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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.

View Full Game Coverage

"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).

View Full Game Coverage

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

Cubs focus on talented college players in Draft

Special to MLB.com

CHICAGO -- The Cubs have had success in recent years drafting college players who could ascend through the system quickly and reach the Major League roster. That was a focus again for the Cubs in the 2018 Draft.

Draft Tracker: Follow every Cubs Draft pick

CHICAGO -- The Cubs have had success in recent years drafting college players who could ascend through the system quickly and reach the Major League roster. That was a focus again for the Cubs in the 2018 Draft.

Draft Tracker: Follow every Cubs Draft pick

President of baseball operations Theo Epstein's goal in his first few Drafts with the Cubs was to stock the farm system to hurry the rebuilding process along. Now, with most of the key players from his first few Drafts on the big league roster, the Cubs are attempting to replace them in the Minors and continue adding depth throughout the organization.

:: 2018 Draft coverage ::

They drafted Stanford shortstop Nico Hoerner 24th overall with their first pick. The Cubs liked Hoerner because of his high-contact ability at the plate. He batted .345 in 57 games this season, with 25 extra-base hits and 40 RBIs.

"He's a multi-tool athlete with incredible makeup," Cubs scouting and player development director Jason McLeod said. "He's a leader on the field, he's a leader in the dugout. He's incredibly passionate and all about winning. He's exactly what we're looking to bring into the organization."

Duke center fielder Jimmy Herron, a third-rounder, hit .338/.443/.481 in 42 games last summer in the Cape Cod Baseball League. MLB Pipeline reported Herron will need Tommy John surgery.

Second baseman Andy Weber, a fifth-round pick out of the University of Virginia, brings a model of consistency that most big league teams look for in prospects. This season, the left-handed hitter reached base in 32 consecutive games. His .344 average ranked second in the ACC.

The Cubs also took two college right-handed pitchers in the first five rounds, Paul Richan (78th overall) from the University of San Diego and Ethan Roberts (128th overall) from Tennessee Tech.

Richan's fastball consistently reaches 94 mph, and he throws two breaking balls that generate a lot of swings and misses. Roberts, primarily used as a multi-inning closer, uses a five-pitch mix to command the zone and generate strikeouts.

Video: Draft 2018: Cubs draft CF Jimmy Herron No. 98

In all, the Cubs took 16 college players with their first 20 picks, and nine of those 16 college players were on teams that made it to the College World Series.

Of the four high school kids selected among the Cubs' first 20 picks, two were taken on the first night: outfielders Brennen Davis (Round 2, pick No. 62) and Cole Roederer (Round 2C, pick No. 77).

Video: Draft 2018: Cubs draft RHP Paul Richan No. 78

Right-handed pitcher Kohl Franklin, the third high school player the Cubs selected, comes from a baseball family. His uncle, Ryan Franklin, played 12 years in the Majors and was an All-Star in 2009 with the Cardinals. His father, Jay Franklin, also a pitcher, played three MLB games with the Padres before going on to be a MLBPA-certified agent. As an agent, Jay represented Ryan and 2011 first-round selection Archie Bradley, a reliever for the Diamondbacks.

Franklin's coach at Broken Arrow (Okla.) HS, Shannon Dobson -- who also coached Bradley at Broken Arrow -- said he has no doubt Franklin is ready for the professional lifestyle, considering he's been around it his whole life.

"I think he could play now," Dobson said. "I don't know exactly what his plans are, but I feel he could sign now."

That's the big question for the high schoolers taken early: Will those players -- many of whom have significant scholarship offers to play college ball -- actually sign?

Video: Draft 2018: Cubs draft RHP Kohl Franklin No. 188

As of now, Franklin is still weighing his options: signing with the Cubs on for something in the neighborhood of $250,000 or sticking with a baseball scholarship to play at Big 12 powerhouse Oklahoma.

Davis, a second-round outfielder from Arizona, has an approximate pick value of $1.1 million. Roederer, meanwhile, has a pick value at about $775,100.

Aside from Franklin, the Cubs also selected Cameron Sanders, a right-handed pitcher from LSU, whose father, Scott Sanders, played seven seasons in MLB. The elder Sanders spent his final year with the Cubs in 1999.

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

Chicago Cubs

OF Herron leads Cubs' college-heavy Day 2

Seven of club's eight Draft selections come from collegiate level
MLB.com

CHICAGO -- The Cubs went with the more established players on Day 2 of the MLB Draft on Tuesday, with seven of their eight selections in Rounds 3-10 coming from the collegiate level.

Draft Tracker: Follow every Cubs Draft pick

CHICAGO -- The Cubs went with the more established players on Day 2 of the MLB Draft on Tuesday, with seven of their eight selections in Rounds 3-10 coming from the collegiate level.

Draft Tracker: Follow every Cubs Draft pick

Four of the draftees are right-handed pitchers. The Cubs also picked two center fielders, a second baseman and a left-handed-hitting third baseman.

The Draft concludes on Wednesday, with exclusive coverage of Rounds 11-40 beginning on MLB.com at 11 a.m. CT.

Here are the Cubs' Draft picks from Rounds 3-10.

:: 2018 Draft coverage ::

Round 3: CF Jimmy Herron, Duke
In April, Herron became the first player in Duke history to hit 50 doubles and steal 50 bases in his college career.

Herron, 21, was drafted by the Yankees in the 31st round of last year's Draft, but he elected to play another summer league season and a third year with the Blue Devils. After batting .338/.443/.481 with 10 doubles and four home runs in the Cape Cod League last summer, the speedy center fielder boosted his Draft stock. A .298/.416/.456 junior season at Duke added more consistency to his already solid offensive resume.

Herron's development will be put on hold, though. According to MLB Pipeline, Herron will need Tommy John surgery. The valued bonus of his third-round, 98th overall slot is $570,600.

Round 4: RHR Ethan Roberts, Tennessee Tech U
Roberts, 20, showed a ton of upside in his junior season at Tennessee Tech, striking out 96 and walking just 20 through 71 innings.

Roberts, who was almost exclusively used as a reliever with the Golden Eagles, made his first start of the 2018 season on Monday at No. 4 Mississippi, facing elimination from the College World Series.

The right-hander was up to the challenge. Roberts tossed seven scoreless innings before allowing four runs in the eighth. However, the game was all but decided at the point after his team jumped ahead 10-0 after six innings.

Tennessee Tech also won the third and final game of the series to advance to the NCAA super regional round, the first in program history.

Roberts was at a restaurant in Jackson, Tenn., where the team stopped for lunch on the way back from Oxford, Miss., on Tuesday when he got the good news. When he last talked to his adviser, Roberts said, he was told he'd probably go later Tuesday or early on Wednesday, but that he should keep his phone on just in case.

"We get back on the bus," Roberts said, "and Jordan's name pops up on my phone, that's my adviser. I was like, 'What's going on?' He goes, 'Dude, you're going to be a Cub if you say yes to this.'

"I was like, 'Holy crap, this is actually happening.' It was just an overwhelming amount of emotions I felt today."

Remarkably, Tennessee Tech was the only school to offer Roberts a baseball scholarship when he was looking for colleges. Now, he's a fourth-round pick.

"I love those guys, guys that get overlooked by people and come in and just dominate," Tennessee Tech coach Matt Bragga said. "He's going to be a good one, man.

"It will not surprise me in the least if he's up in the big leagues in 2-3 years. It will not shock me at all."

Round 5: 2B Andy Weber, Virginia
Weber has benefited from a steady progression in his three years at Virginia. This season, he led the Cavaliers in every major offensive category, and his .344 average ranked second in the ACC.

A left-handed-hitting second baseman, Weber said he was watching the Draft live on MLB.com when his name was called. Shortly after, he received a call from the Cubs.

"It's a great feeling to get drafted by the Cubs' organization," Weber said, adding that he is going to sign with the team, though he doesn't know his first Minor League assignment yet.

Consistency was the word Virginia coach Brian O'Connor used to describe Weber, who reached base in 51 of his 54 games played this season, including a stretch of 32 straight games.

"His progression here has been really impressive," O'Connor said. "He started driving the ball better this year. He's an intelligent, well-rounded player."

Weber attributed his improvements at the plate to an adjustment in his stance.

"I used to have a more spread-out stance. It wasn't comfortable," Weber said. "Now, I am more in rhythm and have better control of the bat."

Round 6: RHP Kohl Franklin, Broken Arrow Sr HS (Okla.)
Franklin, 18, is committed to the University of Oklahoma, and he was both a standout shortstop and pitcher in high school. Franklin's fastball currently ranges between 88-91 mph, according to Perfect Game, but at 6-foot-4 and 190 pounds, his fastball velocity should increase as he matures.

"Kohl has nowhere near reached his ability yet compared to where he's going to be in the future," Shannon Dobson, his high school coach, said. "That's a good thing for a guy coming out of high school."

Dobson also coached D-backs reliever Archie Bradley, a first-round selection in 2011, at Broken Arrow High School. Bradley, Dobson said, was further along in his development than Franklin is right now.

Franklin is the nephew of former MLB reliever Ryan Franklin, who played 12 seasons and was an All-Star with the Cardinals in 2009. His father, Jay Franklin, is a MLBPA certified player agent who represents Bradley.

"Kohl has been around a lot of big league clubs and players," Dobson said. "He knows the lifestyle."

Video: Draft 2018: Cubs draft RHP Kohl Franklin No. 188

Round 7: CF D.J. Artis, Liberty University
Artis won Big South Conference Freshman of the Year in 2016 and Player of the Year in 2017. His numbers declined in his junior season this year, but they are still impressive.

A line-drive contact hitter, Artis' collegiate career has been far from that of the modern big leaguer. He walks more than he strikes out, 166 walks to 103 strikeouts in three seasons, and his power consists more of doubles than home runs.

Despite his 218th overall selection, Artis, 21, was the 136-ranked prospect in this year's Draft class, according to MLB Pipeline.

Video: Draft Report: DJ Artis, College center fielder

Round 8: RHS Zach Mort, George Mason U
Mort, 21, enjoyed a breakout junior season at George Mason, going 6-3 with a 2.48 ERA in 15 starts.

A 6-foot-1, 205-pound right-hander, Mort was a bulldog for the Patriots this year, tossing 105 1/3 innings, which led the Atlantic 10 conference. He was one of two pitchers in the conference to record more than 100 strikeouts.

Perhaps the most impressive stat for Mort this season was he allowed just 13 walks compared to his 108 strikeouts.

Round 9: RHP Derek Casey, Virginia
Casey was almost a Cub four years ago, when he passed on a $900,000 offer from Chicago and instead chose to attend Virginia to further develop as a pitcher with the Cavaliers.

Had Casey signed with the Cubs in 2014, they would have selected him in the third or fourth round, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Casey went 7-4 with a 3.48 ERA this year. He recorded 106 strikeouts over 95 2/3 innings.

Casey missed the entire 2016 season at Virginia after undergoing Tommy John surgery. But even after the setback of a major injury, Casey is comfortable he made the right call when deciding to go to college.

"Yeah, it was a lot of money at the time," Casey told the Times-Dispatch, "but at the same time, you have to make the mature decision of, 'How long will that money last you, and how long will a college degree last you?'

"Looking back on it, I think I made the right decision, no doubt about it. I don't regret it at all."

Round 10: 3B Luke Reynolds, U Southern Mississippi
Reynolds has a ton of power. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound third baseman batted .389/.551/.699, with 15 homers and 61 RBIs in 62 games this season.

Reynolds transferred from Mississippi State a month into the 2016 season after he didn't play a single game. That was after he got 92 at-bats with the Bulldogs as a sophomore.

Because of NCAA transfer rules, Reynolds had to sit out the entire 2017 season at Southern Mississippi, making it two full years without playing a college game.

Still, there was little doubt Reynolds could still rake. The left-handed hitter posted a .306 average with 10 doubles, four home runs and 25 RBIs in 108 at-bats in the New England College Baseball League last summer.

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

Chicago Cubs

Cubs draft Stanford's Hoerner in first round

'He's a multi-tool athlete with incredible makeup,' McLeod says
MLB.com

CHICAGO -- Stanford shortstop Nico Hoerner fit all the criteria the Cubs were looking for and may be another position player on the fast track to the big leagues.

Draft Tracker: Follow every Cubs Draft pick

CHICAGO -- Stanford shortstop Nico Hoerner fit all the criteria the Cubs were looking for and may be another position player on the fast track to the big leagues.

Draft Tracker: Follow every Cubs Draft pick

The Cubs selected Hoerner 24th overall in the MLB Draft, the first of four picks by the team on Monday. In the second round, they picked outfielder Brennen Davis of Basha High School (Chandler, Ariz); and with back-to-back compensation picks at No. 77 and 78, the Cubs chose outfielder Cole Roederer out of Hart High School (Calif.) and University of San Diego pitcher Paul Richan.

Hoerner was high on the Cubs' wish list going into the Draft.

:: 2018 Draft coverage ::

"First and foremost was his ability on the baseball field," Cubs scouting and player development director Jason McLeod said of Hoerner, 21. "This is a talented player who can really swing the bat, it's a high-contact bat. We think there's more power in there in terms of extra-base hits, in terms of lifting the ball. We really love what he can do at the plate.

"He's a multi-tool athlete with incredible makeup," McLeod said. "He's a leader on the field, he's a leader in the dugout, he's incredibly passionate and all about winning. He's exactly what we're looking to bring into the organization."

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.

In his freshman season, Hoerner started 53 of 54 games at second base, batting .254. He moved to shortstop his sophomore year and started all 58 of Stanford's games there, batting .307, and was named to the All Pac-12 defensive team. He played in the Cape Cod Baseball League in the summer and hit .301, and said that experience was key to his development.

The Cubs have had success with position players taken in the first round. 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.

"It was pretty amazing seeing one of the graphics they showed on the [MLB Network] Draft show with the previous position players they'd drafted," Hoerner said. "Seeing those names -- obviously, they're guys you know really well -- is really special. The main experience I've had with Cubs fans is I played in the Northwoods League after my freshman year in college. There's Cubs fans everywhere, man. They love the Cubs and they're knowledgeable about the game and to be a part of an organization with that kind of fan base is really special."

Tweet from @Cubs: #Cubs selected shortstop @nico_hoerner in first round of the 2018 #MLBDraft: https://t.co/jRtuO0oABS pic.twitter.com/Npzg0ngqig

Hoerner may have met a few Cubs fans while playing for the Madison Mallards, but he didn't know the Cubs were interested in him prior to the Draft. He'd asked his advisor not to tell him which Major League teams were scouting him.

"I was lucky to be on a really successful team this year, and we had a team that was focused on winning, and I think that brings out my best attributes," said Hoerner, an American studies major at Stanford. "The Draft process was pretty smooth."

McLeod said the plan is to leave Hoerner at shortstop for now but they think the versatile athlete is capable of moving almost anywhere on the field.

"We think he can play shortstop, but he's such a good baseball player, I think if down the road, we asked him to move somewhere else, he'd do it flawlessly," McLeod said. "He's a really talented baseball player.

"One of the things that's so good about him is that elite hand-eye coordination," McLeod said. "That's a natural hitting ability that not many people have."

"I'm going to play shortstop as long as that's OK with them," Hoerner said. "That's what I love to do and I think I can do it at a really high level, but at the same time, I think I can play every position on the field if need be. I just want to win ballgames."

Davis, 18, a former basketball standout, gave up that sport to focus on baseball and has made a verbal commitment to attend the University of Miami. This past season, he helped Basha post a 24-5-1 record, batting .444 in his senior year. In 38 games in his last two years of school, he batted .426 with 10 doubles, two triples, four home runs and 41 runs scored.

Roederer, 18, a left-handed-hitting outfielder, has committed to UCLA. He led his high school in most offensive categories in 2017, and this year he batted .392 in 18 games.

Video: Draft 2018: Cubs draft OF Cole Roederer No. 77

Richan, 21, struck out 101 batters over 89 2/3 innings and walked 13 in his junior season for San Diego. He was a reliever at the beginning of his collegiate career, then moved into the rotation and became a weekend starter. He graduated from Hart High School, the same as Roederer, and the alma mater of current Cubs pitcher Mike Montgomery. Plus, Bryant attended San Diego.

Video: Draft 2018: Cubs draft RHP Paul Richan No. 78

The Draft continues on Tuesday with Rounds 3-10. The MLB.com preview show begins at 11:30 a.m. CT, with exclusive coverage beginning at 12 p.m. CT.

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

Chicago Cubs

Epstein eager to infuse more talent from Draft

MLB.com

CHICAGO -- The Cubs' mantra for the Draft in the first four years under president of baseball operations Theo Epstein has been to take the best player available. The past two years, they've picked pitchers with their first selections. What will happen during the 2018 MLB Draft?

Judging by the preseason projections, anything is possible. The Cubs will get two picks after the second round as compensation for Jake Arrieta and Wade Davis, who both rejected qualifying offers and signed with other teams. That gives the Cubs five selections in the first 100 picks, beginning with No. 24 in the first round.

CHICAGO -- The Cubs' mantra for the Draft in the first four years under president of baseball operations Theo Epstein has been to take the best player available. The past two years, they've picked pitchers with their first selections. What will happen during the 2018 MLB Draft?

Judging by the preseason projections, anything is possible. The Cubs will get two picks after the second round as compensation for Jake Arrieta and Wade Davis, who both rejected qualifying offers and signed with other teams. That gives the Cubs five selections in the first 100 picks, beginning with No. 24 in the first round.

"We have a chance to have a really good Draft, and I think our guys are really prepared," Epstein said. "I look forward to infusing the system with more talent."

:: 2018 Draft coverage ::

The 2018 Draft will take place today through Wednesday, beginning with today's Draft preview show on MLB Network and MLB.com at 5 p.m. CT. MLB Network will broadcast the first 43 picks (Round 1 and Competitive Balance Round A), while MLB.com will stream all 78 picks on Day 1. MLB.com will also provide live pick-by-pick coverage of Rounds 3-10 on Day 2, with a preview show beginning at 11:30 a.m. CT. Then, Rounds 11-40 can be heard live on MLB.com on Day 3, beginning at 11 a.m. CT.

Go to MLB.com/draft to see the Top 200 Prospects list, projected top picks from MLB Pipeline analysts Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo, the complete order of selection and more. And follow @MLBDraft on Twitter to see what Draft hopefuls, clubs and experts are saying.

Here's how the Draft is shaping up for the Cubs, whose first selection is the 24th overall pick.

In about 50 words

Besides their first-round pick at No. 24, the Cubs also will have a second-round selection at No. 62, plus compensation-round picks at No. 77 (for Davis) and No. 78 (for Arrieta). They then have a third-round pick at No. 98 overall. Last year, the Cubs selected left-handed pitcher Brendon Little 27th overall and right-hander Alex Lange at No. 30 in the first round.

The scoop

The Cubs have favored college talent in the first round but the motivation in the past was linked to stepping up the pace of the team's rebuilding efforts and the need to bolster the depth in the organization. Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ are all first-round picks out of college who reached the big leagues fairly quickly.

First-round buzz

In his recent projection, Mayo said the Cubs would take left-handed pitcher Ryan Rolison of Mississippi in the first round. However, Callis feels Rolison will be taken earlier and he projected the Cubs would take outfielder Trevor Larnach of Oregon State. Rolison is considered one of the most polished high school left-handers available. He was selected in the 2016 Draft but opted to go to Mississippi and became the Rebels most reliable starter in the second half of his freshman season in '17.

Video: Draft Report: Ryan Rolison, College pitcher

Money matters

Under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, each team has an alloted bonus pool equal to the sum of the values of that club's selections in the first 10 rounds of the Draft. The more picks a team has, and the earlier it picks, the larger the pool. The signing bonuses for a team's selections in the first 10 rounds, plus any bonus greater than $125,000 for a player taken after the 10th round, will apply toward the bonus-pool total.

Any team going up to 5 percent over its allotted pool will be taxed at a 75 percent rate on the overage. A team that overspends by 5-10 percent gets a 75-percent rate on the overage. A team that overspends by 5-10 percent gets a 75-percent tax plus the loss of a first-round pick. A team that goes 10-15 percent over its pool amount will be hit with a 100 percent penalty on the overage and the loss of a first- and second-round pick. Any overage of 15 percent or more gets a 100 percent tax plus the loss of first-round picks in the next two Drafts.

This year, the Cubs have a pool of $7,491,700 to spend in the first 10 rounds, including $2,724,000 to spend on their first selection.

Shopping list

With the young position players currently on the Cubs' big league roster, the emphasis will most likely be on pitching. Last year, for example, the Cubs tabbed pitchers with their first five picks and took 10 hurlers out of the first 13 players selected.

Trend watch

As Callis has pointed out, the Cubs have had success taking the best college bat available in the first round. Examples include Bryant, Schwarber and Happ. They may focus on that again next week.

Rising fast

Duane Underwood's path to the big leagues has been slowed by injuries, but the right-handed pitcher may be getting closer. He's currently pitching at Triple-A Iowa and in his last outing May 23, he held Round Rock to one run on four hits over six innings, striking out six. Underwood was selected in the second round of the 2012 Draft (67th overall). One reason for the improved performance? Epstein talked to Underwood this offseason.

Outfielder Mark Zagunis, a third-round pick in 2014, was promoted in May to the big league team and saw limited action in five games, going 2-for-5.

Cinderella story

When David Bote was promoted from Triple-A Iowa to the Cubs, manager Joe Maddon said how much he liked players from Colorado. Maddon's theory was that they don't have a chance to play as much as the California kids because of the weather and tend to mature later in life. Bote could be a prime example of that. An 18th-round pick in the 2012 Draft, the Denver-area native made his Major League debut, appropriately enough, in Denver when the Cubs played the Rockies. And he hit a double in his first at-bat.

Bote, 25, was called up in early May to replace Ben Zobrist, who was sidelined with back problems.

"[Anthony] Rizzo said, 'You only get one chance to hit the first pitch of your career out of the yard,'" Bote said of his aggressive approach in his first at-bat.

He appeared in eight games with the Cubs and batted .263 (5-for-19) with five RBIs. A versatile player, who can sub at all infield spots and play the outfield if necessary, Bote most likely will be back if a need arises.

In The Show

Five of the Cubs' past six first-round Draft picks are on the Cubs' current roster, including Albert Almora Jr., who was the team's first-round selection in 2012 (sixth player taken overall). Also on the roster are Draft picks Javier Baez (first round, 2011), Bryant (first round, 2013), Schwarber (first round, 2014) and Happ (first round, 2015).

The Cubs' recent top picks

2017: LHP Brendon Little (27th overall) and RHP Alex Lange (30th overall)

2016: No first-round pick (Cubs selected RHP Thomas Hatch in third round)

2015: OF Ian Happ (ninth overall)

2014: C Kyle Schwarber (fourth overall)

2013: 3B Kris Bryant (second overall)

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

Chicago Cubs

NL Central prospects who are this close to callup

MLB.com

The big stage hasn't bothered Pirates prospect Austin Meadows. Nor have the bright lights. And take it from Pittsburgh's rookie center fielder: Compared to Triple-A, they really do shine in the big leagues.

"The lights are brighter," Meadows said Tuesday after hitting his second homer in his fourth Major League game. "You can see the ball a lot better."

The big stage hasn't bothered Pirates prospect Austin Meadows. Nor have the bright lights. And take it from Pittsburgh's rookie center fielder: Compared to Triple-A, they really do shine in the big leagues.

"The lights are brighter," Meadows said Tuesday after hitting his second homer in his fourth Major League game. "You can see the ball a lot better."

Meadows was being sincere. Called up on Friday, the Pirates' No. 2 prospect said part of his production was due to the brighter lights in big league ballparks allowing him to better see pitches. Whatever the reason, Meadows' early success has helped the Bucs withstand Starling Marte's oblique strain.

Video: SD@PIT: Meadows tallies 3 hits, 1st career HR

Pitching prospect Nick Kingham also made an immediate impact for Pittsburgh, and Freddy Peralta did the same for the Brewers. There's help down on the farm in the National League Central, though clubs can only hope for debuts as electrifying as those put together by Meadows, Kingham and Peralta.

Here are five NL Central prospects to watch, one from each team. Like Meadows, they could soon find themselves playing under the bright lights of the big leagues.

Video: Top Prospects: Adbert Alzolay, RHP, Cubs

CUBS
Prospect:
Adbert Alzolay, RHP
MLB Pipeline rank: No. 1 (Cubs)
Why you should keep an eye on him: The Cubs have had success developing position players, but not pitchers. Alzolay could change that. The right-hander isn't far away, either, as he was considered to start in a doubleheader against the Reds on Saturday. Alzolay has had two dominating starts this season, including his Triple-A Iowa debut on April 20, when he held Nashville to two hits over six innings and struck out six. On April 30, Alzolay limited Omaha to one hit over seven scoreless innings, again striking out six. He's still working on his changeup, but he has the makeup that the Cubs love.
ETA: September, if not sooner

Video: Sheldon, Graves discuss Nick Senzel's health status

REDS
Prospect:
Nick Senzel, INF
MLB Pipeline rank: No. 1 (Reds), No. 6 (MLB)
Why you should keep an eye on him: The second overall pick in the 2016 Draft will be knocking on the door when he gets back on the field. Senzel began the season with Triple-A Louisville, posting a .271/.351/.459 slash line with three home runs in 22 games before he was placed on the disabled list due to vertigo. Senzel is currently taking batting practice and fielding grounders in Arizona, hoping to return to game action soon in extended spring camp. But there should be room for Senzel in Cincinnati's infield by the end of the year, as the 22-year-old can play either second or third base.
ETA: Later this season

Video: CHC@MIL: Burnes caps off impressive frame with a K

BREWERS
Prospect:
Corbin Burnes, RHP
MLB Pipeline rank: No. 2 (Brewers), No. 63 (MLB)
Why you should keep an eye on him: The Brewers already showed a willingness to call upon a prospect in a time of need when they promoted Peralta, their No. 9 prospect, for a pair of starts this month. Peralta happened to be on schedule when the big club needed an arm, but it could have just as easily been Burnes, the 23-year-old former fourth-round Draft pick who commands four pitches. He finished second in all of Minor League Baseball last season and led the Brewers' system with a 1.67 ERA at Double-A Biloxi, and while his Triple-A numbers in 2018 (1-2, 4.82 ERA in nine starts) don't jump off the page, one has to look past the thin air of Colorado Springs. In his first five road starts this season, Burnes had a 2.70 ERA and 37 strikeouts versus eight walks in 30 innings. "I want to know why this guy is not in the big leagues," one rival team's radio announcer said during a Burnes gem earlier this year.
ETA: Sometime this season

Video: BOS@PIT: Keller fans three over two scoreless innings

PIRATES
Prospect:
Mitch Keller, RHP
MLB Pipeline rank: No. 1 (Pirates), No. 14 (MLB)
Why you should keep an eye on him: Last year, Keller surpassed Meadows as the top-rated prospect in Pittsburgh's system -- and for good reason. Keller is one of baseball's most advanced pitching prospects, even if he's not yet a finished product. The 22-year-old right-hander, who was a second-round Draft pick in 2014, is 5-2 with a 3.02 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 47 2/3 innings over eight starts for Double-A Altoona. Keller's smooth, easy delivery pumps out fastballs that can touch 97-98 mph. His curveball is a plus pitch, and his changeup has improved over the past year. With a little more development time to sharpen his command and offspeed stuff, Keller has a chance to follow Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon on the road from top pitching prospect to top-of-the-rotation starter for the Bucs.
ETA: Possibly September, but more likely 2019

Video: KC@STL: Reyes nearing a return to Cardinals' rotation

CARDINALS
Prospect:
Alex Reyes, RHP
MLB Pipeline rank: No. 1 (Cardinals), No. 17 (MLB)
Why you should keep an eye on him: Reyes is set to join the Cardinals on Monday, and he could start as soon as the next day against the Brewers. By then, Reyes will be more than 15 months removed from the Tommy John surgery that stalled his ascent. But the 23-year-old has flashed the same electrifying stuff in three rehab starts, mostly recently striking out 12 over 7 2/3 innings for Double-A Springfield. The Cards just revealed that Reyes would return as a starter. The challenge facing the Cardinals, however, is managing Reyes' innings. They want him to work more than his previous career high of 110 so that he's prepared for next season, but the club can't risk further injury by pushing him too far. If the Cards want to restrict his workload, they could use his triple-digit fastball, swing-and-miss curveball and plus changeup in a relief role.
ETA: Next week

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, Alex Reyes

Russell shakes funk, hits 1st HR in 8-run 3rd

Hancock debuts, Zagunis gets 1st MLB hit after callups; Cubs to celebrate Mother's Day with honorary bat girl
Special to MLB.com

CHICAGO -- Cubs manager Joe Maddon likes a lot of what he is seeing from Addison Russell. But when it comes to the difficulty Russell has experienced at the plate so far in May, Maddon acknowledges something has been just a little off.

Something definitely clicked with the young shortstop on Wednesday.

View Full Game Coverage

CHICAGO -- Cubs manager Joe Maddon likes a lot of what he is seeing from Addison Russell. But when it comes to the difficulty Russell has experienced at the plate so far in May, Maddon acknowledges something has been just a little off.

Something definitely clicked with the young shortstop on Wednesday.

View Full Game Coverage

Russell entered Wednesday's finale against the Marlins hitting just .208 (5-for-24) this month with nine strikeouts and a walk. But in his first two at-bats against Wei-Yin Chen, Russell doubled and homered -- all in the third inning -- on a day when the hits kept coming for the Cubs in their 13-4, series-sweeping win at Wrigley Field.

Russell led off the Cubs' eight-run frame with a double, which he laced into the gap before he scored on a Kris Bryant double. When his spot in the lineup came up again later in the inning, Russell lifted a two-run homer -- the Cubs' third big fly of the day and his first of the season -- that provided starter Jose Quintana with a 9-0 lead. He finished the day 3-for-3.

Video: MIA@CHC: Russell makes a spectacular running grab

"I've been feeling good for the last couple of weeks," Russell said. "I think [Maddon] has a lot of confidence in me to send me out every single day. I'm trying to contribute to the team, and that makes me really happy."

Before Wednesday's abrupt turnaround, Maddon was determined to allow Russell to work through his inconsistencies. Afterward, Maddon said he liked the approach Russell showed at the plate.

"He's good and kept progressively having better at-bats, I thought," Maddon said. "He found some grass today, he put a ball in the stands, he made some really nice plays on defense. He just had a nice day. Addy had a nice day. You see what he's capable of doing, and that's why patience is a really big word in our game."

Maddon has seen improvement in Russell's baserunning, and he is pleased with Russell's overall defensive effort, with the exception of a few throws that have been uncharacteristically off-target.

While Maddon -- who stresses the importance of hitting to all fields -- has seen Russell hit well to the right side of the infield, he wants to see more consistency in hitting to the left as well as Russell attempts to find a groove at the plate.

Maddon is convinced it will happen sooner rather than later.

"It's just piling up on him, offensively, and of course, he's frustrated -- absolutely, he's frustrated," Maddon said before the game. "But you see what he's done in the past, and he'll do it again. It's my job, it's our job to bring him back up."

Video: MIA@CHC: Hancock fans Brinson for first MLB strikeout

Roster moves

The Cubs selected the contract of right-handed pitcher Justin Hancock from Triple-A Iowa and recalled right fielder Mark Zagunis on Wednesday. To make room, they optioned lefty Rob Zastryzny and righty Jen-Ho Tseng to Triple-A. The Major League roster now stands at 40.

Maddon wasted no time in getting both newcomers into game action.

Hancock pitched 1 2/3 innings in relief of Quintana, and he struck out the first batter he faced. But he also surrendered his first big league home run when Miguel Rojas delivered a two-run shot in the eighth inning. Hancock then struck out Martin Prado to end the inning.

Hancock, 27, went 2-2 with a 3.77 ERA in 11 relief outings with Iowa this year, including 5 2/3 scoreless frames over his past four outings. He has struck out 19 batters in 14 1/3 innings pitched, an average of 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings, while limiting foes to a .250 batting average, including a .206 mark by right-handed hitters.

Hancock, who was obtained from the Padres in a trade for outfielder Matt Szczur, was a non-roster invitee to Spring Training this year.

"You just have to stay ready," Hancock said before the game. "It's been a long road to get to this point, and I think all of the hard work is actually starting to pay off."

Video: MIA@CHC: Zagunis singles, picks up first career hit

Zagunis, 25, joins the Cubs for the first time in 2018 after batting .298 with four doubles, three home runs and 13 RBIs in 29 games with Iowa this season. He has a .412 on-base percentage and a .436 slugging percentage this year, good for an .848 OPS, recording nearly as many walks (17) as strikeouts (18). He made his 2018 debut with the Cubs on Wednesday and recorded his first big league hit.

Like Hancock, Zagunis said the key to being ready for a callup is focusing on the day to day.

"You can't really focus on anything but controlling what you can control, and that's working on whatever you need to work on," Zagunis said.

Cubs celebrating Mother's Day with honorary bat girl

Kristin Root will be honored on Sunday prior to the Cubs' game against the White Sox as an honorary bat girl, part of Major League Baseball's "Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer" initiative.

Root, who is a nurse and the director of the health department for the Village of Rosemont, Ill., was diagnosed with breast cancer two weeks before her 36th birthday. She was diagnosed with Stage Zero DCIS and opted for a double mastectomy with reconstruction. Last August, she finished four rounds of chemotherapy.

On Sunday, the Cubs players will wear pink caps, pink ribbons on their jerseys and pink socks, and some will use pink bats and batting gloves as part of Major League Baseball's efforts to raise awareness of breast cancer. There will be plenty of pink at Wrigley Field, as the first 5,000 bleacher fans will receive pink T-shirts presented by Advocate Health Care.

Louisville Slugger will donate proceeds from the sale of their pink bats, which will be stamped with the MLB breast cancer awareness logo, to Susan G. Komen and Stand Up To Cancer. Additionally, MLB will again donate its licensed uniform royalties through Mother's Day apparel to Susan G. Komen and Stand Up To Cancer.

Julianna Zobrist, Ben Zobrist's wife, will sing "God Bless America" prior to the game.

Jeff Arnold is a contributor to MLB.com based in Chicago.

Chicago Cubs, Justin Hancock, Addison Russell, Mark Zagunis

Maddon giving Happ time to work through woes

Zobrist bothered by back issues; top prospect Alzolay joins Triple-A Iowa
MLB.com

CHICAGO -- Ian Happ homered on the first pitch of the Major League season on March 29, but it's been a struggle for him since then. The switch-hitting outfielder was batting .204 in his first 13 games, but Cubs manager Joe Maddon said Thursday he's seeing encouraging signs.

Happ was not in the Cubs' lineup for the finale against the Cardinals, and part of that was to give him time to focus on the lessons.

View Full Game Coverage

CHICAGO -- Ian Happ homered on the first pitch of the Major League season on March 29, but it's been a struggle for him since then. The switch-hitting outfielder was batting .204 in his first 13 games, but Cubs manager Joe Maddon said Thursday he's seeing encouraging signs.

Happ was not in the Cubs' lineup for the finale against the Cardinals, and part of that was to give him time to focus on the lessons.

View Full Game Coverage

"I've talked to [hitting coach] Chili [Davis] a lot about it," Maddon said. "[Happ] feels much better on the right side of the plate than the left side, which is normally not the case. Hopefully, he can maintain that as he works through the left-handed problems he's got. I really like the way this guy is. He'll work through it. I like the plan Chili has set forth for him."

Happ was 4-for-13 (.308) from the left side with six strikeouts, and 6-for-36 (.167) from the right side with 19 K's. His 47.2 strikeout percentage (25 K's in 53 plate appearances) is the highest of any qualified hitter in the Majors this season. Will Maddon pick his spots for Happ?

"Probably a little bit," Maddon said. "My main thought is to talk to Chili every day and Ian to see how they're feeling about things. If I hear from both of them that they feel strongly about what's going on, then I'll start pushing it again."

Last season, Happ batted .253 in 115 games, hitting 24 home runs.

"First of all, I believe in Ian a lot," Maddon said. "He's really a unique young man. He's introspective, he's bright. He has a really high emotional IQ. He understands and accepts and works through moments, as opposed to becoming overly emotional about them."

Video: ATL@CHC: Zobrist races to third for an RBI triple

Ben Zobrist did not start Thursday because of back problems that Maddon thought were similiar to what kept the versatile veteran sidelined most of Spring Training. However, Zobrist said it's a different problem.

"In Spring Training, it was stuck," Zobrist said of his back. "It was stuck when I got in certain spots. It's not stuck at all [now]. In certain spots, it's just a little uncomfortable. That's why they held me out. Today was a 'Hold me out again and tell us how you feel' kind of thing."

Zobrist did work in the batting cages during Thursday's 8-5 win, but wasn't needed to pinch-hit.

"It was a step in the right direction," Zobrist said. "These things, you have to be more cautious when you have a little history."

Zobrist would've been leading off against the Cardinals if he was available, Maddon said. Instead, Maddon went with Albert Almora Jr. against right-hander Luke Weaver and moved Javier Baez into the No. 2 spot for the first time this season.

"I wanted to get some energy at the top," Maddon said of Baez. "He's been doing well. I could have left him at six or seven [in the order]. I'm just shuffling the chairs up a little. There's nothing brilliant about it whatsover. It's just to provide some energy at the top of the batting order."

• After 15 games, the Cubs' starting pitchers ranked 14th in the National League with a 5.31 ERA. That's not what they expected, but Kyle Hendricks said part of the problem has been because the schedule keeps getting interrupted by the weather. The Cubs have had five games postponed.

"This has been weird," Hendricks said. "I've never been through anything like this. Once this weather clears up, we'll be ready to go."

There was plenty of sunshine on Thursday. Hendricks, who will open the Cubs' three-game series in Colorado on Friday, said he's pitched in the cold before.

"In college, I pitched in a game April 5 and it was snowing, and that was the worst I'd seen until now," Hendricks said. "It's out of our control. You just have to get your work in and whenever we can play, we'll play."

• Cubs top prospect Adbert Alzolay will make his first start of the season on Friday, pitching for Triple-A Iowa. Wednesday's game was postponed, so Luke Farrell will start on Thursday and Alzolay will go Friday.

Alzolay, ranked No. 1 on MLB Pipeline's list of the Top 30 Cubs prospects, was 7-1 with a 2.98 ERA in 15 starts at Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach last season, then went 0-3 with a 3.03 ERA in seven starts for Double-A Tennessee. He was in extended spring camp before joining Iowa.

• The Cubs raised $1.8 million on Wednesday night at the Bricks and Ivy Ball, including $50,000 from the sale of one of the paintings Maddon revealed during Spring Training.

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

Chicago Cubs, Ian Happ