How the Cubs plan to get back to better health, underage pitch originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Just when it looked like the Cubs’ minor league system could be counting on a return to some sense of normality after two years of alternate venues, pandemic protocols and an insanely high injury count in 2021, comes a locked out by MLB.
Among other things, that means that all of the Cubs’ sprawling spring training facilities belong to the camp’s minor league side for now, and that unregistered players from the system are invited to big league camp — like top prospect Brennen Davis. — are in camp despite no sign of Willson Contreras, Kyle Hendricks, Jason Heyward or any of the other big league guys.
But at least the work, timeline and landscape of Arizona offer some normality as minor league camp officially opens this week, right?
Normal is back?
“I wouldn’t say that seems normal,” Cubs first-year farm manager Jared Banner said. “Life over the past few years has changed a lot. We only focus on the daily work in the field. We simply pursue our goals every day.
Normal or not normal, fans heading to Arizona for spring training should at least be able to catch a glimpse of the majority of intriguing players from an organization undergoing its second major league restart in a decade.
If anything, that fact alone puts the minor league operation under scrutiny, if not some degree of pressure, to produce the next core of Kris Bryant-Javy Báez-Anthony Rizzo after all those All-Stars World Series winners were traded in July for several of the most intriguing names on the Cubs’ training grounds this week.
“This is baseball and this is Chicago, so there’s always some pressure,” Banner said, “but our goal is to have the right processes in place, the right infrastructure, to invest in our players and the resources they need and to make it a good place to grow.
“That’s our only goal. We can’t get caught up in some of the outside noise.
Banner, with player development credentials stretching back a decade through the Red Sox and Mets, has only known a COVID-19 baseball world, a minor league contraction and injury problems on the scale of the system since joining the organization ahead of the 2020 season.
But it’s no different from 2020 first-round picks such as shortstop Ed Howard and outfielder Pete Crow-Armstrong, whose first summer of pro ball was canceled by the pandemic and who both suffered of injuries last season – Crow-Armstrong the most serious, with a shoulder injury that wiped out most of his season.
Both are back in full force this spring, along with other recovered players such as shortstop Luis Vazquez and pitcher Kohl Franklin – the latter of which is an especially key component for a Cubs team that could finally be on the mend. point of developing a launcher pipeline for the first time. in over a decade. May be.
And if the Cubs’ player development managers can agree on the normality of things, they at least agree on this year’s priorities for the system in 2022.
“The first thing that comes to mind is health. I just want these guys to play a full season and have the experiences to go with it,” said Banner’s predecessor Matt Dorey, who took over as vice president of player personnel after Jason McLeod left. the Cubs this winter.
“So, No. 1, our goal is to keep guys healthy and on the pitch and allow them to develop without trying to fight stubborn injuries or even injuries that sideline them for four to six weeks.” , Dorey added. “And I think we have a plan in place that should help that and prepare the guys earlier. Having [a weeks-long, pre-spring] Hopefully mini camp will take care of many of the soft tissue injuries we had last year.
And number 2?
It’s easy. Maybe even obvious.
“Pitching just takes another step forward,” Dorey said. “I think we saw the guys’ stuff improve last year. We’ve had a lot of really encouraging signs with this group of relievers. [that reached the majors]. But I think this group of rookies that we really think about a lot and they have all the ability – really watching this group grow and mature. …”
Pitchers such as 2021 sensation DJ Herz, who excelled at two tiers last season and should get his shot at the higher tiers of the system this year. And Caleb Kilian, who was acquired from the Giants in the Bryant trade before playing a starring role in the Arizona Fall League. And Ryan Jensen, the Cubs’ 2019 first-round pick with a big personality and bigger competitive streak — who capped off 2021 with a solid four-start Double-A streak.
“Having them impact the major leagues this year,” Dorey said, “just to see a 2023 season with multiple local prospects at the upper levels of our rotations is really my goal.”
Banner praised launch infrastructure boss Craig Breslow for an overall program that makes him optimistic that it will happen – then returned to the focus of the system.
“Being healthy is going to be very important to us,” Banner said. “It’s not always something we can control. But it’s something we’ve spent a lot of time and research on, something we’ll be paying a lot of attention to.
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