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Cubs change pitching development philosophy

MLB.com

The manner in which the Cubs' front office went about overhauling the franchise is no secret. There was a distinct focus on position players in the upper tiers of the Draft, leaving trades and free agency as the primary avenues for finding impact pitching.

The consequence of that approach has been a lack of homegrown arms -- a subject that is hardly lost on the leaders of the club's player development department. There has been a change in development structure behind the scenes, however, and the Cubs believe that they finally do have an intriguing group of arms beginning to develop and emerge as future Major League talent.

The manner in which the Cubs' front office went about overhauling the franchise is no secret. There was a distinct focus on position players in the upper tiers of the Draft, leaving trades and free agency as the primary avenues for finding impact pitching.

The consequence of that approach has been a lack of homegrown arms -- a subject that is hardly lost on the leaders of the club's player development department. There has been a change in development structure behind the scenes, however, and the Cubs believe that they finally do have an intriguing group of arms beginning to develop and emerge as future Major League talent.

"It's just on us. We can't just keep celebrating Kris Bryant in the 2013 Draft," said Jason McLeod, the Cubs' senior vice president of player development and amateur scouting. "It's so obvious that it's not even an elephant in the room. It's something that drives us every day."

McLeod added that "this is the best" he has felt about the state of the Cubs' arms since coming over to the club prior to the 2012 season. Much of that confidence stems from a change in philosophy in how the team is handling its pitching prospects. The kid gloves are off, so to speak. When and where it makes sense, the Cubs plan on pushing their arms, rather than being overly protective via pitch counts and innings limitations.

In the early years of this front office's takeover, McLeod said the group was admittedly too conservative with some of the arms in the system. He cited Dylan Cease (now in the White Sox system), Paul Blackburn (currently with the A's) and Cubs prospect Duane Underwood Jr. (taken in the second round of the 2012 Draft) as three pitchers who fall into that category.

Video: CHC@LAD: Underwood K's Pederson for 1st MLB strikeout

Underwood started one game for the Cubs last season, making him one of four pitchers selected by the Cubs since 2012 to log any Major League innings with the team. In total, the Cubs have only received 0.2 WAR (Baseball Reference) from arms taken in the Draft under president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and Co.

"I think as we thought about pitching, we tried to fit everyone neatly into a box," McLeod said. "Do these mechanics lead to what we think is going to be long-term health, and has he thrown enough strikes that we think the prior performance is going to equal this type of performance going forward? So we put so many checks on guys, I feel, that we probably walked by some guys that didn't meet certain criteria at the time.

"That's what I meant by being probably a little too conservative. We wanted them to check so many boxes. Strike throwers who we thought were going to be healthy, that had this type of performance -- whether it be strikeout rate, whether it be walk rate -- and that probably hamstrung us a little bit."

McLeod said they were probably too structured in how they handled Years 3-4 of a pitcher's progression.

"We probably could've pushed guys in our early days," McLeod said. "I think, as we sit here five or six years later, I think that -- not to be egregious about anything -- but we're probably being a little more aggressive."

McLeod said a shift towards wanting to take the organization's foot off the brakes began with Derek Johnson, who left his role as the Cubs' Minor League pitching coordinator after the 2015 season. It continued with Jim Brower (now with the Mariners) and is again a focus of Brendan Sagara, who is entering his second season in the position.

The Cubs have a pitching lab in which they are using technology and data to study and implement some of these changes. They are discussing ways to help pitchers last a full season (an example would be building in skipped starts rather than having innings caps). The team is valuing having its young arms learn how to pitch when fatigued but also holding velocity. There is also an understanding that innings limits do not work across the board. An efficient pitcher will get to a threshold in a different manner than a less-efficient arm.

Video: Top Prospects: Adbert Alzolay, RHP, Cubs

McLeod rattled off the names of Justin Steele (fifth round in 2014), Thomas Hatch (third round in '16), Tyson Miller (fourth round in '16), Duncan Robinson (ninth round in '16), Dakota Mekkes (10th round in '16) and Keegan Thompson (third round in '17) as draftees that have been impressing. Adbert Alzolay (an international signing in '12) is the Cubs' No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline and will be on the MLB radar this season, too.

"We're banking on good health, but I think we're going to push these guys now," McLeod said. "[There's] an urgency in doing something to impact the organization, not being complacent, not being safe, not being conservative. It doesn't mean pushing someone who's not ready for it, but I also think there is going to be more of a, 'Let them show themselves that they're ready to help us.'"

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, Adbert Alzolay, Duane Underwood Jr.

Inbox: How is Alzolay's rehab progressing?

Beat reporter Jordan Bastian answers Cubs fans' questions
MLB.com

What is the status of Cubs top pitching prospect Adbert Alzolay? Will he be ready for the start of the season? And how might he help the Major League team this season?
-- Keith B., Chicago

We'll have a better sense of how Alzolay -- ranked as the Cubs' No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline -- looks throughout Spring Training, but he is not expected to have any restrictions. The righty should be fine for the start of the season, with Triple-A Iowa as his destination.

What is the status of Cubs top pitching prospect Adbert Alzolay? Will he be ready for the start of the season? And how might he help the Major League team this season?
-- Keith B., Chicago

We'll have a better sense of how Alzolay -- ranked as the Cubs' No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline -- looks throughout Spring Training, but he is not expected to have any restrictions. The righty should be fine for the start of the season, with Triple-A Iowa as his destination.

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For background, Alzolay, who will turn 24 on March 1, was limited to eight starts last season due to a strained right lat. He did not need surgery, but his campaign was over by the end of May. Alzolay might have worked his way onto the radar for the MLB rotation, but now there is no room. The Cubs have Yu Darvish, Jon Lester, Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana on the staff, with Mike Montgomery and Tyler Chatwood offering depth.

Due to the injury last season, the Cubs will also keep a close eye on Alzolay's innings throughout the summer. He only logged 39 2/3 innings prior to his health setback, so a full season of starting is not in his future for 2019.

"He's worked exceptionally hard," Cubs senior vice president of player development and amateur scouting Jason McLeod said last weekend. "The kid's phenomenal. He feels great. He looks great. But, yeah, it's probably going to be -- I can't put the innings out there now -- but it won't be a full 160-inning year."

The alternative would be to have Alzolay begin his season as a starting pitcher, with an eye on potentially coming to the Majors as a reliever. McLeod emphasized that given the structure of the MLB roster at the moment, the bullpen is the most probable route for pitching prospects to earn big league time this year. Obviously, injuries or setbacks would alter that landscape.

Do you think Albert Almora Jr. should get the most playing time in center? I think he should play all the time. I don't think he should be losing time to Ian Happ, who struck out 36 percent of the time last year and isn't nearly as good in center field. How can Almora get better against righties if he's on the pine?
-- John L., Colorado Springs, Colo.

First off, I'm thrilled to be taking a question from Colorado Springs. I graduated from Rampart High School, where I set the baseball team's all-time single-season record for getting hit by pitch. On-base percentage! I was hit nine times in 20 games officially, but there's an asterisk. There was a 10th, but an umpire ruled that I didn't try to move out of the way. I was robbed.

As for your question, I do think Almora should get the bulk of the innings in center, just as he did last year. His defense is too valuable, and if he can even be league average offensively, that's a great combination. That said, if Almora looks lost like he did in the second half last year (47 wRC+ after the break), then it makes sense to try to maximize the run production. Happ hit righties to the tune of an .816 OPS and 118 wRC+. Finding strategic days to get Happ in there is not the worst idea, as long as he is not costing runs defensively.

Video: CIN@CHC: Statcast™ looks at Almora's diving grab

So I'd expect Almora to open the year as the regular in center, but with the possibility of his playing time shifting some as manager Joe Maddon and the team's evaluators get a gauge on how the hitters are performing. Often, you'll hear teams cite the 40-game mark or so as a period for making some adjustments along those lines.

Because of schedule quirks and weather issues in 2018, the Cubs in essence played the final quarter of their season without a true off-day. I say that this was a major contributing factor to the second-half problems. Yet, despite this issue having been discussed quite regularly in the midst of that long stretch, I haven't noticed this issue being discussed much this offseason. Have the Cubs concluded that it was a non-issue?
-- Pete V., Xenia, Ohio

You're right, Pete. The Cubs played 42 games in 43 days, if you include Game 163 and the National League Wild Card Game. I wouldn't describe it as a non-issue, but consider the optics of that being overly cited in interviews this offseason. That can come across as making an excuse, and the theme of this winter's message has been taking accountability and preaching a sense of urgency. Complaining about a rough stretch on the schedule doesn't seem to fit in either category.

This is not to say it hasn't been brought up at all. In fact, Ben Zobrist mentioned it when talking about the offense during Cubs Convention:

"You turn over every stone. You're thinking about, well, 'Why?' It's not just that it did happen. No, you've got to figure out why, and then you've got to make an adjustment and do something different. It's not like we weren't trying to change things at the end of the last year to get the offense going as well. Granted, we were all exhausted, and there [were] some schedule constraints. But even regardless of that, we felt like we should've hit better than we did. So yeah, some changes were made, and some structural changes are being made as well."

Is there any chance of seeing Dakota Mekkes make an appearance in relief for the Cubs this season? Is he ready?
-- John G., Ionia, Mich.

Mekkes is an interesting pitcher. The 6-foot-7 Michigan State (Go Green!) product has posted silly numbers since being taken in the 10th round of the 2016 MLB Draft by the Cubs. The big righty had a 1.17 ERA in 53 2/3 innings in '18 between Double-A and Triple-A, and he has a 1.16 ERA with 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings in 94 career games. Mekkes relies more on a unique arm angle than overpowering velocity, but it has worked at every level so far.

Yes, Mekkes is very much on the MLB radar this season as a depth option for the bullpen.

I realize we're in an age of specialization, but I had to raise an eyebrow at the hiring of a "quality assurance" coach. What is the job description for that position?
-- Steve O., Fountain Inn, S.C.

Indeed, the Cubs hired Chris Denorfia to be their new quality assurance coach, which is actually becoming a more common job around the Major Leagues. The job description can vary slightly from team to team, but think of it as a bridge between the players, coaches and front office. An amphibious vehicle of sorts for handling information, instruction and feedback. We'll see how Denorfia's specific role evolves as Spring Training progresses. He can also offer another set of eyes and another voice for the hitters.

The Cubs traded a player to be named to the Yankees for Ronald Torreyes and then non-tendered Torreyes. Do the Cubs still owe the Yankees that player to be named?
-- Terence L., Sun City Center, Fla.

No, that November transaction was actually for a player to be named later or cash. There was a cash transaction, which enabled the Cubs to have a negotiating window with Torreyes prior to the non-tender deadline. They did not agree to a deal, Torreyes was non-tendered and that was the end of that. Torreyes signed a one-year, $800,000 deal with the Twins after that episode.

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, Adbert Alzolay

Cubs add 3 pitchers ahead of roster deadline

Clarkin claimed from White Sox; Wick acquired from Padres; Steele added
MLB.com

The Cubs headed into Tuesday with only one vacancy on their roster. By the end of the day, the team had found a way to add three arms to the fold, including homegrown pitching prospect Justin Steele.

Prior to Tuesday's deadline for setting the 40-man roster ahead of the Rule 5 Draft, Chicago selected Steele's contract from Double-A Tennessee, swung a trade with the Padres to acquire righty Rowan Wick and claimed lefty Ian Clarkin off waivers from the White Sox. With the help of some other transactions, the Cubs' roster still consists of 39 players.

The Cubs headed into Tuesday with only one vacancy on their roster. By the end of the day, the team had found a way to add three arms to the fold, including homegrown pitching prospect Justin Steele.

Prior to Tuesday's deadline for setting the 40-man roster ahead of the Rule 5 Draft, Chicago selected Steele's contract from Double-A Tennessee, swung a trade with the Padres to acquire righty Rowan Wick and claimed lefty Ian Clarkin off waivers from the White Sox. With the help of some other transactions, the Cubs' roster still consists of 39 players.

The Rangers claimed infielder Jack Reinheimer off waivers from the Cubs, who also outrighted outfielder Johnny Field and lefty Jerry Vasto to Triple-A Iowa after both players cleared waivers. In order to land Wick, Chicago dealt infield prospect Jason Vosler to San Diego.

Vosler, who was ranked 28th among the Cubs' Top 30 prospects, per MLB Pipeline, was eligible for the Rule 5 Draft, which is scheduled to take place on Dec. 13 on the final day of the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas. Players who signed with their current club at age 18 or younger and have played professionally for at least five years are eligible to be selected, as are those who signed at 19 or older and have at least four years of professional experience.

Clubs pay $100,000 to select a player in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft. If that player doesn't stay on the 25-man roster for the full season, he must be offered back to his former team for $50,000.

Steele -- the Cubs' No. 8-ranked prospect, per MLB Pipeline -- was a fifth-round pick by the Cubs in the 2014 MLB Draft. The left-hander is 15 months removed from Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow, but he made a promising return to the mound this past season. After returning to game action in July, Steele posted a 2.31 ERA with 53 strikeouts and 13 walks in 46 2/3 innings (11 starts) across three affiliates.

The 23-year-old Steele reached Double-A by late August and later logged six starts for the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League. Over 18 2/3 innings in the AFL, Steele had a 5.79 ERA with 16 strikeouts and 11 walks.

The 26-year-old Wick posted a 6.48 ERA in 10 games with San Diego last season, but spent the bulk of the year between Double-A and Triple-A. In 49 Minor League games last season, Wick fashioned a 2.67 ERA with 64 strikeouts and 31 walks in 54 innings. The right-hander averaged 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings, sitting around 94-95 mph with his four-seam fastball, which was balanced with a slider and curveball. 

Video: CWS@SEA: Clarkin completes the two-inning save

Clarkin, 23, has posted a 3.55 ERA in 81 career Minor League games since being selected by the Yankees with the 33rd overall pick in the first round of the 2013 MLB Draft (one slot after Yankees star Aaron Judge). Clarkin was traded by New York to the White Sox in July 2017 as part of the blockbuster, seven-player swap that sent David Robertson, Todd Frazier and Tommy Kahnle to the Bronx.

This past season, Clarkin turned in a 4.76 ERA in 25 appearances (12 starts) between three affiliates, topping out at Double-A Birmingham. In 85 innings, the left-hander had 50 strikeouts compared to 37 walks. Clarkin had a 6.29 ERA in his first 48 2/3 innings, but then missed time due to a groin issue. Following his return in July, the lefty had a 2.72 ERA in 36 1/3 innings over the remainder of his season.

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, Ian Clarkin, Rowan Wick

Cubs prospects dominate in 18-run AFL performance

MLB.com

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- A quartet of Cubs prospects shined for the Mesa Solar Sox in an 18-2 rout over the Surprise Saguaros in Arizona Fall League action Thursday.

Cubs' No. 8 prospect Justin Steele set the tone early with three no-hit innings for the Solar Sox.

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- A quartet of Cubs prospects shined for the Mesa Solar Sox in an 18-2 rout over the Surprise Saguaros in Arizona Fall League action Thursday.

Cubs' No. 8 prospect Justin Steele set the tone early with three no-hit innings for the Solar Sox.

Gameday

Thursday was Steele's second start of the Fall League season. After giving up four earned runs n just 1 2/3 innings against Peoria last Thursday, Steele settled in with his scoreless performance.

"I was probably a little too amped up for my first start in the Fall League," Steele said. "Nerves were a little calmer today and I had my stuff so I felt good."

Steele was a fifth-round pick in 2014 out of George County High School in Mississippi. After struggling in his first two full professional seasons, Steele was finding his groove with Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach before tearing his UCL in 2017.

Coming off Tommy John surgery, Steele returned to the mound in early July. He got 11 starts across three levels in the Cubs' organization, and it feels like the Fall League innings are crucial.

"Whatever I do here is probably gonna have a direct impact on what I do next year as far as innings and where I start at and all that." Steele said. "I worked really hard all offseason rehabbing from Tommy John, so I'm very glad to be here."

His battery mate was P.J. Higgins, who had a breakout performance offensively. A 12th-rounder in 2015, Higgins finished the day 2-for-5 with a three-run homer and two runs scored.

Higgins and Steele, who are roommates, have known each other for years and have rose through the ranks together. As both continue to progress, they know the chemistry can be big going forward.

"We've got a good a relationship. I've known him since South Bend." Higgins said. "We work well together and it's always enjoyable."

Higgins had been held hitless until Thursday, but credits film for helping him bust out of the skid.

D.J. Wilson, a fourth-round pick and the Cubs' No. 16 prospect, led off for the Solar Sox and proved to be a table setter for his team. Wilson finished 1-for-3 with three walks and four runs.

The Cubs' No. 6 prospect, shortstop Nico Hoerner, drove in the first two runs on a single.

Andre Simms is a senior journalism student at Arizona State University. This story is part of a partnership between MLB.com and ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Chicago Cubs

Pipeline names Cubs' Prospects of the Year

MLB.com

CHICAGO -- Right-hander Cory Abbott and infielder Jason Vosler were named the top Cubs Minor League pitcher and player, respectively, by MLB Pipeline.

Each team's Hitting and Pitching Prospects of the Year were chosen by the MLB Pipeline staff. To receive consideration, players must have spent at least half the year in the Minors and appeared on the team's Top 30 Prospects list.

CHICAGO -- Right-hander Cory Abbott and infielder Jason Vosler were named the top Cubs Minor League pitcher and player, respectively, by MLB Pipeline.

Each team's Hitting and Pitching Prospects of the Year were chosen by the MLB Pipeline staff. To receive consideration, players must have spent at least half the year in the Minors and appeared on the team's Top 30 Prospects list.

Abbott, 23, a second-round pick in 2017, pitched for both low Class A South Bend and Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach in his first full professional season. With South Bend, the right-hander was 4-1 with a 2.47 ERA in nine starts and went 4-5 with a 2.53 ERA in 13 games at Myrtle Beach. Abbott struck out 131 and walked 39 over 115 innings in his 22 starts. In his last three outings, Abbott did not give up a run over 16 innings, striking out 20.

Watch: MiLB Video

:: Complete prospect coverage ::

Cubs player development director Jaron Madison said Abbott's feel for his pitches is pretty advanced.

"He's a guy who throws strikes with four pitches," Madison said. "He shows a plus fastball that he can move around the zone and he has a solid average curveball and a solid average slider and a changeup that's coming. He's a guy who's really interesting because of his stuff -- three average to solid average or better pitches and his ability to move it around the zone and command is pretty special.

"He forced our hand and made us move him up to Myrtle Beach by his performance," Madison said. "A few guys got promoted ahead of him and we continued to challenge him to get better with his changeup and he struck out almost 31 percent of the batters in South Bend and continued to strike out almost 30 percent of the guys and only walking like 7 percent."

Abbott was named the Cubs' Minor League Pitcher of the Month for May, posting a 3-1 record and 2.67 ERA, and was honored again in August after going 2-0 with a 0.67 ERA in five starts.

Vosler, 25, began the season at Double-A Tennessee, where he batted .238 with 12 homers, 18 doubles and 46 RBIs, then was promoted to Triple-A Iowa, where he hit .263 with 11 homers, 11 doubles and 47 RBIs. A 16th-round pick in the 2014 Draft, he played primarily third base but also played first and second.

"This year, he really focused on tapping into his power and leveraging his lower half," Madison said of Vosler. "He's really got a good feel for his swing now and what he wants to do with every pitch, every swing. He's not going up there looking to spray the ball around, he's looking to hit it as hard and as far as he can to the middle and pull side of the field. Now, he's starting to understand how pitchers are trying to pitch to him and making the adjustment and finding pitches he can do damage with."

Vosler hit 14 home runs in his first three Minor League seasons but then studied hitters like Joey Votto, J.D. Martinez and Justin Turner and focused on hitting line drives.

"I just want to hit line drives -- line drives that rise," Vosler said in an interview this summer with the Des Moines Register. "In batting practice, if I'm hitting line drives at the center fielder, that's good. Because if I miss under it, now I have a home run. If I miss over it, I might have a ground ball up the middle. But if I'm staying through the middle of the field with a line drive, I think that's kind of the best result you can have."

Video: COL@CHC: Vosler smacks a solo shot to left-center

Vosler also took advantage of having Hall of Famer Alan Trammell around when the infielder played in the Arizona Fall League last year.

"It wasn't like he sat down and talked to us, but more on-the-field stuff," Vosler said this spring. "He was kind of cool because right when he got to [Mesa], he immersed himself into the whole thing, right on the field, introducing himself to everybody. Most of the coordinators who came from other teams worked with their own guys and [Trammell] worked with the whole team, which was awesome."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs

1st-round pick Hoerner getting on track in AFL

Steele, Giambrone among prospects on display in Mesa
MLB.com

CHICAGO -- Nico Hoerner missed playing time this season because of a left elbow injury, but the Cubs' first-round Draft pick is back in action in the Arizona Fall League, which got underway Tuesday night.

Hoerner went 0-for-4 for the Mesa Solar Sox, which won, 4-3, on Luis Barrera's inside-the-park home run with two outs in the ninth inning against the Scottsdale Scorpions in the AFL opener.

CHICAGO -- Nico Hoerner missed playing time this season because of a left elbow injury, but the Cubs' first-round Draft pick is back in action in the Arizona Fall League, which got underway Tuesday night.

Hoerner went 0-for-4 for the Mesa Solar Sox, which won, 4-3, on Luis Barrera's inside-the-park home run with two outs in the ninth inning against the Scottsdale Scorpions in the AFL opener.

The Cubs have nine prospects on the Solar Sox roster, including Hoerner, the 24th overall pick in last June's Draft, who played 14 Minor League games before sustaining a ligament strain in his left elbow. The other Cubs prospects on the Solar Sox roster are pitchers Bailey Clark, Erick Leal, Manuel Rondon and Justin Steele; catchers P.J. Higgins and Jhonny Pereda; infielder Trent Giambrone and outfielder D.J. Wilson. Pareda and Giambrone are both listed on the taxi squad.

Hoerner, 21, ranked No. 6 on MLB Pipeline's list of top 30 Cubs prospects, started hitting in mid-September and was expected to play shortstop, second base and possibly third base, Cubs player development director Jaron Madison said.

"He'll just get in the lineup and try to catch up on some at-bats and be challenged by some better pitching," Madison said. "It should be fun for him and a good experience. The only other guy we sent to the Fall League in his first year was Kris Bryant, and he ended up turning into a pretty good player.

"Nico has a special makeup, he's a special kid and presence and leader," Madison said. "I only got a chance to spend a couple days with him when we did our rookie orientation, but he really stands out as a leader and a guy who is going to be an impact player in the clubhouse and on the field. He's going to be fun to watch. I think this Fall League will be a fun challenge for him."

Hoerner got a chance to meet some of the Cubs in mid-July when he came to Chicago to have his elbow examined.

"He's a humble kid," Madison said. "He's confident but not cocky by any means, and he wants to get better and wants to learn and understands he has work to do and wants to continue to grind away at it. It's a special package."

Steele, 23, is coming back from Tommy John surgery in August 2017 and made 11 starts this season at three different levels, finishing at Double-A Tennessee. He's ranked eighth by MLB Pipeline.

"He's a guy who has put himself on the map with a mid-to-upper-90s fastball and a plus breaking ball and a changeup that's coming," Madison said. "He's coming off Tommy John and worked his butt off and came back pretty quick. It'll be a good challenge to help him build up some innings."

Giambrone, 24, who was the Cubs' 25th-round pick in 2016, is the "new Bote," Madison said, comparing the infielder to the versatile David Bote, who had an impact on the big league team this season.

"[Giambrone] is the same mold, same versatile guy," Madison said. "He's not as physical as Bote but the ball just jumps off his bat and it's fun to watch."

Giambrone, whom MLB Pipeline ranked No. 29 in the Cubs' system, batted .251 in 116 games with 17 home runs, 20 doubles, 26 stolen bases and 49 RBIs at Tennessee.

Adbert Alzolay, 23, ranked second on MLB Pipeline's list, was shut down in late May because of a strained right lat. He has been rehabbing at the Cubs' complex in Mesa, Ariz., but will not throw off a mound until January.

"He's just working on his body and flexibility and continuing to work on the support muscles so he comes back 100 percent healthy and is ready to help the big league club at some point [in 2019]," Madison said.

Alzolay will take part in instructional league, which the Cubs have moved from September to January. Part of the reason for the switch is to give the players more time to rest after the 2018 season.

"The work we do [in January] will lead them right into the season," Madison said. "In instructs, we can start to make changes that will stick and help them during the [2019] season. It's a way to make sure we have our hands on them and make sure they've done what they're supposed to do with their throwing programs."

• At the end of October, Madison will accompany a group of 10 Cubs prospects from the U.S. to the team's academy in the Dominican Republic. It's part of what the Cubs call their "ambassador program," which they started last year.

"It was really impactful for some of our guys," Madison said. "It puts stuff in perspective. Guys complain about the fields and stuff they grew up with [in the U.S.], and you go down there and there's literally grass that's up to mid-ankle or mid-calf. Those guys [in the Dominican Republic] are just happy to play and run around. They don't have all the equipment, but just the passion for the game is just awesome and the energy is awesome."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs, Adbert Alzolay

Prospect Alzolay preparing for '19 during rehab

Right-hander strained right lat in late May, then received PRP shot
MLB.com

MESA, Ariz. -- It was 100 degrees at the Cubs' complex early Monday when Adbert Alzolay played catch. If the season had gone the way the right-hander wanted, he would've been preparing for the Cubs' series opener against the D-backs at Chase Field in downtown Phoenix.

Ranked No. 2 on MLB Pipeline's list of the Cubs' top 30 prospects, Alzolay has not been on a mound since May 29 when he threw four perfect innings for Triple-A Iowa.

View Full Game Coverage

MESA, Ariz. -- It was 100 degrees at the Cubs' complex early Monday when Adbert Alzolay played catch. If the season had gone the way the right-hander wanted, he would've been preparing for the Cubs' series opener against the D-backs at Chase Field in downtown Phoenix.

Ranked No. 2 on MLB Pipeline's list of the Cubs' top 30 prospects, Alzolay has not been on a mound since May 29 when he threw four perfect innings for Triple-A Iowa.

View Full Game Coverage

"That was the craziest thing ever," Alzolay said Monday. "I was warming up and everything was great. My first pitch [in the fourth] was a fastball, and I felt like my velo wasn't there -- it was 90, 91 [mph]. I was like, 'OK, something is wrong.' I didn't feel pain in my arm, no pain. I threw another fastball, and I think it was a ground ball to second base, first out. The next guy, I threw a changeup and I felt something, something weird. I was like, 'OK, this is not normal.'"

Alzolay didn't throw another breaking pitch, but he was able to retire the next two batters. When he got to the dugout, he told the athletic trainer that he couldn't throw any more.

"It's so weird because I was perfect during the whole game, but in that inning, just two or three pitches I felt it," Alzolay said. "I was so frustrated. I thought maybe I didn't work hard enough to take care of my arm."

Video: Top Prospects: Adbert Alzolay, RHP, Cubs

The 23-year-old couldn't raise his arm over his head. The Cubs decided in mid-June to shut Alzolay down because of a strained right lat. In his eight starts at Iowa, he struck out 27 over 39 2/3 innings.

Alzolay received a PRP (platelet-rich plasma) shot and was told not to use his right arm for a month and a half. For three months, all he could do was wear ice packs and ride an exercise bike for about 20 minutes a day.

"When I got the green light to start doing all my things, I was feeling better," Alzolay said. "Right now, I feel stronger than at the beginning. The plan is working; everything's perfect."

Two weeks ago, Alzolay began playing catch.

"The first day, it felt really, really, really bad because I didn't know where I was throwing the ball," Alzolay said. "Everybody was laughing -- they said, 'It's OK if you throw the ball over the [batting] cages.' The first five balls were all over the place, but then I was hitting my target. I almost cried."

Alzolay, who went 7-1 with a 2.98 ERA at Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach in 2017, has been on a fast track. He knew there was a chance he could've pitched for the Cubs this year. Yu Darvish was hurt. Tyler Chatwood struggled.

"I've never been in this position before," Alzolay said about being sidelined for an extended period. "In the regular season, you have some tightness, but it's tough for a couple weeks. This time, losing the whole season and being that close to making it to the big leagues and getting this setback, all the emotions came together -- the frustrations, all of that. I realized that everything happens for a reason. I have the support of all the guys from the Cubs, and my family is always behind me. My dad calls me every day and tells me, 'You're going to be OK, everything will be OK.'"

Alzolay's taking advantage of the time off and doing his homework, too. He has been watching games to study how pitchers approach hitters.

"I'm learning how they work in the big leagues," Alzolay said. "I'm not doing anything on the field, but I'm preparing my mind for the next step.

"Even my girlfriend, sometimes she gets mad at me," he said, laughing. "She says, 'You spend the whole day on baseball.' I said, 'When you have a dream, you have to do it.'"

Tweet from @adbert29: Enjoying watching others pitchers I think that is a really good way to see how the hitters react to the pitches and it���s even more interesting when you���re watching a guy that has almost the same pitches as you .. #gettingmentalyready pic.twitter.com/YTep2xQbEM

Alzolay has started thinking about 2019.

"I've been preparing for next year all this time," Alzolay said. "I know my season is done. There's nothing I can do to be back on the mound this year, but I can prepare myself and my mind and my body to be ready for next year and Spring Training."

Alzolay has let his hair grow while rehabbing. He has a reason for that, too.

Tweet from @adbert29: 2K19 I���m getting ready for you #everybodyin .. pic.twitter.com/FZ9PFKGmPQ

"When I'm 100 percent ready, like 100 percent healthy, I will shave it off," Alzolay said, smiling.

He can't wait.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs, Adbert Alzolay

Inbox: Do Cubs have too many starters?

Beat reporter Carrie Muskat answers questions from Chicago fans
MLB.com

Pitching is the hot topic in this week's Cubs Inbox.

I know you say you can never have too much starting pitching, but look at the Cubs in 2019: Jon Lester, Jose Quintana, Kyle Hendricks, Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood, Drew Smyly (coming off Tommy John surgery), Mike Montgomery and an option on Cole Hamels, plus any Triple-A Iowa Cubs or free agents. Did they overdo it? Outside of Montgomery, there are a lot of big contracts (for example, Chatwood) to be a middle reliever, assuming he loses out to Smyly or Hamels. 
-- Tim O., Cedar Falls, Iowa

Pitching is the hot topic in this week's Cubs Inbox.

I know you say you can never have too much starting pitching, but look at the Cubs in 2019: Jon Lester, Jose Quintana, Kyle Hendricks, Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood, Drew Smyly (coming off Tommy John surgery), Mike Montgomery and an option on Cole Hamels, plus any Triple-A Iowa Cubs or free agents. Did they overdo it? Outside of Montgomery, there are a lot of big contracts (for example, Chatwood) to be a middle reliever, assuming he loses out to Smyly or Hamels. 
-- Tim O., Cedar Falls, Iowa

:: Submit a question to the Cubs Inbox ::

The Cubs acquired more pitching because you can never have enough -- and that has become evident in the past few days. They were counting on Darvish in September. On Tuesday, he was declared out for the season with a stress reaction in his elbow and a triceps strain. Montgomery has a 3.08 ERA as a starter, but he is now on the disabled list because of inflammation in his left shoulder. Smyly has yet to make a Minor League rehab start. Chatwood's contract, by the way, has nothing to do with whether he starts or relieves. He had a good relief outing against the Nationals, but unfortunately, he struggled against the Pirates on Saturday.

Have the Cubs considered reaching out to John Lackey as a potential starter? I bet he's tan, rested and ready and will give the team that "edge" they've been missing since they won it all in 2016.
-- Rich B., Suwanee, Ga.

Lackey is tan and rested, but being ready to pitch is something else. I believe he's ridden off into the sunset.

Video: CHC@KC: Montgomery K's Bonifacio to end the 6th

I've been following the Cubs all my life, and I remember the starting pitching being heavy on right-handers. Now, with Lester, Hamels, Montgomery and Quintana, they have four lefties. Has there been a time when the Cubs had four or more lefties in the rotation?
-- Mike P., Buckeye, Ariz.

This is the first time the Cubs have started four lefties since Sept. 21-23, 1966, when Ken Holtzman, Dave Dowling, Curt Simmons and Dick Ellsworth did so.

Has there been any thought about promoting Dakota Mekkes from Iowa? He has had a meteoric rise through the Minors. Seems to me we might have the answer to our bullpen needs in-house.
-- Steve P., Effingham, Ill.

Mekkes is not on the 40-man roster, and I haven't heard his name mentioned yet. He is on the fast track. For those who don't know, the right-hander compiled a 0.81 ERA in 16 games at Double-A Tennessee, striking out 30 over 22 1/3 innings. So far with Iowa, Mekkes has a 1.65 ERA in 21 games, with 32 strikeouts over 27 1/3 innings. He was a 10th-round Draft pick in 2016 out of Michigan State.

I know 15 or so of the Cubs' top prospects in the Minors are pitchers. Are any of them ready to come up and help this year? Or in the next two years?
-- Michael H., Las Vegas, Nev.

Of the Cubs' top 12 prospects on MLB Pipeline's list, only two were at Iowa -- Duane Underwood Jr. and Adbert Alzolay. Alzolay is out for the season with an injury. Be patient with the kids. The Cubs like the young pitching talent, and they are looking ahead to 2019 and '20.

Video: COL@CHC: Rizzo leads off with an opposite-field smash

It's been well documented that Anthony Rizzo is putting up big numbers at leadoff. What's the Cubs' record with each of the leadoff guys we've had this year?
-- Brock B., Mesa, Ariz.

Here are the players, number of games and the team's record:

Albert Almora Jr.: 40 games (25-15)
Rizzo: 28 games (16-12)
Ben Zobrist: 27 games (16-11)
Ian Happ: 13 games (7-6)
Kris Bryant: 7 games (4-3)
Javier Baez: 4 games (3-1)
Tommy La Stella: 3 games (0-3)
Willson Contreras: 1 game (0-1)

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs

Hoerner schooled by fellow Cubs first-rounders

'18 top pick visits club after elbow injury ends his season
MLB.com

CHICAGO -- Cubs first-round Draft pick Nico Hoerner felt something in his left elbow after diving for a ball while playing for Class A South Bend, but the shortstop stayed in the game and later hit a home run. That was his last Minor League game of the season, however, as Hoerner has been shut down because of an injury to ligaments in his elbow.

The 24th player selected in the 2018 Draft, Hoerner, 21, came to Chicago to be examined by the Cubs' medical staff.

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CHICAGO -- Cubs first-round Draft pick Nico Hoerner felt something in his left elbow after diving for a ball while playing for Class A South Bend, but the shortstop stayed in the game and later hit a home run. That was his last Minor League game of the season, however, as Hoerner has been shut down because of an injury to ligaments in his elbow.

The 24th player selected in the 2018 Draft, Hoerner, 21, came to Chicago to be examined by the Cubs' medical staff.

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"The Draft process takes a while and you're in Arizona and you want to play," he said. "I finally got playing in South Bend and it's a great group there and I played four games and unfortunately I got hurt in the fourth one."

The former Stanford star moved up quickly in the Cubs organization, starting with the Arizona Rookie League team before playing seven games with short-season Eugene, where he hit .318. He was 6-for-15 at South Bend.

Video: Draft 2018: Cubs draft SS Nico Hoerner No. 24

Hoerner flew to Chicago from the Quad Cities to be examined and hadn't included a stop at Wrigley Field in his plans but was able to watch batting practice on Thursday. Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo called Hoerner into the group before they stretched and separated the first-round picks from the rest of the roster. That first-round group included Javier Baez (2011), Addison Russell ('12), Albert Almora Jr. ('12), Kris Bryant ('13), Kyle Schwarber ('14) and Ian Happ ('15), and they talked about how quickly they moved up and gave him some advice.

"I never will be a home run hitter," Hoerner said. "Home runs are something that will happen as I learn to use my body and learn the pitchers. That's what all the guys were telling me. All of them didn't hit for power in the Minor Leagues and now they're clearing the bleachers."

That was the message Hoerner got from hitting coach Chili Davis. The Bay Area native grew up an A's fan and remembers Davis from his time as Oakland's hitting coach.

"He talked about just learning to hit and the power coming," Hoerner said. "We're in an age of baseball that talks so much about swing mechanics and he talked about competing with the pitcher. That's refreshing to hear."

Hoerner won't be able to do any baseball activities for four to six weeks. The Cubs have yet to decide whether he could play in the Arizona Fall League.

"It's not ideal, but it could be worse," he said.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs, Nico Hoerner

Here's why int'l prospect haul has Cubs pumped

MLB.com

CHICAGO -- One was considered the best pitcher available among international prospects. Another dominated a Cuban team in a tournament in Colombia. And the three position players selected all are considered good baseball players who also are stellar athletes.

The Cubs signed right-hander Richard Gallardo, outfielder Jose Lopez, lefty Joel Machado, shortstop Rafael Morel and outfielder Yohendrick Pinango on July 2, international signing day. All are teenagers, though, so don't start penciling them into the Cubs' lineup yet.

CHICAGO -- One was considered the best pitcher available among international prospects. Another dominated a Cuban team in a tournament in Colombia. And the three position players selected all are considered good baseball players who also are stellar athletes.

The Cubs signed right-hander Richard Gallardo, outfielder Jose Lopez, lefty Joel Machado, shortstop Rafael Morel and outfielder Yohendrick Pinango on July 2, international signing day. All are teenagers, though, so don't start penciling them into the Cubs' lineup yet.

Louis Eljaua, the Cubs' international scouting director, knows about potential. In 1999, he was a scout with the Marlins and called his boss, Al Avila, now the Tigers' general manager, raving about a 15-year-old who Eljaua saw in Venezuela. At the time, the Marlins had never spent more than $30,000 on an international teen. In July 1999, they signed Miguel Cabrera to a $1.8 million contract.

The Cubs have done well in the past in the international market -- Willson Contreras, Gleyber Torres, Eloy Jimenez are examples -- and hope they have struck gold with these five prospects.

Richard Gallardo, right-handed pitcher, Venezuela
"This kid, in our opinion, was probably the best pitcher we saw on the market this year," Eljaua said of Gallardo, 16, ranked fifth among all international prospects by MLB Pipeline. "He's very polished for his age. He has a three-pitch mix that he commands very well -- fastball, curveball, change. The fastball is up to 94 [mph] and he sits 90, 92. That's really good for a 16-year old. We feel there's more in the tank. He could end up settling in and have a mid-90s fastball and very good movement."

What the Cubs liked was that hitters don't seem to pick up Gallardo's pitches very well.

"There's something in his delivery and hitters don't get good swings on any of his pitches, which is obviously a good attribute to have," Eljaua said. "He's one of those guys who has three pitches, but we've seen from him 70 percent fastballs in his outings. He doesn't need to use the other stuff at this point, and he picks and chooses when he throws the other stuff. He's very headsy, very advanced, knows how to set up hitters -- at least hitters his age."

Hopefully, Gallardo will learn how to balance his repertoire as he progresses through the Minor Leagues.

"For a kid his age, he's very polished, lots of know-how and we see the arrow pointing up," Eljaua said. "If it all develops how we hope it will, we hope we have a top-of-the-rotation type of guy."

Video: Top International Prospects: Jose Lopez, OF

Jose Lopez, outfielder, Dominican Republic
Ranked 17th by MLB Pipeline, Lopez received the largest signing bonus -- $1.5 million -- of the five players mentioned here.

"He's a kid we feel has a good chance to stay in center field -- a very good chance to hit, and not just for average but for some power -- and play above-average defense," Eljaua said. "He has some speed where we feel he has some basestealing attributes as well. He's almost like a kid who has all the tools and full package as far as what we look for and can stay up the middle and play center field."

Lopez, 16, is from the Santiago area and played with an RBI program there.

Joel Machado, left-handed pitcher, Venezuela
Eljaua saw Machado face a Cuban team during a 15-and-under championship game in a tournament in Colombia, and he said the left-hander dominated, striking out nine or 10 over seven innings. He has a good changeup and an above-average curveball. Machado was ranked 28th among international prospects by MLB Pipeline.

"With the fastball, he's somebody who can settle at 92, 93 [mph] and potentially top out in the mid-90s," Eljaua said of Machado, who also is still growing, gaining more than 15 pounds in the past six months.

Rafael Morel, shortstop, Dominican Republic
Morel is the younger brother of Christopher Morel, an infielder in the Cubs' organization. Their father was a professional basketball player in the Dominican Republic.

"[Rafael] is really athletic and is a kid who can end up in center field or shortstop or second," Eljaua said. "Like Lopez, he has speed and power."

Yohendrick Pinango, outfielder, Venezuela
A left-handed thrower and hitter, Pinango is quick -- although Eljaua said you might not think so if you judge by appearances.

"If he was in the ninth or 10th grade in the States, he'd probably be playing high school football as well," Eljaua said. "He's a very good athlete and can run real well. He's got a real nice swing from the left side and can drive the ball to all fields."

The Cubs are encouraged by the potential for Lopez, Morel and Pinango.

"All three of these guys are not just athletes who play baseball, or raw kids who we're hoping can develop baseball skills to go with their athleticism," Eljaua said. "These kids are baseball players who happen to be very good athletes as well. They've been around the game their whole lives."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs

Cubs prospect De La Cruz suspended 80 games

MLB.com

CHICAGO -- The Office of the Commissioner of Baseball announced that Cubs prospect Oscar De La Cruz has received an 80-game suspension without pay after testing positive for Furosemide, a diuretic and masking agent, in violation of Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.

The suspension of De La Cruz, a 40-man roster player who is currently on option to Double-A Tennessee of the Southern League, is effective immediately. De La Cruz ranks third on MLB Pipeline's list of Top 30 Cubs prospects.

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CHICAGO -- The Office of the Commissioner of Baseball announced that Cubs prospect Oscar De La Cruz has received an 80-game suspension without pay after testing positive for Furosemide, a diuretic and masking agent, in violation of Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.

The suspension of De La Cruz, a 40-man roster player who is currently on option to Double-A Tennessee of the Southern League, is effective immediately. De La Cruz ranks third on MLB Pipeline's list of Top 30 Cubs prospects.

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"We are disappointed to learn today that Oscar De La Cruz has violated Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program," the Cubs wrote in a statement. "The Cubs fully support the Program and its efforts to remove performance enhancing drugs from the game. We also expect Oscar to learn from this experience and will support him on his journey back. Per Program protocol, the Cubs will not comment further on this matter."

De La Cruz, 23, was 6-7 with a 5.24 ERA in 16 starts at Tennessee this season.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs, Oscar De La Cruz

Cubs sign top Draft pick Hoerner

MLB.com

CHICAGO -- The Cubs have signed first-round pick Nico Hoerner, inking the Stanford shortstop for $2.724 million, which was his full slot value for the No. 24 pick. Hoerner was to report to the Cubs' facility in Mesa, Ariz., and then join Class A Short-Season Eugene.

"Here's a guy we're excited to get," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Wednesday. "I think he's going to have the ability to play shortstop and also the ability to play all over the diamond. He hits the ball hard. He puts the ball in play. We love the makeup. ... We feel he's a guy who will grow into some power."

CHICAGO -- The Cubs have signed first-round pick Nico Hoerner, inking the Stanford shortstop for $2.724 million, which was his full slot value for the No. 24 pick. Hoerner was to report to the Cubs' facility in Mesa, Ariz., and then join Class A Short-Season Eugene.

"Here's a guy we're excited to get," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Wednesday. "I think he's going to have the ability to play shortstop and also the ability to play all over the diamond. He hits the ball hard. He puts the ball in play. We love the makeup. ... We feel he's a guy who will grow into some power."

Hoerner was busy with final exams last week at Stanford, which delayed the signing.

Video: Draft 2018: Cubs draft SS Nico Hoerner No. 24

Hoerner batted .345 in 57 games with Stanford this past season, hitting 17 doubles, six triples and two home runs, while driving in 40 runs. A right-handed hitter, the junior from Oakland, Calif., was named to the All-Tournament team in the NCAA regional.

The Cubs have had success with position players taken in the first round as of late. That list includes Javier Baez (2011), Albert Almora Jr. ('12), Kris Bryant ('13), Kyle Schwarber ('14) and Ian Happ ('15), who are all on the current Cubs roster.

According to MLB.com's Jim Callis, the Cubs also have signed eighth-round pick Zach Mort, a right-handed pitcher from George Mason, and ninth-round selection Derek Casey, a right-handed pitcher from Virginia. Mort signed for $140,000, while Casey signed for $130,000.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs

Cubs shut down top prospect Alzolay

MLB.com

ST. LOUIS -- Cubs top prospect Adbert Alzolay was considered a candidate for a late-season callup. Instead the 23-year-old right-hander, who last pitched for Triple-A Iowa on May 29, will not pitch the rest of the season -- and may not do so until possibly the fall -- to heal a strained right lat, general manager Jed Hoyer said on Friday.

"After seeing doctors, there's no operation necessary, but the inactivity period is going to be long enough that by the time he ramps back up again, he probably won't be helpful and able to pitch for us this year," Hoyer said. "It's a bad break for him and for the club, but the good news is it wasn't serious enough to need surgery."

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ST. LOUIS -- Cubs top prospect Adbert Alzolay was considered a candidate for a late-season callup. Instead the 23-year-old right-hander, who last pitched for Triple-A Iowa on May 29, will not pitch the rest of the season -- and may not do so until possibly the fall -- to heal a strained right lat, general manager Jed Hoyer said on Friday.

"After seeing doctors, there's no operation necessary, but the inactivity period is going to be long enough that by the time he ramps back up again, he probably won't be helpful and able to pitch for us this year," Hoyer said. "It's a bad break for him and for the club, but the good news is it wasn't serious enough to need surgery."

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Alzolay threw four shutout innings in his last start, on May 29, and struck out three. In eight starts at Iowa, he struck out 27 and walked 13 over 39 2/3 innings, compiling a 4.76 ERA.

Alzolay is currently resting in Arizona; the team will re-evaluate him later in the year and decide whether he will pitch in the Instructional League or Arizona Fall League, or possibly winter ball.

The Cubs had penciled in Alzolay to help late this season, but now they're looking elsewhere.

"With him, we had our eyes on two different things -- his development and obviously whether he'd be able to help us," Hoyer said. "He was certainly trending in that direction. We'll be on the lookout for depth in the rotation, depth in the bullpen no matter what. This underscores that a little bit.

"It's a setback for 2018, but we don't see it as a setback for his career. We love the makeup, love the stuff. We think he'll help us a lot in the future. Obviously, there's a setback and he'll need some development over the course of the winter and in the Minor Leagues because he will have missed a lot of time."

• Right-hander Yu Darvish, on the disabled list with inflammation in his right triceps, threw 35 pitches in his second bullpen session on Friday at Busch Stadium.

"You don't want to put too much importance into every single bullpen session, but he continues to feel good and we continue to move in the right direction," Hoyer said.

There is no timetable for Darvish's return, but he may be able to pitch before the All-Star break.

"I think there's a path to that," Hoyer said. "I think the path would have to be really smooth and everything would have to go right, but I do think there's a path to get back before the break."

Carl Edwards Jr., sidelined with inflammation in his right shoulder, played catch on Friday for the third time since going on the DL and has yet to throw off a mound.

"The important thing from both these guys is that we get them healthy and get them right," Hoyer said. "We're hoping to play seven months, and we're hoping for no setbacks. In both cases we're trying to be as cautious as possible."

• Cubs top Draft pick Nico Hoerner was finishing his final exams at Stanford this week, so he has yet to finalize his contract with the team. He still has to take a physical as well.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs, Adbert Alzolay, Yu Darvish, Carl Edwards Jr.

Cubs glad to fill organizational gaps in '18 Draft

MLB.com

CHICAGO -- Jason McLeod, director of scouting and player development for the Cubs, said Thursday they addressed some needs during the three-day MLB Draft.

Overall, the Cubs selected 19 pitchers, three catchers, 11 outfielders and nine infielders, including shortstop Nico Hoerner of Stanford, who was their first-round pick (24th overall).

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CHICAGO -- Jason McLeod, director of scouting and player development for the Cubs, said Thursday they addressed some needs during the three-day MLB Draft.

Overall, the Cubs selected 19 pitchers, three catchers, 11 outfielders and nine infielders, including shortstop Nico Hoerner of Stanford, who was their first-round pick (24th overall).

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Draft Tracker: Every Cubs pick

"You're always happy the day after, but having those extra picks this year, I thought we were able to address what we feel are some organizational shortcomings with some of the graduations to the Major Leagues and some of the players we've traded away the last couple of years," McLeod said. "I know we're really excited about the players we acquired this year."

:: 2018 Draft coverage ::

Of the 42 players selected, the Cubs picked 29 college players and 13 high school players. McLeod said it was just a coincidence that they picked two players from the same high school back to back in outfielder Cole Roederer (77th overall) of Hart High School (Ariz.) and right-handed pitcher Paul Richan (78th overall) of the University of San Diego, who attended Hart. Cubs pitcher Mike Montgomery and Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer both attended Hart.

"That's a great program at Hart and a lot of talent has come out of there," McLeod said.

Six of the Cubs' college draft picks will be taking part in NCAA Super Regionals beginning this weekend, including third-round pick Jimmy Herron (Duke), fourth-round pick Ethan Roberts (Tennessee Tech), 16th-round pick Josh Sawyer (Texas), 17th-round pick Jake Reindl (Arkansas), 23rd-round pick Hunter Taylor (South Carolina) and 29th-round pick Levi Jordan (Washington).

Worth noting
Addison Russell, who has been sidelined since Sunday with a sprained left middle finger, took batting practice and ground balls on Thursday and has one more test on Friday before he's gets the go-ahead to return to the lineup, manager Joe Maddon said.

Russell will take batting practice on Friday before the Cubs play the Pirates, and if all goes well, could be used late in the game. He most likely won't start until Saturday.

• Maddon complimented Kris Bryant's heads-up baserunning in the fourth inning on Wednesday night. Bryant walked to lead off and the Phillies then shifted the infield to the right side during Anthony Rizzo's at-bat. Rizzo walked, and Bryant moved up but saw no one covering third base, so he took off and swiped the bag.

Bryant then scored on Willson Contreras' single, which gave the Cubs a 2-0 lead.

"The steal itself I think was instinctive," Maddon said. "As a third baseman himself, he's aware that could happen. I don't know how much he processed in advance, but I definitely saw the glance [by Bryant] once it occurred and he caught them off guard. That's why when you do shift, you have to talk about so many different things."

Video: PHI@CHC: Contreras drives in Bryant with a single

• When Maddon handed Cory Mazzoni the ball to pitch in the ninth with two on and one out, he asked the pitcher if he had a Major League win yet.

"When he gave me the ball, he said, 'Do you have a win yet?'" Mazzoni said Thursday. "[Maddon] said, 'Tonight's the night.'"

No pressure, right?

"It didn't enter in because my job was to leave those two guys on base," Mazzoni said. "I'm sitting there with the bases loaded [in the Cubs' ninth] and thinking, 'Wow, this could actually happen.' [Jason] Heyward hits that grand slam, and you can't make that stuff up."

Mazzoni did escape the ninth, retiring both batters he faced, and then watched as Jason Heyward hit a walk-off grand slam for a 7-5 Cubs victory over the Phillies.

"That was probably the coolest game I've ever been a part of," Mazzoni said.

Video: Must C Clutch: Heyward belts a walk-off grand slam

• The Cubs named Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach catcher Jhonny Pereda and Class A South Bend right-handed pitcher Cory Abbott the Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Month for May, respectively.

Pereda, 22, batted .287 with six doubles, three homers and 16 RBIs in 23 May contests. Abbott, 22, made six May starts with South Bend, going 3-1 with a 2.67 ERA. He struck out an organizational-best 41 batters, while walking 11 and limited opponents to a .227 average.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.

Chicago Cubs

Cubs draft lifelong fan, cancer survivor Gibis

MLB.com

CHICAGO -- Pierson Gibis is a lifelong Cubs fan. And nearly two years after being diagnosed with cancer, the 18-year-old was selected by his favorite team in the 39th round of the MLB Draft.

"Thank you to anyone who made something like this happen," Gibis said of getting drafted. "Looking back on it being a 5-year-old kid, saying I want to play for the Cubs one day or get drafted by the Cubs or anything -- it's just a surreal experience."

CHICAGO -- Pierson Gibis is a lifelong Cubs fan. And nearly two years after being diagnosed with cancer, the 18-year-old was selected by his favorite team in the 39th round of the MLB Draft.

"Thank you to anyone who made something like this happen," Gibis said of getting drafted. "Looking back on it being a 5-year-old kid, saying I want to play for the Cubs one day or get drafted by the Cubs or anything -- it's just a surreal experience."

Gibis is now cancer-free. He finished chemotherapy in October and radiation treatment in November, and he began working out again in December. He felt strong enough this spring to play with the Racine Hitters Baseball Academy.

Tweet from @PiersonGibis: Good luck to @JKelenic_1019 @AlexBinelas13 and @jacobcampbell77 in the @MLB draft these next few days. Can���t wait to see what you guys will accomplish!! pic.twitter.com/WjgEZG7NLc

Gibis graduated from Wauconda High School (Ill.) last year and was a solid catcher there. He had hopes of getting a college baseball scholarship before he was rushed to the emergency room in August 2016. He was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a form of childhood cancer normally found in kids younger than Gibis.

He couldn't go to school for 65 weeks and had to take online classes to graduate. College and his dream of playing baseball there were put on hold.

Gibis even had to sit out a Cubs game he had a ticket for during September 2016, weeks before his favorite team won its first World Series title since 1908, according to the Daily Herald.

Gibis is attending Madison College this fall and will play baseball there.

Tweet from @mcpackbaseball: Great pick @Cubs!! But we would like @PiersonGibis to be a WolfPack first!!! https://t.co/WRA0UVz9tL

In 2017, Gibis was the first recipient of the Charlie Donovan Passion for the Game Award, which is presented by the Chicago Scouts Association. The late Cubs baseball scout Stan Zielinski helped create the award.

"I've just been filled with happiness but also confusion. It feels like a dream," Gibis said. "I'm overwhelmed and so stoked about everything. I can't even put it into words."

Matthew Martell is a reporter for MLB.com based in Chicago.

Chicago Cubs