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Zobrist, Cubs teammates put trust in front office

MLB.com @MLBastian

CHICAGO -- The message continually preached by the Cubs' decision-makers throughout this winter has been that the team plans on harnessing a heightened sense of urgency from the first pitch of the season on. And it will be incumbent on the players already in the fold to right the wrongs of last fall's collapse.

That theme has been accompanied by a great deal of talk about budgetary limitations, which has rattled a portion of the fan base. While Chicago is still searching for ways to make additions -- addressing the bullpen is one uncompleted task that remains -- the sense has been that payroll-freeing trades would be required to make even a mid-level signing.

CHICAGO -- The message continually preached by the Cubs' decision-makers throughout this winter has been that the team plans on harnessing a heightened sense of urgency from the first pitch of the season on. And it will be incumbent on the players already in the fold to right the wrongs of last fall's collapse.

That theme has been accompanied by a great deal of talk about budgetary limitations, which has rattled a portion of the fan base. While Chicago is still searching for ways to make additions -- addressing the bullpen is one uncompleted task that remains -- the sense has been that payroll-freeing trades would be required to make even a mid-level signing.

Ricketts backs Cubs' roster, offseason approach | Epstein talks 2018 struggles

During a town hall-style discussion with president of baseball operations Theo Epstein at Cubs Convention over the weekend, one fan took to the microphone and cited that development as an area of unrest for the team's followers:

"The frustration, I think, isn't that you're not signing a big-name free-agent. It's when I read articles that the Cubs need to clear money to sign a middle reliever. I think that's where people are getting frustrated."

Ben Zobrist does not pay much attention to such articles, but he has been around long enough to know how things work. At 37 and with a salary of $12.5 million for 2019 -- the final year under a four-year contract -- Zobrist understands that his name might be one floated in trade rumors.

In a tunnel behind the main banquet hall at Cubs Convention, Zobrist said his only concern right now is to prepare for the season ahead with Chicago. He is looking forward to getting to know the new coaching staff, especially hitting coach Anthony Iapoce, and has already been searching for solutions to the lineup's second-half woes. Anything else is wasted mental energy.

"I'm one of the pawns," Zobrist said. "You kind of recognize where you're at as a player, and then you own it. So yeah, I don't have a no-trade clause at this point, so I could be traded. But that being said, I'm not going to give it too much thought."

Video: Zobrist talks 2018 season, looking toward 2019

It is worth repeating that, even with the purse strings pulled a little tighter this winter, the Cubs will head into 2019 with the largest payroll in franchise history. It projects to exceed the $206 million Competitive Balance Tax threshold, so the team's approach has not been guided by that specific monetary line. But as Epstein explained to the fan who broached this subject, the budget (while undisclosed) is the budget.

"Every team tries to enter every offseason as nimble as possible," Epstein said. "That's not our situation this winter. When we do our jobs really artfully, you never notice the budget, right? Because we've created a lot of flexibility, we have a lot of moveable pieces, we can get everything done that we want to get done. But when we haven't done our jobs and I haven't done my job as artfully or I haven't gotten the outcome that we expect enough, we're going to be in a situation that's not as flexible.

"So we can't always be as aggressive. We can't always get everything that we want. ... But it doesn't mean it's going to be that way forever. It doesn't mean we don't have a darn good team. It doesn't mean you can't find solutions in unexpected places that are going to be extremely impactful and help us get where we need to go for next year."

The first major clue came early in the offseason, when the team picked up Cole Hamels' $20 million team option and traded Drew Smyly (set to earn $7 million this year) to the Rangers shortly thereafter. Another tell came when reliever Jesse Chavez, who could have helped the bullpen much like he did last year, went to Texas on a two-year, $8 million deal.

Video: Cole Hamels excited to return to the Cubs in 2019

To date, Chicago's biggest external addition has been signing veteran utility man Daniel Descalso to a two-year, $5 million contract.

"I understand people have to work within a certain system that they set," Hamels said. "But I think when the time comes, if something needs to be added down the line, I think they'll be able to make that sort of decision. I'm pretty confident that they'll be able to do it. But we have a great team, and with the guys that we have that are going to come off the disabled list, that's like getting free agents right there. So there's tremendous talent. "

Hamels was referring to Yu Darvish, who signed a six-year, $126 million with the Cubs last winter only to have injuries limit him to eight starts in 2018. Darvish attended Cubs Convention and looked as strong as he claims to be in his offseason rehab program. Come Spring Training, the right-hander said he expects to have no restrictions.

That rotation includes Hamels, Darvish, Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana -- a group on the books for $85.4 million combined. Behind that quintet are Mike Montgomery ($2.44 million) and Tyler Chatwood ($12.5 million), bringing the cost of the starting staff and its top two reserves to just over $100 million. Combine that with the other guaranteed deals, and the other rising costs via arbitration, and the Cubs' financial restrictions come into focus.

Even with the knowledge that he could be a trade candidate, Zobrist was quick to defend the Cubs' front office.

"They have a tough job," Zobrist said. "I trust them. I know that they're wise, kind of shrewd businessmen, and they're going to make the right decisions based on the amount of money that they have. I think they've proven that over the last few years in the way that they've taken care of the team and put the best possible team on the field."

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Chicago Cubs, Ben Zobrist

Loretta eager to learn from Maddon as coach

MLB.com @MLBastian

CHICAGO -- Mark Loretta played baseball about a half-hour north of Wrigley Field when he suited up for Northwestern University. As he transitioned from collegiate star to professional ballplayer to big leaguer, Loretta held on to the hope of one day joining the Cubs.

"It never worked out," Loretta said. "A couple of trade rumors -- I got excited there for a minute."

CHICAGO -- Mark Loretta played baseball about a half-hour north of Wrigley Field when he suited up for Northwestern University. As he transitioned from collegiate star to professional ballplayer to big leaguer, Loretta held on to the hope of one day joining the Cubs.

"It never worked out," Loretta said. "A couple of trade rumors -- I got excited there for a minute."

Loretta's chance finally arrived this offseason, when Brandon Hyde left his post as bench coach to become the Orioles' new manager. Following nine years spent in the Padres' front office, Loretta got the call from the Cubs, who wanted him to replace Hyde as manager Joe Maddon's right-hand man in the dugout. It was one of the final pieces to an offseason filled with coaching turnover for Chicago.

The overhauling of Maddon's staff -- Tommy Hottovy (pitching coach), Anthony Iapoce (hitting coach), Terrmel Sledge (assistant hitting coach) and Chris Denorfia (quality assurance coach) were also hired this offseason -- was a part of Loretta's discussions with the Cubs before taking the job. This marked the second wave of coaching changes in as many offseasons.

"That certainly came up in the interview process," Loretta said. "I don't see this as being a one-and-done scenario. I think this staff, from what I've been around the last couple days, is extremely good."

The Cubs gave a two-year contract to the 47-year-old Loretta, who played for the Red Sox in 2006 when Theo Epstein (president of baseball operations) and Jed Hoyer (general manager) were part of Boston's front office. Hoyer was also with the Padres when Loretta was hired on as a special assistant to baseball operations. That familiarty, combined with the chance to return to Chicago and learn under Maddon, convinced Loretta to come on board.

As a result, though, Loretta has dropped into the Cubs' unsettled contract situation with Maddon, who is in the final season in a five-year deal with any talk of extension put on hold. That is a recipe for speculation about the 2020 season and beyond. Loretta may have a future in managing, but he does not want to be viewed as a manager-in-waiting, nor did that factor into his reasoning for taking the bench coach job.

It just so happens that the Cubs' previous two bench coaches -- Dave Martinez (Nationals manager) and Hyde -- went on to become skippers.

"I think you can read things into it, but as far as I'm concerned, that was not on my radar," Loretta said. "It was nothing, obviously, that we talked to Jed and Theo about. Again, I understand the speculation. You start adding things together and things like that, but again, Joe is a huge reason that I was interested in taking this job. I think he's one of the best managers in the game and, for sure, one of the best people."

Loretta was asked if he hopes to manage further down the road.

"You know, we'll see," he said. "I think part of this is testing how much I like coaching and want to be involved. But, I'm not going to ease into this. I'm all in, 100 percent. But, you know, we'll see. We'll see where it leads."

From 1995-2009, Loretta spent parts of 15 seasons in the big leagues between stops with five teams, making two All-Star teams in the process. He joined the Padres in 2010 and he got to see behind the curtain when it comes to front-office decision-making. Loretta was involved on the player development front and he can now take that experience into his new role.

"My goal is to kind of be the conduit between Joe, between the front office and the players," Loretta said. "What's great is over the last nine years, I've really learned a lot about everything that goes on in an organization, whether it be scouting, player development, community relations, all that kind of thing. So, I feel like when these guys come up to the big leagues, I know exactly what they've gone through."

And Loretta is eager to get started with a Cubs team that experienced a tough ending to last season.

"I think the silver lining of what happened last year is this team is really motivated, this group," he said. "I mean, from the front office all the way down to the players -- I've talked to just about every one of them either in person now or on the phone -- and they're stung by last year. There were some tears in the clubhouse after the [National League] Wild Card Game. ... I think these guys realize they can't just show up and be this dynasty, even though they're extremely talented.

"It's not about changing for me. It's about growing. These guys need to take the next step."

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Chicago Cubs

Why are Wrigley's outfield walls covered in ivy?

Ivy has adorned the outfield walls at Wrigley Field for so long that it's basically impossible to imagine baseball without it. It just feels right, both a foundational part of the game's lore and the living embodiment of what makes it so unique. "This place is different," it beckons. "This isn't just a place where baseball is played. This is a place of unpredictable wonder, a place to escape the world right around the corner." 

All of which masks the fact that, objectively speaking, that ivy is super weird. It's a plant! Wrapped around brick! In play at a professional sports stadium! And, for some reason, we all just accept that it's there, no further questions -- until now. Just when did Wrigley get its signature flora? Who's responsible? What were they thinking? Let's go down this rabbit hole together.

Epstein talks '18 struggles, Maddon extension

Cubs president speaks with fans at Cubs Convention town hall
MLB.com @MLBastian

CHICAGO -- There is no denying that Cubs fans are in the midst of an incredible period in the franchise's long history. The run of success has set a new standard of expectation, however, and last season's sudden conclusion, followed by a quiet winter filled with talk of budget limitations, has bred plenty of frustration.

So, while Day 2 of Cubs Convention was filled with its usual tone of celebration and silliness -- such as Anthony Rizzo saying hello to fans via FaceTime or bullpen catcher Chad Noble doing a Cossack dance on stage -- there were questions that needed to be answered. Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, who usually is joined by general manager Jed Hoyer for a morning panel, opted to do this year's town hall-style session alone.

CHICAGO -- There is no denying that Cubs fans are in the midst of an incredible period in the franchise's long history. The run of success has set a new standard of expectation, however, and last season's sudden conclusion, followed by a quiet winter filled with talk of budget limitations, has bred plenty of frustration.

So, while Day 2 of Cubs Convention was filled with its usual tone of celebration and silliness -- such as Anthony Rizzo saying hello to fans via FaceTime or bullpen catcher Chad Noble doing a Cossack dance on stage -- there were questions that needed to be answered. Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, who usually is joined by general manager Jed Hoyer for a morning panel, opted to do this year's town hall-style session alone.

"I'll stay as long as you guys want," Epstein told the crowd. "The fact that you have questions and concerns just shows me that you care and are passionate. You care about the Cubs and winning as much as we do. You love that feeling of being on top just like we do. And we all want to stay there together."

After a brief introductory statement, Epstein handled 50 minutes of questions. Here are some of the highlights from that wide-ranging session.

On process of learning from last season's ending:
"I spent more time talking to players this offseason in person and over the phone than I ever have. There's been a ton of work behind the scenes -- some of which is not appropriate to go into. But, trust me, it's happening. And everyone in the organization was honest either with themselves or with me or with somebody else, and has taken accountability for what happened. And then, you have to act on it and make adjustments.

"Urgency is the opposite of complacency. And I don't think we've been overly complacent or anything, but if we're being honest with ourself and taking accountability for it, we do need to make a little bit of an adjustment and from Day One of the season play with more urgency, because this is a really competitive division. And what an awful feeling that was at the end of last year."

On whether manager Joe Maddon will receive a contract extension:
"I sure hope so. And Joe's been an instrumental, fundamental, essential part of the success that's happened here. ... Now, we're at a point where we're at a different phase as an organization. We're all making adjustments and the great thing about Joe is that, even though he's a little bit older than me, he's never standing still. He's never satisfied. He's a creative person and I think he's an adaptable person. He's someone who likes a challenge and is someone who's going to bring great energy to solving any problem.

"He's so fired up about next season and trying to make some of those adjustments and change the tone around the team and create a little sense of urgency. My bet is that it goes extraordinarily well with Joe and with the whole group and that he's here for a long time to come."

On dealing with financial restrictions this winter:
"When we do our jobs really artfully, you never notice the budget, right? Because we've created a lot of flexibility, we have a lot of moveable pieces, we can get everything done that we want to get done. But, when we haven't done our jobs and I haven't done my job as artfully, or I haven't gotten the outcome that we expect enough, we're going to be in a situation that's not as flexible. So, we can't always be as aggressive. We can't always get everything that we want. But, the way the budget is being treated this year is no different than how it's been treated in the past."

On team chairman Tom Ricketts not doing a Cubs Convention panel with fans:
"I understand the optics of that, but I will say in their defense that decision was made months and months ago based on the feedback from previous panels. But, I will say, Tom is a guy that is the most accessible owner in baseball. This guy literally walks through the stands every single game talking to fans. I know how that looks, but I want you to try to remember that. Any question that you have for Tom or for me in this area, I will talk to him about that."

On including women in baseball operations:
"There's no way we can be as good as we want to be unless we have women contributing. We have a number of vice presidents at the Cubs who are women. On the baseball side, we recently hired a young woman to be a scout. We also have a young woman, Ella Cahill, who's done a fantastic job in our scouting department, has been in our player development operations, and is on the rise. We had a young woman named Meghan Jones who started out as an executive assistant to me and to Jed who was recently promoted."

On his comment about the offense being broken at season's end:
"What I said was that in the second half, the offense broke. There's a difference between something that broke and something that is currently broken. As of today, I don't think our offense is broken or defective or something that's permanently damaged. I think we had an almost inexplicable change in performance in the second half of last year. ... I think this offense is going to be a lot better this year than it was last year."

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Chicago Cubs

Cubs TV network expected to launch in 2020

Club is still in negotiations; another baseball team may be involved
MLB.com @MLBastian

CHICAGO -- The fans who filled Ballroom VI at the Sheraton Grand Chicago on Saturday afternoon did so hoping to finally get the details on the Cubs' upcoming regional sports network. The team confirmed that one is in works and then asked for a bit more patience when it comes to all the fine print.

In his annual panel, Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney announced that, yes, the team will indeed be launching its own network in time for Spring Training 2020 and the following season. Right now, though, the team is still in negotiations with an undisclosed partner and Kenney hinted that another baseball team might be involved with the channel.

CHICAGO -- The fans who filled Ballroom VI at the Sheraton Grand Chicago on Saturday afternoon did so hoping to finally get the details on the Cubs' upcoming regional sports network. The team confirmed that one is in works and then asked for a bit more patience when it comes to all the fine print.

In his annual panel, Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney announced that, yes, the team will indeed be launching its own network in time for Spring Training 2020 and the following season. Right now, though, the team is still in negotiations with an undisclosed partner and Kenney hinted that another baseball team might be involved with the channel.

"We have a really good sense of who our partner is," Kenney said. "Our transaction is a little bit [complicated]. We're involved in a multi-dimensional negotiation. It's not just us and a partner. It's us, our partner and multiple others, so there's just some moving pieces. ... There might be other teams involved. Not local teams."

Multiple reports in December indicated that the Sinclair Broadcast Group was the front-runner to partner with the Cubs on the venture, but Kenney would not address that aspect.

"We're not talking about who the partner is," he said.

Kenney teased that more will likely become known within the next month and added that the Cubs' hope is to have its network -- rumored to be called Marquee -- up and running in time for next spring. That would allow Chicago to broadcast Cactus League home games at Sloan Park in Mesa, Ariz.

It has been known for several years that the Cubs were exploring their own network, but the process moved closer to reality earlier this offseason when the White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks announced an extension with NBC Sports Chicago. The current 15-year contract that includes those three teams, as well as the Cubs, expires after 2019.

"We are going to have our own channel," Kenney said. "We've got a seat at a much larger table, so we've been involved in conversations not locally, but more nationally, on how we'll launch our channel and who we'll launch it with. So, I would say at the moment, I don't have anything else to say about it other than you'll have a Cubs channel. It will launch in 2020. We will do it with a strategic partner. And the details of that will be more apparent in probably the next 30 days."

Worth noting

• During one portion of the business operations update, Cubs vice president of communications and community affairs Julian Green took the stage and was critical of Ald. Tom Tunney, who is seeking re-election in the 44th Ward (where Wrigley Field is located). After the session, Kenney was asked why the team felt the need to inject politics into the annual update for fans.

"Because I get a ton of email on it," Kenney explained. "Because it impacts us. Like Julian said, we want a level playing field. We want to be treated like every other team in town. We want to get treated like every other bar in town. We want to get treated like every other restaurant in town. If all that happened in our city was the Cubs were treated just like everyone else -- no better and no worse -- we would have no issues."

• The Cubs dedicated a lot of time to explaining the reasoning behind embracing mobile ticketing rather than paper tickets. Kenney stressed that going digital can help strengthen security, get fans into Wrigley Field faster and make things more convenient when it comes to transferring tickets.

"It's not comfortable for some to go to mobile ticketing, and we get that," Kenney said. "Everything is a little bit of a trade-off. There are huge advantages to digital ticketing, especially from the security perspective."

• The Cubs will have three new clubs, an overhauled seat-numbering system and many revamped suites and concession stands as part of their latest renovations phase. Kenney noted that there would still be work to complete next offseason, such as updating the main concourse floor, enhancing the pressbox and addressing lighting outside the ballpark.

• Kenney said the Cubs will again make a pitch to Major League Baseball this year in an effort to secure another All-Star Game. Wrigley Field has not hosted a Midsummer Classic since 1990.

• The Cubs announced that single-game tickets are scheduled to go on sale on Feb. 22. In the meantime, ticket packages can be purchased at Cubs.com/packs.

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Chicago Cubs

Bryant nixes Harper hopes, exudes confidence

Cubs Convention gives players chance to connect with fans
MLB.com @MLBastian

CHICAGO -- Kris Bryant knew that it would be the first question he encountered when the doors to the Sheraton Grand Chicago banquet hall opened and reporters waited inside. So, with four words and a smile, the Cubs star tossed some ice-cold water on the idea that his friend, free agent Bryce Harper, might ink a contract with the North Siders.

"He's not signing here," Bryant said.

CHICAGO -- Kris Bryant knew that it would be the first question he encountered when the doors to the Sheraton Grand Chicago banquet hall opened and reporters waited inside. So, with four words and a smile, the Cubs star tossed some ice-cold water on the idea that his friend, free agent Bryce Harper, might ink a contract with the North Siders.

"He's not signing here," Bryant said.

While that comment began to cause a stir on social media, Cubs Convention kicked off with its usual fanfare. Longtime radio voice Pat Hughes took to the podium and declared, "Chicago Cubs baseball is on the air!" Wayne Messmer filled the room with his signature rendition of the national anthem and angst over a quiet winter was temporarily quieted by the roar from the blue-and-red-clad fanatics.

The introductions started with Cubs players of yesteryear, who took the stage, soaked in the cheers and high-fived children as all those remember-when memories flooded the crowd. Then, it was time to introduce the current roster. It looks a lot like last year's group, which won 95 games, but was pushed off the October stage after a one-and-done Wild Card Game.

That sting remains as sharp as the wind off Lake Michigan, but some players said maybe it was a needed reality check.

"In 2019, I think we're going to be more hungry than last year," Willson Contreras said.

Tweet from @Cubs: Center stage at #CubsCon! 🐻��� pic.twitter.com/jQ9Rvagwke

Bryant, who will play as big a role as anyone in righting Chicago's offensive shortcomings of last summer, said losing the division to the Brewers in Game 163, followed by the Wild Card Game against the Rockies, was a good thing.

"It's kind of good for us to go through that and get our teeth kicked in a little bit on our field," Bryant said. "It was really good for us. I think ultimately, we'll all learn from it and come out with a chip on our shoulder, definitely."

They will need to do that, because as Bryant said -- and as manager Joe Maddon repeated multiple times this week at charity stops -- Harper is not walking through Wrigley Field's door.

The Cubs' payroll will be the highest in franchise history this year, but the budget in place has left the front office "less nimble" than previous winters, as president of baseball operations Theo Epstein explained. The team added an intriguing veteran infielder in Daniel Descalso and is still monitoring the relief market for reinforcements, but the big-ticket items were for past winters, not this one.

Bryant also spun that as a positive, noting that the lack of turnover shows a surplus of trust.

"Honestly, I understand some of the fan frustration," Bryant said. "But, as a player, that feels pretty good, knowing that your owner, and your president and GM all trust the team that we have. That means something to us, knowing that, 'Hey, we don't really need another addition, because we know that the talent that we have is pretty dang good.' I like the team we have. A lot of these guys have been on that [2016] World Series team."

Without any marquee additions, much of the onus will fall on Bryant's shoulders. Specifically, the 2016 National League MVP's left shoulder will be under the public microscope after what happened last year. After a strong start to the '18 campaign, Bryant was first shelved with inflammation in that area in late June. It emerged as an issue again in late July, and he did not look the same after returning again in September.

Bryant's shoulder never received the necessary rest and it took a toll on his home run total (down to 13 in '18 after launching 68 combined in the previous two years) and his slugging percentage (down to .460 in '18 from .537 in '17). Around Dec. 1 this offseason, Bryant resumed his hitting program and he said there have been no problems. The extra time off was beneficial for the healing process and he feels his swing is back to normal.

"Perfect," Bryant said of his health. "I feel so good. I feel great. I'm doing everything that I can this offseason. I feel very strong. I can't say enough how good I feel."

Can he be an MVP-level slugger again?

"There's no reason to think that I won't do that," he said.

Bryant is also looking forward to being reunited with Anthony Iapoce, who is the Cubs' new hitting coach and knows plenty of the team's hitters from his earlier days as a Minor League hitting coordinator with the organization. Iapoce and assistant hitting coach Terrmel Sledge will provide the position players with two fresh voices and some new eyes after the offense labored last year.

"I love him. I'm really, really, really excited about 'Poce," Bryant said. "There's just something about him. There's a good energy. I don't know if you guys have talked to him yet, but you'll get to know him. He's just one of the most positive guys that I've been around. He's someone you want in a clubhouse and I can't wait for the season to start with him."

A recent report out of New York claimed that Bryant and Anthony Rizzo played a large role in the Cubs' parting ways with hitting coach Chili Davis last season. Bryant would not go that far, but did say Davis (now the Mets' hitting coach) did not "mesh" well with some hitters.

"I don't make the decisions at all and I can tell you it's not just because of me and [Rizzo]," Bryant said. "I think Chili was a great guy, fun to talk to, but I just think some of our hitting philosophies didn't match up. And that's OK. The guy had a 19-year big league career. He has nothing to prove."

No, it will be the Cubs' hitters for the most part who have something to prove, especially if help is not coming in the form of a premier bat like Harper.

Bryant said he has tried not to pester his friend about the looming decision.

"That's his business," Bryant said. "It's a good time for him and his family. And I'm not going to be another one of the guys that are asking him where he's going to sign. I'm happy for him, though. He seems to be enjoying it. It's nice to have all that attention on you."

Bryant laughed when asked about the fact that Harper's dog is named Wrigley.

"I mean, it's been named Wrigley for a long time," Bryant said. "I don't know. I think it's a cool pet name. My cat's named Wrigley. And I had a cat named Fenway."

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Chicago Cubs

Darvish confident as return to mound nears

'If I'm healthy, I can do my job,' veteran righty says at Cubs Convention
MLB.com @MLBastian

CHICAGO -- The Cubs surprised the baseball world a year ago when they signed Yu Darvish to a blockbuster free-agent contract. Following a season lost due to injury, both the team and its fans are still waiting for Darvish to show that he was worth the lucrative pact.

On Friday, Darvish arrived at Cubs Convention feeling healthy and strong in his recovery from a debridement procedure on his right elbow in September. The big righty is scheduled to throw long toss this weekend and plans to be back on a mound by late next week. Being ready for Opening Day is not a problem in Darvish's view.

CHICAGO -- The Cubs surprised the baseball world a year ago when they signed Yu Darvish to a blockbuster free-agent contract. Following a season lost due to injury, both the team and its fans are still waiting for Darvish to show that he was worth the lucrative pact.

On Friday, Darvish arrived at Cubs Convention feeling healthy and strong in his recovery from a debridement procedure on his right elbow in September. The big righty is scheduled to throw long toss this weekend and plans to be back on a mound by late next week. Being ready for Opening Day is not a problem in Darvish's view.

"In Spring Training, I can do the same as every player," Darvish said. "I want to start Spring Training today."

As things stand, Darvish projects to be in a deep veteran rotation featuring Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Cole Hamels and Jose Quintana. With Darvish healthy, the Cubs can slide Mike Montgomery to the bullpen and continue to sort out how Tyler Chatwood fits into the picture.

Darvish -- signed to a six-year, $126 million contract -- posted a 4.95 ERA in eight starts in his first season with the Cubs. He did not pitch again in the Majors after landing on the disabled list, but attempted Minor League rehab outings in both June and August. In an Aug. 18 game with Class A South Bend, Darvish experienced a stress reaction to the tip of his right elbow, along with a triceps strain.

Darvish said Friday that there are no lingering problems.

"I have more confidence than last year. I feel more strong than last year," Darvish said. "This year, I'm stronger than last Spring Training, so I hope I feel better than last year. If I'm healthy, I can do my job. I can bring something for the team. So, the focus is keep the health."

Epstein on Russell's contract
On Friday Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein addressed the $600,000 in performance bonuses included in the $3.4 million contract given to shortstop Addison Russell. There will be four potential payments of $100,000 each for 30 days, 60 days, 90 days and 120 days on the active roster, and a final bonus of $200,000 available if Russell reaches 150 active days.

Russell will be ineligible to play until May 3 while finishing out a 40-game suspension without pay for violating Major League Baseball's Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy. That means Russell's deal is actually worth a base salary of around $2.8 million, but Epstein insisted that the decision to build in the incentives was unrelated to the lost pay during the suspension.

"That contract, the roster bonuses, have nothing to do with his suspension whatsoever," Epstein said. "There was a really, really significant gap between where his representation saw him and where the arbitration system would've had him, especially considering that other players who had received similar suspensions were not affected at all in their arbitration system. There was a significant gap between where they were and what we were willing to pay him.

"To help bridge that gap, we used roster bonuses. It has nothing to do with restoring money that he would've lost during the suspension. He does not get paid, nor does he deserve to get paid, while he's serving the suspension, nor will he get paid if he's not with the organization. It's a non-guaranteed contract."

Epstein called this situation a "conditional second chance" for Russell, who is currently in MLB's treatment protocol and being closely monitored by the Cubs.

Video: Epstein on Maddon, Cubs adapting for 2019 season

Worth noting
• The Cubs wanted to inject some veteran leadership into the locker room this winter and the team believes it took a step in that direction by signing utility man Daniel Descalso. Count Kris Bryant among the fans of the addition, which has been Chicago's biggest move on the position-player front this offseason. That is also fine by Bryant.

"I love Daniel as a signing. He's a great player. Reminds me of Jon Jay," Bryant said. "But, I like our team. We won a World Series with a lot of the people in this room and there's no reason that we couldn't do it again. Yeah, you kind of look at the Brewers and Cardinals and even the Reds, they're getting better. It's going to make the division a lot more competitive, but I like our chances, I really do."

Video: Bastian discusses Descalso signing with the Cubs

• Cubs Convention will be filled with multiple speaker panels on Saturday. Manager Joe Maddon and the coaching staff will get things started at 9 a.m. CT, followed by Epstein with a baseball operations update at 10 a.m. Cubs players have panels at 11 a.m. (In the Batter's Box), noon (Toeing the Rubber), 2:30 p.m. (Cubs Talk) and 3:15 p.m. (Off the Field). There will be a business operations update at 1:15 p.m. and a Cubs in Cooperstown discussion at 3 p.m.

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Chicago Cubs, Yu Darvish

Bryant tweaks St. Louis; Yadi snaps back

MLB.com

ST. LOUIS -- A seemingly innocuous series of comments by Cubs star Kris Bryant and former Major Leaguer Ryan Dempster elicited a passionate response from several Cardinals -- proving, once again, that some rivalries have no offseason.

The back-and-forth began during a comedy-style show at Cubs Convention, picked up steam on the Cardinals Caravan and later extended to Instagram, where Yadier Molina rebuffed the pair's characterization of St. Louis with a harsh retort.

ST. LOUIS -- A seemingly innocuous series of comments by Cubs star Kris Bryant and former Major Leaguer Ryan Dempster elicited a passionate response from several Cardinals -- proving, once again, that some rivalries have no offseason.

The back-and-forth began during a comedy-style show at Cubs Convention, picked up steam on the Cardinals Caravan and later extended to Instagram, where Yadier Molina rebuffed the pair's characterization of St. Louis with a harsh retort.

It started on Friday when Dempster, while spoofing a late-night talk show, asked Bryant about recently meeting rapper Nelly -- a noted Cardinals fan -- at a Florida Georgia Line concert in his hometown of Las Vegas. Mention of the Cubs' biggest rival elicited some boos from the live audience, and Bryant obliged the crowd with some good-natured ribbing.

Tweet from @Cubs_Live: Kris Bryant explaining how playing in St. Louis is terrible. 😂 pic.twitter.com/qYM1mZJfZZ

"[Nelly] was trying to work the magic on Bryce [Harper]," Bryant said of his longtime friend and superstar free agent, before playfully adding, "Who would want to play in St. Louis? It's so boring. I always get asked, 'Where do you like to play, where do you not like to play?' And St. Louis is a place I don't like to play."

That comment drew a loud cheer from the Chicago faithful, and Dempster followed suit.

Video: Carpenter on Molina's passion, respect for St. Louis

"I remember when I was getting traded," said Dempster, "and they asked me, 'Hey, how about St. Louis?' I said, 'Zero chance, pal. No way.' I wouldn't even go there as a free agent. Not happening."

"It's rough," Bryant concluded. All the while, a bucket of Budweiser beer -- brewed in, of all places, St. Louis -- sat on the table to his left.

The video made its way to Twitter just before the Cardinals kicked off their competing Winter Warm-Up. A fan brought it up Saturday morning during a Caravan stop in Peoria, Ill., to which reliever John Brebbia responded, playfully, by telling Bryant to, "Cry me a river, loser."

Catcher Molina, never one to mince his feelings on social media, then fired back with an Instagram post that included not only a screenshot of Bryant's interview with Dempster, but also a photo of Dempster giving up a home run to then-Cardinal Lance Berkman.

"All stars, elite players and leaders of their teams do not speak bad about any city," Molina wrote. "There should be respect, and you should play and compete with respect. Only stupid players and losers make comments like the ones made by Bryant and Dempster."

Several of Molina's teammates echoed his sentiments in comments on his Instagram post. Third baseman Matt Carpenter replied with a series of fire emojis, while left fielder Marcell Ozuna issued a poetic warning to the Cubs.

"From outside they speak and talk like tiger," wrote Ozuna, "but at the end they [sic] gonna be like little cat."

Other teammates offered their endorsement with a simple 'Like.' Molina, in the comments section, continued to engage with fans hours after making his original post.

Cardinals outfielder Dexter Fowler knows this rivalry as well as anyone, having played on both sides. He was signing autographs at Winter Warm-Up when his phone starting buzzing with text messages. Afterward, he learned why.

"Yadi is a fiery guy, which is awesome. I love it," Fowler said. "I think it's good for the rivalry. These are going to be some fun games. I'm looking forward to the Cardinals fans coming out and showing up."

The first of 19 regular-season games between the two teams will take place at Wrigley Field in 105 days.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.

Chicago Cubs, Kris Bryant

Inbox: How will Maddon construct batting order?

Beat reporter Jordan Bastian answers questions from fans
MLB.com @MLBastian

Do you foresee the Cubs going with more of a set batting order this season? Do you think that plays into any slumps, hot streaks, etc.?
-- Ryan

Over the years, I have heard from plenty of players that there is some mental comfort in knowing where their name will be on the lineup card. Then again, there are many hitters whose numbers look a lot better when a team is mixing and matching to maximize the offensive production. That approach tends to lead to a lineup taking on a different look on a game-by-game basis.

Do you foresee the Cubs going with more of a set batting order this season? Do you think that plays into any slumps, hot streaks, etc.?
-- Ryan

Over the years, I have heard from plenty of players that there is some mental comfort in knowing where their name will be on the lineup card. Then again, there are many hitters whose numbers look a lot better when a team is mixing and matching to maximize the offensive production. That approach tends to lead to a lineup taking on a different look on a game-by-game basis.

Submit a question to Cubs Inbox 

Trying to gain a platoon advantage to generate more offense has been a constant in Cubs manager Joe Maddon's approach, and I don't see that changing in 2019. Now, there will be everyday players, and in an ideal world they will find a home in a batting order. As other players are slotted in and out, though, the order might be tweaked here and there.

One thing you can bank on is that the Cubs' best hitters will be in a position to garner the most at-bats. So, while Maddon flipped through 152 different lineups last season, you consistently saw Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Ben Zobrist within the first three or four spots. That won't change, even if the exact order does from time to time.

I get the desire by many fans to see their team run with the same lineup game in and game out, but it's not always the best approach. When someone like Kyle Schwarber posts a 121 wRC+ against righties vs. an 85 wRC+ against lefties -- like he did last season -- it only makes sense to limit his exposure to left-handed pitching. That is where versatile players like Ian Happ, David Bote, Daniel Descalso and Zobrist can come in handy.

As for how lineup position can impact hot or cold spells, I think you can find evidence to support both sides of the argument.

The best hitters don't alter their approach much based on where they are in the lineup. Just like you can find examples of slumping hitters, there are plenty of batters who have bounced around a lineup and been just fine. There are also plenty of hitters who learn to embrace being a platoon-style player and thrive, especially when their stats get a boost. It's not for everyone, though. First and foremost, a manager needs buy-in from his players and I think Maddon has done well in that regard.

Tweet from @KrisScheider: Will the @Cubs Cubs have enough bullpen arms to compete for a championship? #cubsinbox

First, they need to get Brandon Morrow healthy and back as soon as possible in the first half. Then, the Cubs need to avoid overusing Steve Cishek (who logged 80 appearances in 2018) and Pedro Strop, especially early on. I do think Chicago needs to add some more experienced depth to the relief corps, but it helps (in theory) that the rotation is built to log a lot of innings.

The bullpen, even with an assortment of issues last season, finished with the National League's best ERA (3.35), opponents' average (.223) and home run rate (0.78 per nine innings). Concern about sustainability creeps in when looking at the strikeout rate (22.6 percent), walk rate (11.0 percent) and workload (588 1/3 innings). The good news is that the Cubs are built to contend for a championship due to a lot more than their bullpen situation.

If the Cubs do eventually get Bryce Harper, where would they put him? The starting lineup is filled with great players.
-- Bryan D., Chicago

I mean, it's obligatory to include a Harper-related question until he signs elsewhere, right? Winter Storm Harper came to Chicago, but it sure doesn't seem like the superstar outfielder will be going to the Cubs. At a charity event in Chicago this week, Maddon was asked about the possibility of adding Harper and the manager replied bluntly with, "Not going to happen." That said, no matter what a team's roster looks like, you make room for a player of Harper's ability. He'd look very good in right field for the Cubs, but that appears more like a dream than reality.

Who will be the non-roster invitees this spring?
-- Tim C., Beardstown, Ill.

As of now, the Cubs have not officially announced a list of non-roster spring invites. I'd expect something to arrive on that front later this month. Three that have come out via various reports are catcher Francisco Arcia, outfielder Jim Adduci and infielder Phillip Evans.

The Cubs built their core through the Draft and have paid a hefty sum to acquire pitching. With two aging starters and a constant search for a closer, are there any pitching prospects in the Cubs Minor League system for us to get excited about in the next few years?
-- Steve K., Warsaw, Ill.

On the starting pitching front, right-hander Adbert Alzolay (No. 2 on the Cubs' Top 30 prospects list, per MLB Pipeline) and lefty Justin Steele (No. 8) are two to keep an eye on this season. Alzolay might've worked his way onto the MLB radar last season had a right lat injury not sidelined him in May. Steele was added to the 40-man roster this offseason. On the relief side of things, righty Dillon Maples (No. 28) is certainly intriguing. He had a taste of the big leagues last year, and posted 17.5 strikeouts per nine innings (75 in 38 2/3 frames) at Triple-A. Another lefty to monitor is Conor Lillis-White, who came from the Angels in the Tommy La Stella trade. Lillis-White had 98 strikeouts vs. 32 walks in 72 innings between Double-A and Triple-A last year.

In how many years do you see Nico Hoerner on the big league squad?
-- James L., Chicago

That's always difficult to predict, but Hoerner (No. 6 on the Cubs' Top 30) is 21 years old and topped out at Class A South Bend last season. That probably puts him at least two years away from the Majors. The young shortstop certainly turned some heads with Mesa in the Arizona Fall League earlier this offseason. In 21 games, Hoerner hit .337 with nine extra-base hits, 11 RBIs and an .867 OPS.

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Chicago Cubs

Bryant keeps new drone far away from fingers

In addition to pushing cars up hills and hanging with Nelly, the offseason is a time for personal growth -- like, say, picking up a new hobby. Kris Bryant knows this as well as anyone, which is why he recently got himself a drone.

Ricketts backs Cubs' roster, offseason approach

In radio interview, club chairman also explains Convention decision
MLB.com @MLBastian

CHICAGO -- Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts made the media rounds on Thursday morning, discussing the team's quiet winter and plenty of other topics in interviews across the Chicago radio waves. This came after word spread that the Ricketts family would not have a panel at the annual Cubs Convention this weekend.

In an interview with 670 The Score, Ricketts chuckled when asked about the team canceling ownership's usual question-and-answer session with Cubs fans at the Sheraton Grand Chicago. He insisted that there were no ulterior motives to the decision to sit out of the convention spotlight.

CHICAGO -- Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts made the media rounds on Thursday morning, discussing the team's quiet winter and plenty of other topics in interviews across the Chicago radio waves. This came after word spread that the Ricketts family would not have a panel at the annual Cubs Convention this weekend.

In an interview with 670 The Score, Ricketts chuckled when asked about the team canceling ownership's usual question-and-answer session with Cubs fans at the Sheraton Grand Chicago. He insisted that there were no ulterior motives to the decision to sit out of the convention spotlight.

"We had the lowest-rated panel last year, so the guys cut us. It's true," Ricketts said with a laugh. "I think people would rather watch the mascot play bingo than listen to the owners speak. The fact is that we had a low-rated panel. It got kind of dull over the years, because a lot of the questions were the same. It's funny to me. I saw a headline, somebody wrote like, 'Ricketts family cancels popular panel at Cubs Convention.' And the fact is we were the lowest-rated panel.

"If people want us to come back next year throughout the forums, we'd be happy to do it again. But, we just were boring people, honestly. We're happy to do it again. I like talking to people. I think I'm the most accessible owner in sports."

Here are the highlights of Ricketts' discussion on 670 The Score:

On the Cubs' offseason thus far
"First of all, we have spent this offseason. Obviously, we signed Cole Hamels and we picked up [Daniel] Descalso and I'm sure Theo [Epstein] has a few moves left in him. But, frankly, we have one of the largest budgets in all of baseball. We've put that to work. We definitely signed a lot of players over the years. We have a team that we like. We have a team that we think is going to go a long way. We have a team that won 95 games last year without a lot of help from some of the guys we picked up last offseason, and just all the different things we fought through last year -- the injuries and everyone having kind of down years and some of the off-field distractions. We like our club. We're among the very top spenders."

On a perceived lack of urgency after last season's abrupt ending
"I think what people don't see is the players and Theo and [manager Joe Maddon] have all worked throughout the offseason to talk amongst themselves -- more so than in past years -- to really focus on being prepared and coming in strong in Spring Training and getting the season off to a good start. The fact is, we look at our lineup and we say, if you look around the horn, who would you switch out? We've got a pretty good team. I think we've won, what, 97 games on average the last four years. We're still that team if we stay healthy, and we get Yu [Darvish] back, who's feeling pretty good right now. And obviously with Hamels for the whole season. We're going to be great. I think people should just judge us by what happens during the season -- not what happens during December."

On retaining Addison Russell, who will be out until May 3 while serving a suspension for violating MLB's Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy
"There's no simple answer to that question. The fact is, the fact that we have decided -- after talking to a lot of experts, after talking to Addison multiple times, talking to the league -- that we'd rather support him through the process than just cut him and let him go, that doesn't mean it's in conflict with support for victims of domestic violence. The fact is that you have a decision to make as a club: What do you think is going to be best for the player and his family? In our case, after talking to, like I said, many experts, after talking to Addison many times, we thought the better thing for the players, for the player's family, was to see if we could help him get through this.

"I think that it's not an easy decision and not a decision that anyone takes lightly. It's something that every team has to decide for themselves, but I do give a lot of credit to Major League Baseball for having good protocols and policies on this. There was a process for him. He's already begun doing some of the things that the league requests and he's doing things beyond what the league requests. So, we'll see where it goes. I think he knows the gravity of the situation. I think he knows what he has to do. Let's just hope that he follows through on the promises he made to himself and the promises he made to the team."

On the Cubs' exploring their own regional TV network
"We're definitely looking at being able to talk about that more sometime in the future, but it'll be a while yet before we know exactly what we can have and can't have. I think it's already out there that we're looking to go our own direction on this, which is the right thing for the team and for the fans."

On striving for postseason sustainability
"You just have to get to the playoffs as often as possible, because once that happens, you have as good a chance as anyone. Once you get to that first Wild Card Game -- which, of course, we did last year -- you have as good a chance as anyone of still going. It comes down to who's hot, who's healthy, who gets the clutch hit. So, we have to be consistent. And I think one of the mistakes that might've been made in previous ownership is this theory that you load up and go for it one year. That doesn't work. That's fool's gold. That's a bad strategy. We take it from a different approach."

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Chicago Cubs

Maddon serves dinner for 'Thanksmas' project

Manager feeds more than 125 people from Chicago's homeless community
MLB.com @MLBastian

CHICAGO -- After finishing a day filled with meetings with his new-look coaching staff, Cubs manager Joe Maddon donned a white apron and headed to St. Leonard's Ministries on Chicago's west side on Thursday night. It was time to put baseball off to the side for a few hours.

"It's great that we're here to help," Maddon said. "It's near and dear to the heart."

CHICAGO -- After finishing a day filled with meetings with his new-look coaching staff, Cubs manager Joe Maddon donned a white apron and headed to St. Leonard's Ministries on Chicago's west side on Thursday night. It was time to put baseball off to the side for a few hours.

"It's great that we're here to help," Maddon said. "It's near and dear to the heart."

This was the third stop in Maddon's "Thanksmas" project as part of his Respect 90 foundation, which had earlier offseason events in the Tampa Bay area and in his hometown of Hazleton, Pa. On this evening, more than 125 members of Chicago's homeless community were served a dinner of spaghetti and meatballs, plus pierogies, with Maddon leading the way.

It was also the third initiative on a busy Thursday for the team on the eve of its annual Cubs Convention, which kicks off at 6 p.m. CT Friday at the Sheraton Grand downtown.

Prior to the meal, cooked and served by Maddon -- he says he learned his way around a kitchen from his mom, grandmother and aunts -- Cubs players, coaches and staffers held a service day at Horner Park. The team worked with the non-profit group Good Sports to provide sports equipment, apparel and footwear to 110 Chicago schools to aid their physical education programs. Next on the day's schedule was an equipment delivery to Patrick Henry Elementary School.

"At the end of the day," Maddon reminded, "it's about the volunteers that show up here every day."

The Cubs manager could not entirely escape baseball, though -- not with this being the last season under his five-year contract and with the team in the middle of a quiet offseason. Before Maddon served food, he held court and dished out some quotes to the media on a variety of topics. Once again, the central theme of Maddon's comments -- echoing the message from the front office this winter -- was that the bulk of improvement will need to come from within in the season ahead.

Ricketts backs Cubs' roster, offseason approach

That did not stop Maddon from being asked once again about whether the Cubs might yet make a play for superstar free agent Bryce Harper. In another charity event earlier this week, Maddon said it was "not going to happen." The manager doubled down in Thursday's interview.

"Like I said, I don't think that's going to happen," Maddon said. "We really feel strongly and believe strongly in the guys that we do have. I think we're trying to get -- not resolve -- but we're just really trying to develop that plan to really extrapolate more out of the group that we do have. And, again, when I say that, if you really look at it, it's primarily from the offensive side of the ball."

Maddon brushed off a question about his unsettled contract situation beyond 2019.

"We're all lame ducks, aren't we?" he quipped. "I'm just focused on winning right now."

Maddon also addressed the Cubs' support of shortstop Addison Russell, who will be ineligible to play until May 3 while finishing out a suspension for violating MLB's Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy. Russell's progress behind the scenes is being closely monitored by the Cubs, and Maddon stopped short of saying there was a job waiting for the shortstop.

"There's a lot of ifs involved in this," Maddon said. "One of the big ifs is just that Addison does the right things to get back here in the first place. If he does that, and everybody's satisfied with that progress -- him and us -- then you give him the opportunity to become the shortstop again. But right now, our focus primarily is on him becoming the best human being he can possibly become."

Following the chat with reporters, Maddon headed to the third floor at the Michael Barlow Center and gave a brief pre-dinner speech. He explained that the event is called "Thanksmas" because there is a need to help others every day -- not just on holidays. And he got the function started by filling the room with laughter.

"Any non-Cubs fans here?" Maddon asked with a smirk. "We have a special meal for you."

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Chicago Cubs

30 best defensive prospects -- 1 for each team

MLB.com

MLB Pipeline recently unveiled its annual All-Defense Team, but there were only so many spots to fill. It made us realize there were so many outstanding defenders across all 30 organizations.

Evaluating defense is still very much subjective, with metrics measuring fielding still imperfect. Still, each system has glovework that stands out more than others, and we considered many to present one best defender from each organization.

MLB Pipeline recently unveiled its annual All-Defense Team, but there were only so many spots to fill. It made us realize there were so many outstanding defenders across all 30 organizations.

Evaluating defense is still very much subjective, with metrics measuring fielding still imperfect. Still, each system has glovework that stands out more than others, and we considered many to present one best defender from each organization.

American League East

Orioles: Cadyn Grenier, SS, No. 9
Grenier's stellar glovework at shortstop was key in helping Oregon State win the 2018 College World Series, and in the process, he established himself as one of the best defensive prospects in the Draft before going to the Orioles as the No. 37 overall pick. With good hands, plus arm strength and plenty of range, Grenier has all the ingredients needed to stick at the position long term.

Red Sox: Bobby Dalbec, 3B, No. 6
Dalbec has always possessed a strong arm and has worked hard to improve his agility and range at third base, with several Red Sox officials rating him as a plus defender and scouts outside the organization grading him more as solid. He also owns prodigious raw power and ranked second in the Minors in extra-base hits (70) and RBIs (109) last year, and fourth in homers (32).

Yankees: Estevan Florial, OF, No. 1 (MLB No. 45)
Florial has some of the best all-around tools in the Minors, with well-above-average raw power, speed and arm strength. He continues to improve as a center fielder, projecting as a plus defender, and has an exceptionally strong arm for the position.

Rays: Lucius Fox, SS, No. 9
While there's no shortage of standout defenders in the highly athletic Rays system, Fox, a top-flight athlete with plus-plus speed, could be the best. He's played shortstop exclusively as a pro and committed 15 errors in 105 games last season while reaching Double-A at age 21. His athleticism makes him an electrifying defender, and he has the requisite physical tools to remain at the position for the long haul.

Video: EAST@WEST: Fox showcases range, slick glove in 3rd

Blue Jays: Kevin Vicuna, SS, unranked
The Blue Jays felt so good about Vicuna's defense in 2017 that they had the then-19-year-old handle shortstop duties for Class A Advanced Dunedin from April 23-June 1, even though Vicuna previously had never played above the Rookie Gulf Coast League. He's an athletic and, at times, flashy defender, with quick, twitchy hands that help him absorb anything hit his way and a quick release that causes his average arm strength to play up across the infield.

AL Central

White Sox: Nick Madrigal, 2B, No. 5 (MLB No. 49)
The White Sox may try Madrigal at shortstop, because he has the hands and actions to thrive there, but his average arm makes him a better fit at second base. With his quickness and instincts, he could be a Gold Glove Award winner at the keystone, and he also rated as the best pure hitter in the 2018 Draft, where he went No. 4 overall.

Video: Top Prospects: Nick Madrigal, 2B, White Sox

Indians: Eric Haase, C, No. 27
Haase reached the Majors for the first time late last season, seven years after the Indians took him in the seventh round of the 2011 Draft. Though he's blossomed on both sides of the ball during the past two seasons, it's been Haase's defensive gains that have helped him climb the Tribe's depth chart. After throwing out 37 percent of attempted basestealers in 2017, Haase improved that mark to nearly 49 percent in '18 (33 of 68).

Tigers: Jake Rogers, C, No. 12
The Tigers got Rogers as part of the Justin Verlander deal, and in Rogers' first full season with the organization, he cemented himself as the game's best defensive catching prospect, earning a spot on MLB Pipeline's All-Defense Team for the second year in a row. He threw out 55.6 percent of potential basestealers in 2018, upping his career rate to 48.5 percent.

Royals: Sebastian Rivero, C, unranked
M.J. Melendez is very athletic for a catcher and has a chance to become a plus defender with an arm to match. Yet South Atlantic League managers rated Rivero, his teammate at Lexington last summer, the low Class A circuit's best defensive backstop in a Baseball America survey last year. The Royals liken Rivero to a young Salvador Perez, and in addition to his physical ability, Rivero also draws raves for his leadership skills, intelligence and work ethic.

Twins: Gilberto Celestino, OF, No. 14
Signed by the Astros for $2.5 million in 2015, Celestino made his United States debut in '17, then got dealt to the Twins in the Ryan Pressly trade last season. He's drawn comparisons to Albert Almora Jr. for his instincts in center, and coaches in Elizabethton feel he's one of the best defenders they've ever seen.

AL West

Astros: Myles Straw, OF, No. 15
Straw has double-plus speed that gives him tremendous range in center field, where his plus arm also stands out at a position not noted for strong throwers. That quickness also plays well on the bases (he topped the Minors with 70 steals in only 79 attempts in 2018) and allows him to beat out hits (he led the Minors with a .358 batting average in '16).

Angels: Jordyn Adams, OF, No. 6
The Angels signed Adams away from playing football and baseball at North Carolina, and he immediately put his tools on display during his pro debut and during instructs. He's still raw, but the Angels feel he has elite range and the highest ceiling as a defender in the organization.

A's: Nick Allen, SS, No. 15
Allen was viewed by many scouts as perhaps the best defensive prospect available in the 2017 Draft, and he's done nothing to diminish that reputation after signing for more than double slot value as the A's third-round pick. There is no doubt among scouts that Allen can stick at shortstop. He's already a plus defender there, with outstanding range that leads to many highlight-reel plays and plus arm strength that allows him to make throws from all over the diamond.

Mariners: Evan White, 1B, No. 5
It's not often a first baseman is mentioned as one of the premier defensive players in the Minors, but that's the reality with White, who recently was named to the All-Defense Team. All signs point to him becoming a Gold Glove Award winner at the position, as he's athletic with outstanding footwork, a strong arm and plus range. His ability to pick throws is elite, and he makes every infielder on his team better as a result.

Video: Top Prospects: Evan White, 1B, Mariners

Rangers: Jose Trevino, C, No. 28
Trevino won Rawlings Minor League Gold Gloves in both 2016 and '17, before surgery on his non-throwing shoulder last July squashed any chances of a three-peat. He's an outstanding receiver and blocker, gets the most out of his strong arm with a quick release and accurate throws and also earns high marks for his ability to run a pitching staff.

National League East

Braves: Cristian Pache, OF, No. 6  (MLB No. 68)
Pache is generally considered to be the best defender in the Minor Leagues, leading our All-Defense Prospect Team. He has the speed and instincts to be a Gold Glove center fielder to go along with a right fielder's arm.

Video: Mayo looks at MLB Pipeline's 2019 All-Defense Team

Marlins: Jose Devers, SS/2B, No. 13
The cousin of Red Sox third basemen Rafael Devers, Jose was acquired by the Marlins last offseason in the blockbuster trade that sent Giancarlo Stanton to the Bronx. While he doesn't have his cousin's offensive profile, Devers is a far superior defender, with the soft hands, slick footwork and strong arm needed to be a big league shortstop. He showcased his defensive prowess last season, committing only seven errors and posting a .971 fielding percentage as an 18-year-old in full-season ball.

Mets: Andres Gimenez, SS, No. 1 (MLB No. 55)
The shortstop on our All-Defense Team, Gimenez reached Double-A in 2018 as a teenager. While he needs to add strength offensively, he has everything he needs to play shortstop defensively in the big leagues. He has plus hands, range and the internal clock to allow him to slow the game down.

Phillies: Luis Garcia, SS, No. 14
Signed for $2.5 million in July 2017, Garcia had a tremendous debut in the Gulf Coast League in '18 on both sides of the ball. He has a strong arm to go along with terrific hands and feet, and speed that gives him excellent range to stay at shortstop long term. He's only going to get better as he matures.

Nationals: Victor Robles, OF, No. 1 (MLB No. 4)
Revered as one of the top defenders in the Minor Leagues and a member of MLB Pipeline's All-Defense Team, Robles has game-changing abilities in center field. His near top-of-the-scale speed gives him range for days in center field, and he's made strides in improving both his reads and routes in the past two years. His plus-plus arm is among the strongest in the Minors, and he totaled 29 outfield assists from 2016-17 before an injury-plagued campaign in '18.

Video: Top Prospects: Victor Robles, OF, Nationals

NL Central

Cubs: Miguel Amaya, C, No. 1 (MLB No. 87)
Amaya's defensive ability and makeup led the Cubs to sign him for $1.25 million out of Panama in 2015, and he continues to impress even though he has been pushed aggressively in the Minors. His aptitude to frame and block pitches is advanced for a teenager, and his arm strength has improved to at least solid and plays up because of his quick transfer and accuracy.

Reds: Mike Siani, OF, No. 9
The Reds' fourth-round pick got first-round money to sign because of his all-around tools. But his defensive skills have long stood out, and he might have been the best defensive outfielder in the 2018 Draft class, with the ability to cover a ton of ground in center and an arm that allowed him to throw low-90s fastballs from the mound in high school.

Brewers: Payton Henry, C, No. 11
A sixth-round pick in 2016 who signed for nearly twice his slot value, Henry threw out nearly 44 percent (46 of 105) of attempted basestealers and had only six passed balls in his first full season. A quick release and a strong, accurate arm help Henry to combat the running game, and evaluators have been impressed with how he's developed a receiving style that utilizes his big, athletic frame. Henry is also praised for his energy and leadership skills.

Pirates: Ke'Bryan Hayes, 3B, No. 2 (MLB No. 48)
Hayes was the third baseman on our All-Defense Team, and for good reason. He entered pro ball as one of the better defenders at the hot corner, but he's gotten even better as he's committed himself to his conditioning, adding to his agility and range to make him the best in the Minors at the position.

Cardinals: Delvin Perez, SS, No. 28
The Cardinals' first-round pick in 2016 has had trouble finding any traction offensively, but there are no concerns about his defensive chops. He gets plus grades on his arm and his overall fielding, thanks to a plus arm when he needs it, above-average hands and plus speed that helps him cover a lot of ground.

NL West

D-backs: Geraldo Perdomo, SS, No. 21
Perdomo's United States debut in 2018 was solid all-around, and he even earned a promotion from the Arizona Rookie League to the Pioneer League in the process. Tall and rangy, the teenager has shown the tools to stay at shortstop long term with outstanding range, actions and hands to go with a strong arm.

Rockies: Yonathan Daza, OF, No. 18
Thanks to his plus speed and fine instincts, Daza covers a lot of ground in center field, and he possesses a plus-plus arm that stands out at his position. He's also a career .310 hitter who won the Class A Advanced California League batting title in 2017 with a .341 mark.

Dodgers: Will Smith, C, No. 5
An outstanding athlete for a catcher, Smith has already shown that he's capable of playing third base and filling in at second. He has very soft hands and impressive agility, making him a fine receiver and framer, and he has a solid arm that plays better than that because of his fast footwork.

Padres: Buddy Reed, OF, No. 13
A member of MLB Pipeline's All-Defense Team, Reed's 70-grade speed and long, gliding strides allow him to cover huge swaths of territory in center field -- and he showcased that with his catch in last year's SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game. Reed also has a strong arm and recorded 12 outfield assists in 2018, surpassing his combined total from his first two seasons.

Video: WLD@USA: Reed wired up, makes great grab at the wall

Giants: Joey Bart, C, No. 1 (MLB No. 23)
The No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 Draft, Bart draws more attention with his bat, but his work behind the plate is impressive as well. He has improved markedly since high school, when scouts wondered if he could stay at catcher, enhancing his agility and receiving and improving the accuracy of his strong arm.

Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.