could also find himself back in the bullpen as some of the team’s younger pitchers start to matriculate to the big leagues. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though.
“I don’t know that it’s healthy to judge every start as a growth start,” Ross said. “It’s about [Thgompson’s] body of work, right? He’s established himself as a starting pitcher in the major leagues. He’s done a really nice job for us. Period. Let’s get to the end of the season, and see what kind of numbers he puts up. That’s probably a healthier way to look at it.”
Hoerner has established himself as one of the game’s premier shortstops. The 25-year-old entered the 2022 season on the cusp of being labeled injury-prone but has now played 102 games, more than doubling his previous high. He’s increased his power output at the plate and his .772 OPS is easily a career-best. Hoerner has seven home runs this season, and 28 of his 109 hits have gone for extra bases. More importantly, he’s playing exceptional defense. None of the pending free agents offers the same type of all-around game that Hoerner does.
“He’s been great,” Jed Hoyer said of Hoerner. “I think he’s proven to everyone that he’s an above-average major-league defensive shortstop. Certainly, I have all the confidence in the world he could do that for a while.”
Cubs News & Notes
- Lance Brozdowski of Marquee Sports published a mid-season version of his top 25 Cubs prospects, and Brennen Davis is still sitting at No. 1, followed by Pete Crow-Armstrong. Outfielder Kevin Alcántara follows those two and top draft pick Cade Horton is No. 8. The minor league Cubs aren’t getting a lot of prospect love nationally, but Chicago has an unbelievable system.
- Matt Mervis is climbing the team’s prospects lists, too. Brozdowki ranked him 12th in the system and Jim Callis of MLB Pipeline put “Mash” at No. 21 in his latest update. Callis listed Crow-Armstrong as his top choice.
- Of the top 15 prospects listed by Callis, 13 were signed, drafted, or acquired since Hoyer started dismantling this team with the Yu Darvish trade before last season.
- Brailyn Márquez is dangerously close to falling into bust territory. Callis didn’t place him in his top 30 and the young hurler dropped off Brozdowski’s top 25. Márquez presents something of a cautionary tale to those who would place a little too much emphasis on simply citing a prospect’s ranking as a measure of his future impact.
- The Cubs are reportedly still a destination organization for free agents. It’s terrific that premium players want to call Wrigley Field home, but it means nothing until Tom Ricketts wants to open up his checkbook to acquire impact free agents.
- Franmil Reyes feels like he’s found a new home in Chicago.
- The emergence of Hoerner will be the key to the team’s aggressive offseason. Whether that means the Cubs land one of the big-ticket shortstops, Hoerner has given Hoyer the luxury of choice.
- Trea Turner said that “it is mandatory” to know Jed Hoyer’s plans beyond this year if the Cubs intend to discuss a free agent contract with him.
- Bleacher Report’s Joel Reuter predicts Turner will sign with the Cubs but I’m not sure how I feel about Mike Zunino replacing Contreras in next year’s lineup.
- Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts, and Dansby Swanson previously expressed similar thoughts, but I’d rather see the Cubs sign an ace anyway. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Hoerner is the shortstop of the future.
- Willson Contreras addressed a heated exchange with a couple of fans that occurred during Tuesday’s contest against the Nationals. After the game, Contreras told reporters in Washington what the fan said “wasn’t healthy” and “was not right.”
- Signing a true ace might be Hoyer’s top priority this winter.
- The Nationals reportedly banned the two fans who got into it with Contreras. The ban will last five years.
- Joe Girardi is returning to the Cubs, this time as a game analyst for The Marquee Sports Network.
- Arlene Gill, who was an administrative assistant to eight Cubs general managers starting with Ed Lynch, passed away last week at a nursing home in Arizona. She was 79.
Odds & Sods
I don’t hear a lot of clamoring for Javier Báez these days, but that’s no knock on the former Cubs’ shortstop. Crow-Armstrong is going to be special once he arrives.
PCA is ELECTRIC!!! pic.twitter.com/SLpu1jwsXL
— Jordan Miller (@Miller_MiLB) August 18, 2022
Climbing the Ladder
“But it’s all coming back, yeah, that the feeling isn’t over.” – The Bleachers, I Miss Those Days
Reyes, Contreras, and Ian Happ each had two hits in last night’s win. Both hits by Contreras left Camden Yards. Signing the all-star catcher has got to be a priority this winter. Ortega also had a homer.
- Games Played: 117
- Total Plate Appearances: 4,435
- Total Strikeouts: 1,037
- Strikeout Rate: 23.38%
- Team Batting Average: .244
- Runs Scored: 487
- Runs Allowed: 556
How About That!
The Braves have opened up extension talks with Swanson. Atlanta has done very well at keeping their homegrown talent.
White Sox manager Tony La Russa recently called a meeting with team leaders in hopes of helping turn their season around. The players in the room, including closer Liam Hendriks and first baseman Jose Abreu, spoke freely, and the White Sox won their next five games.
Adley Rutschman is living up to the hype of being baseball’s next great catcher. The Orioles rookie has accumulated a .919 OPS with seven home runs and he’s tied for the most fWAR of any American League hitter not named Aaron Judge since June 15.
Cleveland catcher Austin Hedges ripped MLB and demanded an apology after a controversial interference call at home plate in Tuesday night’s Guardians-Tigers tilt.
The MLB Umpires Association says its umpires are simply upholding the interference rule as it is written.
Frankie Montas had a less-than-stellar debut at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees are really struggling and have dropped seven of their last 10 games.
Mets prospect Brett Baty hit a home run in his first Major League at-bat.
Major League Baseball informed teams that cannabidiol (CBD) sponsorships are no longer off limits and that they are free to pursue sponsorships in the CBD category under certain conditions.
Thursday’s Three Stars
- Alex Bregman – The Astros’ third baseman had a career night, going 4-for-6 with two homers, two doubles, and six RBI in Houston’s 21-5 win over the White Sox.
- Contreras – With two homers last night, Contreras leads all big league catchers with 19 on the season.
- Albert Pujols – The 42-year-old is on a legit tear, and his pinch-hit grand slam yesterday was his 11th home run of the season. Pujols now has 690 career taters.
Reyes could end up being the waiver wire steal of the century. It kind of reminds me of the Red Sox getting David Ortiz after the Twins gave up on him in 2002. Sometimes a player just needs to find a place to call home.
“My confidence went from 20 percent to like over 120 percent. The way they treat me here, the way they let me play, they let me be me — it's special to be here."
Two more doubles Wednesday continued Franmil Reyes’ fresh-start tour with Cubs ⬇️ https://t.co/9dAmniJM3D
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) August 17, 2022
They Said It
- “The profile on [Reyes] is that he’s a gap-to-gap hitter in a slugger body. He can handle the bat. You’ve seen him drive the ball all over the field and also get hits the other way like [Tuesday]. That’s who he is. Talking to the guys that have been around him on an everyday basis, he can do that consistently.” – Ross
- I love Chicago. I’ve always loved the city. I’d say Chicago’s my favorite city; Boston’s my favorite town and L.A.’s home. So I got pretty lucky. But that’s how [Wrigley Field] is in my heart. I would tell that to anybody. I would tell [Turner], but everybody’s different — what they feel, what they see, or what they know.” – Nomar Garciaparra
Friday Walk-Up Song
It won’t be long before Wrigley Field is rocking the way it did a half-decade ago.